10 Years of Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond – and Goals for the Next Decade
What we can learn from the Eichler Network and the Lucas Valley Community
By Joan Gand, Founder/Principal of Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond
This year, Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond celebrates its 10th anniversary, and starts its 11th year. Its time to both look back, and ahead to see what goals we can set for the next ten years.
Why Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond?
The incident that started it all was the tear-down of an important, architecturally significant house in Highland Park IL. The Kundstadter House, by Keck & Keck, had won numerous awards and was widely considered to be one of the top ten modern homes in the Chicago area. Set on a large wooded property, overlooking a ravine, the design was so well integrated into the land that it seemed to be camouflaged. Vertical cedar siding stained a light sage green, flat roof, post and beams and walls of glass that reflected the forest…made the house seem to disappear. Long admired and well maintained by two sets of loving owners, it came on the market during a time when tear-downs were prevalent. The sellers turned down some offers where the intensions were not honorable, and they waited for the “right” buyer to come along that would love and appreciate the house. The phrase “buyers are liars” couldn’t be more apropos, because the buyer who “loved” the house turned out to be a developer in sheep’s clothing. Although the city would not grant a demolition permit, carpenters “accidently” sawed through supporting posts. All we know is that the house was found the next morning having collapsed and fallen into the ravine, broken into splintered pieces. Three huge McMansions were built on the property, and the owner pocketed the profits and moved on.
In discussing how and why this could have happened, the three founders of Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond: Joe Kunkel, Gary Gand, and myself kept coming back to the same thought. Not enough buyers appreciate Mid Century Modern architecture in the Chicago area. Not enough to save important homes like the Kunstadter House, the Frueh House, and numerous others that were bulldozed or remuddled beyond recognition. Our task was to raise awareness, appreciation, and get these homes into the right hands. We founded our organization to educate and spread our enthusiasm about Mid Century Modern architecture and design. In the past ten years, we have seen a major turnaround in that Mid Century Modern architecture has become, if not popular, certainly sought-after by those who now appreciate its style and simplicity. With our lectures, tours, website, and book by Julius Shulman, we have come a long way to educate and create enthusiasm towards the Mid-Century gems we have sprinkled around the Chicago area. We have countless success stories and even our own “modern realtors” who specialize and lend their expertise to selling Mid-Century homes.
Ten years later….what’s next?
Looking to California for answers, Gary and I recently visited a beautiful area of well-preserved Eichler homes in Lucas Valley, California (near San Francisco) Developer Joe Eichler revolutionized Mid Century tract homes by hiring name architects to design complete neighborhoods. This area of several hundred homes has had its ups and downs, but is currently well maintained and preserved. Eichler houses are famous and revered in California as the epitome of Mid Century Modern style for the masses. They were designed to be comfortable, affordable homes built for families to enjoy. They were revolutionary in their open floor plans, huge window walls, and atriums, blurring the line between inside and outside. Thousands of Eichlers were built all over California. Their owners are much more organized and experienced with preservation issues than the hundreds of owners in the Chicago area. They even have their own magazine, CA Modern, which started out as an Eichler newsletter and grew into a glossy magazine and extensive website for preservation.
We first spoke with David Weinstein, a writer for CA Modern, who recommended we contact Terry Bremer, an Eichler owner in Upper Lucas Valley, enthusiast, and activist in preserving her neighborhood. Her story helped to fill in the blanks to see what can be done to encourage preservation, restoration, and sensitive renovations. As in all things, success does not just happen on its own, it is up to a handful of people who have the vision, and the energy to pursue it.
Terry Bremer and her neighbors helped found the Lucas Valley Architectural Review Committee. Renovation plans are submitted to the committee, which acts as an advisory council and makes recommendations. They have well-documented information about paint colors, design elements, and other original details in Eichler homes. She shared a document with us called “Design Guidelines” that the committee uses. The document summarizes the history and key design elements of Eichler homes. It is instructive to read this, as it could easily be applied more generally to Mid-Century Modern homes in Chicago and elsewhere. Here is an excerpt from this well-written document:
1. THE LUCAS VALLEY COMMUNITY
The vision for the Lucas Valley Housing Community began in 1961 as a continuation of developer Joseph Eichler’s ideals for quality living in Northern California. It involved the County of Marin and a team of nationally recognized architects and planners known for their past collaborative efforts with Eichler Homes, Inc. and their groundbreaking work in the field of modern design. The community plan was approved under Marin County’s Planning and Zoning ordinances. The unique approach to suburban planning included wide streets, generous setbacks, preservation of native trees, underground utilities and community TV hookup. The plan also included sites for recreation, school and public landscaping.
Eichler Homes, Inc., hired leading architects such as Jones & Emmons and Claude Oakland to design our Lucas Valley homes. Sasaki-Walker, Henry Cole and other famous landscape architects were also commissioned to help plan out the communities and the varying landscape elements throughout. Their combined efforts created homes specific to the immediate surroundings, climate, and “outdoor living” atmosphere of this unique region. The architects also gave the new owners their own set of guidelines – in a Declaration of Restrictions (“Covenants”) attached to their deeds – which the homeowners have used ever since to preserve the original vision. Eichler homeowners and enthusiasts are known throughout the country for their dedication to preserving the original vision of Eichler Modernity.
1.2 Modern Eichler Homes
Eichler homes were designed to a high level of architectural standards that reflected a unique brand of California modernism popular in the 1940s and 1950s. The architects chosen by Eichler held to this modernist design philosophy. The homes emphasized clean lines, simplicity in detail, and a connection to nature with lots of privacy. The style of the Lucas Valley homes is simple post-and-beam structure designed with varying degrees of roof profiles that place emphasis on the prevalent horizontal landscape of the valley nestled in between the hills. The street facades are unobtrusive, with few or no windows. Exterior paint colors were subdued and organic in tone complementing the natural surroundings. Extensive glazing around the sides, back and atrium of the homes provides a feeling of openness that brings the natural world into the living spaces. Careful land planning and the exclusion of multi-storied structures ensure a considerable degree of privacy for every resident.
In recent years, modernist architecture and design principles have gained in popularity. Examples of Modern residential architecture are increasingly in demand as the public recognizes that modern designs, such as Eichler communities and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian architecture, are truly distinctive residential American structures of the Twentieth Century. The increasingly valuable architectural features of our homes are significant assets shared by the entire community and are the envy of many Americans around the country. The ARC believes that a homeowner of the Lucas Valley Community will benefit by understanding the philosophy of simple modern image respectful of the natural beauty surrounding our homes.
Introducing….the Welcome Committee
An old idea becomes new again…the welcome committee. A successful strategy implemented by Terry and her team is their well-organized welcoming committee that makes new residents aware of their unique neighborhood of homes. Each new resident is assigned a member of the committee who spends time getting to know them, and discussing neighborhood values. Parties and picnics bring the neighborhood together on a regular basis, while informal dog walking/wine tasting groups spring up on corners and cul de sacs. A welcome package informs homeowners of the CC&R’s (covenants, conditions and restrictions) of the home owners association, and of the resources available should they need information. A balance has been reached between control and freedom. Design guidelines are specified such as: exterior paint colors are limited to a palette of neutrals (original to the Eichler homes) but front doors can express individuality. Architects and contractors are known to specialize in Eichler repair and renovation, and referrals are given. It’s a perfect situation where knowledge is power when it comes to preservation!
In the Chicago area, we have fewer homes, less MCM neighborhoods, but lots of MCM houses scattered throughout the city and suburbs. I would like to suggest the idea that Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond, and our members, act as the “welcome committee” and help spread our knowledge to new owners of these homes. We should all be reaching out to homeowners in our neighborhoods and getting them information about Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond, and our website, where they can become part of the MCM community and find answers to their questions. We should add to our resources page to include contractors, architects, and landscapers who understand MCM, preservation, and how to achieve it. We need to make Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond the “neighborhood” in which we all live, and be active members of the preservation community.
How you can help:
- Have you renovated a MCM home? Write about it – what worked for you, what didn’t, who helped, and your advice to others. Let’s post it on the CBB website and share your experience with others. PHOTOS – if you don’t like to write, even posting a photo with a caption of something that worked, or something that didn’t, would be so helpful to others.
- Do you know, or are you an expert in any of the following: architect, contractor, HVAC, roofer, painter, interior designer. Let’s get the names of these experts on our resource page.
- Reach out to homeowners in your neighborhood of MCM homes. Let them know we exist. Invite them to join and come to events. Talk to them about their home and show them yours. Invite them to be part of the MCM community.
- Awards – we could give awards to “renovation of the year” or “outstanding service” from an individual or company.
- Photo Contest – this is something we have wanted to do but need someone to head the project – to encourage great photos of Mid Mod homes and buildings.
Joe, Gary and I have spent ten years working toward the goal of “preservation through appreciation.” Now we need our members to step in, volunteer, and take it from here, to implement new ideas for the next ten years! If you would like to take charge and organize the Renovation of the Year awards, a photo contest, or plan an event, please contact us with your ideas.
For a wealth of information about California Modernism, and Eichler homes: http://www.eichlernetwork.com/catalog/ca-modern-magazine/ca-modern-magazine