Gunnison Homes: Hidden in Plain Sight

There’s an open house this weekend of a charming postwar cottage for sale in Silver Spring, Maryland, with some special qualities that are hidden in plain sight.

Gunnison prefab house

1948 Gunnison Home prefab. 9130 Walden Rd., Silver Spring, MD

The front exterior brick chimney with metal “S”-curve embellishment, metal interior chimney with double vent slits, and vertical seams on the interior walls (spaced every four feet) clearly identify the house as a late 1940s Gunnison Home prefab. In fact, it’s one of twelve Gunnison Homes constructed on Walden Road, on the block between E. Melbourne Avenue and Saffron Lane, with at least one more around the corner on E. Melbourne.

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The Aluminaire

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Aluminaire, NYIT, Central Islip, NY, Aug. 2009

The 1931 Aluminaire just can’t catch a break. It has been moved, and subsequently forgotten, not once, not twice, but thrice in its lifetime. Each time, after a brief flurry of excitement about this one-of-a-kind early American International-style house, it has faded back into obscurity, waiting to be rediscovered yet again.

Designed by architects A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey for the 1931 Architectural League exhibition in New York, the Aluminaire was one of only two houses by American architects to be included in the Museum of Modern Art’s famed 1932 International Exhibition of Modern Architecture.

In the late 1980s, a grassroots campaign helped save the house from demolition, and the New York Institute of Technology got a grant to disassemble and move the house to their Central Islip, Long Island campus. Here’s a New York Times piece about the restoration project.

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The Geek Atlas: Historic Sites of Science & Technology

Bell Labs photo by Flickr user sodapop

Bell Labs in Holmdel, NJ; architect Eero Saarinen. Photo by Flickr user “sodapop.” CC BY-ND 2.0

With the increase in preservation of 20th-century historic sites has come a parallel rise in  preservation efforts for buildings and places that played host to some of the greatest innovations in science & technology.  As a former digital content manager, married to a computer programmer who’s nuts about science, I’ve been following with interest the efforts to preserve Nikola Tesla’s 1902 Lab on Long Island and the Eero Saarinen-designed Bell Labs in New Jersey, the site of significant research leading to the computer and cellphone.

Now tech history buffs have a new guidebook, The Geek Atlas. A BBC News story, “Follow in the footsteps of geeks,” features this new travel guide that highlights important science & tech history sites across the globe. Although heavy on places in the UK, the guide includes sites such as the White Sands missile testing range in New Mexico and the Jacquard Museum in Roubaix, France, with exhibits on punched-card weaving technology, predecessor to the modern computer. Each entry in the book includes background info and precise GPS coordinates, natch.

BBC journalist Bill Thompson says, “It’s our geek heritage, and the more we make people aware of it the more likely it is to be preserved in some way.”

Read the full BBC article >

BBC Series on UK Preservation

The BBC is currently airing a documentary series on English Heritage, a historic preservation (termed “conservation” in the UK) governmental advisory commission.  It’s a rare opportunity to get an inside look at how our British brethren face the day-to-day challenges of preservation, including the ongoing debate about brutalism. Unfortunely, the Guardian claims that this “grimly funny series,” also called “English Heritage,” reinforces stereotypes about elitist preservationistsYou can decide for yourself by watching the show online. Currently the show is only viewable online by those within the UK, but English Heritage has established a webpage to cast light on the issues raised in the program.

The very nature of preservation often has us on the defense, fighting to be heard by developers, city councils, and sometimes the public at large. But we run the risk of taking ourselves too seriously. A TV series exposing the process of preservation, warts and all, can still raise the profile of the overall issue of the importance of place and preserving our built heritage, pushing the dialogue forward. And that’s a good thing.

Night at the Museum

One week ago, on Sunday night around 8:00pm, I  received an emergency call that made my heart stop — an ADT rep told me that the smoke detectors in the Arlington Historical Museum had just been set off, and they had notified the fire department. It was the type of call I’d feared most as Chair of the Museum Building Committee. Our museum and extensive local artifact collection is housed in the historic 1891 Hume School building, by noted Washington architect B. Stanley Simmons.

When I arrived at the museum about 15 minutes later, this was the horrifying scene I encountered, sure to make any museum director’s or board of directors’ blood run cold.

museum surrounded by fire trucks

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DC Community Heritage Project – Grant Workshop tonight

The Humanities Council of Washington, DC is offering up to $2,000 for nonprofits working on projects to document and preserve DC’s heritage. Deadline for applications is May 1st. To get information and assistance for applying, attend the grant workshop tonight, Tuesday, April 21 rom 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM, at the Southeast Neighborhood Library.

For more information, contact Albert Shaheen at grants@wdchumanities.org or check the Humanities Council of Washington, DC website.

The Greening of Historic Preservation

illustration of a gas can that looks like an historic building
I spent this past weekend back at my alma mater, Goucher College in Baltimore, for the conference “A Critical Look at Sustainability and Historic Preservation.” Sustainability is a hot button issue for preservation, especially when it comes to LEED standards for green building and whether they really give historic buildings credit where credit is due. More than just a catchphrase, “The greenest building is one that’s already built” is a sustainability mantra that conveys the massive amount of embodied energy in old buildings. You can even figure out how much energy is lost in the demolition of a building using this handy embodied energy caluculator.

Of all the great presentations, I was most impressed by the “accidental preservationists” — speakers from two Philly-based nonprofit organizations whose missions represented a holy trinity of environmental, social, and preservation goals.
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