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.
One of the lesser-known and written about examples of Brutalism in Boston is this refined, elegant take on the style, found in Downtown Boston. While many of you may dislike or even despise Brutalism, this building is a lighter version of the strong mass that we all know. The Massachusetts General Life Building was designed by Boston architect Frederick A. Stahl, who was trained in architecture locally at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and MIT. Frederick Stahl was a perfect architect for Boston, he often worked on preservation projects including the rehabilitation of the Old South Meeting House, but showcased how 1960s architecture could compliment historic forms in a big way. For this building, he re-envisioned the historic granite commercial blocks found scattered around Boston, but showcased the ability of concrete to do more for much less massing. One of the key features of the design is that the two entrances are somewhat hidden, and are recessed in 14′ wide slots where the building is connected to the adjacent historic building. This was the aim to make this structure recess and not try and command the prominent corner. In the Mass. General Life Building, tenants also included the Loeb, Rhoades & Company, a brokerage firm based out of New York, that had offices in buildings in major financial centers all over the country. They later merged with Hornblower & Weeks, a Boston based firm, who had their own building in Boston.
One building in Boston that has always perplexed me is this round church building. It echoes Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel in Cambridge, but is much heavier and plain. After over an hour of researching, I finally found out some history behind it! The church was constructed in the South Cove Redevelopment area, an urban renewal program run by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (now BPDA) as a sort of “slum” clearance near Chinatown. The Church of All Nations was founded in the South End in 1917, housed in a Gothic Revival chapel that was seized by eminent domain for the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension and demolished in 1963. The congregation met in temporary quarters on Arlington Street until the new church was constructed in 1975. Records show that the congregation hired famed Modernist architect Bertram Goldberg as early as 1967 to design a new chapel, set in a new public park. The original plans called for a square building with a massive “steeple” incorporated as the entire roof. For some reason (possibly funding and changing demands for the church), the final design was a little more mundane. The cylindrical church is clad in dark glazed brick with a cross raised in the brickwork. The church suffered from a dwindling congregation in its location, and now appear to rent out the building. One of my favorite local architecture firms Touloukian Touloukian, Inc., re-imagined the site as a new residential tower. It would be one of the few beautiful new buildings in Boston in the past decade or two. Can we please make this happen?!
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.
Founded in 1888, The Park School, one of the premier private schools in the Boston area began off Walnut Street in Brookline in half of a house. Founded by Miss Caroline Pierce, the school was officially incorporated in 1923 and named to commemorate Julia Park, principal from 1910-1922. The school occupied the former Hill Estate before the school board voted in 1967 to look for a new campus, with space to grow. James and Mary Faulkner donated 14-acres of rolling fields and woods to the school for their new campus. The Park School hired architect Earl Flansburgh of Cambridge to design the new, Modern school building. The Brutalist building allowed for large, open classrooms with the flexibility for the school to adapt as its needs changed. The school is built of reinforced precast concrete as a stack of modular classroom and office spaces with wall-length windows for more natural illumination of rooms. Since the 1970s, the school has expanded a couple more times, notably with a 1990s addition by Graham Gund. The school remains one of the most desired in the region and fits well within its landscape.
Tucked away on an un-assuming side street in South Brookline, you will find this oddly fascinating home. Without architectural history knowledge, you may think it is just a normal 1940s house, but it’s actually a Lustron House! Between 1948 and 1950, the Lustron Corp. built prefabricated metal homes across the U.S. as part of an effort to combat the housing shortage for returning soldiers post–World War II. Despite these futuristic homes being considered low-maintenance and highly durable, only about 2,500 were constructed, as the structures were seen as too costly and complex to manufacture and assemble. The homes came in just three models and came in four available colors: “Surf Blue,” “Dove Gray,” “Maize Yellow,” and “Desert Tan”. The home is covered in porcelain enamel metal panels set into a steel frame which can be replaced when damaged. At the interior, the homes had metal-paneled interior walls with mostly pocket-doors for space saving. This home in Brookline was built for Edmond and Helen Jennings, in the Westchester model in the Desert Tan color. The only major alteration is the enclosure of the porch, but it retains a high degree of integrity from when it was assembled in 1949.
What do you think of this iconic 1940s home and style?
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.