October 23, 2017
When does history end? For some, like today’s guest Clare Lise Kelly, it might be closer to the present than you think. Clare is an architectural historian here in Maryland whose focus is the preservation of mid-century modern architecture from the 1950s and 60s. She literally wrote the book Montgomery Modern, focused on the architecture of Montgomery County, northwest of Washington D.C. From the future of office parks to Frank Lloyd Wright, there’s a lot to cover before we have to say so long. This is PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] When does history end? For some like today’s guest, Clare Lise Kelly, it might be closer to the present than you think. Clare’s an architectural historian here in Maryland whose focus is on the preservation of mid-century modern architecture from the 1950s and ’60s. She literally wrote the book, Montgomery Modern, focused on the architecture of Montgomery County, Northwest of Washington DC. From the future of office parks to Frank Lloyd Wright, there’s a lot to cover before we have to say, so long. This is PreserveCast.
From Preservation Maryland Studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is Preserve Cast.
[Nick Redding] Hi, this is Nick Redding and you’re listening to PreserveCast. We’re joined today in studio by Clare Lise Kelly, who is an architectural historian with the Montgomery County Planning Department. And for our purposes is the author of a fantastic book, Montgomery Modern, which is an illustrated reference guide that chronicles mid-century modern architecture in that county here in the state of Maryland. Clare was awarded 2015 Paul H. Kea Medal for Architectural Advocacy by the AIA, Potomac Valley Chapter and she continues to advocate for these really precious historic resources of the recent past. Clare, it’s a pleasure to have you here today with us.
[Clare Lise Kelly] Thank you. Nice to be here.
[NR] Yeah. So we always love to hear about how people get in the preservation, sort of what their path to preservation was. What brought you to this interesting line of work and, I guess, the niche of recent past preservation?
[CLK] Well, I guess it started for me – I grew up in the Hudson Valley in Rhinebeck, New York and I was steeped in history from the beginning. We had four generations of family living in the same area and our family had a lot of stories to tell. And I grew up listening to stories from my parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents and so I had that background. My parents are historians by profession and traveled a lot, so as a kid I was steeped in it. But I never really took to history when I was in high school. It seems like a list of names, and dates, and treaties, and wars [laughter], and it didn’t really interest me. When I got to college at Cornell, I took a class in architectural history and it was really doing a neighborhood survey that got me hooked on history. We went to this town Trumansburg and just went building by building looking at houses. And I realized it was kind of like being a detective trying to figure out when was the house built, and how did it change over time, and who built it, and why, and who lived here? And that really got me hooked in architectural history.
[NR] So sort of the investigatory piece of it that you liked that.
[CLK] Yeah. Yeah.
[NR] So you went from Cornell to where?
[CLK] University of Vermont. And I was really interested in that program specifically because Chester Liebs had just written a book, Main Street to Miracle Mile, and we were looking at modernism in rural Vermont. So we’re looking at diners and movie theaters, in the 1980s that was the recent past. And so these are buildings from the ‘30s so they were about 50 years old and most people weren’t really thinking of Streamline Moderne and Art Deco. There was a small group of people just starting to think of that time period as historic.
[NR] Which is funny because I think nowadays most people would look at Streamline Moderne or Art Deco and be like, “Of course that’s historic.” But it seems it takes a little while for the general public or the public consciousness to catch up with history. Because you were referring to that as at that time that was the recent past. And now what we refer to as the recent past is what?
[CLK] Now the recent past is the post-war era, the 1950s and 60s. So again, it’s about when it gets to be about 50 years old. That really gets to the challenge of looking at mid-century modern, that it is the recent past. And for some folks it’s just old, outdated, obsolete, and old-fashioned.
[NR] And particularly if you lived with it. I mean, that has been my experience is that if people lived with a particular style of architecture or they grew up with it they’re like, “Well, that can’t possibly be historic. I remember when that thing was built.”
[CLK] Yes, and that’s what happened with bungalows in the 1960s and 70s. Folks were thinking, “Oh, yeah. I grew up in a bungalow. That can’t possibly be historic.” And it was because if you grew up with it, if it was from your parents, it’s not that interesting. It’s from your grandparents, then [laughter] it’s interesting.”
[NR] For listeners who are joining us from around the country, why don’t you give us a sense for – before we talk about Montgomery Modern, what is Montgomery County? Why don’t you describe Montgomery County? I’m interested to hear what your description of it will be.
[CLK] Sure. Well, Montgomery County is a county right next to Washington D.C. And for much of the history of Montgomery County, it was a frontier. It was Western Maryland. And if you look at history books for Maryland up to 1950, Montgomery County is considered Western Maryland. It’s not urban. It’s not suburban. It’s farmland. And so starting in the 1930s and then, particularly, after World War II we had a huge influx of population.
But before that, starting really in the1920s, we started preserving parkland. The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission was set up in 1927. And we set up a huge network of stream valley parks. And so we preserved all this amazing parkland. And one of the things that makes Montgomery County unusual is the rugged land that is in the county right next to this city. So we have these stream valleys: Cabin John Stream Valley, Potomac River Valley, and some very steep land and beautiful parkland that started getting preserved in 1927.
And we had a great school system that got established very soon. And these were to qualities that were very attractive to folks who were looking for a place to live and to developers who were looking for land to develop. And they became quite interesting, I think, to modernists who were interested in building new buildings along natural areas. So we had those factors and on top of that, because we were next to Washington D.C., we are a very natural place for federal facilities. Once downtown D.C. started getting developed, they were looking for more land. And Montgomery County became a prime location, especially early on for the Navy because we’re between the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay. And so we had the Naval Ordnance Lab, the Naval Basin at Carderock and the Naval Medical Facility all located in Maryland, in Montgomery County in the 1930s and early 40s. And so those helped to set the stage for federal facilities which attracted federal workers. We were a prime location for a new population.
[NR] So it’s like the perfect storm for population growth [laughter] –
[CLK] Yeah, yeah, it was a whole variety of factors –
[NR] I mean, you couldn’t be any more perfect. And so how big of a county is it now population wise?
[CLK] It’s about a million.
[NR] And when it comes to mid-century modern architecture, would you say it’s like a perfect place to study it? What did you find? And why don’t you maybe tell us a little bit about Montgomery Modern? How it got started? I mean, it became a book, but I think it was started as something else, sort of this survey. What did you find? What were you able to uncover in Montgomery County?
[CLK] Yeah. Well, to go back to my roots in historic preservation, when I was in Vermont I was looking at modern diners and movie theaters in this farmland. And an interesting thing for me in Montgomery County was I found a similar kind of dichotomy that we have farmland in upper Montgomery County, which is the ag reserve and it’s preserved farmland. But we have this very urban area down county so it’s very attractive to me to be able to have the opportunity to study both dairy barns and high rise apartments.
But as far as Montgomery Modern Initiative, it’s a program to raise awareness about mid-century modern architecture. And we started it after a series of challenges when there were buildings from the 1950’s and ’60s, which were threatened. They were threatened by development, by proposed projects. And so we started researching buildings that were COMSAT, there was the Wheaten Youth Center, the Flower Theatre and Shopping Center, which were threatened and some came to us as nominations from the public, from folks who said, “Look, we care about these buildings and they’re being proposed for demolition or for the possibility of new construction.” We researched these projects and proposed nominating them for historic sites and were met with resistance both by public agencies and also by the public who didn’t understand what could possibly be historic about the 1950’s or ’60s. And we heard over and over again, “Oh, if this was built during my lifetime what am I, historic?” And so –
[NR] Right. The answer is, “yes.” [laughter]
[CLK] So we realized that we needed to take a step back and really look at this time rate to raise awareness. Also, one of the foundations for historic preservation is the architectural survey and I mentioned I had done that when I was back in college and no one had done a comprehensive survey of the recent past. One of the challenges of the postwar era is we have so many buildings that were constructed during that time period. There were more buildings constructed in the decade after World War II than had been built in Montgomery County up until that time. So that was a huge increase.
[NR] So how many people did you bring on to do the survey work?
[CLK] Well, fortunately, I started out by building on work that had already been done. So in the late ‘90s we hired Joey Lample, she’s now with the Department of Parks in Montgomery County that calls for researchers, but at the time she was a consultant. We hired her to do a context study of the work of Charles Goodman. And she did such a great job in the course of doing it she really set a lot of the context for the post-war era. And in addition, Isabel Gornea at the University of Maryland, did a survey, a statewide survey, of modern movement architecture in the county. And so those two studies were really great foundation for the work I did.
And then in the course of – it was about a decade of research that we did when we were proposing nominations of historic resources. So there was COMSAT, there was the Wheaton Youth Center, the Flower Theater I mentioned and each time we did one of these studies I did kind of a survey of how many youth centers do we have in the county? How many movie theaters do we have in the county from this time period? How about garden apartments? We’re looking at Americano Glennmont and I looked at Carl Freeman and his body of work. And so every time I did those I did a database, I did a survey. So I was surveying as I went and I had originally thought about maybe putting out a chapter a year or something on each of these topics and then I just decided we really just need to do a comprehensive look at all of this. Fortunately, had the support from the Planning Department and from the Historic Preservation Office. And it was Gwen Wright and Scott Whipple who really gave me the support to let me, basically, take a sabbatical to do writing and the research to write the book.
[NR] And that resulted in Montgomery Modern?
[NR] Why don’t you tell people about what that is? And why they should probably pick up a copy.
[CLK] Yeah. Well, I mentioned that we started as an initiative some years ago. And I started out doing a building a month [laughter]. And we did a blog post. I did a blog post. And so I would pick a building and write about it. Weller’s Dry Cleaning, it’s a really cool mid-century sort of Gude type building, and I wrote a blog post about it. And so I did a whole series of these books, and I started getting some amazing responses back from folks who would read a blog post. And a woman would write me and say, “Oh, my Dad was the architect who designed that!” I had written a little about him, and she told me more about him and sent me a photo of him when he studied with Frank Lloyd Wright. So it was very cool to get this sort of immediate response from the public.
[NR] Yeah. I think to some extent, and as many challenges as there are with the mid-century, there can be some real benefits because you still do have those connections. Because if you’re studying a Pennsylvania German barn from the late eighteenth century. You’re going to be hard pressed to find that kind of personal connection, but you still do have that with this.
[CLK] Yes. Yes. Which is very cool. And then after the blog post, my colleague Sandra Youla and I, we brainstormed and said, “We should do a tour of mid-century modern buildings.” And we came up with the idea of a bus tour. And so we did a bus tour. And it was sold out within a week. Just tremendous interest in going out to look at these projects. Then the momentum built for Montgomery Modern and then I decided to write the book. I focused on projects that had earned awards when they first came out because I thought it’s good to just go back to the beginning and go back to looking at what was considered important architecturally, or for its program, or for it’s planning when it first was built. And so I looked at projects that got awards from the AIA local chapter or national award. There were also local design programs that were giving awards for architecture to recognize.
[NR] Which is also a unique thing for Mid-Century because if you were to go back to the nineteenth century, you don’t really find things like that. You don’t really know in what context these buildings were always built or how they were perceived immediately. But in the mid-century, you get a sense their peers thought this thing was fantastic, so.
[CLK] Yes. Yes. and it was really the beginning of design awards. The Potomac Valley AIA was established in 1955, and they very soon started an award program because there was a recognition right after the war. There was so much construction going on, as I mentioned, and there was just such a rush for building that what was being built there wasn’t always a lot of thought about how it was designed. It was just, “We got to put up some houses. So let’s level all the trees. Let’s scrape the land. Let’s put in as many houses as we possibly can without necessarily an eye to how is it to live in this neighborhood. Or what does it look like?”
[NR] Right. Well, I think this is a good opportunity for us to take a quick break. And then when we come back, maybe start talking about how the mid-century modern architecture fits into our modern world, and can it adapt? And all those sorts of things. We’ll do that right back here on PreserveCast.
[Stephen Israel] There are dozens of state-to-state borders between the states of the United States. Some along rivers and others just kind of straight lines. But few, if any, state borders are as famous in the cultural imagination as the Maryland – Pennsylvania border. The Mason-Dixon line is most well known for its use as the division between Northern free states and Southern slave states in the antebellum period. And, thus, continuing to be seen by many as the division between North and South to this day. Yet seeing as how this past Wednesday, October 18th, was, in fact, the 250th anniversary of the surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon completing their famous line, I figured we could talk a little about how the line came to exist at all.
It’s hard to imagine it now, but most of the state borders in the early colonies were pretty hotly contested. As some Marylanders may know, in 1632 King Charles I granted Cecil Calvert, the Second Baron Baltimore, the colony of Maryland. Among the many unusual stipulations of the original agreement, including the promise to pay one-fifth of all gold and silver found in the colony to the King, as well as two Native American arrows to be delivered to Windsor Castle every Easter, there was a lot of substance. Including a statement that the northern border should be, “Unto that part of Delaware Bay on the North, which lieth under the fortieth degree of north latitude from the equinoctial where New England is terminated.”
About 50 years later, in 1681, William Penn was granted a charter that led to the creation of Pennsylvania, which granted his new colony land all the way south to the fortieth parallel. Now, you may be thinking, why was there a conflict if both land grants lieth at the 40th latitudinal parallel? Because this was the seventeenth century and no matter how extra “’ths” they wrote with, the geospatial technology wasn’t what it is today.
Penn had already started settling people in his chosen capital site of Philadelphia when it was noticed that the line at 40 degrees north of the equator laid north of the city! William Penn and the Calvert family began a long series of legal battles that led to a number of consequences, not the least of which being the creation of Delaware. But in terms of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, very little was accomplished. By the 1700s, Marylanders on the ground had forgone the idea of ever gaining land near Philadelphia as the city had grown too large. But the sparsely populated land west of the Susquehanna River was seen by many on both sides as fair game. Eventually, the land got so populated that a Marylander named Thomas Cresap started a ferrying business, which eventually turned into what I see as a bit of a mafia-style extortion scam. He insisted that new settlers buy their land from him, even though it was illegal for him to own it under an agreement made by English law. Cresap’s activities eventually led to the involvement of both Pennsylvania and Maryland militia in an event known as Cresap’s War.
That war ended with Cresap in a Philadelphia prison with a public statement, “Damn it. This is one of the prettiest towns in Maryland.” The violence of Cresap’s War was enough to get King George II to issue a proclamation in 1737. And eventually, a provisionary deal was reached with a border starting 15 miles south of the southernmost home in Philadelphia and while some skirmishes continued, this was the line that was used when the two English surveyors, Mason and Dixon, were finally able to be contracted to completely formalize the border with biomarkers and all in the 1760s. That’s all I got time for. You need to get back to PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] Do you have questions? We may have answers. If at any point during this podcast you thought of a question that you have for us or maybe one of our guests, we’d love to hear about it. You can send an email to email@example.com, and we’ll try and answer it right here on the air on the next episode of PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. We’re joined in studio today be Clare Lise Kelly who is an architectural historian with the Montgomery Planning Department. And we’ve been talking about all things mid-century modern architecture, the challenges, the opportunities of working with that period of architecture. And, Clare, when we took our break, we had just talked about how you came up with this concept of the initiative, and then the survey work, and the blog post, and tours, and there is public support for it, there’s some people who are opposed to it. But I think, to some extent, times change, and so can mid-century modern buildings keep up with where we are today? I mean, we’re recording this podcast right now from a nineteenth-century mill that has been adaptively reused and retrofitted to be office space, and so obviously this can keep up, and the materials allow for that. But what about mid-century materials? I mean, you’ve got a lot of concrete and rebar, can those things adapt? Can we keep the mid-century alive?
[CLK] Well, I guess it’s an issue for all buildings, to some extent, that materials need to be repaired and replaced over time. And for mid-century buildings, perhaps, it’s even more so. And in the way, the materials are more adaptable to being replaced because you have, for example, a steel frame building, which is one of the basic elements for modern architecture. t’s very easy when you have a curtain wall on a steel frame to replace the curtain wall and to potentially have it be compatible with the original design. So it lends itself to interchangeable parts, to some extent.
[NR] And Clare, just so people understand, why don’t you define what a curtain wall is?
[CLK] One of the innovations of modern architecture was the use of a skeleton frame. And the steel skeleton frame provides the structure for a building, and then the exterior wall becomes a curtain. It’s panels that are hung on the skeleton frame, so they can be made of glass or ceramic or wood, so they’re no longer structural. Traditionally in architecture, the walls are load-bearing and so there’s some constraints in how a building is configured. Once the structure is the skeleton frame, the walls – interior and exterior – become movable so that you have great freedom in how the space can be used.
One of the challenges is that we have differing standards in comfort and in energy efficiency now than we did at that time. So that’s a challenge that many of the houses built in the 1950s and early ’60s had single-pane windows. Now today, double-paned windows are standard and something that we expect. And so one of the challenges is to find, for example, a company that can put in double-paned windows but that still preserve the original design of the building. And so we’ve been working with property owners to identify those companies that have been able to produce materials that still retain the character of the original buildings.
[NR] And do the Secretary of the Interior’s standards, do you feel like they’ve kept up enough? I mean I know we’ve just gone through some revisions here now. Do you feel like they’re able to adapt to the needs of the mid-century?
[CLK] Yeah. I think, you know, it still goes back to retaining the character of the building. I think that we need to perhaps broaden our concept of what is the character of a building, for mid-century buildings because –
[NR] How so?
[CLK] Well, because, for example, on a historic building, the window is a very small portion of the facade of a building.
[CLK] But for a high-rise office building, the window is really all that you see.
[CLK] And when you’re replacing windows on a curtain wall building, it could be the whole facade you’re replacing.
[CLK] So, you have to really think of it in a different way. And so we have great examples of buildings. The Seagram Building in New York City that was restored, rehabilitated, and, basically, entire exterior facades were replaced. But they were replaced in a way that it still retains the original character even though what was put in is now energy efficient.
[NR] Right. It’s important. And to the extent that, you know, a lot of Montgomery County – a lot of these suburban counties all across the country, incredibly automobile-oriented. Right? I mean giant parking lots, cul-de-sacs, not terribly walkable. You drive through parts of Montgomery County and if you were a pedestrian, you’d sort of be taking your life in your hands to get from point A to point B. Do you have any thoughts on how we address that? I mean we did interview… I will say that we interviewed one of your peers in Montgomery County Planning about autonomous vehicles and how that could sort of begin to change the nature of place in places like Montgomery. But how does the mid-century modern architecture survive in that?
[CLK] Yeah. I think that we do need to think about how we can adapt projects to today’s needs. So, for example, the office park in a way has now become somewhat antiquated. The concept of the office park, the idea that folks are going to drive to this facility from some distance to park to work in an office. Now we have so many people who are teleworking, for example. We don’t need to go – we have office spaces in office parks that are now vacant. We have a large vacancy for office parks.
[NR] Yeah. I’ve heard people joke that the office park is the next artist housing, artist space just like mills and warehouses used to be.
[NR] Now mills and warehouses are very chic.
[NR] So, they’re too expensive for artists, but maybe artists will be moving [laughter] out to these places.
[CLK] Yeah. And as it turns out, it’s not such a joke.
[NR] Right. Right.
[CLK] So we have an example in downtown Silver Spring where we have a former police station that was a stand-alone building surrounded by parking lot and now it’s being converted by art space to artists, live-work space.
[NR] Yeah. So, it’s happening.
[CLK] So, there’s going to be– yes, it’s happening.
[NR] But what about the parking lots themselves? Does it change the sense of place if you were to – you know, the smart-growth infill crowd would say, “Repair this kind of sprawl and build in it and create density.” Does that scare the architectural historian in you? Or do you feel like the building is just going to have to adapt and that sense of space may have to change because that’s just the reality? Where do you stand?”
[CLK] Yeah. I think that it’s very similar to downtown commercial areas, downtown highly-developed areas where you make a decision. Which are the buildings that are worth preserving? And then you do infill around those buildings. In some cases, building above or behind them. In other cases, building between them so, you can still preserve the buildings that you find are important and allow for new growth. So that’s one one solution in downtown Silver Spring.
Near the Silver Spring Metro, there is a project that consisted of high-rise towers, garden apartments, mid-rise towers, and shopping center. And that’s now being re-developed so that a lot of the parking space is now being constructed with very tall towers. The high rises are being preserved. They were designed by Morris Lapidus, who’s the architect who designed hotels in Miami known for his flamboyant architecture. He’s a very important designer. Those high rises are being preserved, but the lower rises have been taken out and are being replaced and the parking lot is being replaced by more density. So that is a great example of preserving mid-century buildings, but allowing for more density right next to the Metro. There are other cases of office parks or industrial parks that are not near a Metro that are not Metro accessible. And so it’s important to think about the future where things are going. You mentioned self-driving cars.
[CLK] It’s also a fact that we have a new generation of workers now who are coming into the workforce who are interested in biking and who are using Uber and rideshare. Maybe are not so metro-oriented; that are interested in going where they want to go, when they want to go.
[CLK] And so it could be that using buildings in an office park could go hand-in-hand with folks who want to work at home, for example. There are folks who are looking into possibilities for using a high rise as either office space or apartment space or both. That it can be flexible space. And so you can combine living and working all in the same building. And if we were to do projects like that, it could open all sorts of possibilities for folks being able to live and work in their own space.
[NR] And I also think that, you know, in Montgomery County – and I’m sure this is the case around the country, but particularly in our area – traffic has become such a stifling nightmare. I don’t know if those words really can even carry the weight of how terrible it is sometimes to get around in Montgomery County, or God forbid you have to drive on 270, which for those people who aren’t familiar with it, is the arterial road that goes in from western Maryland from Frederick, Maryland, down through Montgomery County into the beltway, into Washington D.C. It is just choked with traffic every day. And it seems like at least you have these mid-century modern structures that kind of provide this backdrop, this canvas to maybe start solving some of these problems without expanding 270. I mean I know that’s a proposal on the table right now even, but you can only make that road so big. It’s not going to solve these traffic challenges.
[CLK] Yeah. And I think that we have more employers who are encouraging employees to work at home, to telework.
[CLK] And we also have folks who are coming up with innovative companies and their own businesses. They’re working for themselves or as consultants who are able to do more teleworking. So it’s definitely something that’s coming into play.
[NR] So, let me ask you this, you’ve been involved in this now for you said over a decade, I guess. When you started, there was a lot of – there were some oppositions from community concerned about the idea of protecting these places or calling them historic. After the tours, the survey, the documentation, the book, the lectures, the podcasts, do you feel like there’s better support for it now? Do you feel like it has changed? And I use this perhaps has an opportunity for you to talk to people around the country who are thinking about this. Has your experience in Montgomery County been such that you’d think this is the way of going about it? Has it helped in the advocacy front?
[CLK] I do think it has helped a lot and I’ve heard from folks who are interested for example, in having their neighborhood looked at as a possible historic district. There’s a lot of interest now in National Register listing. An advantage of that is that there’s tax credit available for restoration work of houses that are in – buildings that are in a National Register District – and it also helps to raise awareness for folks about the value of their neighborhood. We’ve had a number of mid-century neighborhoods that have been listed in the National Register in recent years.
[NR] So how many mid-century districts do you have now in Montgomery County?
[CLK] Well, we have three districts that are buildings that are houses designed by Charles Goodman, in Montgomery County. And we have two districts that represent the work of Keyes Lethbridge and Condon and Edmund Bennett, the developer, that are in Montgomery County. And then recently, we had a project, historic district, that’s apartments, highrise, and garden apartments that were built by Carl Freeman I mentioned earlier. So those are all mid-century districts that have been listed in the National Register.
[NR] And any tricks of the trade? Or any tips for people around the country that are thinking about – maybe they’re in a planning department, or they’re preservation working in the grassroots and they want to get a mid-century neighborhood listed. Any recommendations? Anything that you’ve learned? Or things that you would do differently in the future?
[CLK] I think it’s important for folks to have the historic context so that you can look at, for example, the body of work of an architect and see how does it fit in with his body of work? Or how does this district compare with other districts in the area?
[NR] So it’s important to kind of do that base-level research not just, “I think the architecture’s really cool and it’s from the 50s.”
[CLK] Yeah. Exactly.
[NR] So curious, where does this go now? I mean, the recent past is always changing. Are you going to start looking at the 70s?
[CLK] Well, at some point, we definitely need to look at the 70s. Whether it’s me [laughter] personally, I couldn’t say. But we do have to recognize that history moves on. We have to keep looking at buildings before it’s too late. And that was the challenge that we were finding with the mid-century buildings that we were in danger of losing some really important buildings if we didn’t start looking at them. So it’s definitely always something that we have to keep looking at. We used as a model, for the mid-century study, the work that was done in Art Deco in the 1980s. Richard Striner and the Art Deco Society really set a ground-working work in their study of Art Deco in the 1980s. We used that as a model for mid-century Modern, and definitely, there will need to be a study of ’70s and ’80s, which had some very important buildings constructed.
[NR] You’re making some people’s eyes roll out there, but that’s great. That’s our job. I guess you’re sort of creating tomorrow’s landmarks today.
[CK] Exactly. And the era of Postmodernism and Brutalism, it’s also called Heroic architecture. These are buildings that we need to look at today while they’re still standing and find the best examples of them as well.
[NR] Well, I know you said you might not be the one doing it, but I think for everyone working here in Maryland, we hope you are because you’ve done a fantastic job with the mid-century, and looking forward to more about that. Final question before we wrap up today. Most difficult question we ask anyone, particularly architectural historians that we talk with, your favorite historic building or place?
[CK] That’s a very hard question [laughter]. You know, having spent all this time looking at buildings in this time period, there are just so many that are really favorites. I guess I’d have to say that I’ve especially come to really appreciate the Robert Llewellyn Wright House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and of course, he’s the master at outstanding architecture. But it has a personal interest to me, as well, because I helped to designate the building locally. And I worked with Elizabeth Wright, the original owner of the house. And now, it is still owned by the family, and Thomas Wright, the grandson, is living there now. And I’ve had the pleasure to work with him, and I’ve come to really admire the house on a personal level and really appreciate the architecture. It’s right on the Cabin John Stream Valley I mentioned earlier. A very steep site, and it’s built right into the hillside and it’s just incredible how when you approach the house, it looks like a fortress. It’s got a big tower on the front that has the water, and the plumbing stack, and the fireplace, and the kitchen all in a big tower. It looks like a fortress when you enter it, and it opens up into a Cabin John Stream Valley you see the nature and the mature trees out the windows. It’s really a phenomenal design.
[NR] And if people want to learn more about it, they can pick up Montgomery Modern?
[CK] Yes. Yes, and actually, see a photo of the house on the cover of the book.
[NR] That’s right.
[NR] Yeah. It really is beautiful. Well, Clare, this has been a real pleasure to sit down and talk with you about this. Thank you for all the good work that you’re doing out there, just changing people’s perceptions of modernism. If people wanted to get in touch with you or learn maybe more about mid-century modern and Montgomery Modern how do they find that?
[CK] If you go to MontgomeryPlanning.org/MontgomeryModern, you can find information about the program and how to contact us.
[NR] Perfect. Well, thank you so much, and good luck on all your future endeavors.
[CK] Thank you very much.
This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Ben and Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website: PrettyGrittyMusic.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @PG_PrettyGritty.
To learn about Preservation Maryland or this week’s guests, visit: PreservationMaryland.org. While there, you can check out our blog and learn about what’s current in historic preservation. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter @PreservationMD. And of course, a very special thank you to our listeners. Keep preserving!
Correction: At around the 24:00 minute mark, Clare mentions an example of a building with a successfully fully restored facade. She said the Seagram Building, but was actually intending to reference the Lever House.