Modern Architecture

 

One of the places listed on our 2009 11 Most Endangered List, the Miami Marine Stadium, is getting a boost from a big name -- Florida music icon Jimmy Buffett, who has recorded a public service announcement in support of saving the similarly-iconic modernist site. A recent Miami Herald article shared the story:

Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett has publicly endorsed preservationists' efforts to restore and reopen the city-owned Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key, the site of many a Parrothead's fondest -- if also foggy -- memories.

...

It's a symbol of everything that's great about Florida -- boats, music, water and great Florida fun,'' a smiling Buffett says as a live version of Margaritaville from the stadium show plays in the background. "The stadium deserves a future.''

Given the enthusiasm of the Parrotheads I know for all things Buffett, this seems almost guaranteed to bring a great deal of new support to the site -- which, we hope, will inspire Miami officials to make the right choice and save the stadium.

The PSA is available via the Miami Herald or on YouTube.

Outside of Margaritaville, pressure to save Miami Marine Stadium is also growing: Today, the World Monuments Fund added Miami Marine Stadium to its 2010 Watch List. The press release announcing the list notes "this year’s Watch reflects a growing understanding that heritage cannot be preserved in isolation, but rather must be addressed as part of a broad physical and social context."

I have a feeling that "social context" is just what Jimmy Buffett might have in mind.

Sarah Heffern is the content manager and blog editor for PreservationNation.org.

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.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.

JetModern: Preservation in Los Angeles

Posted on: October 5th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Exterior view of the 1965 Department of Water & Power Building (John Ferraro Building) in Los Angeles.

Exterior view of the 1965 Department of Water & Power Building (John Ferraro Building) in Los Angeles.

My visit to Los Angeles coincided with the first of a series of lectures and panel discussions sponsored by the National Trust and the LA Conservancy. Called Modern Modules, these programs will be taking place across the country over the next nine months. Each event consists of two parts: a public lecture and an invited panel discussion. In Los Angeles, the lecture also took place as the first event as part of the LA Conservancy’s “Sixties Turn 50” program. Held at the Department of Water and Power Building/John Ferraro Building (1965, A. C. Martin & Associates), the lecture was moderated by Frances Anderton. Anderton noted that in British English, what we here call the “recent past,” is referred to as the “familiar past.”

This familiarity has both advantages and disadvantages. As an advantage, a familiar aspect may be incorporated in with less-familiar parts of a building in order to build community interest in a structure. Andy Kirk explained to me that this is just what happened in my previous stop, Las Vegas, where public interest in the now-historic neon signs of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas was parlayed into an effort to save not just the sign, but the building to which it was attached. Chief among the disadvantages is the reluctance to see one’s own life as historical; however, as Alan Hess, one of the lecturers, noted in his lightning quick overview of modern architecture in California in the 1960s, it was at mid-century that California was at the height of its cultural influence.

 The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles was designed by Welton Becket and completed in 1967.

The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles was designed by Welton Becket and completed in 1967.

While I most often think of commercial structures (or even civic ones, like the Mark Taper Forum pictured here) as being important examples of an architectural style, there’s no reason to forget about residential structures. In fact, Leo Marmol, FAIA, another of the evening’s lecturers, suggested that there is a very real need to move beyond commercial spaces, especially in Los Angeles, a city very much of private spaces. Some of these private spaces were no less experimental than the largest commercial structure – the Case Study houses, for example, are a group of residential properties Alan Leib is working to protect. As difficult as it is to see a structure with which one is familiar with become a landmark, it must be all the more challenging to see one in which you have lived become “historic.”

... Read More →

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

JetModern: Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

Posted on: October 2nd, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

Freemont East in Las Vegas.

Freemont East in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas, according to University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) professor Janet White, is a “suburb with no ‘urb.’” It is a city with few urban areas and many suburban features crowded together. Andy Kirk, another professor at UNLV and director of Preserve Nevada, noted that Las Vegas grew from roughly 80,000 in the 1950s to approximately two million today. The growth of the city has deeply shaped its appearance. The Strip was formed, as Kirk noted, from a group of motels placed outside the city of Las Vegas designed to trap motorists before they got into the town to what is today a surreal atmosphere of large hotels and resorts.

Los Vegas streetscape showing a hotel and diner.

Los Vegas streetscape showing a hotel and diner.

Many individuals and architects have been involved in the design and look of Las Vegas, whether that has been for large construction projects like the Venetian (1999, built on the site of the Sands) or the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign (1959). This sign, designed by Betty Willis (1924 – ) has become one of the more recognized emblems of the city, yet most do not know that it was created by a woman. As Anthea Hartig (Director, NTHP Western Office) noted, modern architecture and the architects of mid-century exist in a very gendered space. The role and contribution of what some called then “lady architects” is often overlooked.

Capitol Park apartment building, part of the New Southwest development in Washington, DC.

Capitol Park apartment building, part of the New Southwest development in Washington, DC.

The projects taken on by these architects included some showpieces of mid-century architecture in important settings. Chloethiel Woodard Smith (1910 – 1992), for example, designed several of the apartment complexes built as part of urban renewal in Washington, DC. These buildings, part of what was called the New Southwest, were designed to replace “blighted” older buildings with planned communities, some of which were racially integrated and included a mix of subsidized and unsubsidized housing. Like Willis’s sign, though, Smith’s contribution to the New Southwest (among other Washington locations) is not common knowledge.

In looking both at Washington and Las Vegas, I think we still see a skyline dominated by men; part of the ways in which preservation captures the past is also through highlighting the people behind the building. In this case, it means telling the story of a growing group of women who were also players in this literal field. Importantly, part of the mid-century was that this field began to have more players. Kirk Huffaker and the Utah Heritage Foundation are currently involved in forming an architectural family tree that will show the relationships between architects and their buildings. I think this is a great way to visually represent these relationships and to show the composition of the profession at mid-century.

I am curious to know what ways others have explored the social changes in the many professions behind the built environment (construction, planning, architecture, etc.).

Next stop: Los Angeles

Seth Tinkham is a self-employed grant writer and preservation planner located in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for the citywide preservation organization in Washington, DC helping to plan activities related to modern architecture.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

JetModern: Tweetup, Tiki Style

Posted on: September 29th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

SF 001My stay in San Francisco included another Tweetup, this time held at the Tonga Room. The Tonga Room is the Tiki bar and restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel (1906). Complete with floating bandstand and half-hourly rainfall with thunderstorm, the lounge appears relatively intact and true to its late 1960s update on an early 50s-adopted Tiki style.

While I wouldn’t first think of leisure and recreation spaces as part of threatened mid-century resources, they clearly are. Whether it’s the external appearance of a structure or the interior, the use and form of built space does change over time. Recreation and leisure patterns certainly changed after the 1950s, and places like the Tonga Room do document that. Unfortunately, there was not enough light inside to take any good pictures.

The Tonga Room, though, is currently threatened. Despite an apparent uptick in business following the announcement of its contemplated closure, the hotel is considering turning the space occupied by the Tonga Room into parking spaces for the condominiums that are to be fashioned from the space currently with hotel rooms.

By way of highlighting the hodgepodge of preservation laws at the state, federal, and local level, I spoke with Andrew Wolfram, AIA who is the Commissioner of the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission. He indicated that city of SF has a 30 year period of significance, which I thought was interesting given the range of other cities’ rules. He also wears hat of DOCOMOMO NOCA who have identified fifty significant buildings in San Francisco that are eligible to be listed. The local listing has only three!

I also spoke with Cindy Heitzman of the California Preservation Foundation. As a statewide group, their advocacy is primarily accomplished through education, such as their annual conference. Their programs are targeted to both the general public but also for local governments since, as we discussed, the best policies are those which are well thought out at the time they are first implemented, rather than altered piecemeal over time. The 2009 conference was held in Palm Springs and included a large amount of panels and programs on mid-century modernism. But it is important to remember, as Heitzman noted, that a statewide organization should not provide services better managed and coordinated on a local level.

Beyond a more formal conference environment, the California Preservation Foundation does other educational outreach. Corrine Ingrassia also joined our conversation to provide me with a sense of the youth-focused programs currently underway. While the foundation does not yet offer curriculum guides or educational tours like some other statewide preservation organizations do, they have begun a new program to build youth interest in their 2010 conference to be held in Nevada County. As part of this program, students are asked to develop videos to be uploaded to YouTube, conceived of as a unit within art classes. These videos would be part of short film competition to cover the same topics as the conference will address. Art teachers have apparently liked the idea so much they are trying to have a poster competition, too, also to advertise the conference. All of which I thought was a really cool idea.

Next stop: Las Vegas

Seth Tinkham is a self-employed grant writer and preservation planner located in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for the citywide preservation organization in Washington, DC helping to plan activities related to modern architecture.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

JetModern: Power and Preservation

Posted on: September 28th, 2009 by Guest Writer 2 Comments

 

Space Needle, Seattle

Space Needle, Seattle

In one brief day in Seattle, I met with three great preservation groups, DOCOMOMO WEWA, Historic Seattle, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

If, as Eugenia Woo of DOCOMOMO WEWA and Historic Seattle noted, the region’s first population boom came at the beginning of the 1900s with the gold rush, the second wave came after the Second World War. Both booms had an impact on the appearance of the region as significant building projects had to be undertaken to support these new populations. It is no coincidence that one refers to some of mid-century buildings as “atomic.” Although the atomic age was driven to develop weaponry, nuclear research was also used to develop technologies to generate electricity. While weapon development programs were clouded in secrecy, the generation of “peaceful” electricity was, as Chris Moore of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation suggested, a positive outcome of the Atomic Age that was significantly more transparent that the defense programs were.

Nuclear Reactor Building, University of Washington Campus (Seattle)

Nuclear Reactor Building, University of Washington Campus (Seattle)

As a major research university, the University of Washington in Seattle participated, I imagine, in both types of nuclear explorations. However, it is the Brutalist nuclear reactor (TAAG, 1961) that I toured as part of my trip that captured my attention. In addition to being one of the most unexpected Brutalist structures I’ve ever seen (next to our Brutalist fire station in Washington, Engine Company No. 2 in Chinatown, at 6th and F Streets, NW), this power plant is located in the heart of both the campus and a growing controversy over whether it should be razed. A number of people are fighting to save the structure, maintaining that it is a very important cultural and historical marker and that its unusual design makes it a structure of incredible significance.

In discussing the significance of buildings, from reactors to carports, it is important to position the structure as more than just something to look at. It is the cultural history of the reactor as much as its aesthetics that make it worth saving. The use of nuclear technology for power generation, and the incorporation of research into the possibilities for this power generation as a part of an engineering program at the University of Washington is part of the historical record of the structure, right? For this power plant, the atomic age was just as much about weapons as it was clean, cheap energy and a nation that looked to all things nuclear as a hallmark of the future. Wearing here DOCOMOMO WEWA hat, Eugenia Woo made the good point that programming for buildings needs to be based on thorough research and context explanation so that, as I’ve previously suggested, the message isn’t just about the visual appearance of the structure.

Preservation is more than skin deep. It’s about more than the façade.

Next stop: San Francisco

Seth Tinkham is a self-employed grant writer and preservation planner located in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for the citywide preservation organization in Washington, DC helping to plan activities related to modern architecture.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.