Recent Past Preservation Network Bulletin - Spring 2011

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Vol. 2 No. 2 Spring 2011




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contents RENOVATION OR RUBBLE FOR PAUL 03 RUDOLPH’S SIGNATURE COMMISSION An argument for saving Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center.

CASHING IN ON MODERN BANKS: RPPN 21 ACQUIRES NEW WEBSITE ON BANK DESIGN Find out about our exciting new RPPNexclusive research tool for modern banks.

HISTORIC NEW ENGLAND PROTECTS 35 IMPORTANT MIDCENTURY PROPERTY See how Historic New England’s Stewardship program is saving modernist landmarks.

BENEDICTINE MILITARY SCHOOL & PRIORY 41 A modernist landmark of suburban Savannah, born of medieval tradition and military heritage.

13 PARTNERSHIP BREATHES NEW LIFE INTO HISTORIC NIKE HERCULES MISSILE SITE Alaska’s Cold War heritage survives thanks to an active partnership of dedicated parties.

31 LIME ROCK PARK: ROAD RACING CENTER OF THE EAST AND NATIONAL REGISTER DISTRICT This unique post-World War course continues its racing tradition as a living, functioning racetrack.

37 TRIANGLE MODERNIST HOUSES HONORS PIONEERING NC BLACK ARCHITECTS TMH has unveiled a new website archive honoring early black architects of North Carolina.

The RPPN Bulletin is a quarterly newsletter published by the Recent Past Preservation

Dear RPPN Supporters,

Network, a national non-profit organization dedicated to promoting preservation education and advocacy to encourage a

As you are aware, change has been underway at RPPN the last few months.

contextual understanding of our modern

In February, Devin Colman stepped down as President of RPPN to pursue

built environment.

other opportunities. For the past two years, Devin has guided RPPN in its mission to encourage preservation and understanding of our modern

2011 Board of Directors

heritage, building upon the efforts of leadership before him. During this

Alan Higgins, Interim President

period, RPPN took on increased activity and actively supported numerous

Aaron Marcavitch, Vice President

preservation efforts. All of us at RPPN have benefited from Devin’s

Devin Colman

leadership and wish him the best in what comes next.

Rebekah Dobrasko Jeffery Harris

While we are sorry to be losing Devin as president, some positive changes

Cindy Olnick

have also taken place. Thanks to a generous donation by Kirk Huffaker,

Frampton Tolbert

Executive Director of the Utah Heritage Foundation, and the Fritch Foundation, RPPN has taken ownership of, a fantastic

Mailing Address

research tool created by Kirk. Going forward, RPPN will maintain this site

Recent Past Preservation Network

and continue to make it available to the public while building upon the existing material. RPPN is excited to add this new site, available at,, to our exclusive list of resources. We would also like to welcome our new newsletter assistant, Lauren V. Drapala. Lauren hails from Philadelphia, where she works as an architectural conservator at the Architectural Conservation Laboratory at the University

P.O. Box 3072 Burlington, VT 05408 On the Web URL: President: General Info: Website:

of Pennsylvania. Her research has focused on the interior decoration of 20th century muralist Robert Winthrop Chanler, and she has had a long interest


in post-war architecture in northeast cities. We look forward to Lauren’s

Designed & edited by: Alan Higgins &

contributions to the Bulletin, and I think you will agree that she will help

Lauren Drapala

carry the Bulletin forward as a high-quality publication. All information is from sources believed to be


accurate. RPPN is not responsible for omissions or errors.

Alan Higgins Interim President

Please send all comments, questions, and story ideas to us at:

ON THE COVER: Phoenix Financial Center, affectionately referred to as the “punchcard building.” Photograph by Kirk Huffaker.

Renovation or Rubble for Paul Rudolph’s Signature Commission The Orange County Government Center in Goshen, NY BY MYRNA KEMNITZ


uring the past several months the Orange County Government Center designed by world-renowned architect Paul Rudolph has been in the news in the wake of County Executive Edward Diana’s surprising campaign launch in August for a new government center, which he estimated would cost the county’s taxpayers $114.4 million dollars. This comes at a time of foreclosures on homes, shuttering of small businesses, workforce layoffs, and proposed New York State drastic funding cuts to state-mandated County social service programs. Mr. Diana’s argument to smash the concrete building to rubble rather than to use the current structure’s energy and adhere to the most sustainable architectural approach, which is to renovate and to add to, is being challenged by a growing regiment of plain speaking, environmentally concerned and fiscally responsible citizens. They are making their case on radio and television interview shows and in the press. Their hope is that the RFP “to determine the most economical and efficient plan for the consolidation of various count departments and use of [the] existing 24-acre parcel” which can include but is not limited to the “demolition of the existing building…the analysis of the cost of renovating the existing Government Center…and conceptual 3


ORANGE COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER. Photograph by Joseph Molitor for 1971 WWW.RECENTPAST.ORG 4 Architectural Record. Courtesy of Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.


ORANGE COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER. Photograph by Joseph Molitor for 1971 Architectural Record. Courtesy of Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

ORANGE COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER. Photograph by Joseph Molitor for 1971 Architectural Record. Courtesy of Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. 5


RENOVATION OR RUBBLE plans of new Government Center Complex” will be answered by a brave architectural firm or consortium of firms understanding historic preservation, historic structures, the current building’s anatomy and its ability to expand for added uses and modern equipment for forward-looking energy sustainability. The Orange County Government Building was conceived and built during 19631971. It is 40 years old. Its architectural style is “Brutalist,” a classic building of textured concrete boxes in series outside, and open interior spaces, likewise walled in patterned concrete. Its heavy protruding concrete stages and large window areas are reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright. But where Wright’s buildings seem to flow out of the landscape, Rudolph’s building appears to have been dropped onto it. That said, the building is a significant work by an excellent architect. The seminal question often asked,

intended to do. It is an example of a democracy using a new architectural style to announce an important new departure in county government. At a time when the rest of the country was troubled by divisions, assassinations, riots, urban destruction and divisive confrontations, the Orange County Government Building was the physical manifestation of Orange County pride, creativity, productiveness, and unity. It continues to stand out as “different” and it is one of the most recognizable buildings in the county.


ORANGE COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER. Photograph by Joseph Molitor for 1971 Architectural Record. Courtesy of Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

is readily answered by old politicos who remember its back-story. In 1964, Orange County’s present form of government with a County Executive at the helm had just begun. Lou Mills, the first Orange County Executive, wanted to make clear his new leadership’s clean break with the governing type which had come before it and opted to memorialize the difference with a new monumental government building, completely new in style. Personally known to one in the leadership circle, and a Modernist, Rudolph was introduced. His architectural renderings met only a mild criticism, and on February 11, 1964 the resolution to accept the design and give Rudolph the architectural commission for the new complex was voted on and approved. Construction began in 1968. At this point it must be said that The Orange County Government Building has achieved exactly what it was

The Orange County Government Building uses electricity and natural gas as fuel; has a current Energy Performance Rating of 30 (1-100); has a $500,000 Annual Energy Cost; and has Pollution Emissions of CO-2 of 1663. Its energy consumption is high because of its age, its envelope and its mechanical system. “Comfort complaints” come because of leaky roofs, single-pane

windows, and moisture in the concrete wall assemblies. The list has remedies. Renovate the envelope, replace the aged mechanical systems with modern energyefficient air handling units, hot and cold water flow units, boilers, pumps, ducting systems, digital controls systems; redo the 87 small roofs with modern building materials, and replace the 127 single pane windows with dual pane windows with thermal breaks. Initiate and maintain a proscribed maintenance schedule. Properly restored and retrofitted and enlarged as the architecture allows for, the Government Center can be effectively used for another 50 years. The building sits waiting to start supplying jobs to the construction industry for renovation and customized addition, which in all ways is better than tearing down and building again from scratch. WWW.RECENTPAST.ORG



County Executive Diana’s building take-down project side-steps environmental responsibility in its eagerness to move on with the building’s destruction. As Gary Scrittore, a Deputy Commissioner of Public Works said,

However, we do know that our walls are one-foot thick concrete, and that it will take many well-placed explosives, not a wrecking ball, to open up and demolish them. And, in so doing, possibly release into the community air of Goshen particulates of asbestos, a popular building material of the 1960’s . We must contemplate a realistic cost of asbestos detection, abatement and containment for this building. If there is asbestos in the concrete, in concrete is the best containment place for it to remain. Then there is the charge for cartage of the rubble to a landfill and the reckoning of the space it will take up, and 7


deprive county residents from using. The real environmental and dollar cost of the demolition, cartage and dumping may prove to be prohibitive. What we need to have is a complete building “condition assessment” to remove any conjecturing from our cost analysis and projections. The expensive reality of safe and proper takedown costs added to the new building project costs could shove the real budget for a new building complex right over any fiscally responsible cliff. As with the Rudolph building at Yale University, renovation would be the sensible move and would restore the building to signature county status. Significantly, proper restoration in the hands of a company expert in the field of working with historical treasures, and investing in sustainable technologies can make our building one of the most cost-effective in the nation, and save our taxpayers at least $100,000 a year in running costs. It is feasible that it can become a net-zero landmark, one of the first in the nation. In terms of energy conservation,


ORANGE COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER. Photographs by Joseph Molitor for 1971 Architectural Record. Courtesy of Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

restoration/renovation uses far less energy than tearing down and building anew. Environmentally, retrofitting is far kinder than demolishing and building anew. Today we in New York State are in a tunnel of economic squeeze causing real pain for many. Governments up and down the state from villages and towns to county and state levels grapple for ways to stretch available money prudently yet efficiently in providing necessary social programs and essential physical services, maintenance and modernization. Elected officials truly representing the welfare of their constituents understand that political partitions cannot be allowed to remain to separate their unanimity of cause in serving their electorates’ welfare, workforce and will to pull up out of our economies stall. In addition to passing laws and streamlining programs to keep our municipalities viable, striving to create local jobs to ripple-effect neighborhood stability and preparing positive psychological climate for economic recovery, it is imperative to instill pride in valuing our human accom-

plishments in developing cultures, businesses, life-easing inventions in science, and creativity in the arts. Although many may not appreciate its architectural style, our Government Building is a symbol and a treasure. Its fate is being followed nationally and internationally in the press and on websites. In mid-January Nancy Hull Kearing, Chair of the Committee for the Future of the Orange County Government Center at the Orange County League of Women Voters, nominated The Orange County Government Center to The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of “America’s Eleven Most Endangered Places.” The list will be announced in June. Right now it is eligible to apply for funding from the Preservation League of New York State in two grant categories to “preserve architecture and landscapes of recent past” and “to continue the use of historic public buildings.” Additional funding assistance is being researched.




As February closed, all requests for proposals concerning the Orange County Government Building’s fate were to be received. Tear down and build new, or restore and add on? Presently a special committee is reading through the submissions, with its decision(s) to be made in April. Press coverage continues. Forums are being held. Discussions have spilled into shoppers’ topics as they meet at supermarkets’ check out lines. “114.4 million dollars is a lot of money to spend in these economic times and to commit into future spending just for a new building,” the people are saying. The dollar figure is onerous no matter how it is stated: one-hundredfourteen-million-four-hundred-thousand, or, $114,400, 000. 00.



By opting for responsible renovation rather than destruction of The Orange County Government Building and building something else new, County Executive Edward Diana has the opportunity to be bold and to become noteworthy historically by committing our county government to saving taxpayers money while implementing a job creating, history-making true landmark in Orange County, New York.▪

Myrna Kemnitz is an Orange County, NY Legislator currently serving on statutory committees of Human Services, Physical Services, and Health and Mental Health. She is a member of the Sierra Club; a nationally distributed published author; and a grant writer.


ORANGE COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER. Photographs by Joseph Molitor for 1971 Architectural Record. Courtesy of Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.









SITE SUMMIT STAR. Circa 2007. Courtesy of Fort Richardson Public Affairs Office.



Visible from all over Anchorage and across Cook Inlet, the Arctic Valley Star has been an icon in Alaska’s largest city for decades. The 300’x300’ star, lit by 350 60 watt light bulbs, is turned on the day after Thanksgiving each year and is turned off when the last Iditarod musher comes into Nome each March. The highly visible star is a link to part of Alaska’s Cold War past. Just above the Star on a bench of Mt. Gordon Lyon is the former Missile Launch and Storage area of Nike Site Summit, one of 145 Nike Hercules Missile sites constructed across the nation as the last lines of defense against Soviet bombers during the Cold War. A thousand feet higher and a mile away, is the former Integrated Fire Control (IFC) area of the Site, which included the barracks, command center, and radar for the site. In November 1960, the men stationed at Nike Site Summit constructed the Arctic Valley Star on the side of the mountain to wish the residents of Fort Richardson and Anchorage a Merry Christmas.



PARTNERSHIP BREATHES NEW LIFE Constructed from 1958-59, Nike Site Summit was one of eight Nike Hercules Missile sites constructed in Alaska, and three that ringed Anchorage. Unlike most Nike Missile sites constructed across the nation, Nike Site Summit was built on a 4,000 foot mountain. Engineers blew off 60 vertical feet of the mountain to make a place for the IFC building, a garage, and radar. With the coming of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) the Nike Hercules Missile became obsolete and Nike sites across the nation were closed in the 1970s. Nike Site Summit and a site in Homestead, Florida were the last two sites to close in 1979. Their purpose being aerial defense, Nike sites typically consisted of a missile launch and storage area, battery control area, and barracks, and were constructed near or within major cities. These interrelated areas were separated geographically from each other. They often occupied prime realestate and when they were closed they were quickly swallowed up, parceled out, and developed. Today at most sites the only evidence of their existence are the concrete portions of the missile launch and storage areas. Nike Site Summit, being located on the eastern edge of Fort Richardson Army base, on a 4,000’ mountain was afforded protection from developers. The 244 acre site was never sold off or parceled out. Recognizing this, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1996 and is considered to be of national significance. The NRHP reviewer observed that “…the site is an exceptionally well preserved example of a Cold War-era NikeHercules missile installation.” Its location on an active military base has both helped and hindered its preservation. With the pressures of force reduction that came after the end of the Cold War, many military bases that were not closed were required to reduce the square footage of their garrisons. This meant the demolition of unused or underused buildings across the nation. Nike Site Summit with its 27 unused buildings was proposed for demolition 15


INTEGRATED FIRE CONTROL AREA. U.S. Army Alaska, Fort Richardson, 2008.

several times to help U.S. Army Garrison Alaska meet its facilities reduction requirements. These proposals often came from reluctant commanders and were always met with strong opposition from a public with deep military roots and a growing interest in the Cold War.

In December 2000, a group of Anchorage community leaders tasked by the Army to come up with a solution for what to do with Nike Site Summit recommended a public-private partnership to manage the site for public tours. After the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, public access to military bases across the nation was

strictly curtailed. It was not until 2007 that the Army was ready to discuss Nike Site Summit again. In February 2007, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Richardson began taking public comments for future management of Nike Site Summit. That same month Friends of Nike WWW.RECENTPAST.ORG


MISSILE LAUNCH AND STORAGE AREA. Circa 2009. Photograph courtesy of Jon Scudder, U.S. Air Force.

Site Summit (FONSS) lead by Jim Renkert, veterans and other community leaders, formed to advocate for preservation of the site. The Alaska Association for Historic Preservation (AAHP), a statewide preservation organization joined in the call for preservation. More than one hundred comments in support of preserving Nike Site Summit were received, including support from The Cold War Museum in Alexandria, Virginia and the Nike Historical Society in Alameda, California. In June 2009, an agreement was reached to preserve most of the site and allow guided summer tours.



The partnership recommended nearly 10 years earlier was formed as part of the agreement and Friends of Nike Site Summit (FONSS) became the lead private organization in the partnership. Most of the 27 buildings that make up the site will be preserved and FONSS is responsible for preserving five of them. After being abandoned for more than 30 years they are in poor condition. The site’s location on a mountain means that it is regularly subjected to high winds in the winter. A veteran of the site observed that when he was stationed at Nike Site Summit in the mid 1970s they always seemed to lose the anemometer when the wind got

up to about 130 mph. Heavy snow loads are a common occurrence in the winter as well. With strong support from AAHP, a statewide 501(c)(3) preservation organization and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s representative in Alaska, FONSS has been able to raise funds, apply for grants, and attain a level of recognition that would have otherwise been more difficult. As FONSS’ umbrella organization AAHP has highlighted FONSS’ work in their quarterly newsletter, and co-sponsored workshops in cooperation with the National Park Service to train FONSS volunteers in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for

Treatment of Historic Properties. AAHP treasurer and board member, Bob Mitchell, a Historical Architect, has played a critical role in developing work plans and overseeing work at the site. In 2010, FONSS began preservation work at the site. With a grant from the Alaska Historical Commission and donations from individuals and private organizations FONSS restored the three sentry stations that guarded the entrances to the site. The object of restoration is to stabilize the buildings and restore their exteriors to their Cold War appearance. Over



800 volunteer hours went into the restoration, which required removal of lead based paint and asbestos. A number of Nike veterans have been involved in the preservation efforts, including two that were stationed at the site in the 1970s and two that periodically worked at the site. Having individuals with first-hand knowledge of the site involved in its preservation is invaluable. Manuals from the 1950s and 60s explain the interrelationship and purpose of the buildings at a Nike Hercules Missile site; however the Nike veterans explain that things were not always done according to the manual. Some buildings were used quite differently from the way they were described in the manuals. In September 2010, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Richardson and the adjacent Elmendorf Air Force Base were merged into Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER). Under the new command structure Elmendorf AFB is now the lead federal agency for resource management on Fort Richardson, and replaced Fort Richardson as the partner in the Nike Site Summit preservation partnership. “It has been a cooperative effort between federal, state and community groups blending mission and historical preservation requirements,” John Scudder, JBER Cultural Resources Manager said. “The close relationship continues to mature, benefitting everyone.” 19


The strong level of support for FONSS’ efforts continues. To improve logistics for the 2011 work season JBER approved the placement of a CONEX container at the site to store materials and tools. Restoration of power to the site to establish an onsite electrical supply for power tools is also in the works. JBER has also increased efforts to deter trespass at the site. While the site is located on military land it is adjacent to Chugach State Park, a hugely popular recreation area for Anchorage residents. The vast majority of trespassers are simply curious, however vandalism is a problem. Preservation efforts are meaningless if vandals are able to damage or destroy what has been accomplished. Vandalism has been as mundane as graffiti and as appalling as broken windows and doors, destruction of garage doors and blast doors on the magazines, removal of building materials for use in campfires, and attempted theft of fencing that surrounds the site. JBER is working aggressively to stop vandalism of the site. “We are currently working on some significant projects to improve human health and safety, security and preservation of Site Summit,”

PARTNERSHIP BREATHES NEW LIFE Scudder said. “One of those projects currently underway includes the upgrading of fencing and signage.” Cooperation between the military and FONSS has been phenomenal! Part of the access road to the site is in the fan of a firing range located at the base of Mt. Gordon Lyon. A key concern of the military regarding public access to the site has been the danger of crossing the firing fan during live fire exercises. Access to the site is controlled by Range Control, which stops firing to allow FONSS volunteers to drive up or down the mountain. Communication from the site to Range Control is via radio or cell phone. The mountainous area surrounding Nike Site Summit is also used for alpine training. Troops passing through the area while FONSS has been working have been respectful and supportive. FONSS’ preservation efforts during the summer 2011 work season will focus on the Launch Control Building. While the order to launch came from the IFC Building nearly a mile away the “button” was in the Launch Control Building. It actually consists of three interconnected buildings: a concrete building; a cinder block building; and a wood frame building. Removing debris from inside the buildings, replacing badly deteriorated plywood on the exterior of the wood frame building, repainting, sealing window and door openings, and repairing the roof will be priorities. The Launch Control Building is the largest of the five buildings that FONSS is responsible for preserving under the terms of the agreement. (opposite left) SENTRY STATION 1. September 2009, prior to its restoration. Photograph by Darrell Lewis, National Park Service (opposite right) SENTRY STATION 1. September 2010, following its restoration.

Completion of this building will be a major step toward public tours of the site, leaving just one more building to preserve to meet the terms of the agreement. Public tours are planned for summer 2012. FONSS Director Jim Renkert observes, “The efforts to preserve Nike Site Summit are being undertaken to [save] this important part of Alaska and Cold War heritage…to honor the men who served there. For twenty years those stationed at this mountaintop fortress kept watch over Anchorage and our nation...” Perched atop a 4,000’ mountain overlooking Anchorage and Cook Inlet, with views of the Alaska Range, Chugach Mountains, and Talkeetna Mountains it is a fitting monument to all Cold War veterans. Even with the modest level of demolition planned for the site, essentially the IFC Building and Vehicle Maintenance Building, so much of the site will remain that it will nearly speak for itself. Rarely do historic preservationists and interpreters have so much to work with to tell the story of a historic site.

Photograph by Darrell Lewis, National Park Service (below) LAUNCH CONTROL BUILDING. September 2008. Photograph courtesy of Bob French.

The preservation partnership between Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Friends of Nike Site Summit, the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, National Park Service, and the Alaska State Historic Preservation Officer should stand as a model for historic preservation projects on other military installations. It leverages each organization’s resources to support a preservation effort that none could do alone. In the end Alaska and the Nation will have a premier historic site to tell the Cold War and Nike Hercules stories. ▪

Darrell Lewis is a Historian in the National Park Service, Alaska Regional Office in Anchorage and serves on the Advisory Board of Friends of Nike Site Summit. WWW.RECENTPAST.ORG








CASHING IN Which American company designed and constructed over 5,000 new structures between 1900-1990? Which company took a new process in the 1950s called “design-build” and did it so well that the company was sued by local chapters of the AIA to prevent them from working in several states? And which company pushed the limits of mid-century technology with their architectural design while doing the above? These are just some of the amazing achievements that can be discovered on a website that chronicles the rise to prominence of the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation of America. With generous funding for research and creation provided by the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation, the website was launched in June 2010. The intent was to provide a history of the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation of America, its leaders and architects, and show many of the projects that were designed or built by the company. While the website can certainly be enjoyed as easy reading and browsing, the rich resources in banking history, profiles of architects, designers, and builders, and library of historic and current photographs should also serve as a source for research and local banking context as well as a guideline for the evaluation of mid-century bank structures. While National Register policies such as the 50 -year rule continue to exist, friends of bank preservation have no other choice than to seek exceptions. The website also documents stories of preservation success, such as First Security Bank (1955) in Salt Lake City, Utah, which was listed before it reached 50 years of age and while the designing architect is still (very much!) living, and rehabilitated despite being reputed as the “ugliest building in town.” Starting in 2011, the Recent Past Preservation Network will operate and manage the website, which can be found at This is an exciting opportunity for RPPN to provide the public with a knowledge-base of research in the area of mid-century modern bank design and construction. 23


GLENDALE FEDERAL SAVINGS. An original c. 1958 drawing of Glendale Federal Savings i Glendale, California. Courtesy W.A. Sarmiento.



Founded in 1904, the company enjoyed moderate success through World War II, designing several prominent Art Deco structures across the country such as the Home National & Trust and Savings Bank in Elgin, IL and South Side National Bank in St. Louis, MO. A major lull in production hit the company during the Great Depression, and its founder and President, Joseph B. Gander, turned to making pinball machines and kitchen cabinets to keep work coming in. Policy changes made in the banking industry as a result of the Great Depression opened up new markets for construction, including branch banking, but it’s start was delayed by World War II. After the war was over however, the policies encouraged building and investment, created a demand for financial services in every community, and gave rise to the notion that every American could borrow more to pay for it. The company reached an apex of production and earned income during the period from 1950-1965, the Era of Growth and Prosperity. Their use and refinement of the design-build process, as well as acquisition of streamlined all aspects of the marketing, sales, design, and construction process. By 1955, they had diversified their materials suppliers and producers to both expedite the construction the process and reduce the overall cost for clients. Adding to their highly reputable cabinet shop (Loughman Cabinet) and brick factory, they purchased two marble quarries (one each in Minnesota and Alabama) and invested in two vaultmanufacturing companies. WWW.RECENTPAST.ORG



SOUTHSIDE BANK, ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI. An example of the early BB&ECA period when the company prominently used Art Deco and Moderne styles. Photo by Kirk Huffaker. 25



FIRST SECURITY BANK, SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH. After $12 million rehabilitation which took it from 100% vacancy to 100% occupancy in less than three years. Photo by Kirk Huffaker. WWW.RECENTPAST.ORG


CASHING IN At this time, the company was headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri and led by its founder, Joseph B. Gander, a savvy businessman with a highly personable approach to living. Born and raised in St. Louis, Gander took the company from its meager beginnings as a cabinet shop in an alley to a multi-national corporation that earned $35 million in 1964, the year after his death. Another key to the success of the company was cutting edge design, led by W.A. Sarmiento. As new leadership took the helm following Gander’s death, Bank Building & Equipment Corp. Diversified their portfolio by offering the same services they provided to banks to the school, hospital and airport industries. However, this was only marginally successful. Additional expansion plans with new internal divisions, such as conducted financial analyses for communities and corporations, continued to bring in new business but not at the same rate as during Gander’s tenure.

Bank Building & Equipment Corporation to get a modern design. A talented team of designers, led by Sarmiento, created affordable, new, modern space that could be completed on schedule and on or below budget. Bank presidents usually didn’t need to hear any more of a sales pitch before signing on the dotted line. The feeling of each stylistic feature, shape, and color is eye candy for any modernist (and hopefully preservationists). Seeing Sarmiento’s structures, especially in person, can’t help but get excited to know more about the design and the designer. Widely regarded as one of the top Sarmiento masterpieces, the Phoenix Financial Center (1968; 1976) utilizes an attractive design of an 18-story concave-shaped tower with two smaller circular buildings within a formally landscaped site that linked the buildings together. An earlier demonstration of Sarmiento’s

Among the leaders of the company during 19501965 was Chief Designer Wenceslaus Alfonso Sarmiento. W.A. Sarmiento emigrated to the U.S. from Peru in 1949 and by the circumstances of a car accident, met an architect with the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation who introduced him to the founder and owner, Joseph B. Gander. Behind Sarmiento as Chief Designer, the company’s mid-twentieth century years exploded with fresh ideas and economic growth. Inspired by the most progressive architect on the continent, Oscar Niemeyer, Sarmiento designed in a true International Style. His style certainly reflects important developments in style, design, technology, and innovation, and these advances allowed Sarmiento to be forward-thinking and cutting-edge in his designs. Sarmiento’s designs are evocative of his design philosophy that “architecture is the art to shelter man’s activities with a balance of engineering and sculpture,” blending refined and structured International design with organic and artistic elements. More than any other firm in the country during the mid-century period, bank presidents came to the 27


W.A SARMIENTO. Sarmiento at 1944 grand reopening of First Security Bank in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by Kirk Huffaker.

PHEONIX FINANCIAL CENTER. It’s easy to see why this building is affectionately called “the punchcard building” by Phoenix residents. Photo by Kirk Huffaker.



CASHING IN pioneering style is the former Glendale Federal Savings Bank (1959 in Glendale, California with its bright red exit stair tower and green and gray office cube, anchoring a major corner in town. A prominent feature of the building is the vertical louver system that cover the office structure. Sarmiento was inspired by South American passive solar design to use on several of his buildings in the U.S. With a desire to always produce something new and unique, Sarmiento’s imagination always dreamed up something new for his clientele. These defining features can be seen within each structure and immediately with massing shapes the included round structures, complex rectangular massing, to intersecting curves and paraboloids.

Though the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation achieved great success designing and building bank structures, they were not the only building type the company saw constructed during their apex in the mid-century. With their talented stable of in-house designers, one of the most iconic projects the company worked on was the design for the gate lodge for the Howard Johnson’s motel franchise. Based on an series of intersecting A-frames, the gate lodge’s new registration building became a fresh, modern beacon for aging hotel complexes that required more common space for boarders as well as an elegant welcome space. First 29


constructed in 1958 in New Castle, Delaware, few of the gate lodge structures still remain today in their original condition. The Chancery at the Cathedral of St. Louis, which serves as the Office of the St. Louis Diocese, is a circular structure that exhibits an intricate design by Sarmiento on both the interior and exterior. As a complete work done in concrete, the building is support by a ring of equally spaced H-shaped concrete supports, joined with a beam. Ingenious engineering allowed the domed roof to spring from the concrete supports, creating an artistic center skylight of glass baton and the use of larger exterior plate glass windows than had been attempted before. Built c. 1962, the Chancery was one of the cornerstone structures of Lindell Boulevard where stylistic period modernism rose alongside each other. Unfortunately, this amazing structure is under continuing threat to be demolished. (You can follow the latest news on this structure through Modern St. Louis <>).

CASHING IN As an further examples of this diversity, Bank Building & Equipment Corp. also designed the Bally Total Fitness Building (1964) in Houston, Texas, a cooperative housing project called Paradise Island Towers (1963) in Treasure Island, Florida, and the Falstaff Brewery Headquarters (1956) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 headquarters (1960), both in St. Louis, Missouri.

While the history of the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation of America and stories of its leaders would have made a fantastic book, a website provides the CHANCERY AT THE CATHEDRAL OF ST. LOUIS. Sarmiento’s concrete, circular building, perpetually threatened with demolition. Photo by Kirk Huffaker.

ability for the information to be linked to website references, create references back and forth within the site to easily access information in numerous places, have interaction between visitors through a message board, and allow the site to be expanded in the future with additional information. The ability to expand the website in the future with new research, locations of newly identified locations of Bank Building & Equipment Corporation designed and/or built structures, photographs, and designers became critical. While the Fitch Foundationsponsored research mined the mid-century modern era, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as the company constructed over 5,000 buildings during its existence. Use of the website will become crucial as more local banks begin to meet the age and criteria thresholds for the National Register of Historic Places and are evaluated for their historic past and reuse potential. Having the knowledge to raise awareness and educate the public thus begins the process of saving modern bank buildings across the country. ▪

Kirk Huffaker is Executive Director at Utah Heritage Foundation. The organization’s committee dedicated to documenting, promoting, and preserving modernism in Utah is called Salt Lake Modern.



If you travel to the hill country of northwestern Connecticut, you will arrive at one of the most exciting places in the Northeast, Lime Rock Park. Opened in 1957, the fan-friendly venue was the first automobile race track to be scientifically designed and engineered for both recreation and safety. It is one of only a few recreational road racing facilities that were constructed

By Sara F. Mascia, PhD

across the country during the post-World War II 1950s that is still operating today. The historic course is a paved 1.53-mile race track with seven unique turns and extreme elevation changes that has earned the Park the title "Road Racing Center of the East." Brief History of Road Racing The very first automobile contest was organized by a Paris magazine in 1894 as a reliability test to determine the best performance between vehicles. The race was set on the roads between Paris to Rouen and was won by a steam-powered vehicle. The first American race, a round-trip competition between Chicago and Evanston, Illinois, took place the following year. These early automobile races were primarily “city to city� tests run on public roads to determine the speed and endurance of these new machines. Although European race enthusiasts actively promoted professional road racing from its inception, in America only informal road racing was popular at first. Races typically took place on a local and unorganized scale, using rural roads and airport tarmacs. European car makers had teams of racers that participated in the annual 1,000 mile Italian Mille Miglia or the annual 24-hour French Race at LeMans, competitions which are still active. In America the proponents of oval-track racing quickly surpassed the early advocates of public road racing, as evidenced by the construction of famous race tracks 31


such as the Milwaukee Mile (1903) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (1909). In an early attempt to increase the popularity of road racing in North America, three brothers, Barron, Jr., Sam, and Miles Collier, from Pocantico Hills, New York organized the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) in 1933. Just eleven years after the founding of ARCA, many of the same road racing devotees incorporated the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), a successor to ARCA, in 1944. American road racing received a huge boost in popularity from returning American soldiers, who had developed a fondness for European sports cars (e.g., MG, Jaguar, Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo) while serving during World War II. Lime Rock Park’s Beginnings The construction of the Lime Rock Park race track is well documented, providing unique insight into the design and engineering practices employed, as well as the obstacles faced by the designers and construction management team. The idea of creating a race track on the grounds of an old gravel pit in the countryside of Salisbury, Connecticut was conceived by Jim Vaill, the son of the original property owner, Frank Vaill. Lime Rock’s pioneer role in the engineering of auto race tracks and the integrity of this original design has been recognized through its recent designation as a National Register Historic District. (top) ESSES SECTION OF TRACK, 1977. Race fans watching the action at the famous

The unprecedented design of Lime Rock Park came to fruition with the help of three significant individuals: John Fitch, Bill Millikin, and Raymond Loewy. Vaill contacted famed American racer John Fitch for assistance with the project. Fitch, the only American racer actively participating in European races, immediately expressed an interest in the development of the new track. Fitch, present at the tragedy in LeMans, where Pierre Bouillion-Levegh crashed into the crowd killing himself and at least 81

“Esses” section of the track in 1977. Lime Rock Park is a short track that was designed to contain extreme elevation changes and seven unique turns. The “Esses” is the portion of the original Lime Rock course that combines Turn 3, the banked “left hander,” which is the only significantly sharp left hand turn on the track, with Turn 4. (bottom) ESSES SECTION OF TRACK, 2006. Crowds still enjoying the fast-paced fun on the hillside overlooking the Esses, 2006 American Le Mans Series race. (opposite top) AERIAL OF LIME ROCK PARK. Looking south, 2007. Photograph by Sergei Fedorjaczenko. (opposite bottom) HAYBALE PROGRAM. Cover of Haybale No. 1, Official Sports Car Racing Program for the first race at Lime Rock Park, 1957.



LIME ROCK PARK NO NAME STRAIGHT. View of the end of the “No Name Straight,” which is a slight misnomer since this extant section of the original track actually contains two gentle bends. Circa 2008. Photograph by Tod Bryant.

spectators, had a deep commitment toward using innovative means to create a safer track for both drivers and spectators. [John Fitch later became a highway safety-engineering legend with the invention of the Fitch Barrier.] Bill Millikin, well known as a leader in highway safety planning and engineering, was the head of the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (now Calspan). He was asked to study the draft track design and prepare a report with recommendations to improve the design. The resulting report, Design Study of Deceleration Zones and Crash Barriers for an Automobile Racing Circuit, immediately made the rounds throughout the racing world as well as the automobile industry. This was the first time a race track had been scientifically designed and engineered for both recreation and safety. For his efforts and participation in racing, Millikin was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame (2005). Noted American industrial designer Raymond Loewy, incorporated the pastoral, or country, ambiance into the landscape design of the park. Situated on 325 acres, the park still offers magnificent views of the historic track as well as the surrounding countryside. To this day, Lime Rock Park is the only race track in North America with no formal spectator seating or grandstands. The International Formula Libre Race Of special interest to many racing enthusiasts was the International Formula Libre race that was organized, 33


promoted, and held at Lime Rock Park in 1959. This race was an important milestone in American motorsport history as it was the first major postwar road racing event to include both amateur and professional racers driving the vehicle of their choice. An excited crowd of nearly 12,000 showed up to watch vehicles, both large and small, including Jaguars, Listers, Ferraris, Porsches and Rodger Ward with an 11-year old Offenhauser-powered Kurtis Midget. Ward’s car, which had a one-speed transmission and rear brakes won the day with its superb maneuverability. Historic Lime Rock Park Built in 1956 and opening in April of 1957, the circuit at Lime Rock Park remains precisely as it was 55 years ago. With very few exceptions, every national and international racing driver of significant historical note has raced on the historic track. In continuous use since it opened, the Park currently hosts a variety of recreational venues including car shows, driving schools, bicycle races, new car press introductions, auto manufacturer development testing, vintage automobile races and most importantly, premier sports car racing events, which often draw tens of thousands of spectators on the weekends. The beauty of the surroundings, the traditions maintained by racing upon the historic track, and the prevailing loyalty of its fans are proof of the enduring spirit of Lime Rock Park. ▪

Sara Mascia earned a PhD at Boston University. She is currently Vice President of Historical Perspectives, Inc., a cultural resources management firm, and is certified in Field Archaeology, Documents, and Historical Archaeology by the Register of Professional Archaeologists. On the national level, she serves as Treasurer of the Society of Historical Archaeology, a position she has held since 2006. Long before authoring the Lime Rock Park Historic District nomination to the National Register, Sara was an avid racing fan.



Historic New England Protects The Flansburgh House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, is the latest privately owned historic property protected through preservation easements in the Stewardship Program at Historic New England and the second Modern house to enter the program. Completed in 1963, the Flansburgh House was designed by the late architect Earl R. Flansburgh, FAIA. The house is designed around an open interior garden court and was built to illustrate Flansburgh’s approach to Modern residential design. It is set on a slightly sloping wooded lot and surrounded by tall pine trees and stone walls built by Flansburgh and his sons. Glass windows and sliding glass doors line the outside walls, and glass walls with open hallways line each side of the open courtyard allowing light to penetrate from both the exterior and interior of the house. The preservation easements held by Historic New England protect: exterior elevations and interior 35


features, including room configuration, flooring, woodwork, paint colors, built-in furniture, door hardware, and light fixtures; the exterior of the garage; and the garden and landscape features. The preservation restrictions also prevent subdivision and limit new additions and additional structures. Earl R. Flansburgh’s long and distinguished career in architecture focused primarily on the planning and design of educational facilities, but he also designed one or two private houses every year, hand-picking the sites and clients. He founded the Boston firm of Earl R. Flansburgh + Associates (now known as Flansburgh Architects) in 1963 and practiced architecture in Boston for more than forty-five years. His buildings received more than eighty regional and national design awards. He served as the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) president in 1981 and received the BSA Award of Honor in 1999.

This is the second Modern house protected by Historic New England’s Stewardship Program. The Hoover House, also in Lincoln, entered the program in 2008. Lincoln and the surrounding area has excellent examples of Modern houses custom built by a group of architects including Historic New England’s 1938 Gropius House, designed by Walter Gropius, which is open to the public. About the Stewardship Program The Stewardship Program administers preservation and conservation easements held by Historic New England on privately owned historic properties across New England. The program is a partnership between the property owner and Historic New England with the shared goal of preserving a property's historic character. By donating preservation restrictions, the owner entrusts Historic New England with the responsibility of working with present and future owners to protect important historic elements from alteration or neglect. For information about the Stewardship Program please call Joseph Cornish at 617-994-6649, or access information at

About Historic New England Historic New England is the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive regional heritage organization in the nation. We bring history to life while preserving the past for everyone interested in exploring the New England experience from the seventeenth century to today. Historic New England owns and operates thirty-six historic homes and landscapes spanning five states. We share the region’s history through vast collections, publications, programs, museum properties, archives, and stories that document more than 400 years of life in New England. For more information visit





CLINTON GRAVELY RESIDENCE. Greensboro NC, designed by Clinton Gravely.

Triangle Modernist Houses Honors

Pioneering NC Black Architects BY KIM WEISS


riangle Modernist Houses is no stranger to RPPN readers. This award-winning, non-profit organization and its website, www.trianglemodernisthousescom, is the single largest archive of modernist residential design in the nation.

Earlier this year, in preparation for February’s national celebration of Black History Month, TMH founder and director George Smart began a series of profiles on African American design professionals active in North Carolina before 1970. What he found was both inspiring and disturbing. “African American men who followed their hearts into architecture before 1970s did so despite great resistance from both society and their own industry,” he said. “Today there are many minority architects in North Carolina, but before 1970 it was another story, and not a nice one. The field of architecture made choosing the profession nearly impossible for minorities. In North Carolina, there were almost none for decades.” The series, entitled “Pioneering Black Architects in North Carolina,” continues to expand and attract sponsors and fans. According to Smart’s research, only two black architects were registered in North Carolina in 1950. By 1980, the number increased to 65.



PIONEERING BLACK NC ARCHITECTS The series features seventeen professionals active in NC architecture before 1970, including: · · · · · · · ·

Robert Robinson Taylor (1868-1942), a native of Wilmington, NC, and the first professionally trained black architect in the United States. Chatham County native Gaston Alonzo Edwards (1875-1943), the first black architect licensed in North Carolina and the only one for many years. William Alfred Streat, Jr., AIA (1920-1994), who served as professor and chair of the Architectural Engineering Department at NCA&T University in Greensboro from 1949 until he retired. Clinton Eugene Gravely, AIA, born in 1935, one of the first black architects to work in a white-owned office. Arthur John Clement, the first black student accepted into the North Carolina State University School of Design in Raleigh. Henry Beard Delaney (1858-1928), who designed Saint Augustine’s Chapel in Raleigh in 1895, now the only surviving nineteenth century building on the campus. William W. Smith (1862-1937), a mason, contractor and architect in Charlotte, NC, who designed the 1922 Mecklenburg Investment Company building and Afro-American Mutual Insurance Company building (1911). Calvin Esau Lightner (1877-1960). Lightner designed many houses and buildings in southeast Raleigh and Durham, N.C., including the first headquarters for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance, the oldest and largest insurance company in the nation founded by African Americans. Lightner's son, Clarence Lightner, became well established as a business, civil rights, and community leader and served as Raleigh first black mayor.

MAJOR SANDERS HOUSE. Brown Summit NC, designed by Major Sanders. 39


Triangle Modernist Houses Honors

Pioneering NC Black Architects BY KIM WEISS

J. KENNETH LEE HOUSE. Greensboro, designed by Blue Jenkins.

Smart says there will eventually be about 20 profiles, and notes: “There are no women on TMH’s Pioneering Black Architects in North Carolina archive because there were no female black architects before 1970. In fact, it wasn’t until 1994 that Patricia Harris became the first black woman licensed to practice architecture in North Carolina. She received her training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was one of the first 30 black women architects in the entire United States.” Among the many prominent black architects practicing in North Carolina today are Loeb Fellowship winner Phil Freelon, FAIA, founder and principal of The Freelon Group in Durham and the 2009 recipient of the AIA Thomas Jefferson Award for Public architecture, and Harvey Gantt, FAIA, principal partner of Gantt Huberman Architects in Charlotte who also served as the Mayor of the City of Charlotte from 1983 to 1987. The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, designed by Phil Freelon, is named for this accomplished North Carolina architect and humanitarian. Mechanics and Farmers Bank, The Michael Okoli Agency, architect Arthur Clement, The Freelon Group, and Gantt Huberman Architects have provided generous financial support for the series, which can be seen at http://

According to George Smart, this series is a sequel to “Pioneering Women Architects in North Carolina” featuring women architects who struggled to make a place for themselves in the male-dominated profession before 1970. “Pioneering Women Architects in North Carolina” can be viewed at Triangle Modernist Houses (TMH) is a 501C3 nonprofit established in 2007 devoted to archiving, preserving and promoting modernist architecture in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill “Triangle” region of North Carolina. It has since grown to feature modernist houses and their designers statewide and includes an archive of national and international modernist architects. TMH continues to catalog, preserve, and advocate for North Carolina modernism by hosting popular modernist house tours several times a year, giving the public access to the Triangle's most exciting residential architecture, past and present. These tours raise awareness and help preserve these "livable works of art" for future generations. TMH also sponsors an architectural film series, workshops, presentations, dinners and other social events to enhance its advocacy of modernist residential design. To learn more about TMH, visit the website at ▪




Medieval monastic heritage and a rich military tradition combine to inspire the singular design of unique Modernist campus at Roman Catholic monastery and boy’s high school.





PRIORY CHAPEL, C. 1963-64.


rticulated in brick, concrete, glass, and steel, the buildings and landscapes that make up the campus of Benedictine Military School and Priory represent the culmination of nearly 100 years of Benedictine presence in Georgia at the time of its dedication in April of 1964. The cutting edge design of the buildings as well as their arrangement in a traditional collegiate quadrangle plan is – in the words of Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Ann Marshall in her c1964 news article –

A tour de force of modern architecture evoking references to some of the most iconic works of the master architects of the genre, this timeless collection of buildings is regarded by Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division as a “rare example of a complete modern campus with intact buildings and landscapes” and as an important and “exceptionally significant … example of modern architecture in Georgia.” Designed to represent both the military heritage of the then 60 year old school as well as uphold the monastic traditions of the nearly 1500 year old Order of St. Benedict, the avant-garde architecture employed in the creation of this Savannah monasteryschool exists today – nearly 50 years later – as a testament to the vision and talent of principal architect Juan 43


Carlos Bertotto and as a high water mark for Modernism in the Savannah area in general. Begun as a boy’s preparatory school, Benedictine College – as it was originally called – was organized on a military basis in the Southern military school tradition of West Point, VMI, and the Citadel. The school opened in 1902 with 21 cadets and was an immediate success. The “BC” Cadets were highly visible in the community and often acted as a color guard or escort for civic occasions as well as marching annually in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an enduring tradition begun in 1903. Before long the Savannah community as a whole embraced the school, regarding it as its own version of the “Citadel”. By the 1950s it had become a tradition among Savannah’s Catholic families for son’s to attend the alma mater of their fathers and grandfathers. With enrollment skyrocketing and the old Romanesque style college building – built to accommodate 200 students – no longer suiting the growing needs of the school and monastic community, the monks began to plan the construction of a new suburban campus on Savannah’s Southside, purchasing a wooded 104 acre tract in 1958. Facing similar needs for expansion, many Benedictine communities in the United States launched extensive

BENEDICTINE MILITARY SCHOOL & PRIORY building programs during this time, commissioning well known architects to design master plans to guide the growth of their abbeys and associated schools, culminating in a watershed of groundbreaking Modernist architecture. Rather than imitate the traditional styles of the past – such as Romanesque or Gothic – the monks opted for modern architecture because they wanted to adopt an architecture that was new and of this time – an architecture that would better reflect the contemporary culture and post-war, technology-driven society in which they now lived. Between 1958 and 1963 Benedictine communities at St. John’s Abbey (Marcel Breuer, 1955 – 1967), in Collegeville, Minnesota, St. Gregory’s Abbey (Pietro Belluschi, c1959-1960) in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Annunciation Priory (Marcel Breuer, c1959-62) in Bismarck, North Dakota, St. Louis Abbey (Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, c1961-62) in St. Louis, Missouri, among others, commissioned Modernist architects to design ambitious, innovative, and site-specific new architecture for their monasteries and schools. Duncan Stroik, a noted ecclesiastical architect and editor of the journal Sacred Architecture, refers to this period of innovation in an article, “The Roots of Modernist Church Architecture”, when he writes that the “Benedictines in the U.S. were the equivalent of the Dominicans in France, being great patrons of Modernist art and architecture, as well as being liturgically progressive,” and describes the buildings constructed during this period as “sleek, non-traditional and critically acclaimed by the architectural establishment.”

priory that called for two phases of construction: an initial phase consisting of an academic building, cafeteria, gymnasium-armory, small chapel, and monastery; and a second phase of construction in which dormitories for boarding students and a larger chapel for the student population – apparently intended as a parish church – would be constructed at a later time. The decision by the Savannah Benedictines to build a Modernist campus and priory was certainly an informed and deliberate one. There is no doubt that the monks were aware of, and directly influenced by the modern architecture being built at other Benedictine monastic foundations of the period, particularly Annunciation Priory – this is evident in the architecture and layout of the buildings. However, the monks, along with their confreres at other Benedictine communities of the period, chose modern architecture not out of preference for an architectural style but through a shared belief that Modernism could best translate their Benedictine ideals into a built form that would also satisfy their responsibility, as prescribed in the Rule of St. Benedict, to “share in the creation of a new future”, a sentiment best expressed in 1953 by Abbot Baldwin of St. John’s Abbey:

Savannah’s Benedictine campus and priory was planned and developed during this same period – roughly between 1958 and 1964 – and was part of this national trend that occurred within the Benedictine monastic community in the United States during this time. Having been granted independence from Belmont Abbey in 1961, the monks of Sacred Heart Priory commissioned the Savannah firm of Thomas, Driscoll, and Hutton to design a 35 year master plan for the new campus and

(above) CORP OF CADETS. Daily muster of the Corp of Cadets on the plaza in front of the Armory-Gymnasium, c. 1965. (left) BENEDICTINE CADET FOOTBALL TEAM, C. 1965. Note concrete canopies extending along the façade of the Academic Building (c. 1963). Both images courtesy of Benedictine Military School.











The buildings and layout of the new Benedictine campus was designed by an innovative young architect named Juan Carlos Bertotto – a native of Rosario, Argentina – who was instructed in the Bauhaus tradition while attending Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture, from which he graduated in 1958. In planning the Benedictine campus, Bertotto clearly drew inspiration from the landmark works of the Modernist architects he studied while he was a student at Ga. Tech: Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van Mies van der Rohe, Oscar Niemeyer, Marcel Breuer, and most especially, Eero Saarinen. Bertotto and the Thomas, Driscoll, and Hutton team designed all of the buildings on the campus in the New Formalist style of modern architecture that was en vogue at the time – an architecture that incorporates the building forms of the past – classical precedents such as columns, highly stylized entablatures, and colonnades – with new forms made possible by advances in building technology – such as the newly discovered plastic-like qualities of concrete exhibited in the umbrella shell, waffle slab, and folded plates. All of the buildings on the campus are of steel frame and concrete block construction and feature flat roofs, terrazzo floors, and glass window walls. The use of a striated red brick as an exterior veneer is intended as a nod to the past and as a means of softening the machine aesthetic of glass, metal, and concrete prevalent elsewhere, while the cast concrete frieze along the cornice of the buildings – which resembles a modern style dentil course - serves to further unify the buildings visually.


Bertotto employed historic precedent in his design for the campus as a way of alluding to the Benedictine Order’s medieval monastic heritage through its association with the Gothic style, which is no more apparent than in his design for the Priory Chapel and Monastery.

The cantilevered superstructure of the Armory-Gymnasium serves as a continuation of the concrete canopies that connect all of the buildings on the campus.

Bertotto’s Priory Chapel (c1963-64) clearly references Eero Saarinen’s iconic Kresge WWW.RECENTPAST.ORG



PRIORY CHAPEL AT NIGHT. Taken as a promotional photo, c. 1964. Courtesy of Benedictine Military School.

Chapel completed in 1955 at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, appropriating the scale, form, and basic materials of the Kresge chapel – as well as the reflecting pool or “moat” – while adding intervals of thin vertical windows embellished with austere Gothic buttressing and ornament. Bertotto also retained the enclosed walkway that Saarinen used to connect his chapel to a small office and library – although used here to connect the Priory Chapel to the Monastery – which also displays Gothic inspiration through its round headed, cantilevered windows, thin cast-concrete water spouts jutting through roof parapets, and heavy batten wood doors. One of the most significant aspects of Bertotto’s design is the chapel’s circular floor plan, which places the altar in the center of the building with the choir stalls arranged in a circle around it. The design is significant as it pre-dates liturgical changes in church architecture that would later be inspired by Vatican II, placing the Priory Chapel among the earliest examples of “pre-Conciliar” church 47


architecture in the nation to feature a “centralized plan” (a deliberate design aspect certainly insisted upon by the liturgically progressive Benedictine monks). Bertotto was likely drawn to Saarinen’s modern circular chapels for inspiration (Saarinen’s c1956 Scott Chapel at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, also appears to have been an influence) based on his understanding of medieval monastic precedent and – since the Priory Chapel was originally designed for use as a chapter house – he appropriated the form of the 13th Century English chapter house since they too were characteristically free-standing, mostly polygonal yet sometimes circular, and were attached to the side of an associated cathedral by a hyphen-like vestibule. Like his chapter house turned chapel, Bertotto also based the design for his contemporary monastery on historical precedent, utilizing that most basic of medie-

BENEDICTINE MILITARY SCHOOL & PRIORY val forms – the monastic cloister – while expressing it in modernist terms. A traditional cloister – the central articulating feature of a monastery – is a rectangular open space surrounded by a continuous covered passage – or cloister walkway – with open arcades on the inner side that run along the walls of buildings, forming a quadrangle or garth. The cloister walk served to link and give access to all the main buildings and facilities of the complex. While the cloister is usually attached to the side of a church or cathedral, Bertotto’s “contemporary cloister” is free-standing and appears to be based on the monasteries of the Carthusian Order in which the monk’s individual cells – unlike other monasteries – open directly from the cloister walk. Like the plan for the 12th Century Carthusian monastery – or “charter house” – at Clermont, France – depicted in a 19th century rendering by Voilett le Duc, the cells of Bertotto’s monastery occupy three sides of the cloister while the refectory, chapter house, and other necessary “offices” occupy the remaining west side.

Johns,” covered walkways were the key component in Breuer’s “fresh conception” of cloisters:

At Benedictine, the geometry of the cloister is everywhere: from the subtle symbolism of the sunken courts that form the heart of the plans for the Cafetorium – the most Miesien of the buildings on campus – and the Academic Building – where Mass was originally celebrated for the student population – to the monastic origins of the campus’ traditional collegiate quadrangle plan. The pre-form, reinforced concrete canopies or “esplanades” that Bertotto designed to connect all of the buildings on the Benedictine campus - as well as the spatial arrangement of the buildings around the central quadrangle was inspired – at least initially – by the modern concrete covered walkways of the monastery and college campus designed by Marcel Breuer for the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Priory (c1961) in Bismark, North Dakota. Like the first construction phase at Savannah’s monastery-school, all of the components – buildings, courtyards, walkways – of the Annunciation Priory campus were designed as a single vision and built all at once. Breuer’s design for his “little jewel in the desert” included a priory and chapel, a refectory, a girls' boarding school and dormitory, administrative offices, and a student chapel – a main, independent concrete covered “crosswalk” spans the campus from east to west, connecting the monastic and student wings located on each end of the campus green. Breuer first came upon the idea of using concrete covered walkways when designing his plan for St. Johns Abbey and University. According to a 1954 Time Magazine article entitled “New Look for St. CHAPEL INTERIOR. WWW.RECENTPAST.ORG


BENEDICTINE MILITARY SCHOOL & PRIORY sign; they are freestanding and extend along the length of buildings; concrete block retaining walls often form the inner walls of the walkways and double as planters when extending along buildings; and they are stepped at building entrances. The Armory-Gymnasium is the signature building of the academic campus. Situated at the end of the concrete plaza – symbolically facing the Priory Chapel on the opposite end of the monastery green – the ArmoryAERIAL VIEW OF CAMPUS. c. 1964. Courtesy of Benedictine Military School. Gymnasium Building was designed to represent the military heritage of the school, serving both as a World In his design for the Benedictine campus, it appears that War II memorial and as a multi-use facility for sports as Bertotto took Breuer’s concept of a “contemporary cloiswell as military and religious ceremonies and school ter” a few steps further, as all of the major components functions. The ramped concrete podium pavilion in front of the priory/school are situated in separate, free standof the building was meant to serve as a focal point for ing buildings connected by a series of independent, conthe daily muster of the cadet corp. as well as solemn relicrete covered walkways (rather than the centuries-old gious ceremonies. “U” shaped configuration of attached school-monasterychurch). The idea to use independent covered walkways Bertotto drew his main inspiration for the Armoryin a campus setting was not a new one, however, as Gymnasium Building (c1963-64) from another of Eero Frank Lloyd Wright famously used “esplanades” to “create a sense of continuity of design” throughout the Lakeland campus he designed for Florida Southern College between 1941 and 1958. Breuer clearly drew inspiration from Wright’s earlier work at Florida Southern and, if the “esplanades” at Benedictine are any indication, Bertotto did as well. Bertotto’s concrete covered walkways share several similarities with Frank Lloyd Wright’s esplanades: they are a major component of the campus deAERIAL VIEW. c. 1969. Courtesy of Benedictine Military School.




PANORAMIC VIEW OF CAMPUS. c. 1965. Courtesy of Benedictine Military School.

Saarinen’s works – the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, retaining the essence of Saarinen’s design by utilizing the basic form and structure of the formal entry section of his cruciform-shaped building. Bertotto raised the bulk of the building off the ground on reinforced concrete piers and eliminated loadbearing walls to allow a “freeform façade” and open floor plan – a brick veneer curtain wall along the lower façade obscures what is essentially an open ground floor with a glassed-in rear elevation. The cantilevered superstructure – a key characteristic of Saarinen’s design – is the most distinctive element of the Armory-Gymnasium, giving the façade an imposing monumentality while serving as a continuation of the concrete canopies that connect all of the buildings on the campus. Of all of the characteristics adapted from Saarinen’s design, however, the symbolic function of the Armory-Gymnasium as both a utilitarian building and as a memorial is perhaps the most significant. Inspired by Saarinen’s War Memorial Center, Bertotto imbedded two granite memorial plaques – recovered from a c1946 WW II memorial at the original downtown location – directly in the center of the buildings façade. Like Saarinen’s “living memorial” – which was said to “Honor the Dead by Serving the Living,” Bertotto’s memorial podium pavilion serves as a daily reminder to the assembled Corp of Cadets of the heroic sacrifice of the 30 Benedictine Cadets who gave their

lives defending our country during World War II as well as serving as an ideal platform for special ceremonies and everyday functions. While the buildings and campus of Benedictine Military School and Priory were not designed by internationally known architects, and the architectural merits of the complex may fall short of the avant-garde modern architecture achieved at major monastic foundations around the country during this period, there is little doubt that this small Modernist priory and military school built by Savannah’s contemporary Benedictines is a significant achievement in its own right and worthy of recognition as an excellent example of modern architecture in Georgia and as an important part of the legacy of the Benedictine Order in the United States.▪

Robert A. Ciucevich ( is an author, lecturer, and historic preservationist living in Savannah, Georgia and is the principal of Quatrefoil Historic Preservation Consulting. Bob has been working with Br. Tim Brown, OSB to have the campus listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as Daniel Carey of the Historic Savannah Foundation in promoting awareness of and advocating for the preservation of Savannah’s rich collection of mid century modern architecture. *Unless otherwise noted, images are courtesy of author. WWW.RECENTPAST.ORG


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