The George Kaplan House, erected in 1946, is an excellent and exceptionally well preserved example of the International Style in the Boston area. The home is located on a suburban road in Oak Hill, Newton, and displays characteristics such as strong geometric forms, a flat roof, banded windows interspersed with expanses of blank walls and absence of ornament. The Kaplan House was designed by Walter Gropius‘ firm ‘The Architect’s Collaborative’ (TAC) of Cambridge, which was founded just one year prior, and this home was their first completed project. The home was built for George and Ethel Kaplan, a young couple who moved here from Brookline. Kaplan worked in design himself and manufactured shoe fabrics.
Occupying the highest elevation (315 feet) in Newton, Massachusetts Baldpate Hill and its residential development encompasses perhaps the largest concentration of architect-designed custom homes from the 1940-1960 period
in the city. Newton realtor Arnold Hartmann purchased large land holdings in the minimally developed Oak Hill village, developed some land into the Newton Country Club and other areas for suburban neighborhoods. He laid out building lots on Baldpate Hill from 1926 to the late 1950s, and many of the homes were built after WWII. One of the later homes built is this house, built in 1959 from plans by the architectural firm of Hoover & Hill of Cambridge. The home features a low-slung roof with the home in a Ranch form, yet extends to two stories as the hill drops off at the rear of the home. A small garden is located in the front yard, and terraced yard is located at the rear.
Cape Elizabeth is full of amazing late-19th and early-20th century summer cottages, but one of the best examples of early International-style architecture can also be found here! This house was designed by Marcel Breuer, one of the most famous architects working in the International Style in the mid- 20th century. The house plays on the traditionally New England vocabulary, but Breuer, a proponent of the Bauhaus Movement, turned it on its head. The house appears to emerge from its ‘ancient’ fieldstone foundation towards the street and levitates over the hilly landscape, supported by light columns. The house originally was painted a shade of white, common in the International style, but a later owner preferred the natural wood finish. The home is one of the most significant examples of the style in New England, and an uncommon example in Maine.
Walking down the main street in Beverly, I was stopped in my tracks to see what appeared to be a 19th century steeple attached to a Modern church. I snapped a photo hoping I could find information on the architectural oddity I saw. The church is the First Baptist Church of Beverly, which was founded in 1800. The congregation’s first place of worship was constructed a year later for the town’s small Baptist population. The building was eventually outgrown and a large church was constructed in 1866 on Cabot Street, the main commercial street in town. The massive wooden church was an architectural landmark and its steeple has served as a lighthouse since the 1920s! The Coast Guard installed a range light in the steeple in 1921 as ships began using the harbor to get to the Salem power plant. It shines every night, even now, and can be seen 13 miles out to sea. Sadly, in 1975, a blaze ripped through the 880-seat sanctuary and chapel, destroying almost all of the church, but the steeple was saved thanks to firefighters from over 15 nearby towns who came to the aid of Beverly. The congregation noted that as the steeple persevered, so would they. A new, Modern church was designed, and incorporated the corner steeple into the new sanctuary, creating the interesting blending of mid-19th and -20th century styles.
Built in 1935 (the same year as the Webber House in the last post), the Melnick House in South Brookline shows how the historically oriented designs of colonial New England converged with the Modern principles brought over from the Bauhaus movement from Germany. The 1930s were an interesting time for residential design around Boston as the two diverging styles were often located in the same neighborhoods. The Melnick House was designed by architect Samuel Glaser for Edward S. T. Melnick and his wife, Ethyle Melnick. Edward worked in Downtown Boston as the assistant division manager at Filene’s department store. Architect Samuel Glaser (1902-1983) was born in Riga, Latvia and at the age of four came to the United States with his family, settling in Brookline. He studied architecture at MIT and started his own practice in Boston a niche as a designer of moderately priced homes, particularly in the expanding suburbs where young Jewish families had begun living. The Melnick home combines the austere stucco walls and lack of applied ornament typical of late 1930s Modern architecture in the Boston area with a hipped-roof main block and flanking wings more commonly associated with traditional style houses of the same period. The home features a vertical glass block window which illuminates the interior stair hall.
One of the unsung heroes of Modernist architecture in New York City is one of my personal favorites, the Socony-Mobil Building at 150 E 42nd Street in Manhattan. Completed in 1956 from plans by Wallace Harrison of the iconic firm of Harrison & Abramowitz, the development stands out amongst the competing masonry buildings and glass skyscrapers in the area. At the time of its completion, the Socony–Mobil Building was the first skyscraper to have its exterior wall entirely clad with stainless steel, as well as being the largest air-conditioned building in the world! The base is clad with opaque blue glass panels framed with stainless steel moldings; above, the tower and wings are clad in over 7,000 embossed stainless steel panels. The firm reviewed over 100 different designs until they settled upon the four raised relief panels: a rosette-like motif for above and below the windows; a large and small rosette to flank the windows, and two variants displaying a design of interlocking pyramids. The panels were likely designed by or inspired by Oskar Nitzchke (1900-91), a German-born designer who worked at the firm and worked on the similar style Alcoa Building (1953) in Pittsburgh. The building was developed as a speculative project, but the largest tenant, the Socony-Mobil Oil Company, later renamed Mobil, helped to give way to the naming rights. The building was landmarked by the City of New York in 2003.