Archive for the ‘national register’ Tag

Poets Row, Denver, Colorado

I came across this very nifty corner of Denver as I was wandering around the city last weekend, taking advantage of the holiday weekend and balmy 70 F temperatures. Normally I just change planes in the airport, but this time I spent a day exploring downtown and the neighborhoods northeast and southeast.

Poets Row refers to a National Register-listed block of apartment buildings directly south of the State Capitol, on Sherman Street between 10th and 11th. These were mostly built in the 1930s and 1940s and together they form a harmonious group of Art Deco, Moderne, and International Style structures that have seen new life as residents have returned to the central city over the past 20 years. They’re named after famous writers, not really poets. The buildings are nothing fancy or luxurious, but are notable for being an intact row of apartments that gives a glimpse into city living 70 years ago. Aside from the view of the skyscrapers downtown, this is a virtually unchanged streetscape, and a wonder that it survived all these years without being torn down or otherwise defaced.

Downhill, a couple blocks away, are the distinctive buildings of the Denver Art Museum- the Daniel Liebeskind building is the most recognized, but I have to say that the fortress-like Gio Ponti structure (1971) really caught my attention. This is Ponti’s only US design, and I haven’t decided whether I love it or hate it. I don’t think it really fits the location so close to the Capitol and City Hall, and it’s an unavoidable structure that barely resembles a museum. I thought it was a jail, like the one in downtown Chicago.

Mark Twain Apartments

Thomas Carlyle Apartments

Dorset House, understated International / Moderne style

Denver Art Museum, Gio Ponti (1971)

Advertisements

Last days of the Sixth Street Bridge, Los Angeles

I visited LA quite a bit in 2015, spending many happy days wandering around the diverse neighborhoods and landscapes of the city. The Sixth Street Viaduct, generally called the Sixth Street Bridge, was the doomed landmark that I spent plenty of time up close and personal. My last visit was New Years weekend, 2016, which was supposed to be the final weekend it would be open to traffic. It turned out that the closure was delayed by a couple weeks longer, but it was essentially the bridge’s last stand, showing all the battering, use, abuse, and love of its 83 years.

There really was no way to save the bridge. The disrepair and decay of the concrete really showed, and it was continuing to deteriorate. Had the concrete not been faulty, perhaps it would have lasted longer. But despite the loss of this landmark, the replacement bridge is a thoughtful nod to the old one, and will be LA’s newest showpiece when it’s completed.

Sixth Street Bridge and the downtown skyline, January 2, 2016. A now-lost view.

Sixth Street Bridge and the downtown skyline, January 2, 2016. A now-lost view.

A bit of calm along the river. The scene was actually pretty busy, with a steady stream of cars, visitors, and photographers.

A bit of calm along the river. The scene was actually pretty busy, with a steady stream of cars, visitors, and photographers.

That bit of elegance among the drabness of the industrial flats.

That bit of elegance among the drabness of the industrial flats.

And a bit of abstraction. . .

Walking back to Santa Fe Avenue, goodbye!

Eads Bridge, St. Louis

Historically one of the major crossroads of America, the city of St. Louis holds a vast number of architectural treasures from the post Civil War period until the 1960s. The Eads Bridge, still one of the major crossings of the Mississippi River, was one of the major engineering feats of 19th century United States, along with other superlatives like the transcontinental railroad, the Erie Canal, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

The bridge is located at a narrow point between downtown and East St. Louis, Illinois, and was built after a protracted battle against steamboat operators, during the aftermath of the disastrous Civil War. Construction began in 1867 and was completed eight years later, in 1874. It was the first major steel bridge built, and pneumatic caissons were used for the first time (at a major human cost). 141 years later, the bridge is still in use, with MetroLink trains on the lower level, and a refurbished deck hosting automobile, bike, and pedestrian traffic.

Aesthetically, the bridge is a balance of the delicate and muscular, with heavy stonework on the ends, and a dense network of steel in the three arches.

Detail of steelwork and west anchorage.

Detail of steelwork and west anchorage.

Eads Bridge, looking east from Laclede's Landing.

Eads Bridge, looking east from Laclede’s Landing.

Louis Sullivan’s Virginia Hall, Tusculum College

This is one of Louis Sullivan’s lesser-known buildings, located in Tusculum, Tennessee, about 90 minutes driving east of Knoxville. Here he created a stately, minimalist building, pretty much devoid of the ornament he was known for. In fact, despite being completed in 1901, around the same time as his lavishly decorated Schlesinger and Mayer department store (better known as the Carson Pirie Scott building), and before the first of his Jewel Box banks, it’s an anomaly among Sullivan’s structures. The building is more reminiscent of his very early work with Adler, like his houses in Lincoln Park.

The overall plan is very simple, notable for the roofline, where the nearly blank facade flares out at the very top, perhaps in a nod to his skyscrapers which ‘grow’ out of the ground. But the spare materials suggest that Sullivan had a small budget to work with, and was starting to face his well-documented financial and personal ruin.

Facade, Virginia Hall

Facade, Virginia Hall

IMG_9873

Roof detail, Virginia Hall

Columbus, Indiana

Columbus, Indiana, is one of America’s supreme built environments, in a rather unlikely place, located 45 minutes south of Indianapolis, Indiana. Over the past 70 years, there have been a string of distinguished buildings from the leading architects of the day, starting with the First Christian Church of Eliel Saarinen. In this small town of 44,000 is a treasure trove of civic and religious structures, many of them built in an agreement with the Miller family and their Cummins Foundation, who would pay the architects’ fees in exchange for a commission from their list of architects.

The town overall exudes Midwestern conservatism, no doubt a defining feature of Indiana, especially the southern part of the state. I perceived a bit of a Southern flavor as well, given that it’s south of the I-70, and within about an hour of Louisville, Kentucky, and two hours of Cincinnati, Ohio. And it was difficult to find a cup of coffee downtown.

I dropped by in mid-summer 2012, complete with oppressive heat and humidity, and crunchy brown lawns. The best of the buildings are the churches, I visited the three ‘historic’ ones, by Saarinen senior, Saarinen junior, and Harry Weese. Each of them is in a different style, and rendered even more amazing by the more recent McHouses nearby, typical of American suburbia. The Saarinens couldn’t be more different in style, and Weese puts a human scale to Brutalist architecture, and is a very underrated architect. Weese loves concrete and brick, and he did wonders with the First Baptist Church (1965), just as he did with his more recognized works in the DC Metro and Chicago. The outside is reductionist, almost windowless, with the clear elements of a church. The interior is a surprisingly warm space, with wood ceilings, and still plenty of natural light filtering into the sanctuaries. Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church (1942) is very large, occupying an entire city block, a sprawling complex with his signature brickwork and Craftsman-like woodwork. The building must have caused a stir when it opened, as it was unlike anything in the town at the time, and still dominates the area as the tallest structure downtown. Saarinen junior’s North Christian Church (1964) soars tall, with a 200 foot spire topping an asymmetric floor plan. The interior is subdued, with this filtered oculus that didn’t quite work the way it was intended, but still hovers high above the space in a thrilling way.

First Christian Church (1942)

Door detail, First Christian Church

North Christian Church (1964)

Oculus, North Christian Church

Downtown has stuff that one would never imagine today, for example the post office (Kevin Roche, 1970). This is no ordinary post office, it’s a rugged, brawny structure reminiscent of the Daley Center in Chicago. The main newspaper office (The Republic) is a clean, glassy block. Eero Saarinen’s 1954 bank building (Irwin Union Bank and Trust) is accompanied by the skylit addition (Kevin Roche, 1973) that could have been mistaken for 2003. The Saarinen building was probably the most distinguished bank structure since Louis Sullivan’s banks. And there’s a whole lot more, including buildings by Pei, Pelli, Stern, Meier, Venturi, Birkerts, distinguished public art, and all sorts of creative designs for schools, bridges, fire houses, and other civic structures. There’s also Saarinen’s Miller House, which is hidden away (but I think I’ve figured out where it is) and is open for tours, though they were sold out the day I visited.

Irwin Union Bank and Trust, with the 1973 extension on the left, and the original in the background

First Baptist Church (1965)

Interior, First Baptist Church

Still, given all the wonderful buildings in town, it’s hard to say how much this enhances the daily lives of its residents and workers.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Peoples Savings Bank, Cedar Rapids, IA

I revisited this structure recently, and described it in an earlier blog entry on Louis Sullivan’s buildings in Iowa. Completed in 1912, this is the most subtle of Sullivan’s Jewel Boxes, and his least exuberant, with a rather sober brick facade and a minimum of decoration. It lies across the river from downtown Cedar Rapids, and the building sustained major damage in the flood of 2008. As of today, it remains vacant, although it is still owned by Wells Fargo and there appears to be some effort to fix things up. The building is currently threatened, not only from the flood damage, but also from plans to beef up the levees to prevent a repeat of the 2008 flood.

Decorative elements and stained glass up top

The shape is unusual, not a box like his other banks, but a more complex double box form with a wide base and a smaller, central second story, and satellite light fixtures also designed by Sullivan. Above the main entry is a space for the sign, delineated by a very gently curving layer of brick. Along the sides are motifs spelling PSB, the initials of the bank, and on the top Sullivan introduces the gryphon that populates many of his bank buildings.

Main facade, note the horizontal brickwork above the main entrance

PSB logo, one of Sullivan’s few pieces of decoration on the building