Modern Architecture

1950/60s Neighborhoods… What to Save and Lose?

Posted on: October 27th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

The National Preservation Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has concluded, though staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation are still sending in field reports. Adrian Fine, director of the Northeast Field Office, looks at some of the conflict that surrounds architecture from the recent past.

The 1950s and 60s-era built environment evokes strong reactions… those that really love it and the rest that struggle with places that came at the expense of an earlier era of architecture, that represent something antithetical to smart growth ideals, and architecture that doesn’t always come in first place in a beauty pageant. The National Preservation Conference in Tulsa was a great lab for testing out this ongoing debate.

A home on the Mid-Century Tulsa field session.

One of the homes visited on the Mid-Century Tulsa field session.

The Mid-Century Tulsa field session immersed conference-goers in the city’s Post-War neighborhoods like Lortondale and Ranch Acres, featuring tours of humble ranches to truly one-of-a-kind modernist icons that could easily pass for the I Dream of Jeannie bachelor pad. Deciding what to save and figuring out how to do it was also the theme of the educational session, Teardowns in Suburbia: Preserving 1950/60s Neighborhoods. Postwar residential housing is unfortunately rarely considered historic, much less protected or bestowed with any type of designation; and we’re losing some of the very best examples of our postwar era ranch houses, spilt levels, icons and entire neighborhoods to teardowns and the resulting over-scaled and out-of-character infill homes.

Field session participants enter a Mid-Century home.

Field session participants enter a Mid-Century home.

In an already rabid private property rights environment, it’s a tough sell to put in place local historic or conservation district designation anywhere these days, let alone to do it for a 1950s ranch house neighborhood. A big part of the problem is us and our need to get over ourselves. The idea of saving places which are from the period of our living memory is affected by a number of prejudices, where taste all too often trumps judgment. History didn’t stop in 1945 or in 1975. We cannot pick and choose arbitrarily which era of our past to deem more important. In Tulsa and all over the country, we’re hearing about the need to identify this era’s resources and how to apply criteria to make good decisions about what to save.

Like a lot of others, my family grew up in the 1950s ranch, a 1960s raised ranch and a 1970s French Provincial catalog knock-off. While none of these houses are particularly noteworthy or significant, they represent something important to me. It’s the same for others who are drawn to this era for its design, but also for its story of innovation and experimentation. These places are symbols of a country that was all about growth, breaking down barriers and exploration. It is more than architecture alone but also Civil Rights struggles and advancements, the Sputnik race to space, and the misguided vision for Urban Renewal. Through a radical shift in our focus, we abandoned our cities or “modernized” them beyond recognition, pushed out our development, and defined suburbia as the goal for every American family.

Teardowns in Suburbia

Teardowns in Suburbia(click to enlarge)

History is not always supposed to be pretty or inspirational, but it should be honest. We cannot afford to erase our Post-War past or choose to only save the very best icons as if we’re in an architectural petting zoo. We’ve done that already and now know better. Tulsa is just now starting to have these discussions and, like a lot of places, will likely lose some landmarks before it gets a handle on this issue. A new online resource from the National Trust for Historic Preservation is on its way to help. Teardowns in Suburbia: Tools to Preserve 1950/60s Neighborhoods will soon be launched on PreservationNation. Email nefo@nthp.org to get on the list and be the first to receive this resource.

-- Adrian Scott Fine

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.

Virtual Roadtrip

Posted on: October 14th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

The National Preservation Conference is just around the corner -- next week, in fact.  Join Jeff and Kelly of Vintage Roadside on Route 66 as they make their way to their exhibit booth at the conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma - they'll drive from Topock, Arizona to Tulsa in five days, blogging about their experiences en route. Their posts will appear in the sidebar of this blog all week as they travel across the Southwest.

Vintage Roadside produces screen printed t-shirts featuring authentic advertising images from mom-and-pop roadside businesses of the 1930s through early 1960s, and donates a portion of their sales to our work here at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, where, in 2007, we listed the motels of Route 66 on our annual list of 11 Most Endangered Places.

-- Susan Neumann & Lori Feinman

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.

Farnsworth House Offering Restoration Tours to Raise Funds

Posted on: October 9th, 2008 by Sarah Heffern 1 Comment

 

Less than one month ago, the Farnsworth House, a National Trust Historic Site and icon of modernist architecture, was flooded in the by tropical storm Lowell and the aftermath of hurricane Ike. The house was closed to the public in the immediate aftermath, but is now opening on a limited schedule to help raise funds to repair the damage from the floods. These tours provide a rare chance to experience the restoration first-hand.

Detailed information on the tours -- as well as an opportunity to contribute -- are available at www.farnsworthhouse.org. And, In the event that you can't make it to Illinois for a tour, the staff of the  Farnsworth House have started a blog to share the progress of the restoration.

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. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.

Not Your Typical Architecture Patron

Posted on: September 29th, 2008 by Dolores McDonagh 1 Comment

 

Living room of the Pope-Leighey House, a National Trust Historic Site. Photo by Ron Blunt.

Living room of the Pope-Leighey House, a National Trust Historic Site. Photo by Ron Blunt.

I know as VP of Membership for the National Trust for Historic Preservation I shouldn't have favorites among our historic sites.  And I love them all for different reasons.  But I can't help but have a major soft spot in my heart for the Pope-Leighey House on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria, Virginia.  That's why the obits took me back a little this weekend when I read that Loren Pope had passed away, the man who commissioned the Usonian jewel of a house the National Trust for Historic Preservation rescued in the 1960s when it was slated to be demolished for Interstate 66 through suburban Virginia.

Now many of us think of Frank Lloyd Wright homes as iconic, groundbreaking, beautiful.  But rarely are they ever thought of as "affordable."  But that's just what Loren Pope's home was -- part of FFLW's vision for "Usonian" architecture -- utopian housing for the "common man."  I've heard Mr. Pope tell his story about how as a young DC journalist he wrote FFLW and asked him to design him a home within his modest budget.  And how, rather than scoff at him, Wright accepted the challenge and answered "Of course I am ready to give you a house."  (Of course it came in over budget, but it was still a bargain.)

I've always loved the Pope-Leighey House -- the way it sits in nature, the way you immediately feel welcome and embraced when you enter this modest home.  And I've often thought it said volumes about Frank Lloyd Wright.  But until today, I never really thought much about what it said about Loren Pope.  The next time I visit, I will think about Loren Pope and what he taught us through his bold act to commission this masterpiece.

Don't be afraid to be bold.  Don't be afraid to ask for what you want -- you might just get it.  Patronize the arts -- you don't have to pay a zillion dollars to bring beauty into your life.  And don't let anyone tell you to settle for less because you are looking for "affordable" housing.  We ALL deserve homes, neighborhoods and communities that enrich our lives, even if we're not Wall Street magnates with golden parachutes.

Thanks, Mr. Pope.

I'll leave the obituary to the Washington Post, but I will pass along that you can learn how to visit the Pope-Leighey House (the only FFLW home open to the public in the DC metro area, and yes (National Trust for Historic Preservation Members DO get free admission) by visiting our Pope-Leighey site on PreservationNation.

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.

Dallas Hotel Sparks Community Conversation

Posted on: September 19th, 2008 by Dolores McDonagh

 

Every morning we get an email called "Preservation in the News" that includes links to news stories that mention the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since by some act of God my schedule today is actually bereft of meetings, I actually took a few minutes to read the "feed" and came across this story in Unfair Park, the online blog of the Dallas Observer about the Statler Hilton Hotel, listed on this year's 11 Most Endangered list. The story talks about the city's dilemma with the abandoned hotel but what really struck me were the comments made on the story by Dallas residents (Dallas-ians? Dallans? Dallasites?). Reading the comments was a fascinating experience. At first, I felt like an eavesdropper, listening in on a married couple's argument at the next dinner table.  Then, I felt like an urban planning grad student, getting into the past and possible future of a city I'd never visited.

As a preservationist, I wanted to only love the comments from people advocating to save and reuse the Statler and find nothing but buffoonery in those giving other opinions. But I couldn't -- because in almost every comment I found a love of Dallas and a common desire for finding the best future for their downtown and city. And I took encouragement from the fact that even those who weren't advocating preservation weren't accusing preservationists of "blocking progress" -- which I think shows how we're having some success convincing Americans that preservation isn't JUST about preserving the past, but also about helping to define our future.

I will share my favorite comment, even though I'm not sure john's a preservationist:

john k. says:

I only wish downtown were like it was in the 50's. Before the $4.00 mixed drinks. Before the old library closed. Before the Dalls Police Department quit enforcing the traffic laws and let the Constables do it. Before the Internet. Before the tunnel which put most of the daily pedestrians under neath the city. Before the hotels quet having named entertainment in their big rooms. Before, Jack Ruby and Oswald put Dallas on the map as a bad place. Before, when Dalls women needed some time before going to bed with a stranger. We all got to know each other better and loved being here as one of the best places in the United States to live.

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.