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Thread: Should we preserve the built environment of the 1950s & 1960s?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Should we preserve the built environment of the 1950s & 1960s?

    APA's Daily Planning News picked up this article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: '50s buildings in S. Florida: They're 'historic,' but are they worth preserving?

    http://www6.lexisnexis.com/publisher...Id=l:570768645

    Buildings and neighborhoods built in the 1950's and 1960's are becoming 50 years old, the benchmark for consideration for historic preservation. (There are other criteria as well, like historical or architectural significance, but 50 years is pretty much a minimum age.)

    In some places "surviving" buildings and neighborhoods from the 50's and 60's are common, like Florida which experienced a building boom about that time. Dallas and Fort Worth certainly did as well. So, these buildings and neighborhoods aren't "rare" or "unique" to the region or state.

    So . . . . should buildings, neighborhoods, and places from the 1950's and 1960's be preserved? Even if they are "modern"? Even if they are commonplace to a larger area? Even if we have color photographs and videos of them? Will kids growing up in the 00's and 10's be able to appreciate those times without examples of the built environment?

    Please discuss.
    JOE ILIFF
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  2. #2
    "Historic" preservation was only a politically correct way for people to say that modern architecture was horrible and ruining their community. They stopped the transformation (or at least slowed it down) by outlawing the destruction of the traditional buildings.

    This problem didn't really exist so long as the new buildings were better than the buildings they replaced.

    Now the modernist ideologues are clamoring for "historic" preservation of modern buildings which are way beyond their expected lifespan at construction. Of course, no one sheds a tear when a brutalist tower is torn down, except perhaps a tear of relief.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian bocian's avatar
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    We can opt to preserve it, but at what cost -- many of the throwaway buildings from that era utilized thin construction materials bound to deteriorate sooner or later, most likely sooner.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    Some people in Palm Springs, CA seem to think so:
    http://www.psmodcom.com/
    Even in Las Vegas, they recently moved the former lobby of a hotel on the strip for preservation. It was composed of a series of thin concrete paraboloid arches, so moving it was something of a challenge.

    I love a lot of the "Googie" architecture of the '50s and 60's. Its fun, its hilarious, its speaks of a positive attitude about the future that we rarely see today. If its kept up, it can look really cool. I appreciate the simple fact that they had the nads to try something different. Of course, I also like traditional cities, and if you try to combine these two, you end up with a real mess.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  5. #5
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I guess it really depends. Much of the everyday commercial/industrial districts from this period are not very special, but there are certain examples that may be worth saving on their own.

    The site Built St. Louis has a collection of good quality Modern malls, office buildings, and churches from the St. Louis area. I think a case can be made for a some of the buildings.

    Here's a sample:
    Granite City Steel Building
    St. Andrew Presbyterian Church
    Northland Shopping Center

    Here is a thread I started awhile back about this same issue:
    Saving ranches

    Also, one could make the argument for preservation (by owner, not through muni imposed districts) of this house:

    I really like this everyday house in Chicago, but it has some well maintained Modern touches that would be neat to save.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  6. #6
    I think there is an arguement for preserving 1950s, 1960s and even 1970s architecture to an extent. Although the vast majority of it is autobmobile centered (e.g. Gas Stations, 50s tract housing), it was nevertheless a part of our relatively recent past that is worth preserving.

    Plus it many metro areas, it is disappearing faster than early 20th Century architecture. Just look at old Highway 66 in Metro St. Louis or some of the major section roads of Metro Detroit. Most of the 1940s to 1960s gas stations, motor courts, restaurants and even houses have been replaced by gaudy and pretentious, overblown suburban strip malls and McMansion Subdivisions. These are not worth preserving because they represent and glorify an the most excessive, environmentallly destructinve and sanitized period in American history: Today and ongoing. Hopefully the 1990s and 2000s crap will never see the day that someone will argue that they are worth preserving because they will remind us of an embarrassing era when so many people felt such a collective sense of entitlement.

    Can you imagine someone wanting to preserve Chuck E F**cing Cheese?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Reductionist's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    Some people in Palm Springs, CA seem to think so:
    http://www.psmodcom.com/
    Even in Las Vegas, they recently moved the former lobby of a hotel on the strip for preservation. It was composed of a series of thin concrete paraboloid arches, so moving it was something of a challenge.

    I love a lot of the "Googie" architecture of the '50s and 60's. Its fun, its hilarious, its speaks of a positive attitude about the future that we rarely see today. If its kept up, it can look really cool. I appreciate the simple fact that they had the nads to try something different. Of course, I also like traditional cities, and if you try to combine these two, you end up with a real mess.
    I share your taste for Googie architecture, but there's actually very little of it left, largely because as a style it was relegated to commercial architecture and thus more vulnerable to the whims of changing styles and tastes. Likewise Palm Springs is worth preserving, largely because it is exceptional and the product of wealthy clientele who could afford to commission high quality, modernist designs.

    But we're not talking about the exceptional here, but rather the everyday tract/commerical vernacular of that era, most of which is of inferior quality from an urban design and architectural perspective.

    Governing Magazine published an excellent article on this very problem back in October. Here's my favorite quote:

    Preservation consultant Donovan Rypkema is more blunt in his assessment. Writing in a recent issue of Forum Journal, a publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Rypkema argued that postwar design was most often anti-urban and anti-pedestrian, “an aberration from 3,000 years of urban history from which we are finally beginning to return.” Therefore, he continued, “we ought not now designate as ’historic’ buildings and neighborhoods whose defining characteristics are the polar opposite of what good cities, good neighborhoods and good buildings are all about.”

    As Rypkema sees it, the steady decline of craftsmanship in the postwar period requires preservationists and local officials to set a high standard when deciding what’s worth saving. “Let me write what most of us intuitively know,” Rypkema says. “The vast majority of what has been built in America in the last 50 years is crap.”
    "I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible. I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical!" -Stephen Colbert

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Hceux's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Joe Iliff View post
    So . . . . should buildings, neighborhoods, and places from the 1950's and 1960's be preserved? Even if they are "modern"? Even if they are commonplace to a larger area? Even if we have color photographs and videos of them? Will kids growing up in the 00's and 10's be able to appreciate those times without examples of the built environment?
    Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    Some people in Palm Springs, CA seem to think so:
    http://www.psmodcom.com/
    Even in Las Vegas, they recently moved the former lobby of a hotel on the strip for preservation. It was composed of a series of thin concrete paraboloid arches, so moving it was something of a challenge.

    I love a lot of the "Googie" architecture of the '50s and 60's. Its fun, its hilarious, its speaks of a positive attitude about the future that we rarely see today. If its kept up, it can look really cool. I appreciate the simple fact that they had the nads to try something different. Of course, I also like traditional cities, and if you try to combine these two, you end up with a real mess.
    I feel that Palm Springs shouldn't be the only community that's preserved for its 1950s and 1960s modern buildings. True, this area has an extraordinary concentration of this kind of historic building, but they only became recognized in recent times.

    I feel that Las Vegas should continue preserving its 1950s and 1960s stock of modern buildings.

    And, why not disperse this preservation of modern building across all countries? I'd love to see a cool modern neighbourhood in Canada and I haven't yet stumbled across one.

    Quote Originally posted by Reductionist View post
    I share your taste for Googie architecture, but there's actually very little of it left, largely because as a style it was relegated to commercial architecture and thus more vulnerable to the whims of changing styles and tastes. Likewise Palm Springs is worth preserving, largely because it is exceptional and the product of wealthy clientele who could afford to commission high quality, modernist designs.

    But we're not talking about the exceptional here, but rather the everyday tract/commerical vernacular of that era, most of which is of inferior quality from an urban design and architectural perspective.

    Governing Magazine published an excellent article on this very problem back in October. Here's my favorite quote:

    Preservation consultant Donovan Rypkema is more blunt in his assessment. Writing in a recent issue of Forum Journal, a publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Rypkema argued that postwar design was most often anti-urban and anti-pedestrian, “an aberration from 3,000 years of urban history from which we are finally beginning to return.” Therefore, he continued, “we ought not now designate as ’historic’ buildings and neighborhoods whose defining characteristics are the polar opposite of what good cities, good neighborhoods and good buildings are all about.”

    As Rypkema sees it, the steady decline of craftsmanship in the postwar period requires preservationists and local officials to set a high standard when deciding what’s worth saving. “Let me write what most of us intuitively know,” Rypkema says. “The vast majority of what has been built in America in the last 50 years is crap.”
    True, the rare exceptional modern buildings deserve to be preserved. But, why not the typical developments built in the 50s and 60s? They can be just as cool as Treasure Islands, FL., and Wildwoods, NJ. are.

    Wouldn't these "undesirable" modern buildings give the future generations with insights of how the previous generations lived? I would like to suggest that something is done to these "undesirable" modern buildings like what was done for one of the tenement building in Glasgow, Scotland, which has become a museum that provides today's people with insights of how people lived in the past.

    I truly hope that this discussion about modern building doesn't having a falling out because it seems to be reviving and I'm not sure if this revival is a fad or not. I hope it's out of genuine interests in the "modern" architecture. I'm seeing more and more "modern" architecture in the media, which makes me wonder if it's a fad or not. For example, there's magazine that focuses on modern architecture called "Atomic Ranch" (www.atomic-ranch.com)

  9. #9
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Too bad, IMHO, that nobody is able to 'save' the old Valley Fair Mall here in Appleton, WI. It is a neat piece of mid-1950s retail architecture - and one of the, if not the, very first purpose-built enclosed mall shopping centers in the USA, first opened on 1954-08-11 (one date in the local history books that I remember). Unfortunately the winds of commercial economics have passed it by and it is expected to meet its fate with the demolition contractor later this year.



    Mike

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    I'm not quite sure of the need for preservation, when there are huge neighborhoods filled with homes from the 50s and 60s. The first places that come to my mind are Anaheim, CA and much of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. The stock of mid 20th century housing there is ridiculous.

  11. #11
    There are covenants and restrictions on many of the post-war platted neighborhoods as well as architectural review committees intended to ensure the appropriate architectural aesthetic of the homes. The covenants would seem to still be valid and the architectural review still enforceable. Why, then, would we add a level of bureaucracy when it already exists in the private sector?
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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  12. #12
    Cyburbian Bubba's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    There are covenants and restrictions on many of the post-war platted neighborhoods as well as architectural review committees intended to ensure the appropriate architectural aesthetic of the homes. The covenants would seem to still be valid and the architectural review still enforceable. Why, then, would we add a level of bureaucracy when it already exists in the private sector?
    Because the National Historic Preservation Act is well intentioned but poorly written, as are the regs governing its implementation.
    I found you a new motto from a sign hanging on their wall…"Drink coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy"

  13. #13
    Quote Originally posted by Bubba View post
    Because the National Historic Preservation Act is well intentioned but poorly written, as are the regs governing its implementation.
    If you are writing about federal, or federally-assisted undertakings, and Section 106 requirements, I agree. I do not feel that local historic designation should be considered where private restrictions are already in place. (I've got enough on my plate already -- why would I gorge myself on ranch houses?)
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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  14. #14
    Cyburbian Bubba's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    If you are writing about federal, or federally-assisted undertakings, and Section 106 requirements, I agree. I do not feel that local historic designation should be considered where private restrictions are already in place. (I've got enough on my plate already -- why would I gorge myself on ranch houses?)
    Section 106 activities eat up a good chunk of my work day, so I kind of have the NHPA regs on the brain. I agree with you about local designation for neighborhoods and subdivisions with covenants and restrictions already in place. Besides, in a lot of cases, the significance of post-WWII housing tends to lie with the subdivisons as a whole and not with the individual structures...as long as the existing zoning regs keep the area residential, then why worry about regulating the appearance of the individual houses? Maybe?

    GDOT and the Georgia SHPO are having a joint meeting next week with a bunch of historic preservation consultants to try and reach some sort of consensus on how to address the significance of ranch houses during Section 106 review, so this is a timely thread for me...
    I found you a new motto from a sign hanging on their wall…"Drink coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy"

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by Bubba View post
    GDOT and the Georgia SHPO are having a joint meeting next week with a bunch of historic preservation consultants to try and reach some sort of consensus on how to address the significance of ranch houses during Section 106 review, so this is a timely thread for me...
    I'd appreciate updates on anything that comes of that. Obviously, it's an important issue anywhere you have these types of developments.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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  16. #16
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by bocian View post
    We can opt to preserve it, but at what cost -- many of the throwaway buildings from that era utilized thin construction materials bound to deteriorate sooner or later, most likely sooner.
    Not a valid argument in Florida. Older homes, those ranches, were built with cement blocks, newer homes stucco over wood frame. Guess which withstands hurricanes better???

    I know when the home I grew up in (circa 1950) was razed and a c. 2000 stucco building was erected, the neighbors were horrified. Yes, even in Florida we have "historic" and "butt-ugly new".

  17. #17
          bluehour's avatar
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    I like modern architecture.... Americana?? the great promise of the 1950s and 60s?

    Tastes change; theres no way to know that we won't be fetishing these buildings in 100 years. All architectural styles have merit and should be saved generally (although some I wouldn't want to live in...)

    Besides, modernism is hip hip hip. See Dwell Magazine (sold in your neighbourhood whole foods of course)

  18. #18
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by bluehour View post
    Besides, modernism is hip hip hip. See Dwell Magazine (sold in your neighbourhood whole foods of course)
    Yeah, I saw that. I guess Eichlers are the new hip accessory.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  19. #19
    Cyburbian TOFB's avatar
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    Of course. I am even looking at the brutal, concrete 6 story bank building across the street differently.

    Vibrant downtowns are about change. Samples of architecture throughout a City's history is part of it.

  20. #20
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    And we shouldn't discount a Modern building, if it meets the requirements of "good urban form" - open to the street, interacts with surrounding context, built to the street, has active portions accessible to the outside, etc.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  21. #21
    As long as they can be turned into good, healthy, urban neighborhoods, then they should be preserved.

  22. #22
    Moving at my own pace....... Planderella's avatar
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    This debate is going on in New Orleans. At the center of it is a church (St. Francis Cabrini) located in one of the flood damaged neighborhoods - Gentilly. Holy Cross school, located in another flood damaged area - 9th Ward/Holy Cross neighborhood, wants to relocate to the St. Francis Cabrini campus and rebuild their school there. They propose to demolish the existing church, built in the 1960's. Even though the church is relatively young by historical standards, there are significant number of people who want to preserve the church. Naturally, there's another side as well. FEMA just recently declared the church "historically significant" and is currently gathering public comments on it.

    Link to the article.

    Personally, I'm not a big proponent of demolition, especially if the building is unique and adds character to its surroundings.



    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  23. #23
    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    And we shouldn't discount a Modern building, if it meets the requirements of "good urban form" - open to the street, interacts with surrounding context, built to the street, has active portions accessible to the outside, etc.
    Being physically functional is not sufficient to earn an ugly building historical protection.

  24. #24
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    Being physically functional is not sufficient to earn an ugly building historical protection.
    I know that you are an Anti-Modernist, but you can't tell me that there are no examples from this period (1945-1965-ish) worth preservation. I think we should certainly distinguish, in this debate, the difference between Modernist site planning and architecture.

    An example from downtown Chicago:
    Inland Steel Building - and has been given landmark status by the City.

    I think this building hits all of the important positive requirements for urban functionality, but it simply has a different skin than older "classical" buildings.

    And if you really want to debate, I would contend that this building:
    Relaince Building is a Modern building and certainly worth its landmark status.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  25. #25
    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    I know that you are an Anti-Modernist, but you can't tell me that there are no examples from this period (1945-1965-ish) worth preservation. I think we should certainly distinguish, in this debate, the difference between Modernist site planning and architecture.

    Indeed. You could also check out one of the most amazing places in the midwest for modern architecture: Columbus, Indiana.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
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