Home & Garden 2012: Post Industrial, Present Tense
A group of design professionals collaborates on preserving Monterey Bay’s modernist past.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Docomomo-mo. Say that one three times fast. Do-co-mo-mo-mo.
Here’s what the acronym stands for: the Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement – Monterey.
And here’s what the acronym really means: Monterey County may be best known for its charming Carmel cottages, its Pacific Grove painted ladies, its Spanish-inspired adobes and an unfortunate preponderance of huge and hugely ugly Mediterranean-style Garage Mahals, but sprinkled throughout the region are modern treasures designed by some of the mid-century’s most important architects.
It also means an effort launched more than 25 years ago by Kent Seavey, a preservation architect and lecturer at Monterey Peninsula College, and Rick Janick, an architectural historian and MPC instructor, has made its way into the modern age. The Docomomo-mo group is now a Facebook-driven effort called Monterey Bay Modernism (42 likes and counting, seven talking about it) with the goal of preserving Monterey Bay’s modernist past.
What does historic modernist architecture have to do with today? For those driving the charge, it’s everything.
“Modernism has an initial bad rap because of its origins in the idea of a utopia,” says Karen Lesney, an associate in the practice of noted modernist architect Jerrold E. Lomax, referring to a state that claims to solve all social and political ills. Some of that bad rap also comes from its use of materials that sprung out of the Industrial Revolution, and its adherence to keeping those materials in as natural a state as possible during the construction process.
“It’s got the reputation of being a petri dish, or too sterile, or devoid of personality,” Lesney says. “But modern is timeless in its expression.”
Janick and Seavey initially set out to catalog all of the significant modernist structures in the county, some of which might be familiar to many, like the Edward Durrell Stone-designed Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (1962) and the Rowan Maiden-designed Nepenthe Restaurant (1948). When Lomax, whose Sand City – West End mixed-use condos (2002) are an homage to modernist design, moved to the Peninsula from Los Angeles in 1995, he began collaborating with Seavey, Janick and designer Cynthia Riebe to develop a local modern art and architecture lecture series. From that was born a glossy, full-color map from the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects of some of the area’s more significant structures, and from there came Monterey Bay Modernism.
“The Peninsula has never really grown up, and that’s a shame,” Lomax says. “The lecture series has gotten a good following, but it really hasn’t done too much to change the minds of the people who come here from Beverly Hills or Bel Air to build and don’t want to keep any sense of architectural history.”
Case in point: the Richard Neutra-designed Connell House at 1170 Signal Hill Road in Pebble Beach, the only Neutra house in Monterey County. The famed Viennese architect, whose trademark became walls of glass and cool connection to the outdoors, designed the house in 1956. Its current owner, Massy Mehdipour, the founder and CEO of management software company Skire in Menlo Park, is seeking permission from the Monterey County Planning Department to level the 4,100-square-foot structure and build a 12,000-square-foot home in its place.
Neutra’s only other Monterey-area design was poorly updated and then demolished several years ago.
“The Pebble Beach home is really grounded in contextual architecture, the context being what Pebble Beach used to be,” Lesney says. “It does fall under the category of being a historic landmark by a significant architect. There’s no intention of taking away anyone’s property rights. It’s not meant to be an activist group, but rather a catalyst.”
Adds Lomax: “Neutra had such an influence on California architecture. It should be preserved.”
While the Neutra cause has garnered support from a wide variety of architecture groups, and a letter of support from Neutra’s son, Raymond, Monterey Bay Modernism hopes to have its archive of other relevant modern structures online and searchable in a matter of months. For now, fans can check the group’s blog at www.montereybaymodernism.blogspot.com.
“There’s a reason this database has become precious,” Lesney says. “We need to keep these properties on the radar and in people’s minds.”
Mod Squad – take a trip through modern Monterey Bay.
The Gallery House, 144 San Remo Road, Carmel
Designed by the late John Thodos in 1996, the fusion of art gallery and home uses natural finish wood and extensive glass to bring in the views of the Pacific Ocean. Other notable Thodos structures in the county are two homes he designed for himself and his wife, Judy – the Scenic Drive home between 6th and 7th in Carmel (which the couple sold), and the Torres Street residence, also in Carmel. The AIA describes the latter as a “modernist reincarnation of a Carmel cottage.” Both feature Thodos’ signature use of natural wood and soaring glass.
The Baer House, 35811 Highway 1, Big Sur
Designed by famed California architect William Wurster, who reimagined the redevelopment of San Francisco’s Ghiradelli Square, for the architectural photographer Morley Baer, with whom he had a life-long professional collaboration. This is the last home Wurster designed, and it’s perched above Garrapata Creek.
Three Weekend Houses, 3rd, 4th and 5th on Lopez, north of 4th Avenue, Carmel
His name was Albert Henry Hill, but nobody called him Albert. Henry Hill designed as many as 500 houses, plus commercial and other projects, throughout Carmel and the San Francisco area from the ‘40s through 1979. These “playfully irregular” buildings, designed between 1960-62, sit on pie-shaped lots that offer a rare combination of privacy and views.
Johnson-Riebe House, 54 La Rancheria Road, Carmel Valley
Designed by Pierre Koenig, noted for his use of steel and glass and his design of homes on sites that were regarded as unbuildable. Koenig, along with Richard Neutra and others, designed “Case Study” houses as a project of Arts & Architecture Magazine; this is the only Koenig-designed home in Northern California, and it’s reminiscent of his “Case Study 22” design.
Nakamura House, 325 Via del Rey, Monterey
Charles Moore, one of the most famous mid-century architects and designer of Sea Ranch (and the Weekly’s office building in Seaside), envisioned a modern Japanese home with this 1957 design. The one-story, pavilion-style residence features redwood siding and shingles, and garden details also inspired by Japan.
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