01 February 2010

Micheels House Debacle Leads to Something Good: A New Survey of Modern Houses in Westport and Weston

A few years ago there was a huge fuss in Westport when a landowner bought and attempted to tear down the Micheels House, designed by Paul Rudolph. Unfortunately the guy succeeded (I wrote about it a lot of my other blog, here, before we started this one). But fortunately two of the people who worked hard to preserve the house were awakened to the reality that Westport and its neighbor the the north, Weston, were as much a part of mid-century modernism as New Canaan (and Pound Ridge, for that matter).

Michael Glynn, an architect who works out of New York City, and Morley Boyd, a preservationist in Westport, began to do what Gina and I did in Pound Ridge -- drive up and down the roads looking for modern houses. I received an email from Glynn yesterday that I think was originally a press release. I'm going to quote it at length:

It was clear to Boyd and Glynn that the first step in preserving other important Modern buildings was to find them before the developers did -- in other words, do a survey. Three years later, starting this past autumn, they went on "safari" in search of houses in Westport and Weston built from the early 1930's through the 1970's. They decided that the boundary should include Weston since its wooded landscape seemed to be a ripe locale for their prey.

Joining in the search was Kim Elstein, a modern furniture authority who owns a gallery in Westport. Giddy with success, but also alarmed, they bagged more houses than they imagined existed. Some were remarkable finds: for instance, an International Style house of 1934 by Barry Byrne and a large villa by Ely Jacques Kahn, as well as first-rate work by lesser-known architects. A big Moderne style house that could have popped out of a '30's Nick and Nora Charles movie, turned out to have been designed by an obscure architect, Erard Matthiessen. Research revealed that Matthiessen was to go on to a career in environmental conservation, and that he happened to have a famous son, the author Peter Matthiessen. Victor Lundy, Mies van der Rohe, Richard Neutra, Keck and Keck are some other architects represented. The team also located a house designed by Antonin Raymond in 1941. The owner was unaware of the provenance of his house, he been planning to demolish most of it to build a spec house.

Boyd, Glynn and Elstein have hung an exhibit which opened at the Westport Historical Society on January 24th. (and will remain until May 1st). The exhibit features photos (taken by Glynn) and texts about the buildings based on collaborative research. Also included are photos of the destruction of the Micheels house taken by Chris Mottalini, a New York photographer.

Boyd, Glynn and Elstein hope to raise money to do a more extensive search. Their wish is that eventually all the buildings can be placed on a web site (similar to what was accomplished in New Canaan). New Canaan has been billed as the epicenter of Modern
houses, but based on this survey, it would appear that New Canaan is not unique.


Westport. International Style house by Barry Byrne, 1934 (for sale
and endangered)

Weston. Richard Neutra, 1954. Occupied by original owner.

Green's Farms (Westport). Lt. Col. Florimond Duke residence,
1937. Erard Matthiessen, architect (father of writer Peter

Weston. Morris Greenwald residence. Mies van der Rohe, 1955-56

Westport. First Unitarian Church of Fairfield County, Victor Lundy,
architect. 1960

Weston. Trinkaus residence, Allan Gelbin, architect. 1964

Weston. Paul Rand residence, Ann Binkley Rand, architect, 1951

Westport. Koizim Residence, 1968. Charles Moore and William
Turnbull, MLTW

Westport. R. P. Ettinger Residence, Ely Jacques Kahn (Kahn and
Jacobs) 1940-41

Weston. Joseph Salerno residence, 1949, Joseph Salerno, architect.

Michael Glynn supplied the photos here. I don't know which houses they are, but I'll ask.

I'm also fairly certain that the architect of the Paul Rand house wasn't Ann Binkley Rand but Ann's brother, Leroy Binkley. He designed Gina's mother's house in Pound Ridge (from afar -- he was based in Chicago) and Tod Bryant, a historic preservation consultant in Norwalk is working on a landmark application for a Binkley house, in Norwalk as well. - ta

March 28, 2010: I'm fairly sure I didn't know what I was talking about when I asserted, in the previous paragraph, that Ann Binkley Rand did not design the house she lived in with Paul Rand. Everyone who actually knows something about the house tells me that she did. My apologies for spreading bad information. -- ta

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