Written by Karen Nickless
For more than a decade, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has worked to preserve the resources of the post-war and modern era and raise awareness of their importance. It’s been a challenging task, even with some long-time preservationists. I have a confession to make—before joining the National Trust Southern Office staff as a field representative for Florida, I was one of them. I liked some modernism, but as a whole it left me cold. Modernism was simply more proof to this historian of the nineteenth century that, with a few exceptions (the Progressive Movement, Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights), the twentieth century was just a big mistake.
That all changed because of Florida. In my work as a field representative there, I have had the opportunity to be inspired by people who helped form the modernist aesthetic in Florida and tutored by those committed to preserving it. Call it my own “Great Awakening.” (Those of you who know the nineteenth century will get this reference.) My awakening is not shared by some in the preservation field and many in the general public, who just “don’t get it.” Some struggle with the aesthetic itself, some with reconciling that, yes, something can be historic even if they remember when it was built or new.
My teachers have included modernist architects Peter Jefferson, Alfred Browning Parker, Hilario Candela and Jorge Hernandez. Parker, in his early 90s, impressed me with both his residential designs and his philosophy of building: 1) Build strongly; 2) Build as directly as possible with no complications; 3) Let your building love its site and glorify its climate; 4) Design for use; make it beautiful. Parker’s homes were designed to take advantage of Florida’s climate. The materials are strong and organic, and his residences seem to have grown on their sites. Not everyone appreciates this. In 2008 his Manus House in Palm Beach was demolished to make way for a “British Colonial style” house. Parker hoped to salvage some materials to use in the house he was building for himself, but the demolition crew arrived first.
Hilario Candela, the architect of Miami Marine Stadium (one of 2008’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places), is a soft spoken but passionate man. A 28-year-old Cuban immigrant when he designed the Stadium, he recently worked with Jorge Hernandez (National Trust trustee and professor of architecture at the University of Miami) and his graduate students to develop creative plans to reopen the Stadium as the centerpiece of a revitalized Virginia Key. With luck and the continuing efforts of Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, I think this story will have a happy ending. Support is widespread—just a few weeks back, Jimmy Buffett called on all parrotheads to help save the stadium.
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