Modern Architecture

Tracking Down Wyoming's Modern Gems

Posted on: June 17th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Emily Koller

The Gateway Motel is on the road to Yellowstone and is one of the last classic Wyoming roadside motels from the 1950’s and 1960’s standing in Park County.

What makes Wyoming special is more about what isn’t there rather than what is. There are few coffee shops, parking lots, malls, four-lane highways, cell towers, and various other normal places and structures that help the rest of the world function.

There are blissfully few people, too. If you are vacationing there, you’re probably on your way to Yellowstone National Park, anxious to see working ranches, rustic lodges, and false-front commercial buildings lining small Main Streets with mountains hovering behind. Chances are you are not headed to Wyoming to check out modern architecture – and residents there aren’t particularly interested in it either.

I tried to track some of that architecture down on my short vacation back home last week (I’m a Wyoming native). I’ll tell you what – it’s far easier to find antelope out there. The state is barely 100 years old, so the recent past is half our history. It is not a modern place and it doesn’t need to be.

The state’s early economy depended on cattle ranching, mining, and the railroad, with architecture reflecting the needs of those industries. Then between 1950 and 1970, the economy transitioned from one supported by ranching and farming to one that became a national force in oil and gas production. (The state ranked as the fifth-largest producer in the U.S. from 1960 to 1970.) These were boom years, and residents enjoyed good times like they never had experienced before.

The result was a massive amount of wealth in a region not accustomed to it. People aren’t showy there, and the architecture in this period reflects their hard-working, practical Western ethos. So, while oil money produced lavish neighborhoods, Art Deco masterpieces, and cultural centers in other parts of the U.S., in Wyoming it created understated modern libraries, courthouse additions, schools, and round banks. Modern simply meant new; after years of the depression, recessions, materials shortages and more, the state could finally enjoy some stability and prosperity.

The famed Buffalo Bill Historical Center began as the Whitney Gallery of Western Art in 1959 in a modern stone building which the later additions emulate.

With six of the state’s 23 counties producing the majority of the oil, money flowed back mostly by county. To this day, there are large economic disparities visible by county line. Park County produced the largest amount of oil in the 1960's. Located in the northwestern corner of the state, it acts as the gateway to Yellowstone. Cody, a well-known Old West tourist town, is the county seat.

If you aren’t too distracted from the re-created gun fight in front of the Irma Hotel (1902) or the many new faux lodge shops, you can actually spot some modern architecture. A round bank a block off Main Street has escaped renovation, along with the county library with its lovely large decorative concrete blocks. And the famed Buffalo Bill Historical Center’s original building is the 1959 Whitney Gallery of Western Art, which later additions emulate in style.

Then there’s roadside architecture outside the towns. The good times in Wyoming meant a dramatic increase in tourism. Revenue more than doubled between 1950 and 1965, with those "darn out-of-staters" spending nearly $110 million per year in the mid-60's.

With the interstate slow to come to Wyoming, two-lane highway travel ruled the day. This led to handfuls of iconic roadside motels and gas stations with pony rides and western trinkets. The Gateway Motel with its A-frame office, neon sign, and little cabins on Highway 20 – 50 miles from the entrance to Yellowstone – is one of the last great examples of Wyoming roadside architecture from the 1950's and 1960's. (Sadly, it’s currently for sale and likely won’t survive.)

So, though I don’t want to watch a gunfight in front of a 1960's poured-in-place concrete hotel, the flat-roofed functional buildings that surround the great old west architecture represent the most prosperous point in Wyoming’s history and mark its pivotal transition from a cow to an oil economy. And though oil is a sensitive conversation-starter at the moment, its role in the growth and development of the West is indisputable. Many little modern buildings are hanging on as proof.

Emily Koller is a summer program assistant for the National Trust’s Modernism + Recent Past program. She is a graduate student in community and regional planning and historic preservation at the University of Texas at Austin.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Preservation Law Notes: Court Orders Park Service to Reconsider Razing a Neutra Gem

Posted on: June 4th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Julia Miller

The National Park Service must reconsider its decision to demolish the Cyclorama Center.

Situated in Ziegler’s Grove in Gettysburg National Park rests a remarkable building designed by modernist architect Richard Neutra.

Known as the Cyclorama Center, the half-century-old building was once used by the National Park Service as a visitor center and to display a 40-foot high, 365-foot long cylindrical painting of the famous July 3, 1863 infantry assault known as “Pickett’s Charge," which is credited with turning the Civil War in favor of the Union. The round mural, referred to as “the Cyclorama” and painted by Paul Phillippoteaux not long after the battle itself, has since been relocated to the nearby Gettysburg Museum and Visitor’s Center after a five-year restoration project. The now closed and fenced in Cyclorama Center has been left to decay, belying its once dazzling appearance.

Despite the building’s architectural significance and its eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the National Park Service has approved its demolition. The Cyclorama Center is perched on Cemetery Ridge, the site of the bloody attack depicted in Phillippoteaux’s painting. In the National Park Service’s view, the building stands in the way of its efforts to restore key landscape features of the park. Therein lays the conundrum.

Dismayed by the National Park Service’s decision to demolish the Cyclorama Center, the Recent Past Preservation Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of buildings from the recent past, Dion Neutra, the son of the late architect, and Christine Madrid French filed a lawsuit in federal court to prevent the National Park Service from carrying out its plans. They charged the National Park Service and individually named defendants with violating both Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in deciding to raze the structure. The NHPA claims were dismissed on the grounds that they were time-barred and the plaintiffs had failed to establish any “deficiency” with the National Park Service’s “agency-side preservation program." However, the court, in a decision by U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs under NEPA.

The Cyclorama Center, under the court’s decision, gets a reprieve – at least for the time being. On March 31, 2010, Judge Hogan ordered the National Park Service to reconsider its decision to demolish the building. Specifically, the court ordered the National Park Service to conduct “a full implementation-level and site-specific environmental analysis on the demolition of the Cyclorama Center and non-demolition alternatives before any implementing action is taken on the Cyclorama Center.” (Cyclorama Center proponents have urged the National Park Service to consider moving the building to a new location, and have enlisted support from the company that moved the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse for the National Park Service in 1989.)

Judge Hogan essentially faulted the agency for failing to provide sufficient notice of its decision to demolish the Center, as well as its analysis under that decision. While the National Park Service had issued a final General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (GMP/EIS), which provided a park-wide assessment in 1999, the plan and EIS failed to include any specific analysis of the Center and its removal. Similarly, the National Park Service’s 1999 Record of Decision (ROD) only discussed the effects of demolition and new construction “in general, park-wide terms.” Accordingly, Judge Hogan rejected the agency’s claims that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit was time-barred on the grounds that the statute’s six-year statute of limitations had run, since the ROD did not provide notice of the Park Service’s final action with regard to the Cyclorama Center. He also rejected the claim that a 1995/1996 Draft Concept Plans/Environmental Assessments and the 1999 Memorandum of Agreement between the National Park Service, the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation established that a decision to demolish the Center had been reached, since the documents had not been incorporated into the ROD. He stated, “The court cannot countenance disregard for NEPA’s public notice requirements by considering unincorporated documents in its evaluation of the Park Service’s actions here.”

Finally, Judge Hogan determined that the agency had violated NEPA by failing to consider alternatives to demolition of the Center’s in its 1999 GMP/EIS. While he acknowledged that the National Park Service may have “conducted sufficient analyses,” he faulted the agency for failing to provide adequate notice of that analysis, assuming it occurred. In March 2009, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay had recommended that the U.S. District Court rule in favor of the plaintiffs and order the National Park Service to prepare a full-blown EIS to evaluate the demolition of the Cyclorama Center and non-demolition alternatives. While Judge Hogan agreed with the Magistrate overall, he modified the recommendation slightly by directing the agency to perform an “environmental analysis,” in view of the fact that preparation of an EIS may not necessarily be required.

At this point, all eyes are on the National Park Service.

Download Judge Thomas F. Hogan's Full Decision »

Julia Miller serves as special counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Along with her colleagues in the National Trust’s Legal Department, she will be blogging about all things legal each Friday in our new series, Preservation Law Notes.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

A Civic Discussion in Pittsburgh: Unwinding the Legacy of Urban Renewal

Posted on: May 26th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Christine Madrid French

Pittsburgh's Civic Arena (Photo: Rob Pfaffmann, AIA, AICP)

Pittsburgh's Civic Arena (Photo: Rob Pfaffmann, AIA, AICP)

Last week, I was invited to serve on a panel of experts (hosted by cityLIVE!) to debate the merits of saving, or not saving, a mid-century stadium located at the edge of downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The panel also included an historian, a community activist, and an architect. About 150 citizens ventured out in the rain to participate and discuss the relative significance of historic resources, both extant and already demolished. As preservationists, we are practiced in deliberating between “build new” and “save” arguments, but here the case is far more complicated.

Few dispute the architectural significance of the building, which was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The 1961 Civic Arena, designed by James Mitchell and Dahlen Ritchey -- and funded in part by Edgar Kaufmann -- was one of the most successfully engineered feats of its time. The stainless steel dome, divided into eight sections, slid open in just three minutes to reveal an open sky above and a stage and seating area below. A cantilevered arm reaching halfway across the span provided the sole support for the retractable roof, once the largest in the world.

What lies beneath the building is at the heart of the matter. The Lower Hill district was once part of a large farm tract owned by the grandson of William Pitt. In the nineteenth century, the area was subdivided and developed to provide housing for European immigrants. By the 1900s, the neighborhood was predominantly African-American, a place that bore life to artists and musicians, including noted playwright August Wilson. Eventually, the buildings began to fall to ruin and were targeted as part of an urban renewal plan to revive downtown. More than 8,000 Pittsburgh residents lost their homes and watched their neighborhood leveled to the ground in the 1950s, a shocking displacement that still resonates in the city today.

Pittsburgh's Civic Arena (Photo: Rob Pfaffmann, AIA, AICP)

Pittsburgh's Civic Arena (Photo: Rob Pfaffmann, AIA, AICP)

Despite best intentions, the comprehensive new blueprint for the Lower Hill -- originally conceived as a mixed use area of high-rise housing and an arts district -- was never completed. The plan derailed early on, leaving the arena and one new I.M. Pei-designed apartment building isolated by a sea of surface parking. Today, the Pittsburgh Penguins (later owners of the arena) maintain development rights on the site and prefer to clear the area for new structures. The community is divided, with a good number calling for a restoration of the original street grid that was displaced by the arena construction (separating other parts of the Hill from downtown), while other Pittsburgh residents support new construction around the arena and a re-use plan for the building.

Ned Kaufman, in his new book “Place, Race, and Story,” asserts that historic preservation is “not fundamentally a technical discipline,” focused solely on material conservation for instance, but is instead “a social practice, part history and part planning.” What I hear from both sides is a need to repair the community. New development cannot bring back the past, or restore what was lost. Indeed, the continuing presence of the arena ensures that the lost Lower Hill neighborhood maintains its importance as a “story site” or a place where we can convey and relate meaningful memories. Removing this building, and therefore the last physical reminder of “what was” and “what could have been,” will undoubtedly produce more loss rather than a recovery. Continuing the cycle of demolition will erase our collective memories at the site. Ultimately, the next generation will have no physical framework to remind them of their ancestor’s efforts either to save or to build new. Yet, we still have larger issues to address along the way, including the repair of emotional injuries suffered by the community more than 50 years ago.

Our collected group onstage, with helpful input and questions from the audience, did not find an immediate resolution that night. We did feel, however, that we engaged in a meaningful conversation, one that we hope to continue as people and preservationists debate the future of this contested site in Pittsburgh.

Christine Madrid French is the director of the Modernism + Recent Past program at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Wilde Again!

Posted on: May 25th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Alicia Leuba

The Wilde Building in Bloomfield, CT

The Wilde Building in Bloomfield, CT

After more than 10 years, the Wilde Building in Bloomfield, CT has gotten a new lease on life.

In 1999, CIGNA, a global health services company, proposed the demolition of the Wilde Building, a pioneering example of International Style architecture designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and completed in 1957. In 2010, the Wilde Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and CIGNA completed an estimated $59 million renovation of the building using federal rehabilitation tax credits. But this happy ending did not come without a long struggle.

This story can be told if you look at newspaper headings about the Wilde Building over the past decade. They read: “A Corporate Icon That Should Be Preserved,” by Robert Campbell (Hartford Courant, 2001); “Wilde Building: An Old Piece of Junk” by Laurence D. Cohen (Hartford Courant, 2001); “Save the Wilde” by Wendy Nicholas (Hartford Courant, 2002); and “Collision of Cultures Over a Building” by Jane Gordon (New York Times, 2005) to name but a few.

The entire CIGNA campus was listed on the Trust’s 2001 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Over many years, the Trust's Northeast Office worked with National Trust President Richard Moe to create a dialogue with CIGNA. We worked closely with the Campaign to Save Connecticut General, the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office and many others across the country to raise public awareness and generate support for this iconic building. Together we proposed alternatives, did economic feasibility studies, fought state legislation changes, provided information on historic tax credits and access to expert consultants, including the National Trust Community Investment Corporation. And we waited.

Time was on our side. CIGNA’s business needs changed. New leadership was willing to explore alternatives. The economy changed. A company that once stated that the Wilde Building had “outlived its usefulness” decided to stay in the building and rehabilitate it to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards. Systems and interior office upgrades have ensured that this mid-century modern masterpiece will continue to serve its original purpose for many years to come.

“The Wilde Building represents one of Connecticut’s most important preservation success stories of the past decade,” writes the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. For more information on the Wilde Building, click here.

Alicia Leuba is the director of programs at the Northeast Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Chicago: The Challenge of Preserving Public Housing

Posted on: May 3rd, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Christine Madrid French

View of Julia C. Lathrop Homes

View of Julia C. Lathrop Homes

The Society of Architectural Historians, celebrating its 70th anniversary in its home town of Chicago, hosted a large and energetic gathering of scholars and practitioners the week of April 21. The annual conference featured expected studies – one session explored Roman architecture after Hadrian – but also delved into new areas, marked by a historic preservation colloquium dedicated to public housing.

This topic is perhaps outside the range of “typical” preservation interests, but is worthy of our attention for a number of compelling reasons. As conservators of the built environment, we are interested in finding new ways to use historic structures. The greenest building is the one already built, right? Well, in the case of public housing there is a both a community need for this type of structure and a nationwide inventory of solidly constructed buildings available for renovation and re-use.

A series of three speakers tackled both the challenges and opportunities for restoring public housing during this day-long discussion and tour. Our own Elizabeth Milnarik, associate architect in the Stewardship of Historic Sites department, opened up the day with an astute analysis of the motivations behind the public housing movement, dating back to the industrial revolution. With a series of illustrations, she demonstrated the transition from tenements (often overcrowded with no running water and windowless rooms), to modern facilities incorporating communal areas, parks, and libraries.

Julia C. Lathrop Homes, 1937

Julia C. Lathrop Homes, 1937 (Photo: Photographic Records of the National Archives II, Record Group 135, records of the Public Works Administration)

Michael Jackson, chief architect of the Preservation Services division at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, followed up with a particularly compelling discussion of good buildings awaiting new stewards. His comparative study countered the idea of the “throwaway building,” by proving that public housing (dating from as early as the 1920s) can be effectively renovated. At the Trumbell Homes project in Chicago, residents advocated for preservation of original kitchen elements during the renovation process, intent on keeping their oversize cast-iron sinks from the 1930s. In Memphis, the city redeveloped Lauderdale Courts as market-rate housing (promoted with the tagline “Everything Old is New Again”) and listed the complex on the National Register of Historic Places. As a special addition, visitors can rent the unit where Elvis and his family resided from 1949 to 1953, decorated in a vintage style.

Sunny Fischer, board member of the National Public Housing Museum (and executive director of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation) closed out the program. She eloquently interwove the goals of the museum -- to preserve, recover, and reveal stories of community building in the face of adversity -- with stories of her own childhood years as a resident of a public housing project in New York City. Discussing the past, and the future, of public housing, she asserted, helps us “think through our own stereotypes and prejudices,” and reveals the “full story of the American experience.” The museum is in the planning and fund-raising stage at this point, but does have a location in hand – the last remaining building of the Jane Addams Homes of 1936 (most of the other structures were demolished in 2002).

After lunch, participants hit the road for a tour of Chicago’s own housing sites, a one-of-a-kind experience. Everyone walked away with a greater understanding of the significance of public housing within the history of our country and the realization that this study can thrive only if we stop “drive-by demolitions” and take the time to analyze, understand, and appreciate these urban buildings and landscapes.

Christine Madrid French is the director of the Modernism + Recent Past program at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.