Vital MCM Building Blocks - Page 2

CA-Modern, new book explore rise, fall and resurgence of the decorative concrete block
Fridays on the Homefront
Outside the concrete-block lined American embassy in New Dehli, India, designed in the mid-1950s by Edward Durell Stone. Photo: Sean Hurt
Fridays on the Homefront
A dozen of the most popular screen-block patterns from the mid-century. Photos: courtesy Ron and Barbara Marshall
Fridays on the Homefront
Fridays on the Homefront
Palm Springs is a wonderland of decorative concrete block, like the two examples above. Photos: Dave Weinstein (top), James Schnepf - Palm Springs Modern Living (above)

"The interesting thing is, every city, every area had a local manufacturer that made their own [concrete block] patterns," said LeVine, noting that the weight of the stones can make for prohibitive shipping costs. While his own collection is strictly Vegas-centric, the realtor now looks for them in other cities: "In L.A. I found 30, 40 patterns that were unique to L.A."

Ron Marshall said they learned that brise soleil has "a longstanding tradition in the tropical climes, especially in Central America." Domestically, the sunnier weather in cities such as L.A., Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, and Honolulu fed its popularity in the material's '60s American heyday.

"The architects liked it because they saw it as part of the modernist movement," Ron noted, making it a cinch which city has the highest concentration of concrete block screen to this day: Palm Springs, the balmy capitol of MCM architecture and its sunny glass walls.

In fact, the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation (PSPF) published the book by the Marshalls, both of whom serve on the foundation board. All proceeds from sales go to the foundation.

The softback, coffee table-style book traces the blocks' history and predecessors, but it's greatest contribution to modernist scholarship comes at the book's end: an illustrated, 26-page 'Screen Block Pattern Guide,' including a listing of sources used to compile it.

"We kind of relied on the industry documentation [as to whether] a block was available to the building mainstream," Barbara explained, with Ron adding, "We tried to come up with criteria that wouldn't include every block, because a lot of blocks were one-offs."

To learn more about the allure of decorative concrete block, check out 'Blocks of Beauty' in the Summer '18 issue of CA-Modern, and 'Concrete Screen Block,' the new book from the PSPF.

Next week's 'Fridays on the Homefront' will explore the concrete block's recent resurgence. We'll also present resources where you can still buy MCM-friendly screen-block patterns, perhaps as a future addition to your MCM home.