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Yeah, yeah, yeah - Modernism Rocks!

By Allen Hazard

I will never forget watching the Beatles for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show in fifth grade shout and bop out "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." My world forever changed, like millions of Baby Boomers, the Beatles became the soundtrack of my adolescence. Something very deep and lasting happened on that long-ago February Sunday night that I couldn't have begun to understand at the time. I grew up and matured as the Beatles did, my world became larger and more complex as I listened to Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and the "White Album" in the 1960's. I will forever love the youthful and innocent early music of the Four Lads from Liverpool. I will forever remember being blown away by the more worldly and intricate songs such as "A Day in the Life", the last track on Sgt. Pepper. The Beatles evolved as all great art does. The Beatle's body of work matured as they matured. Their timeless music reflected the cultural, social and political changes of one of the most significant decades of the 20th century. Great music and great art share a timeless quality.

Architecture also evolves. Great architecture shares that timeless quality, either you love the crazy psychedelic interiors of Victorian homes, or the simple and earthy feeling of an adobe, or the progressive homes full of exposed wood and built-ins of the Arts and Crafts Period or the nod back to early California of the Spanish Revival homes such as some of the early Cliff May or Richard Requa homes in San Diego. There is a certain progression of architecture just as there is a certain progression or maturing found in art. Whether that art is painting or music such as the Beatles.

I grew up in a bungalow and am proud to be living in a historic California craftsman presently. I have to admit that I didn't know a lot about Modernism other than I love the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. I love Wright's Prairie homes of the early 20th century and I love how Wright progressed to his California textile homes such as the Hollyhock House in the early 1920's to his Usonian homes in the 1930's and 1940's, to his late works such as the Guggenheim (1959) in New York City. Wright progressed, he didn't stay in one style, and he would have been a failure as an artist if he were still designing homes like the Robie House (1905) in 1959. It would have been really weird to hear the Beatles write and sing songs like "I Saw Her Standing There" in their later years. As a card-carrying Baby Boomer I also love Mick and Keith and the Rolling Stones, but I ask you, did the Stones really evolve as the Beatles certainly did? Great art changes, you love the early stuff, you can also love or at least appreciate the later work.

I went to the 2003 SOHO Modernism Weekend without really not knowing what to expect. Like I said, I'm an Arts & Crafts Period guy! I had never heard of Sim Bruce Richards, but maybe it was the Frank Lloyd Wright connection that intrigued me. Richards trained in the 1930's at Taliesin with Wright and I discovered that he built wonderful homes in Point Loma and Mission Hills in the 1950's. Sim Bruce Richards designed and built amazing homes. He rocks! If you love older homes, you would love Richard's work! I loved his home in Point Loma where his wife still lives. If this is Modernism, sign me up! I found out that Modernism shares many of the attributes of the Arts and Crafts Period, the blurring of the indoor and outdoors, the love of nature, the use of materials.

Of course, there are many areas to Modernism that I would learn about at the first SOHO Modernism show in 2003 and the recent weekend this past October. There is the goofy and crazy stuff that many of us grew up with. Who doesn't get a kick outta the playful side of mid-century buildings? I find it refreshing that there is both serious parts to Modernism as well as zany stuff. I think some people have a difficult time getting into an era in which they grew up. This is silly, but I can understand that, I really think people are missing the boat however, by not checking out Modernism. There is more to Modernism than shag carpet! I sure wish I had a chance to talk to Emmor Brooke Weaver, Irving Gill, Richard Requa or other San Diego architects of the early 20th century. But, I don't. I did have the opportunity however to meet and talk with several wonderful San Diego Modernism architects such as John Reed, Homer Delawie and others during the past Modernism Weekends. Modernism was a natural part of the architectural progression. Irving Gill handed the baton to Richard Requa, who passed to Lloyd Ruocco who passed to Homer Delawie. The architectural baton traveled a full lap! Think of Modernism as "Let it be" or "Abbey Road." If you dug "A Hard Day's Night", I think you can also groove to "I am the Walrus."

I really enjoyed the lectures from the recent Modernism Weekend. I heard a really fun and informative lecture about San Diego housing tracts in the 1950's. Did you know that Cliff May built tract houses in National City (my hometown)? My wife and I attended a really groovy party at a Homer Delawie home in Point Loma; it was a hoot and a holler! Homer really knew how to design a functional and beautiful party house. The highlight of the home tour was a vintage Delawie home that featured the original homeowner with her original home furnishings. It was like being in a time warp from 1960! Very boss! Another home on the recent home tour featured one of Homer Delawie's own homes and across the street was a John Lloyd Wright home (1949) and a Sim Bruce Richards home, all in Mission Hills, an area known for its Craftsman and Spanish Revival homes. Who knew?

I have grown to appreciate Modernism and am examining mid-century homes and buildings around town in a different light now. I marvel at the Methodist Church in Mission Valley, I search for Modern homes as I go jogging in Mission Hills, my wife and I recently stopped in at a mid-century antique store in Hillcrest for the fun of it. No, I am not selling my 1920 Craftsman, but I have developed an appreciation and interest in mid-century Modernism. I thank SOHO for having the vision to recognize this genre of style and architecture and believe that it too is a key part of the preservation family in San Diego, we must also commit to saving these buildings before they too are lost. During the weekend of the first Modernism Show in 2003, the Century 21 movie theatre in Mission Valley (where I first saw "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") was torn down. What a wakeup call!

If you tap your Beatle boot toes to "She loves you, yeah, yeah..." you will just as easily tap your toes to "Back in the USSR." Yeah, yeah, yeah, Modernism does indeed rock!

2005 - Volume 36, Issue 1

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