Friday, July 19, 2013

Faded Beauty

A postcard from 1951 showing the Hotel Mountainaire in all of its glory.
   Following in the style of last week's post, this week we have the 1940's built Hotel Mountainaire in Hot Springs, AR. This motor-court hotel was built on Hwy 7/Park Avenue which was the principle route to Hot Springs from Little Rock until I-30 and Hwy 70 were built. It is commonly hailed as being the best example of Art Moderne architecture in the state. (For an explanation of the Art Moderne style please see the post "Modern Beginnings)
  We see several examples of the Art Moderne style in these buildings that were not in the Goshen  Avenue house as well as several more direct nods to its Art Deco heritage. First, notice the windows on the corners, they extent around the corners in a continuous motion, sometimes they continue around multiple corners. This is a tell-tale sign of Art Moderne. There is also a noticeable lack of ornamentation on the facades. The only real decorative items we see on the building all serve to accentuate the architecture of the building. Examples of this are the inset ridges that run between the small windows on the sides of the building, which serve to enhance the presence of the windows, and the brick screens on the penthouse balcony and the ground floor patios, which create privacy while still allowing breezes through. Curved surfaces are also common features on Art Moderne buildings, which here are seen on balconies on the rear of the buildings. Where we see derivations from the Art Moderne design aesthetics is in the symmetrical arrangement of the facades and in over all very vertical emphasis in the design.  As mentioned in the previous post, most Art Moderne buildings have an asymmetrical massing and arrangement which is more leaning towards the coming Modern architecture movement, however these buildings' symmetrical design was likely more for pragmatism that an intentional step away from the style. The vertical emphasis was most likely intentionally done though but then again, there are always deviations in any examples of pretty much any style. All in all, though, it was a beautiful and "modern" sight to see upon entering the vacation city of Hot Springs during the 1940's, 50's, and 60's. It was during this period that the hotel was booming from the steady stream of vacationers coming from Little Rock.
   However, the storm clouds of abandonment were gathering at the end of the 1960's. The creation of Interstate 30 and the expansion of Hwy 70 allowed visitors an easier, faster route to the Spa City, but it also directed people away from the Hotel Mountainaire by leading them into the southern part of downtown instead of the northern Park Ave./Hwy 7 route. By the mid to late 1970's the area of Hot Springs where the hotel exists was quickly falling into disrepair and the visitors stopped venturing to area. The Hotel Mountainaire suffered the same tragic fate as many of the stunning Victorian houses on Park Ave/Hwy 7. By the 1980's the North end of Park Avenue was a crime infested area where even long time inhabitants of the city would fear to tread. The fate of the Hotel Mountainaire seemed sealed. Things seemed to be looking up when in 1990's an investor bought the old hotel with the intent to remodel into apartments. Work was started but did not progress very far before the investor fell on hard times. Again the Mountainaire was abandoned. There was also an art show held at the hotel in the early 2000's which attempted to garner public and financial support for the building, but little came of it. Now the hotel just sits in its sadden state, falling apart brick by brick. It is incredible unfortunate that such significant structures can simply crumble and fade away as this one is, but there doesn't seem to be any stopping it.
    Below are photos taken from of the current state of the Hotel Mountainaire.

the rear of both buildings

Decorative brick screen on the balconies
Curved Balcony missing its railing

Hotel Mountainaire from Park Ave/Hwy 7

Friday, July 12, 2013

Modern Beginnings

Art Moderne house in Park Hill Historic District of North Little Rock

    Today we are going to shift gears from the high Modern buildings we have been looking at to a building from the architectural movement that directly preceded Modernism in America, Art Moderne. Also called Streamline Modern and Moderne, this style had a brief existence from the mid 1920's through the mid-1940's. There is a relatively small sample pool of buildings in this stylistic disposition because of the significant decrease in building following the 1929 Stock Market collapse which which effectively stalled a majority of construction until after WWII had concluded. Art Moderne can be looked at as the transition stage between highly decorated and flamboyant Art Deco period, the last of the Beaux-Arts inspired styles, and the simple, utilitarian International Style which signaled the beginning of Modernism in America. This nexus that Art Moderne exists in is evidenced in its appearance. There exist both Art Deco and Modern architectural elements in its styling. The smooth, white walls and lack of ornament of the Art Moderne as well as the flat, often functional roofs and the asymmetrical facade arrangements hint at the coming International Style. While the accenting elements on Art Moderne buildings appear as simplified Art Deco features. There tends to be an overwhelming horizontal influence in Art Moderne buildings, with exception to the vertical elements often found around the entrances, which is exactly the opposite of the vertically emphasized Art Deco but still exist in the same form language. The massing of Art Moderne buildings tend to be a blend of Art Deco and International Style. The forms are generally boxy, like International Style, but they vertical protrusions accenting the overall forms. While these protrusions are not as elaborate as ones found in Art Deco, they still hint to the style. In a very real way, Art Moderne can be seen as America leaning towards Modernism, but not yet ready to go full steam into International Style. While there are not a great deal of examples of this style in Arkansas, there are a few of note that are worth discussing. 
    A beautiful example of Art Moderne architecture is found in the house pictured above in the Park Hill Historic District in North Little Rock. This house was design by the Little Rock firm of Brueggeman, Swaim, & Allen in 1925. This firm was responsible for a great deal of residential designs in Park Hill, but was also very active in the Heights/Hillcrest area of Little Rock. This house is similar to the Art Moderne styled Knoop-Werner House in Little Rock, also designed by Brueggeman, Swaim, & Allen. In this house we see horizontal emphasis in the raised bands found under the porch and in the parallel bars that rise up the left side of the forward massing on the facade. This horizontal influence is also seen in the very Modern porch/Porte cochere. While this element is far more Modern than Art Deco, it still helps to draw the building out to the side and detracts from the vertical presence. Also we see the three vertical pieces extending from atop the door, which draws attention to the entrance. All of these are nods to the Art Deco movement. However, all of these accents are then balanced by the white stucco and simple, planar porch, which look towards International Style. Notice the arrangement of windows and placement of the door on the house. They are balanced but not a symmetrical way, as was done in Art Deco. They are asymmetrically placed with the parallel bars offsetting the window on the right side of the facade and the shadowed, covered lower area on the left side of the facade is balanced by the bright white area above. This type of arrangement was common in International Style. An interesting feature on the house are the porthole-style windows in both the front door and above the garage. This element in not typical to either Art Deco or International Style but was common in Art Moderne. It is believed that this element was taken from the cruise-liners of the time, which some believe was a significant source of inspiration for this style. Another feature that is attributed to the possible nautical origins is sparse accent colors of blues and teals, which is seen here in the bright teal front door. While this house does feature many of the prominent Art Moderne features, it does lack the typical curved corner walls or windows rounding the corners. However the house does pocess enough other features to place it comfortably in the Art Moderne category. 
   This house was built as a true nexus. It exist between the architectural movements of Art Deco and International Style, and between the traditional taste of its neighborhood and the forward thinking aspirations of its builders. Sometimes it pays to stand out, especially if it means looking this good. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

International Style in the Capital City: Part 3

501 Building West Facade on Woodlane Street

  This week's installment of International Style in the Capital City brings us to the 501 Building on Woodlane Street, facing the Capital building. The 501 Building was originally called the National Old Line Insurance Company Building, being named after the builder of the building. It was designed by Arkansas architect Yandell Johnson. Johnson was originally from St. Louis, MO, but moved to Arkansas in 1938. After spending WWII in the U.S. Navy, Johnson and his first wife, architect Mary Johnson, decided to open a firm together in Little Rock in 1946. In the following twenty-one years, Johnson worked on 385 design projects, including the National Old Line Insurance Company Building. In 1967 Johnson was named an A.I.A. Fellow, the first in Arkansas. After this he closed his own firm and eventually worked for two other firms until 1978, when he retired. During his career he designed houses and commercial buildings all over the state of Arkansas, including houses in the Stifft Station/Capital Hill area and in the Park Hill area, however he is best known for his work on the National Old Line Insurance Building.
    The National Old Line Insurance Building was built in 1955 and is one of the most beautiful and best preserved examples of the International Style in the state. It has many of the tell-tale characteristics of the style; the curtain walls with ribbon windows, clean and ornamented facades, large cantilevered planes, and and an overall boxy form. The building design draws a great deal of influence from the work of Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School of Design and father of Modern Architecture. His design for the Bauhaus Student Quarters in Dessau, Germany and Gropius's entry for the 1922 Chicago Tribune Competition, the largest architectural design competition in the 20th Century, share several design elements in common with Johnson's design for the National Old Line Insurance Building. 
The Student Building at Bauhaus in Dessau by Walter Gropius in 1925
Gropius's design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition, 1922
We can see the same horizontal wrapping influence of ribbon windows with large cantilevered planes above on both Gropius designs that is present in the National Old Line Insurance Building. There is also vertical elements that serve to break up the dominant horizontal movement present in Gropius's Bauhaus design that we find in Johnson's design. These vertical elements serve much the same purpose in Gropius and Johnson's designs as they do in the Tower Building that I discussed in a previous post. They serve to house the service systems, i.e. elevators, stairs, and HVAC systems. 
Vertical element on the Wesr facade of the 501 Building

While Johnson is little known in his own state and even lesser known beyond Arkansas, he shared similar ideas to other more influential architects of his day. The internationally renowned, Arkansas-born architect Edward Durrell Stone produced some designs that were closer to Johnson's designs than Gropius's. Stone's 1951 design for the "new" Fine Arts Building at University of Arkansas bares a striking resemblance to Johnson's design. It has the same projecting overhangs, ribbon windows, and general form. However Stone's design does lack the vertical elements in both Gropius's and Johnson's designs. There is also the matter of material choices in the two designs. Both have steel structures with reinforced concrete projections, however where Stone chose to face his curtain walls with buff colored brick, Johnson used cut limestone slabs. Johnson's approach creates a clean surface more in keeping with the International Style ideals. Couple of other similar structures to Johnson's design are the twin towers of Yocum and Humpfreys Halls, by Mott, Mobley, & Horstman (1962). These towers are rather like a half way point between Stone's Fine Arts Building and Johnson's 501 Building. They have Stone's materiality but a form closer to Johnson's design.

Edward Stone's Fine Arts Building at University of Arkansas (1951)

Yocum and Humpfreys Halls at U of A by Mott, Mobley, & Horstman, 1962
  The National Old Line Insurance building has changed hands a few times over the years, but the architectural charm of its design still holds firm. It currently houses several state offices, including the Arkansas Building Authority. There have been some attempts to have the building torn down due largely to the contrasting styles of the strictly Modern Johnson building and the neoclassical style of the Capital, however, none have succeeded. Personally, I think the contrast created by the positions of the two buildings enhances the beauty of both. They serve to point out and draw attention to elements that define both styles. Hopefully the two buildings and continue to coexist and perhaps someday a mutual appreciation for both will form.