Modernism, Traditionalism and Authenticity: Architecture and Preservation in Washington, DC

Lecture by Dr. Cameron Logan, University of Sydney
February 28

Preservationist critics and historians of American city-making in the twentieth century typically highlight a conflict between postwar urban redevelopment and the human-scaled and neighborhood-oriented architectural legacy of the nineteenth century to explain the rise of preservation from the 1960s onwards. This story of destructive redevelopment either explicitly or implicitly casts modernism as villain. But this orthodox account is badly in need of revision. In this talk I will draw on work from my recently published history of Washington, DC, Historic Capital, to rethink the relationship between modernist architects and the city's preservation movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

Dr. Cameron Logan is an urban and architectural historian and his work explores the relationship between, architecture, urban identity and history via two main lines of inquiry. The first of these is the exploration of civic culture and place-based citizenship in debates about architecture, preservation and urban design. The second is the history of building types in twentieth century architecture. He is the author of Historic Capital: Preservation, Race and Real Estate in Washington, DC (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and co-author of Architecture and the Modern Hospital: Nosokomeion to Hygeia (Routledge, 2018). Cameron teaches in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney, where he directs the postgraduate program in heritage conservation.

Fort Ticonderoga: Ruin, Reconstruction and the Making of a Historical Landscape

Lecture by Dr. Richard Longstreth
March 20

While Fort Ticonderoga has long been famous for events that took place there during both the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars, it also has a significant history spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1820, the property was purchased by William Ferris Pell, a rich New York merchant trading in imported goods whose extended family held one of New York’s English colonial manors. Pell built a country house near the fort, by then in a state of ruin, and took steps to protect the remains. Both undertakings were without precedent in this country, and even only a few English country estates could then boast of an actual ruin on the premises. Pell’s house, which he called the Pavilion, was constructed in stages between 1827 and 1838 – the ensemble virtually without precedent in its design, save for Thomas Jefferson’s “Academical Village.”

 Pell’s great grandson, Stephen H. P. Pell, and his wife Sarah Thompson Means Pell undertook reconstruction of the fort to its Revolutionary War state in 1908-1909—again a project with scant precedent in the U.S. or abroad. They also restored the Pavilion (to a degree unusually sensitive for the period) and developed the grounds as a grand country place that encompassed working farmland as well as ornamental grounds. The main drive from the public road went through land that contains some of the best surviving 18th-century earthworks in North America, became lined with commemorative monuments, and ran amid acreage that Stephen Pell cultivated as a hunting forest.

Until the 1970s, the site continued to serve the unorthodox dual function of public historic site and rural family retreat. This talk will discuss this rich history within the broader contexts of the cult of ruins, the pursuit of the picturesque, and the drive for patriotic commemoration during the 19th century and the phenomenon of reconstructing historic places during the 20th.

Richard Longstreth is professor of American studies at The George Washington University, where he has taught since 1983. He is a Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians and past president of that organization as well as the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. One of his recent books, Looking beyond the Icons: Midcentury Architecture, Landscape and Urbanism, won the SAH's Antoinette Forrester Downing Award in June. His most recent book, A Guide to Architecture in the Adirondacks, was issued last summer. His talk incorporates material gathered for a current volume on Fort Ticonderoga in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Waddy B. Wood: Rediscovering Wood’s Legacy in Twentieth-Century Washington

Lecture by Emily Hotaling Eig
April 10

Virtually forgotten by the 1970s, Waddy Butler Wood was one of the most successful architects in Washington, D.C. during the first half of the twentieth century.Known for his persuasive charm, Wood began his career by designing townhouses in Washington.Following a successful ten-year partnership with Edward Donn and William Deming from 1902-1912, Wood went on to great fame on his own He gradually expanded both his clientele and his expertise until he was retained by some of the city’s most illustrious citizens to build their mansions in DC and nearby Virginia Hunt Country.An ardent defender of the Colonial Revival style architecture, he advocated for a new approach to style that would blend old and new.Throughout his career, he continued to gain commissions from senators and congressmen, churches and libraries, private businesses and the Federal government, while speculating on residential property as he designed, occupied, and then sold numerous houses around the city to keep his practice afloat.

This talk will present an overview of Wood’s career, introducing numerous examples of his work within the context of Washington’s stylistic development and the architects who shared these times.   Behind his many commissions is the story of the blossoming of Washington’s professional architectural community in the early years of the twentieth century. 

Emily Hotaling Eig began researching Wood in graduate school while interning for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He continues to haunt her, reminding her of the many beautiful buildings he contributed during architectural practice. Since encountering Mr. Wood, she has studied him and many others who have made Washington the city it is today. A graduate of Brandeis University and The George Washington University, Eig is the founder and president of EHT Traceries, a Washington, D.C.-based research and consulting firm specializing in historic preservation.  She has worked on some of the country’s most exciting preservation projects, which most recently include Washington’s Carnegie Library, Lovett Hall at Rice University, and Brooklyn’s Loew’s Kings Theatre.

Art Deco Architecture of Dallas-Fort Worth

April 14

Please join the Art Deco Society of Washington, D.C. for a reception and illustrated lecture on the unique spirit of Art Deco architecture in the Lone Star State by architectural historians Jim Parsons and David Bush.

The evening will start with a Texas-themed reception followed by Jim Parsons and David Bush’s presentation and conclude with a book signing. Their presentation is drawn from the fourth in their series of books examining the rich heritage of Art Deco era buildings in Texas: DFW Deco: Modernistic Architecture of North Texas.

Jim and David have a wonderfully dynamic and collaborative speaking style and their presentation will include beautiful original and historical photographs. They will showcase the classic zigzag skyscrapers of Dallas and Fort Worth, some of the area’s streamlined facilities inspired by innovations in transportation and communications, the monumental Will Rogers Memorial Center and other exceptional public buildings found in North Texas small towns and cities.

A Members-Only Study Tour of Waddy Wood-Designed Houses

May 20

The Latrobe Chapter presents a members-only tour of four of the houses of Washington architect Waddy B. Wood to expand our understanding of the work of this prominent local architect discussed by Emily Eig in her recent presentation that was part of our lecture series. 

Wood is perhaps best known for the design of the Department of the Interior Building, but he left a substantial legacy of residential work. Over a nearly fifty year career, more than a hundred houses can be attributed either to him directly or to the firm of which he was a principal for twelve years. The four houses we will tour, and a few others we will swing by, represent the range of styles most common in his residential work, from Spanish and more generalized Mediterranean influence to his favored vocabulary of the Colonial Revival. We will see the house he designed for himself in Dupont Circle, the house to which Woodrow Wilson retired, a rowhouse in Mt. Pleasant where John Joseph Earley lived, and a substantial rowhouse in Kalorama.

The log cabin is an iconic American building, reminiscent of pioneers and politicians, Abe Lincoln and Lincoln Logs, Finnish immigrants and tea rooms.  The log cabin often served as a basic shelter, an expedient solution to a building problem.  But it also became an icon of the American past, signaling a connection to the land and its history.  Once the most common building form in America, it became a symbol of antiquity, rustic living, and bygone values of independence, ingenuity, and egalitarianism.

To understand the log cabin’s iconic role, this presentation will look at log cabins at three sites located within a few miles of each other on the Northern Neck of Virginia, all built in the 1930s but referencing different aspects of American history.  The Log House tea room at George Washington’s Birthplace (shown here) was designed to evoke the architecture of early English settlers, in an interpretation of early settlement that drew from the Colonial Revival more than the Colonial.  Cabins for directors at Stratford Hall deliberately recalled slave quarters, even as they were intended for upper-class women away from their duties at home.  And cabins at Westmoreland State Park, part of an enormous construction program overseen by the National Park Service, were designed to evoke rustic life and a pioneer past.  The log cabin’s various roles as a building for colonists confronted with a forested landscape, as a cheap and expedient dwelling for enslaved people, and as a shelter for settlers establishing homesteads beyond the Appalachians will be explored through the lens of these twentieth-century evocations.

Alison K. (Kim) Hoagland is professor emerita at Michigan Technological University, where she taught history and historic preservation, after having served as senior historian at National Park Service HABS program. She has published books on the architecture of Alaska, forts in Wyoming, and mining company buildings in Michigan, and has a forthcoming book on the bathroom. Her most recent book is The Log Cabin: An American Icon (University of Virginia Press, 2018).

The Log Cabin: An American Icon in the 1930s 

Lecture by Alison K. Hoagland
October 2

The Architecture of American Exceptionalism: The Rise and Fall of the Columbian Institute, 1816-1838

Lecture by Danielle S. Willkens
December 13

As Washington, D.C. was literally rebuilding from the ashes of the British invasion of 1814, key American figures sought to establish new intellectual and interdisciplinary organizations that were entirely divorced from their European counterparts.  Out of this interest to cultivate independent American intellectual enterprises, 105 members founded the Metropolitan Association for the Advancement of the Sciences on June 28, 1816. It was Washington’s first learned society and it eventually became the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, incorporated by constitutional ordinance on April 20, 1818. The new name aligned the Institute with a sense of American independence and ingenuity; and its home in Washington, D.C. signified the desire to establish a new intellectual epicenter in the nation that would be aligned with the burgeoning federal center, rather than past national capitals or colonial governmental centers.

The charter of the Institute and the records of its first years present an organization poised for success in the nation’s capital, especially with respect to architectural interests since it was at the center of new building initiatives, had governmental support, and was led by notable figures, including nation’s leading architects (Bulfinch, Elliot, Hadfield, Hoban, Latrobe, Mills, and Thornton). As a profession that melded the arts and science, architecture was an ideal medium for the organization’s efforts and advocacy. Although the society left an unbuilt record, their efforts planted seeds for the architecture of Washington’s educational capital. Addressing a lost chapter in the architectural profession as well as the power of architecture as scholarly stimulus, this presentation will explore the advancement of governmentally-sponsored design initiatives by examining the often-overlooked, but influential, Columbian Institute.

Dr Danielle S. Willkens, Associate AIA, FRSA, LEED AP BD+C, is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at Auburn University. She has practice experiences in design/build, public installations, and heritage documentation. As the 2015 recipient of the Society of Architectural Historians’ H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship, she traveled to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Cuba, and Japan to research the impact of tourism on cultural heritage sites. Building upon her PhD research at the Bartlett, her manuscript The Transatlantic Design Network: Jefferson, Soane, and agents of architectural exchange, 1768-1838 is in development for publication with the University of Virginia Press.