VAF 2021 Virtual Conference Paper Proposals
All presentations are twenty minutes unless otherwise noted. All times are Central Daylight Time.
Most papers presentations will be posted on the Paper Recordings page until June 22, 2021.
Papers marked with will not be posted after the session.
Session One: 10:00-11:30 AM
1.1. West Coast Vernaculars
Chair, Ken Breisch - University of Southern California
Elizabeth Sexton - Independent Researcher
Peddling Mud: Victor Girard and Adobe Revival in Los Angeles, c. 1920
This paper examines the beginnings of the Adobe Revival (c. 1894-1948) in Los Angeles and the cultural, political, environmental, and economic factors that worked in tandem shifting biases and generating renewed interest in adobe construction’s practical applicability for modern affordable housing of the region. In the early 1900s, a sector of Anglo-American architects, builders, developers, historians, and boosters, many of who were transplants to the state, began to promote adobe construction as a residential design solution for the rapidly expanding city. In the wake of a shortage of wood and resulting price surge following World War I, these individuals embraced adobe, claiming it better-suited to the region than wooden construction due to its economy, stylistic abilities, local tradition, and as an environmentally appropriate technology. However, social acceptance of the adobe house for its intended residents, primarily middle- and upper-class Anglo-American families, hinged on alleged modernizing and improving of traditional building practice with cement-based alterations. The revival of residential adobe construction in this vein is demonstrated through an analysis of the adobe houses in the subdivision of Walnut Park, spearheaded by developer Victor Girard. Beginning in 1920, Girard erected so-called “Modernized Adobes” in response to the city’s housing demand, targeting a transplanted, middle-class, first-time home buyer. His modernizing construction technique aimed to highlight adobe’s qualities, while addressing perceived shortcomings of the construction with cement-based alterations. Girard’s highly advertised, public-facing initiative ultimately illustrates one contribution within the larger movement of the Adobe Revival, aimed at encouraging a re-examination of adobe’s usability for residential construction of the region.
Despite adobe’s benefits being long acknowledged by traditional builders and the more native residents of the region, the embrace of its ecological properties and the sustaining of the tradition were ultimately decided by Anglo-American newcomers, who appropriated and altered the building technology. An analysis of the Adobe Revival thus offers to not only explore past attempts to build an ecologically appropriate construction but further to deconstruct notions of colonization and cross-cultural hybridity that can shed much light on placemaking and identity formation in Los Angeles. Concerning the history of building technology, the revival is also significant in that it reveals a detour from a traditional, linear notion of capitalistic progress following industrialization, as a halting is evidenced, materials questioned and interest in permanence and integration with local resources and features expressed.
Amanda Roth Clark - Whitworth University
Industrial Oregon: Cultural Impressions of Rural Historic Structures (ten minute Work in Progress)
This short work-in-progress report will present my current and evolving research into several Oregon properties that feature historic, rural, industrial structures, namely: the Boston Flour Mill and related mill sites. The update will cover how these everyday buildings informed the cultural landscapes they inhabit and will consider how the sites were historically and are now currently used. The brief report will also cover methodology employed and site visit work during the early stages of this research project.
The Thompson’s Flour Mill was established in the Willamette Valley before the first farms were fully developed. Industrial facilities such as sawmills for lumber and mills for flour were built across the rural landscape, imprinting a culture of industry and production that would ever shape the communities surrounding them. This report will explore the mills that appeared throughout the Willamette Valley during the second half of the nineteenth century. Located wherever the local river made water power generation possible, these small production mills were located within easy wagon journeys from the nearby farms scattered throughout the valley.
In Linn County alone, approximately twenty-one mills were in operation by 1900. With changes in water and rail transportation of bulk goods, and the subsequent shift to regional and national corporate growth in flour production, the initial pattern of small-scale local production disappeared. Only two water powered mills remain standing and in operation in Oregon: The Kay Woolen Mill in Salem and the Boston or Thompson’s Flour Mill located just east of Shedd, Oregon, both of which are the subject on this ongoing research and which will be considered in this work-in-progress report. Of these two, only the Thompson flour mill still operates with water power. My greater theoretical concerns lay in studying the impact that these structures had on their surrounding environments and how they are used today for tourism and educational purposes.
Considerations will also be made regarding how such mills impacted local communities with the. I hope to reflect further, at the May conference, regarding damming and controlling of water and subsequent attempts to establish rail routes through this area as part of a further desire on the part of those in power to extract a multitude of resources from the region. Much remains to be considered regarding the greater cultural impacts of establishing water-run mills in the Willamette Valley during the nineteenth century.
Alec Stewart - Dumbarton Oaks
"Meet me at the Swap Meet": Immigrant Entrepreneurs and West Coast Hip Hop's Interethnic Origins
In December of 2014, the Compton Swap Meet’s Korean owners sold their multi-tenant bazaar to Walmart, evicting hundreds of Asian-, Latinx-, and Black-owned microenterprises. The emporium’s closure not only shuttered independent purveyors of goods and services in a city long known as a retail desert, it also erased an important community crossroads and famous hip hop site. As two longtime customers later opined, the swap meet was “the holy grail of the hood” during its heyday, “poppin,’ literally and figuratively [with] African American culture.”
These sentiments are part of a growing chorus which identifies the Compton Swap Meet as one of West Coast hip hop’s most important places. Indeed, pioneering artists including Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Quik, and many others relied on the markets as initial distribution outlets for self produced recordings that mainstream record stores refused to sell. Since 1986, more than 200 rap artists from Ice-T to Nipsey Hussle have affirmed this status by referencing swap meets in the lyrics of over 300 hip hop songs. The markets also frequently appear in music videos such as Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 release, “King Kunta,” which uses the Compton Swap Meet’s facade and parking lot as backdrops. Within a hip hop tradition of reporting on and critiquing social realities within working class and non-white neighborhoods, Lamar and other artists frame swap meets as significant public spaces and crucibles of West Coast hip hop.
Like housing projects in the Bronx and Queens, where young DJ’s developed the foundational tools of hip hop DJing and rapping, indoor swap meets were central to the social production of hip hop culture on the West Coast. Since the early 1980s, when Korean entrepreneurs began converting department stores and factory buildings into the markets, indoor swap meets have served as hip hop distribution nodes as well as sites of interethnic exchange, negotiation, and cultural remixing. In this paper, I argue that West Coast gangsta (or reality) rap emerged in tandem with these “hip hop spaces” through a dialectical relationship between music and place. While goods sold within indoor swap meets articulated West Coast hip hop material cultures, lyrics about the market spaces and their goods revealed shifting attitudes about a rapidly changing city. I explore the dimensions of this relationship by analyzing a variety of swap meet goods, including custom t-shirts, tattoos, and bling, as well as the hip hop lyrics that made indoor swap meets internationally famous.
Meredith Drake Reitan - University of Southern California
Bunker Hill Refrain: Exploring New Digital Tools for Public History (ten minute Work in Progress)
The Bunker Hill Refrain project will map the consequences of a mid-twentieth century planning idea. The City of Los Angeles was an early and enthusiastic adopter of the urban renewal paradigm. It created a redevelopment agency in 1948, and in 1951 described 15 communities in the city as blighted. The Bunker Hill neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles was selected as the first Redevelopment Project in 1958. By the late 1960s, the hill had been cleared and more than 30 feet scraped from its crown.
The Bunker Hill neighborhood has been mythologized in film and in Los Angeles’ public memory. Lost in the gritty film noir fictions or the nostalgia for decaying Victorian mansions are the voices of individuals who were displaced when the bulldozers arrived. Using data from Household Census Cards completed by the Works Progress Administration in 1939 and housed in USC Special Collections, Bunker Hill Refrain will bring the everyday complexities of the neighborhood to light.
The project is an example of crowdsourced cataloguing and using collections as data, two recent concepts that make hidden archival collections amenable to analytical and computational use. Information collected from the WPA will be compared with U.S. Census Records and city directories to trace the lives of residents before and after redevelopment. The project team will conduct oral interviews with descendants of the displaced and will map these stories to particular addresses and locations.
The project intersects with a number of fields of study including planning, urban history, public history, and archive studies. As one of the most significant preservation losses in the City of Los Angeles, Bunker Hill Refrain explores how new digital tools can recover the past. The original built environment has been lost, yet excavating and sharing its history in cyberspace provides today’s urban practitioners with valuable lessons for the future.
1.2. Jim Crow and Its Legacies
Chair, Tara Dudley - University of Texas-Austin
Ethan Bottone - Northwest Missouri State University
"Your Home Away from Home": Tourist Homes and Examples of Hospitality as Resistance from the Green Book
Tourist homes, private residences that rented rooms to traveling guests, were once a popular form of temporary lodging in the United States. Reaching their peak in the early 20th century, tourist homes quickly became obsolete as hotels and motels were able to provide relatively inexpensive and standardized forms of hospitality. As a result of their meteoric rise and fall, as well as the
private nature of the lodging, tourist homes have been neglected in studies of historical tourism and hospitality. This paper, however, seeks to recover and recognize the role that tourist homes played in providing welcome and other forms of hospitality to travelers, particularly black Americans. Through a discourse analysis of tourist homes listed and advertised in the Green Book, a black American-centric travel guide, I argue that tourist homes not only lodged travelers overnight, but also significantly contributed to forms of mobile resistance against white supremacy. Specifically, through a conceptualization of hospitality as resistance, this paper demonstrates how tourist homes enabled opportunities for black Americans to gain economic and social capital through processes of welcoming and establishing “black counterpublic spaces.” Particularly through constructions of home-like environments, tourist homes presented safe spaces that served as moorings within larger mobility networks, countering white supremacist attempts to immobilize and disadvantage black Americans. Given these contributions to resistance and black mobility, I conclude that tourist homes deserve to be included in studies of tourism, hospitality, and black geographies.
Rebekah Dobrasko - Texas Department of Transportation
The Cultural Landscape of Segregated Sport: Austin's Anderson Stadium
In east Austin, Texas, sits a modest football stadium. The metal bleachers only sit a few hundred fans, and the track and field are mostly used by neighborhood exercisers. Several concrete block buildings sit at the edge of the stadium. Two concrete stairs lead up out of the “bowl” where the
stadium sits to a construction site, which is where a new high school building is under construction. However, this football stadium is one of the most significant historic high school football stadiums in Texas. This is the Yellow Jacket Stadium.
Historically known as the Anderson Stadium, this is the home of Austin’s African American high school football and track and field teams. Opened in 1953 adjacent to a newly constructed building for L.C. Anderson High School, Anderson Stadium was only one of three African-American high school football stadiums in the state of Texas. While other black high schools were relegated to sharing stadium space with the white high schools, playing games on Wednesday and Thursday nights, the Anderson Yellow Jackets hosted football games on Friday nights that were the center of Austin’s black community. The stadium seated thousands of fans and had high mast lights for night games. The award-winning Yellow Jacket Marching Band entertained fans before and during each game.
But the celebration and pride at Anderson Stadium did not last long. The final football game played in the stadium was in 1967. L.C. Anderson High School closed not long after that, in 1971, a victim of Austin Independent School District (AISD)’s plan to integrate its public schools.
The stadium languished, a victim of neglect and discriminatory policies. The bleachers designed to seat thousands were removed and the field paved for parking. In the 1990s, a former Anderson High School football player returned to Austin, and because working with AISD to turn the parking lot back into a stadium and community resource. Today, the parking lot is gone, and the stadium is a place to play football once again. This paper will examine the changes of the stadium and landscape over time, issues surrounding African American historic places that have lost historic integrity due to neglect and discrimination, and how the community plans to honor this cultural landscape of segregation and of the black community.
Nihal Elvanoglu - University of Florida
Unearthing the Impact of St. Augustine's African American Community's Contribution to the Historic Preservation Plan
St. Augustine, Florida, known as the oldest city of European origin in the United States, had also been identified as “the oldest segregated city” of the United States during the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-twentieth century. The struggle for desegregating the public spaces of the city through non-violent demonstrations catalyzed social changes at a time when the city was also being revitalized on the basis of a preservation plan. This historic preservation plan focused on the recreation of St. Augustine’s historic downtown as it was in the colonial periods (1565– 1821) for its 400th anniversary that would take place in 1965. The Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine became inextricably intertwined with St. Augustine’s historic preservation plan. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) supported the African American community in their strategic use of the prevailing 400th anniversary celebration as proponents of civil rights prepared to integrate the city’s public spaces. They jeopardized the city’s tourism initiatives and thus, challenged the ongoing preservation activities. Therefore, in the mid-twentieth century, while St. Augustine was being revitalized as a Spanish-American shrine, the Civil Rights Movement transformed the cultural landscape, and the political milieu. Public spaces and businesses including the ancient plaza, newly reconstructed tourist center, St. George Street, and segregated businesses became the sites of Civil Rights protests. Existing histories do not consider the underrepresented African American community of St. Augustine as an important stakeholder that contributed to the cultural and economic development of the city when the preservation plan was implemented. This was due to the prevailing political ideology and social circumstances. However, the contribution of African American community is now being recognized through a paradigmatic shift in the historic preservation movement.
The intent of this paper is to examine, and chronicle the ways in which St. Augustine’s African American community and the St. Augustine chapter of the Civil Rights Movement contributed to the historic preservation activities in the city.
1.3. Indigenous Tropes and Democratic Ideals: Native Americans Seen from Outside and In
Chair, Chris Wilson - University of New Mexico
Larissa Juip - Michigan Technical University
The "Noble Savage," Hiawatha, and the Plains Indian in an early 20th Century Tourism Landscape
A period of fieldwork in the fall of 2020 to document the Minnetonka Resort in Copper Harbor, MI as part of the tourism landscape of the Keweenaw Peninsula in preparation for the 2024 Vernacular Architecture Forum brought up questions about the use of Indigenous tropes for the site and for tourism landscapes at large using an object-driven method of inquiry. The contemporary tourism landscape of North America continues to be home to a variety of Indigenous tropes. In the context of the Keweenaw Peninsula and Copper Harbor, these tropes are manifested in Indigenous toponyms, the appropriation of Indigenous imagery, and the bastardization of Indigenous language. These things were not simply plucked from thin air, which begs the question: how are these created and normalized in American society? American history is full of examples of appropriation dating back to our establishment as an independent nation, through nineteenth century popular writings, and early twentieth century media representations, all of which fueled the automobile tourism industry that began to take off in the interwar period. By combining fieldwork data, archival resources, private collections of ads and ephemera, interviews, and literature reviews, an analysis of the origins of Indigenous tropes in the United States revealed a ‘pendulum narrative’ of shifting imagery that continues today and is manifested in the tourism landscape of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.
Lillian Makeda - Independent Scholar
The Community Center Movement: From Urban Progressives to Navajo Chapter Houses
In the weeks and months following the events of January 6, 2021, many Americans have begun to ask: What did the assault on the U.S. Capitol—the most important architectural symbol of our democracy—mean? Was the insurrection an anomaly, or did it signal a need to reconsider the basic structure of this country's political system?
As secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson helped to select William Thornton, the original architect of the U.S. Capitol. But late in life, Jefferson concluded that the success of American democracy depended upon a political system that included a national assembly as well as smaller governmental bodies based in wards. Within each six-mile-square ward, "every man in the State would become an acting member of the Common government."
During the opening decades of the 20th century, critics including John Dewey, Mary Parker Follett, and John Collier noted that public participation had fallen away, leaving many Americans feeling disaffected from politics. The solution, as they saw it, was to implement Jefferson's ideas and create community centers where citizens could engage in vigorous debate regarding the issues of the day. In 1907, interested adults in Rochester, New York began to meet in public schools to attend evening classes, listen to lectures, and engage in public forums. Within a few years, hundreds of schools across the nation were functioning as community centers.
The First World War diminished the democratic aspirations of the community center movement and in the years that followed, adult programs at public schools took on a distinctly apolitical flavor. But when John Collier became head of the federal Office of Indian Affairs in 1933, he found an opportunity to build community centers on the Navajo reservation where community based educational activities could take place.
During the same period, community-based decision-making was instituted through the Navajo chapter system. Each locally-based chapter was organized to provide the Diné with access to a community building (or "chapter house") where they could discuss matters of concern. The chapter system became fully established after the Second World War when the tribe sponsored new buildings for all ninety-six chapters. Chapter houses today continue to serve as important venues for social events and political meetings. It is perhaps ironic that the Navajo reservation, an artifact of American colonialism, contains as close an approximation to Jefferson's vision of community-based decision-making as any place within this country.
Maureen McCoy and Alexandra Tarantino - Delaware Department of Transportation
Reevaluating Sites and Districts with a Native American context
The Delaware Department of Transportation Environmental Stewardship Office has recently been reevaluating previously identified historic properties in Sussex County as a part of Section 106 project coordination. An issue that has emerged is that previous evaluations for certain sites and potential historic districts did not include all possible cultural contexts and influences. In particular, the Israel United Methodist Church and Cemetery and the Jimtown Historic District located near Lewes, Delaware were both originally evaluated within an African American community context. However, in conversations with community members and through further research, it is apparent that these places were also central to the local Native American community. Therefore, these resources and their character defining features must be reexamined to include these perspectives and experiences.
The Israel United Methodist Church was previously evaluated as an African American Church and Cemetery due to its proximity to the historically African American community of Belltown, and was recommended “not eligible” for the National Register. However, through further research and consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office and Nanticoke Indian
Tribe, it became apparent that the church and associated cemetery also have a longstanding association with the Nanticoke community. To reevaluate the property within this context, DelDOT detailed the significance and character defining features of the “Nanticoke Church and Cemetery” property type, and the property was determined eligible for the National Register under Criterion A.
Similarly, the potential historic district known as Jimtown was originally evaluated as a “rural African American community.” However, the surnames of property owners from the mid and late-nineteenth century include names traditionally associated with the Nanticoke Tribe, including Norwood, Johnson, and Drain. Additionally, the area is geographically close to known Nanticoke communities. This indicates a need to understand and reassess the district under both African American and Native American historical and cultural contexts to fully understand the people who lived there and their ways of life.
These examples illustrate the importance of periodically revisiting previously identified resources to ensure that their significance is evaluated based on all the cultural contexts that have shaped them. Additionally, an effort must be made to consider how character defining features and aspects of integrity may differ depending on property type and historic context, particularly with resources of underrepresented communities.
1.4. Vernacular Evolutions in the Atlantic World
Chair, Carl Lounsbury - College of William and Mary
Roger Leech - University of Southhampton
St. Nicholas Abbey, The Renaming of Nicholas Plantation Unravelled
St Nicholas Abbey in Barbados has long been heralded as "one of just three Jacobean style mansions remaining in the Western Hemisphere". From survey undertaken in 2001, it will be argued that, although first built in the seventeenth century, the house as seen today is as modified in the early 19th century, a fusion of the Gothic architectural revival and literary imagination of the 18th century, paralleled by a distantly connected house of similar form and date in Bristol, England. The indicators of its seventeenth-century date have been generally overlooked.
Marcia Miller - Maryland Historical Trust
"For all these Reasons we have opted for wings": Understanding the Phenomenon of the Five-Part House in Maryland
Early members of Maryland’s gentry built five-part dwellings, with a central block, hyphens, and wings presenting a unified whole, in significant numbers. Thirty-one houses of this type dating from 1760 to 1830 have been identified, a greater concentration than anywhere else in the Chesapeake region. Their locations, while centered on Annapolis and Baltimore, ranged across Maryland. At least twenty-two were built in the 18th century, commissioned by wealthy planters, lawyers, merchants, and industrialists who were connected through marriage, business, and society. These dwellings can be classified as town houses, country houses, and villas, depending on their locations and use, and vary in form and appearance. Why did so many early Marylanders choose to build this particular dwelling type?
Based on fieldwork and documentary research, this paper seeks to understand the architectural motivations and aesthetic ambitions of these 18th-century builders and to explore how this distinctive form suited their particular circumstances. Most five-part houses were built in a single campaign; a handful were realized in stages. For both, the form uniquely suited the owners’ functional needs, while creating an environment that conveyed wealth and status.
In Maryland, the addition of linked wings rarely reorganized the interior layout of the main block, as the wings more often took on functions that would otherwise be housed in separate buildings. In all houses where room use is known, kitchens were placed in one wing, along with enslaved quarters and related activities. The other wing most often served as a study/office, a
stable, or was simply designated for additional services. The hyphens directed circulation between the main house and these spaces for the family and the enslaved workers and free servants who lived and worked within the house. Placing both private and typical service activities into the wings (and in some cases the hyphens) shaped the dynamics of daily life in ways that need to be better understood.
The cohesive form of these unified houses also affected the surrounding grounds, as the consolidation of functions eliminated domestic outbuildings and created a tidier landscape. Gardens and vistas, highly desirable to Maryland gentry in the late 18th century, connected more directly with the house, as multiple doors mediated passage in and out.
Maryland’s gentry adopted the five-part house to convey status and order without deviating too greatly from established norms of the Chesapeake elite. The concentration of built houses attests to the success of this architectural solution.
Edward Nilsson - Nilsson + Siden Associates, Inc.
The Evolution of a Working Church's Trans-Atlantic Symbolism, 1714-2014: St. Michael’s, Marblehead
In 1714 a nine-square grid Anglican church with groin-vault and triple-gable roof was built in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a colony dominated by Puritan and Congregational hegemony. Founded by Sir Francis Nicholson (1655-1728), British military officer and colonial governor, and twenty-nine British sea captains, St. Michael’s has been described as a simplified memory image of several parish churches Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke designed at the foot of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London after the fire of 1666. To Nicholson and the visiting sea captains this smaller wood-framed interpretation of its masonry antecedents across the Atlantic reinforced the collective memory of their spiritual homeland. The London parish churches, in turn, can trace similar features to earlier 17th century examples of Dutch classicism based on a groin-vaulted Greek cross within a square plan, reflecting the simplicity of the ancient primitive churches of the first millennium C.E., and possibly even earlier models.
Fourteen years after St. Michael’s was constructed, however, the congregation grew and enlarged the square building by one-third with a lean-to addition. A century later, facing economic decline, the church was shuttered briefly and an unsuccessful attempt made to revoke its state charter and convert it into a Congregational church. Within a decade St. Michael’s rebounded with a major renovation to its interior and exterior fabric to align with the growing Gothic Revival Style and local liturgical norms. Further significant changes were made in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. During this period, what features have been retained or meant to evoke the original design?
Using newly available digital sources, a close reading of archive records, and archeological research, new discoveries have been made at St. Michael’s revealing an unexpected feature of the early 18th century church, and that more 19th century changes had been made to the interior layout than heretofore realized. The aim of this paper is to explore the initial design concept and trace the evolution of how the congregation modified a unique early 18th century structure over 300 years as it adapted to new modes of worship, architectural sensibility ‘tastes’ and means of construction, yet still managed to provide a strong sense of colonial history and elements of its initial classical design motif.
Session Two: 1:15-2:45 PM
2.1. Housing in the U.S. Post World War II Era
Chair, Matthew Lasner - Hunter College
Anna Andrzejewski - University of Wisconsin-Madison
Building Paradise: Shaping the Architecture of Retirement in South Florida, 1945-1965
As Florida became the migration destination for thousands of aging adults after World War II, builders and developers sought to create suburban retirement communities centered on the needs and desires of older Americans. Yet, what these places would look like was not
immediately clear or obvious. As a 1960s Fortune magazine article on the latest Florida boom explained, the idea of the Florida retiree “no longer signifies rows of rocking chairs.” Instead, the article explained, the retiree “wants to spend the rest of their lives in Florida’s warmth— and they have enough money to translate this into homes.” Aging adults wanted something like a typical postwar suburb, but beyond desiring a particular form of leisure dependent on the geographic removal to a tropical climate, precisely what they desired remained nebulous.
Between 1945 and 1965, builders and developers experimented with building forms and community designs to appeal to this new demographic. One of these developers was the Mackle Company of Miami, Florida’s biggest building firm and a specialist in retirement housing. While Mackle boasted “we know more about old people than you’ll find in gerontology,” the houses they built for retired adults were practically identical to those they built for young families and vacationing adults. Mackle learned by 1957 that old people did not, in fact, want to live next to other old people. Instead, Mackle incorporated dedicated buildings for older adults into the communities they designed, such as clubhouses, social halls, and golf courses, and put these next to landscape features – boat launches, beaches, and fishing docks – that appealed to anyone desiring to live in the sunshine state (whether young, old, or in between).
Using previously unstudied records from the private Mackle Family Archives alongside evidence from buildings in retirement communities across southern Florida, this paper explores how builders, developers, clients, and others created communities catering to older adults in Florida during these formative decades. It reveals how building firms adapted the suburban model to suit their new target demographic (sometimes in consultation with experts on aging) as well as how these clients used buildings and the landscape to fashion a distinctive, regional kind of suburb. Bringing age and region to bear on suburban landscapes in Florida, this talk reveals new, previously unexamined aspects of postwar suburbia and helps us understand the transformation of Florida into a retirement destination in the second half of the twentieth century.
Elaine Brown Stiles - Roger Williams University
Trade Secrets and Research Houses: Knowledge Production and Exchange in the Postwar American Home Building Industry
In 1953, LIFE magazine featured a two‐bedroom, 1,300 square‐foot house that was the “product of a series of extraordinary conferences in which leaders of the highly competitive building industry pooled their trade secrets and . . . planned the best housing buy in the US today.” Designed by the “Trade Secrets Committee” of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the “Trade Secrets House” was a “home show for builders” ‐ a didactic device promoting best practices in design and production ‐ as well as a demonstration of building industry knowledge and expertise to the American consumer. A few years later in 1957, the NAHB launched a program with similar aims, but different methods. The NAHB Research House program forged partnerships between builders, architects, manufacturers, and academic institutions to design and construct eight research houses over the course of eleven years. The program used these model homes as testing grounds for experimental designs, construction methods, materials, and equipment, creating new building knowledge by builders, for builders.
These two programs – one of knowledge sharing and one of knowledge production – were part of ongoing efforts by home building industry leadership to foster greater professionalization among its members at a critical time in their history. The Trade Secrets and Research House programs laid claim to specific areas of design and building knowledge that builders were actively employing to transform the American domestic landscape. This paper
examines these model homes as material expressions of the design values and practices builders saw as crucial to their continued, collective success, as well as manifestations of the emergence of a shared, but flexible design and building culture among builders in the period. Both programs also offer a means for understanding the content and dynamics of design discourse among mid‐ twentieth‐century home builders, demonstrating how they gathered, vetted, and shared information with each other. In these efforts, builders continued to privilege the collective wisdom of their home building colleagues even as they sought to legitimize their methods through association with values of rationality, efficiency, and scientific method. These activities expose the tensions between vernacular and official (or empirical) knowledge in builders’ culture of practice as they sought to fashion a professional identity and articulate it in their housing products.
Kathleen Tunnell Handel - Photographer and Housing Advocate and Eduard Krakhmalnikov - Trust for the National Mall
No Traces to Save: The Vulnerability and Overlooked Richness of Trailer, Mobile Home, and Manufactured Housing Communities
Mobile home communities and the homes within them have been entirely ignored in the historic record, an undeserved oversight that is not just structural, but also personal. Mobile and manufactured homes house between 18-20 million people, around one out of every sixteen American residents in nearly seven million occupied units. Today, there are approximately 40,000 communities of various sizes across the country that, if combined, would create a city three times the area of Detroit and more populous than Los Angeles.
Industrially produced mobile homes diffused critical housing shortages in the United States during and after the Second World War, and came into their own as the homes of choice for millions from the 1950s to today. And yet, there is not a single example of this predominantly American housing form in the National Register of Historic Places.
Often hidden in plain sight, these communities exist in interstitial zones on the side of highways, in niches between industrial zones, or in corners of the rural-suburban fringe. Typically, they house some of the nation’s most vulnerable: essential workers with limited finances, immigrant families just starting out, veterans and retirees on fixed incomes. In doing so, they provide a critical safety net that is becoming increasingly tenuous. Equity investors are buying up parks from mom-and-pop owners at breakneck speed, and communities are being destroyed wholesale. Once communities and their homes are dismantled, there are no traces to save.
At the VAF’s 2021 Virtual Conference, Eduard Krakhmalnikov and Kathleen Tunnell Handel propose to present “No Traces to Save”, a completely updated, twenty-minute version of their enthusiastically received collaboration for the Historic Preservation Education Foundation’s 2019 Preserving the Recent Past 3 conference. Our non-traditional presentation will combine information from our independent research into the history, vernacular architecture, stigmatization, and critical necessity of preserving mobile and manufactured housing communities, with Kathleen’s fine art photographic images and observations from her travels within parks throughout the United States for her ongoing project “Where the Heart Is: Portraits from Vernacular American Trailer and Mobile Home Parks”, and with key points from Eduard’s paper “The Ignored and Vulnerable: Mobile Home Parks as Historic Places”. The presentation will be shared, with Eduard providing a detailed and compelling case for studying and ultimately accepting these endangered landscapes as historically significant and Kathleen following with a travelogue showcasing varying regional characteristics through carefully selected photographs and anecdotes from her ongoing project.
2.2 Cultural Dynamics in the U. S. South
Chair, Susan Kern - College of William and Mary
Laura Kilcer - Oak Alley Foundation
A Critical Study of Oak Alley Plantation's Eponymous Allée
Oak Alley’s iconic allée of twenty-eight live oaks (Quercus virginiana) has been a source of interest long before the plantation site was opened to the public in 1974. Guests and curious writers from the early 20th century onward expressed their enthusiasm for the alley in letters to the plantation’s owners, in newspaper articles, and in countless photographs. The trees were an environmental marvel, and much of the language used to describe the alley reflects a combination of awe and mystery.
Over time, the murky particulars surrounding the alley’s creation have only added to its allure. Indeed, scant material on the oaks enabled creative latitude in 20th century interpretation, allowing it to be lifted altogether from the realities of its sugar plantation landscape—a site of bondage, labor, agriculture and industry—and placed within the myth of antebellum romanticism of the “Old South.” This narrative iteration the alley’s meaning emerged from its visual narrative of order, size, and aesthetics. Subsequently, this narrative found significance in the public’s eye as a kind of living relic—evidence of a beautiful and romantic past. So ingrained was this fetishization that as a landscape the alley has become separate from investigations of the plantation complex.
This paper will look at the plantation’s arboreal namesake, not as a symbolic ornament but within its function as part of the larger plantation landscape. Regarding the alley’s inception, the paper will argue that rather than a conscious design scheme rooted in European garden traditions, the allée’s creation was an evolutionary process: its final form determined (decades after the first trees were planted) by changes in the plantation’s development and transportation access. Previously promulgated theories regarding its genesis, such as the product of an “unknown French settler” or for a future use by the Spanish navy, will be assessed using archeological studies and primary documents. Secondly, the paper will examine the alley’s use over time, as a processional landscape, a division of social space, and a feature with utilitarian application. Lastly, the paper will reexamine popular nostalgic narratives in light of this study, outlining losses that have occurred over a century of such narratives and the impact nostalgia has even today when interpreting one of the most iconic plantation landscapes in the American South.
2.3 Marketing Vernacularity
Chair, Howard Davis - University of Oregon
Windy Zhao - Louisiana Tech University
Living in the Margin: Lives in the New Socialist Countryside
In 2006, China’s central authority released a new policy that called for “Building a New Socialist Countryside,” which intended to change rural China at ideological, economic, and physical levels. The local practice, however, has turned these broad concepts into a ground up rebuilding of a new countryside: rows of identical buildings rapidly emerge in rural China, becoming the new settlement for rural residents, while vernacular landscape becomes abandoned or demolished.
The residents of Yanxia village and their vernacular settlements are greatly influenced by this policy. As a small lineage-based settlement, Yanxia was located at the foot of Fangyan Mountain in the middle of Zhejiang Province. Since the 1850s, residents in Yanxia started running seasonal family hotels to host pilgrims who came from afar to worship a local deity enshrined on the top of Fangyan Mountain. In 2007, the local government laid out the relocation plan, which asked all the residents to move to a new settlement outside the valley, so they could take control of the local heritage and tourist industry rooted in the religious practice. Receiving great resistance, the local government finally started the forced relocation in 2014. By the summer of 2019, when the
most recent fieldwork was conducted, most of the residents were settled in the new settlement. Drawing upon extensive fieldwork conducted between 2007 and 2019, this paper examines the dialectical relationships between the new settlement and residents’ daily lives and cultural traditions. It outlines the failures and unexpected outcomes of the new settlement after it was activated and animated by residents; it also scrutinizes the changes in residents’ lifestyles and cultural traditions after the relocation. It argues that although the new settlement provides more spacious and modern residential spaces, it failed to support many fundamental aspects of rural lifestyles, the existing local economy, and cultural traditions that are rooted in vernacular landscape. As a result, many residents are visiting their once village site on a regular basis to fulfil physical and emotional needs. The established local economy tailoring to the pilgrims is collapsing. Cultural traditions are challenged as the result of being uprooted from the vernacular context. In other words, these residents are living in the margin – the liminal space between the rural and urban – while confronting the differences between the tradition and modern, and struggling to reestablish their identity between the local dynamics and national propaganda.
Ian Stevenson - Independent Scholar
Developing "Magic Town": Capitalism, Corporate Branding, and the Trackside Architecture of the Portland &. Rumford Falls Railway, 1890-1897
In 1890, paper magnate Hugh Chisholm chartered the Portland & Rumford Falls Railway to provide service between Maine’s largest city and the nascent industrial community of Rumford Falls on the Androscoggin River in western Maine. For the seven prior years Chisholm had purchased riverfront land, near the falls, whose 180-foot drop earned it the moniker “New England’s Niagara” and promised more power generation than Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire, combined. This industrial potential far outweighed Chisholm’s own paper business, and so to convince other industrialists to invest in infrastructure and pay him for power generation, Chisholm turned to vernacular architecture. In 1892 he hired Maine architect Edwin E. Lewis, known mostly for his Queen Anne style house designs, to work with chief engineer Frederic Danforth to devise a replicatory template that drew from the region’s vernacular tradition.
Distinguishing the railroad’s stations from competitors, the neat designs primarily aimed to impress investors riding the rails to Rumford Falls while at the same time serving the communities en route to further drive business (Fig. 2). By hiring a local architect to design distinctive, attractive, and relatively inexpensive station templates that an in-house engineer could implement with expansion, the managers of the Portland & Rumford Falls Railway inaugurated one of the earliest iterations of corporate branding through architecture. While railroad companies nationwide adopted standardized designs in the early twentieth century, the Portland & Rumford Falls Railway, serving rural Maine, pioneered the practice of replication over distance to convince customers of value. Therefore, Chisholm’s decision and Lewis’ and Danforth’s implementation represents a seminal moment in the development of capitalism, embodied by New England vernacular architecture.
This paper explores these railroad station designs to argue that one industrialist used vernacular “trackside” architecture as a nascent form of corporate branding to develop a new manufacturing center in the remote forests of western Maine rather than promote the railroad itself. Because the stations were never intended for longevity and passenger railroad traffic plummeted in the mid-twentieth century, nearly all the stations have been lost to fire, demolition, or neglect. Therefore, the paper’s analysis relies primarily on historical photographs, architectural drawings, and documentary research rather than fieldwork. Nevertheless, it approximates vernacular architecture’s critical inquiries of the built environment to elucidate cultural meaning.
Session Three: 3:00-5:00 PM
3.1. Constructing Class in the United States, 1850-1940
Chair, Elizabeth Cromley - Northeastern University, Professor Emeritus
Tom Hubka - University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Professor Emeritus
Unprecedented Improvement: Change in the Domestic Conditions of Working Class Housing in the early 20th Century (1900-1940)
Between 1900 and 1940, millions of average Americans experienced unprecedented improvement in their housing and domestic conditions. These improvements were intertwined with the acquisition of entirely new mechanical conveniences, new types of rooms and patterns of domestic life, and rising standards of living. While most of these improvements—such as three fixture bathrooms, kitchen appliances, utilities, and dining and bedrooms—had largely been obtained by many upper-to-middle-class households by 1900, they became increasingly available to working-class Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. This paper, based on research from, How the Working-Class Home Became Modern, 1900-1940, interprets the results of these improvements as unprecedented in volume and impact—including various one-time-only advances in the quality of domestic life which literally changed primitive, unimproved domestic conditions for a working-class majority into modern middle class standards.
For most wealthier, upper-class Americans, however, there was no equivalent shock of fundamentally new early 20th century conveniences, because these same improvements were acquired much earlier. For example, the installation of utilities occurred throughout the 19thcentury but only during the early 20th century for the vast majority. This paper primarily emphasizes these two different domestic improvement stories as told in the comparison of housing improvement for the upper and working classes.
To support these hypotheses, this paper focuses on a group of widely accepted interpretations derived from the dominant architectural and housing literatures that have influenced the historical interpretation of early 20th century vernacular houses, such as bungalows, workers’ cottages, and duplexes. Typically, these interpretations, while factually correct, will be shown to be misapplied to the housing of early 20th century common houses. For example, common turn-of-the-20th century houses are often assumed to contain dining rooms and private bedrooms—a common misapplication of data from elite to common houses. In other cases, the importance of owner-builders and “kit houses” are frequently exaggerated in relation to their small percentages of common house construction---thus distorting the role of speculative builders who constructed the overwhelming majority of early 20th century common housing. Elsewhere, in the account of utility installation, gas lighting, so prominently displayed in upper class Victorian house analysis, was rarely installed in common households where kerosene and oil flames transitioned to electric lighting. Similar misapplied interpretation marks a dividing line between the lived experience of 20th century domestic improvement and reform---between a well researched upper-middle class, 20% to 30%, and a less well-studied, 70% to 80% middle-to working class.
Mary Fesak - University of Delaware
The Development of Thoroughbred Training Barns at the Saratoga Race Course as a Tool to Construct Class
At the turn of the twentieth century, a group of Gilded Age elites including Augustus Belmont and William C. Whitney invested heavily in New York’s Saratoga Race Course, helping to make Saratoga Springs the hub of elite northern thoroughbred racing culture. They developed their own private training complexes south of the race course, enlarged and reoriented the track’s grandstand, and expanded the thoroughbred training complex north of the race course. Whitney further enhanced the Saratoga Race Course’s training capabilities by constructing a large training track with dozens of additional stables and bunkhouses for workers in the race course’s northern backstretch area.
This paper explores the ways in which a seemingly utilitarian and vernacular landscape reinforces social hierarchies by mapping class onto the landscape and shaping the production of successful racehorses to reinscribe the status and power of their elite owners. Although the thoroughbred training barns of the Saratoga Race Course backstretch appear to be plain and simple stables at first glance, a cultural landscape studies approach reveals that investors like
Whitney designed the backstretch areas to solidify class lines by separating the stables of northern tycoons from training areas leased by less affluent, albeit still wealthy, thoroughbred trainers and owners. Furthermore, the architectural investigation of backstretch barns reveals that elites like Belmont and Whitney designed their own stables with innovative features like indoor tracks while constructing an older and outmoded form of training barn architecture that predated the Civil War in the backstretch areas leased by trainers. Elite owners used training barn architecture as a tool to enhance their trainers’ abilities to produce successful racehorses, reinforcing their stables’ dominance within the thoroughbred industry and giving the owners the appearance of inherent superiority. The investors’ strategies for mapping power and success onto Saratoga’s racing landscape was so deeply engrained that owners competed for leases to stables along “Millionaires’ Row” by the 1920s and 1930s.
Astrid Tvetenstrand - Boston University
Perfecting the View: Mount Desert Island and the Quest for the Ideal Landscape
My twenty-minute paper will focus upon the town of Bar Harbor and the larger area surrounding Mount Desert Island and explore the relationship between the development activities and landscape collecting pursued in the area by the Rockefeller family—in particular, John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937). I examine Rockefeller’s vast collection of landscapes at Seal Harbor and show how it was a powerful embodiment of consumption and excess. Owning works by prestigious American landscape painters with ties to Mount Desert Island, Thomas Cole, Frederic E. Church, and Martin Johnson Heade, the Rockefellers presents the hegemonic power that one prominent family, supported by Standard Oil Money and New York capital, had over the art world. Rockefeller’s consumption did not end with simply owning this property and the corresponding landscape paintings. I argue that his hiring of landscape architect Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959) continued his endeavors to. construct and buy the ideal view articulated by landscape artists. Prolonged investment into art and land development highlights Rockefeller’s performance of buying a view and extends this term into the specific economic realm of sustained investment. The view required continuous modification, and I argue that this process was derived from attempts to achieve ownership of the ideal expressed by landscape paintings. This interdisciplinary paper exposes how it was impossible to wholly possess the ideal American landscape and will emphasize that physical consumption of views in paintings was unattainable. This proposal dynamically discusses consuming landscapes. It connects power, money, and class with the homes and landscape paintings produced on Mount Desert Island during the end of the nineteenth century. I intervene in art historical approaches concerned with the economic ramifications of painting landscapes. I further believe that my paper connects landscape architecture with the quest to modify and create the perfect view. This view was articulated my landscape painters in America, and it is these images that initially gave individuals the impetus to persistently desire more and attempt to own something that was imagined, disrupting nature and the original state of landscape on Mount Desert Island.
3.2 Envisioning Vernacularity
Chair, Gerald Pocius - Memorial University of Newfoundland
Yehotal Shapira - Technion-Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, Haifa, Israel
Interweaving of Vernacular Architecture and Landscape as a Non Exceptionalist Ecological and Social Choice (ten minute Work in Progress)
The proposed paper suggests studying vernacular architecture through its affiliation with landscape architecture, agriculture, and natural setting. The climate crisis and global warming is part of the regional progress and development process, and the expansion of the built area goes hand in hand with it. At this time of crisis, it is important to observe local wisdom as it expresses
itself in designed affiliations of vernacular architecture to the environment, enabling sustainable biodiverse complex ecosystems. In the proposed paper, these affiliations will be analyzed through pre-modern Arab-Palestinian vernacular architecture and landscape architecture which are usually studied on their own, although they were interwoven in their creation. The paper focuses on the Arab-Palestinian vernacular through an analysis of field research, maps and photographs of four villages in the Judean Mountains, near Jerusalem, from the beginning of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th.
Heidegger’s premise idealizing the peasant hut in the Black Forest as an example of authenticity in architecture has been condemned as fascist. Cacciari (1993) claimed that modern nonauthentic architecture is the only possible authenticity in light of 20th century injustices. The climate crisis obliges rethinking the connection between architecture and landscape in a way that is not identified with German romantic nationalism. In a seminal article, White (1967) blamed certain readings of biblical attitudes portraying exceptionalism as part of anthropocentrism, in which man positions himself in a hierarchal order above creation, as the root of the modern ecological crisis. From a different point of view, exceptionalism is attributed by Hiebert (1996) to the late Bible, as opposed to early biblical Neolithic attitudes that were shared by peoples of the region and which saw men and women as part of the earth. The early biblical approach was not divided into either opposed or uncompromising dualistic entities, such as deity/ nature, desert/ cultivated land, nature/ history, and cities/ rural areas. According to McGregor (2015), the choices of the early Bible reflect First Nature values that would appear to be the right ecological choice. I argue that Hiebert’s description of early biblical Neolithic attitudes matches the culture of Arab-Palestinian agrarian society. The way Arab-Palestinian vernacular culture interwove architecture and landscape was inherent in an inclusive attitude also characterized by respect for all the histories and religions of the region (Conder, 1877). The proposed presentation focuses on how the connection between the vernacular landscape and architecture is both ecological and social. Such an approach may form the basis for a better understanding of historical vernacular environments and for the ability of such environments to inspire attitudes toward current environmental and social challenges.
Stamatina Kousidi - Politecnico di Milano, Italy
Casting a Modern Gaze on the Aegean Vernacular
In the early twentieth-century architectural travels, the choice of Greece as a destination was relevant both in terms of an interest in the sites of antiquity and of a newly-acquired attention to Cycladic architecture, as part of a broader context that saw the recovery of minor architectures being included in the recognition of classical traditions. The three day trip to the islands of the Greek archipelago, carried out in the context of the fourth meeting of the Congrés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne in August 1933, is testament to this attention. The modern gaze that the CIAM IV delegates cast on vernacular tradition was one of many facets, as a set of modern cultural media – magazines, criticism, photographs, film – underpinned this gaze and served as a vehicle for the dissemination of the travel findings to a broader audience.
In his 1934 article “Les Maisons de l’archipel grec observées du point de vue de l’architecture moderne,” for instance, the Greek architect Panos-Nikolis Djelepy notes how the beauty of the traditional houses of the Cyclades and the Sporades was to be traced in “the rational forms imposed by the expression of the plan and the technical means used” (Djelepy 1934). The recorded interest of the moderns in the rationality of Cycladic architecture was to be traced, he stressed, in the fact that they had been able to trace in the former, the principles on which modern architecture was founded. Djelepy’s account formed part of a broader interwar discussion that centered on the analogies between the Mediterranean vernacular and the principles of modern architecture (Marconi 1929, Mendelsohn 1932, Sert 1935, Papadaki 1936).
What arises as central in this discussion is the importance of the non-mediated experience of the built environment. Travelers contemplated and deciphered the built environment around them and “on the basis of their own bodies, experience[d] a total being in a total space” (Lefebvre 1991). From within an era that questioned the continuities with the past, the reconceptualization of the Mediterranean vernacular, through this lens, informed an alternative definition of modernism. In Greece, it would reflect in the projects of Panos-Nikolis Djelepy (Summer Camp for Tuberculosis, 1936), Dimitris Pikionis (Garis House, 1934) and Aris Konstantinidis (Eutaxias Villa, 1938) which would comprise regional appropriations of the Modern Movement, in the search to harmonize the built artifact with the local climate and natural resources, with the surrounding landscape, and with a humanistic approach to architecture.
Emanuel Jannasch - Dalhousie University
Continuity and Erasure of a Building Tradition
Until recently, the fabric of the Big Boat Shed in UNESCO-inscribed Lunenburg, Nova Scotia recorded a lifetime of audacious though pragmatic alterations. These changes did not represent the evolution as recognized by ICOMOS, of a regional or local vernacular responding to external pressures. The dynamism and inventiveness embodied in this building was the very stuff and spirit of a regional tradition. Recent professionalized renovations can be seen both as continuing the pattern of transformation and as erasing the vernacular record.
The simple box originally built in the nineteen thirties was not designed for particularly big boats, but to house volume production of small to medium sized vessels. As the photographic record reveals, roof trusses were first cut away to accommodate the construction of HMS Bounty and then rebuilt, still leaving ample room to build, for example, Bluenose II. The radical transformation to the tall, bracketed, “cathedral of boatbuilding” was carried out to enable the building of HMS Rose (later Surprise, of Master and Commander). We find that these and other changes could until recently be traced in the building fabric.
That there can be a culture of idiosyncrasy, a tradition of change, or a pattern of self disruption may be controversial. Vernacular builders aren’t often imagined as demonstrating that kind of agency. But a survey of Nova Scotian boatbuilding sheds shows consistently inventive responses to difficult real estate and to particularities of program and demonstrates a kinetic understanding of construction. Contrasting his formative experiences in this tradition to later schooling in architecture, the author appreciates how difficult it can be to reconcile the internal and external perspectives.
Caring for vernacular buildings sooner or later runs into a dilemma: between maintaining a given form and maintaining the living culture that produced it. Arguably, recent renovations at the Big Boat Shed continue a pattern of radical transformation. That this is possible under the guardianship of UNESCO is to be applauded. But the newest form of the building is demonstrably picturesque rather than pragmatic. We can enjoy the irony of this: a practical local response to a tourist economy: bringing home to roost the global economy of the spectacle that engendered Bounty and Surprise. Whether UNESCO protection means to embrace such irony is debatable. And the renovations do represent a more static understanding of construction, a paradigm that inhibits the very tradition it seeks to protect and exemplify.
Rachel Leibowitz - Syracuse University
The Rise of the Japanese Vogue in the Postwar US: Searching in Suburbia (ten minute Work in Progress)
Coinciding with the great rush to build new single-family homes in ever expanding suburban developments, professional design publications and popular housekeeping magazines helped to foster a new appreciation for Japanese design among consumers in the postwar United States.
Every imaginable type of household item—tapestries and floor coverings, tableware and decorative knick-knacks, furniture and new technologies such as tiny transistor radios and rice cookers—and even the house and garden themselves all began to show an affinity for “Japanese style.” This research project, currently underway, connects the sudden craze for the Japanese aesthetic across the U.S. with a political gesture of goodwill by the federal government. Couched in a benign appreciation for a “sophisticated ancient culture,” the American media served to reintroduce a friendly, reasonable, useful, and harmless Japan to American consumers. Led by a variety of editor/tastemakers—including John Entenza and his Case Study House architects, individual designers such as Isamu Noguchi and Russel Wright, and editor Elizabeth Gordon and her staff at House Beautiful—the popular and professional shelter journals helped ease the way for the political rebirth of Japan as an ally of the United States. Purporting to continue a longstanding tradition of Japanese influence in American arts and architecture, these designers and the publications that featured their work aided the greater American political agenda to demonstrate that wartime antagonism was a brief aberration in the history of U.S. relations with Japan. The midcentury vogue for all things Japanese has had a lasting impact on suburbia, as observed in hip-and-gable roofs, panelized accent walls, and hibachi grills on the patio, tastefully screened from their gardens.
I have been collecting images of buildings designed and constructed in a “Japanese style,” between 1945 and 1980. I have visited a Japanese-styled ranch house and an entire subdivision of condominiums in suburban Tucson, Arizona, and I have located apartment complexes in suburban Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago. Jackson, Mississippi-based builder Carroll Ishee’s favorite home he ever constructed was “a Japanese house.” Through conversations with residents and archival research, I believe that the peak years of this construction phenomenon were 1957 through 1975, with its crest ca. 1961. I would like to share my research in progress and ask VAF conference attendees for help in identifying more properties throughout the United States.
3.3 Beyond the Building: Materials and Messages.
Chair, Janet Ore - Montana State University
Madeline Webster - Boston University
Painted Party Walls, Ghost Signs, and Preservation by Neglect (ten minute Work in Progress)
An astute city dweller noted in 1868 that “the newspaper and the book have long ceased to be the sole means of advertising. The dead wall has now become a valuable property, if it be situated in a much-frequented thoroughfare.” By 1868, the party wall—referred to pejoratively as a “dead wall” as seen from the street due to its unarticulated surface—had transformed from a structural component of a building existing outside of the architect’s stylistic vision into a blank canvas for increasing profit.
As the century progressed, businesses covered facades of commercial buildings in ever more copious amounts of signage. Still, party walls were underutilized assets reserved for the more industrious shop owners and sign painters. It required capital to build, own, or rent a building tall enough to have exposed party walls rising above the adjoining structure, and it took even more entrepreneurial acumen to know how to maximize the space.
Painted wall signs had their heyday between the late-nineteenth century and the mid twentieth. This project looks at their early history in Boston as documented in photographs taken by James Wallace Black during the city’s national centennial celebrations and what became of the signage as it metamorphosed from active advertisement to faded ghost sign. Painted wall signs signified unrestrained commercialism in the migration of signage from the facades of buildings to their party walls, but they could also be conceived as a form of public memory. In the same period that the urban historic preservation movement erupted in Boston in an effort to save colonial-era buildings from unrestrained capitalism, layered painted wall signs dotted the city as palimpsests: a preservation by neglect rather than resolve.
The party wall, critical to urban living, is rarely acknowledged as an element of the streetscape, and painted wall signs have received minimal scholarly attention in the United States. Where the field of vernacular architectural studies is concerned, I propose a report on a work-in-progress that focuses on a vernacular component of a building seen across the spectrum of commercial architecture from the most ordinary to the most exceptional, and how that structural element was reimagined as a profit-maker, first, and metamorphosed into a place of memory, second.
Chad Randl - University of Oregon
Texture One-Eleven: the Vernacularization of an Engineered Wood Product
The twentieth century saw the triumph of plywood as a versatile, modern, engineered wood product used for everything from furniture to gun stocks to structural roof and wall sheathing, subfloors, and siding. Advances in waterproof adhesives and manufacturing, led to the midcentury maturation of structural exterior-grade and marine-grade softwood plywood products intended for exposed applications. Designers such as John Yeon and Pietro Belluschi in Portland, Oregon, experimented with exterior plywood siding, seeing the material as structurally efficient, economical, expressive of a regional identity, and—with its smooth planar surface and industrial origins—aesthetically up-to-date.
In 1954, the USDA Forest Products Laboratory, collaborated with manufacturers and the Douglas Fir Plywood Association, to develop a new plywood variation marketed under the name Texture One-Eleven (T1-11). As its title suggests, this material traded the smooth, sanded surface of a standard plywood panel for one in which the wood was abraded to emphasize the grain and interplay of light and shadow. Quarter inch deep vertical grooves spaced at four or eight inch intervals furthered the material’s visual and haptic engagement.
This paper traces the development, promotion, and reception of Texture One-Eleven and similar textured plywoods from their introduction to their popular decline in the 1980s. Drawing upon period trade industry publications, plywood manufacturer archives, and shelter magazines as well as contemporary NPS and Forest Service condition assessments, it attributes the material’s success to its evocation of a rustic vernacular past. Technicians and promoters effaced plywood’s factory made and mass produced nature with historical allusions that remained abstract enough to allow widespread applicability and appeal. Textured plywood’s roughed up finish referenced the kerf marks of an earlier technology, the band saw. Brushed surfaces suggested aging and wear. The rhythm of vertically furrowed surfaces, especially on “reverse board and batten” variants, nodded to traditional exterior plank sheathing.
Aided by these evocations, postwar designers and do-it-yourselfers considered T1-11 appropriate for condominiums and suburban doctor's offices, post offices, and vacation homes, tree houses and garden sheds. Forest Service designers adopted the material for ranger station offices and housing. The National Park Service used the material widely across its Mission 66 initiative. And like that initiative’s intent, to modernize, yet retain a link to its historic rustic vocabulary, Texture One-Eleven provided a snappy reinterpretation of American vernacular design, at once contemporary and comfortingly connected to the past.
Alexander Wood - Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Who Built New York? The Case of the Structural Ironworkers, 1870-1895
Beginning in the 1870s, a building boom in New York City drove its skyline to new heights, producing a series of tall office buildings, apartments, and other large structures that transformed the urban landscape. While historians have carefully explored the aesthetic, structural, and economic features of these buildings, and documented the roles of architects, builders, and
engineers in their conception, they have largely ignored the contributions of the workers who built them. The development of iron-framed structures particularly depended on the efforts of the housesmiths, as the structural ironworkers were then known, who specialized in the erection of iron frames. Due to the growing demand for iron-framed buildings, ironworkers quickly emerged as one of the most important trades in the city’s building industry.
This paper examines the first generation of New York ironworkers who worked on tall office buildings, apartments, and other iron-framed buildings between 1870 and 1895. It analyzes the skills they used on the job, their work practices, and the unions they formed to protect their trade and improve their working conditions. Although they were known as a tough group of workers, ironworking was a trade that required skilled craftsmanship, a knowledge of material science, as well physical strength and courage to risk life and limb on the job. The ironworkers’ sense of their craft was, moreover, developed in solidarity with other building trades, particularly the derrickmen and hoisting engineers. This paper concludes with an account of their campaign for the eight-hour day in the early 1890s and their struggles with the Iron League of New York, the local association of iron manufactures.
While ironworkers were numerically a small part of the building trades in this period, they played a vital role in the development of new style of militant trade unionism that spread through the construction industry in the late nineteenth century. Working at the vanguard of technically advanced building projects, they were one of the first building trades that was formed directly through the use of new building technology, methods, and equipment. Using the project records of architecture firms, labor publications, and court records, and bringing together the history of architecture, technology and labor, this paper reconstructs the emergence of a new building trade in a period of momentous change in the building industry.
3.4 Cultural Landscapes
Chair, Carolyn Torma - American Planning Association, retired
Cynthia Anderson - University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Solid-State Physics and the City: Urban Agriculture's Cultural Landscapes through the Eyes of a Crystallographer
In the world of solid-state physics, atoms that are out of place in a crystal structure are called interstitials. The presence of interstitial atoms changes a material’s properties; it may become more conductive or stronger or a different color. A material’s performance potential is changed by these out-of-place atoms.
As I researched urban agricultural sites and systems in Chicago, the parallels between the inserted, out-of-place spaces of food growing areas and interstitial atoms became clear. Interstitial urban ag sites interrupt the city grid, much as atomic interstitials interrupt the crystal, and change the performance of the city, at least locally. Scholars across disciplines have explored interstitials in the urban landscape, graduating from the idea of interstitial as empty to examining its range of uses, from greenway and habitat for non-human species, or as an area of demarcation between different urban fragments. (Phelps, 2017; Matos, 2009). Levesque (2013) noted that urban interstices have spatial and temporal aspects. However, all these scholars have approached the interstitial from the fact of its geographic presence (the ontology of the urban interstitial?) as a byproduct of urban development. I encountered the urban interstitial from examining out-of-place functions within the fabric of the city: urban agriculture.
My research is based on case studies of eleven agricultural sites in metropolitan Chicago. I interviewed urban agriculture program sponsors and growers as well as conducting site analyses that highlighted the significance of different agricultural interstitial spaces, in their function and their form. I borrow the concept of “spatial” and “temporal” from Levesque, but rather than consider them aspects of urban interstitials, I view them as generative forces that lead to very different spaces and outcomes for growers who cultivate food these two types of interstitials present in the city. Agricultural programs with short-term goals for grower participation occupy temporal interstitial spaces: they appear, accomplish the sponsor’s mission – teaching about food production, job skills, testing business models – and then disappear when the site is developed, its growers dispersed into the city to set down roots elsewhere. Spatial interstitial-based agriculture is more permanent with more stable growers, crops and structures. The spatial interstitial is protected from development pressures by its location, size, or government support. These growers cultivate perennials as well as annuals and grow communities. The material qualities of urban interstitial spaces, like a crystal’s atomic interstices, have agency and change the properties of their surroundings.
Laura Ruberto - Berkeley City College
Capturing Reactions of the Vernacular Architecture and Cultural Landscapes of Italian POWs in the United States during World War II
I would like to propose a virtual tour and audience engagement of the vernacular architecture and landscape sites built by Italian prisoners of war (POWs) in the United States during World War II. My model is in part based on Rick Prelinger’s “Lost Landscapes” urban film series where he asks a live audience to create (verbally or via text chat) the soundtrack as silent found footage is played. My proposal adjusts this model by either a live photo-tour or a recorded one where audiences are asked to “text chat” (on Zoom, a Youtube channel, or similar) their reactions/observations in real time. I would prompt and engage the audience through visuals and by responding to the texts.
During World War II, the United States held approximately 425,000 Axis military as POWs on American soil (circa 371,000 Germans, 3,900 Japanese, and 50,000 Italians). In the case of Italians, the focus of my study, these men filled all kinds of labor needs and in their spare time and with the skills and artistry they brought with them from home created spaces for themselves where disparate traditions were confronted with new realities and restrictions. Such directed, vernacular creative actions reinforced cultural heritage, mediated personal and community identities, and ultimately helped make sense of some of the atrocities of war.
My larger research project documents and analyzes a number of small-scale and large scale examples of Italian POW artistic and architectural creations. For this visual tour my focus is on the vernacular architecture and landscape sites they constructed across the United States. These include some religious-focused spaces such as chapels and churches (in Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Texas) and shrines (in California, Massachusetts, and New York). The structures I will present also include landscapes such as memorial or decorative sculptures and fountains (in California and Hawaii) and countless vegetable gardens and bocce courts. Finally, the vernacular architecture structures also include community-focused spaces, such as dance halls (in California and Maryland).
My hope is that conference attendees’ reactions with these examples will prompt questions and new observations that will further develop my larger research project (funded in part by a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Grant).
Melinda Creech - Independent Scholar
The Vernacular Architecture and Cultural Landscape of the Polley Mansion, Whitehall
The Polley Mansion, with massive walls, generous proportions, and wide double galleries, is described in Texas Homes of the 19th Century as “one of the most important plantation homes in early Texas.” It is, in fact, the only stone antebellum plantation house still surviving in Texas and represents a unique vernacular version of a Greek Revival central-passage house, combining locally-hewn sandstone and locally-milled cypress beams with imported doors, windows, and furnishings from New York. The Polleys
reflect a similar juxtaposition of a literate well-to-do family relying on the common building materials and resources of the Texas frontier. The preservation of the house and the Polley family papers provide a detailed record of the construction and maintenance of the house. The Polley Mansion was on the verge of collapse when Keith and Robin Muschalek purchased the property in 2105 and began gently reclaiming its former strength and beauty. Family records demonstrate a similar story of reclamation. Seven boxes of family papers were preserved by thoughtful family members who loaned them to the University of Texas in the 1930s for photostatic copying. Letters, maps, receipts, photographs, historic records, newspaper articles, and a careful examination of the existing structures provide a glimpse into the vernacular architecture and cultural landscape of the Polley and Bailey families in New York, North Carolina, Brazoria, and finally along the banks of the Cibolo. We observe how and where they staked their claim along the creek by constructing a poteaux-en-terre cabin. The family records reveal intimate details of the house construction — the carpenter and glazier in Whitehall, New York, who built the windows and doors of the mansion, the ships and ship captains who carried them to Indianola, the ox-cart drivers who hauled them up from Indianola on the Texas coast to the edge of the frontier along the Cibolo, the location of the Currie Sawmill where the cypress timbers for the roof and foundation joists were hewn, and more. J. H. and Mary Bailey Polley melded their own disparate cultural landscapes from New York and North Carolina into homes in Brazoria and Sutherland Springs and extended that cultural landscape among their freed slaves and their many descendants, who still produce a Polley Family Association Newsletter and meet every few years for a reunion at the Polley Mansion, Whitehall.