Chicago Takes Inspiration from Eichlers in Marin

Kunstadter House
The loss of the Kunstadter house by architects Keck and Keck infuriated Chicago area preservationists. Courtesy of Joan Gand

One of the Chicago area’s leading advocates for modern architecture is urging preservationists there to adopt some of the strategies that have made Upper Lucas Valley one of the loveliest modern neighborhoods anywhere. It’s advice that could be profitably followed as well in many California neighborhoods.

Joan Gand and her husband, Gary Gand, who are among the founders of the ten-year-old organization Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond, toured Upper Lucas Valley with Terry Bremer, who help runs the architectural review process in the enclave.

Design controls and education help preserve the pristine appearance of Upper Lucas Valley. Photo by David Toerge

The review committee ensures preservation of home exteriors through its design guidelines – a strategy that cannot be adopted in neighborhoods that don’t have such guidelines, or for modern homes that are scattered throughout different neighborhoods.

But in a posting on the Chicago Bauhaus website, Joan focuses on a preservation strategy that is more easily replicable – education. She writes:

"An old idea becomes new again … the welcome committee. A successful strategy implemented by Terry and her team is their well-organized welcoming committee that makes new residents aware of their unique neighborhood of homes.

"I would like to suggest the idea that Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond, and our members, act as the 'welcome committee' and help spread our knowledge to new owners of these homes. We should all be reaching out to homeowners in our neighborhoods and getting them information about Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond, and our website, where they can become part of the MCM community and find answers to their questions."

Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond was founded ten years ago, spurred on by demolitions of important modern buildings. Gand often focuses on the demolition of the Kunstadter House, designed in the early 1950s by architects George and William Keck, which Joan said was one of the 10-top modern homes in the region.

Even though the sellers waited for a buyer who loved the home, they were fooled. The buyer “turned out to be a developer in sheep’s clothing,” Joan wrote. “Although the city would not grant a demolition permit, carpenters ‘accidentally’ sawed through supporting posts. All we know is that the house was found the next morning having collapsed and fallen into the ravine.”

“Not enough buyers appreciate Mid Century Modern architecture in the Chicago area. Not enough to save important homes like the Kunstadter House, the Frueh House, and numerous others that were bulldozed or remuddled beyond recognition,” Gand writes. “Our task was to raise awareness, appreciation, and get these homes into the right hands.”

Joan and Gary Gand, by the way, are people for whom mid-century modern is as much a lifestyle as it is a style. For years they owned a striking Swiss Miss A-frame Alexander home in Palm Springs.

Gand Band
That's Gary on guitar and Joan on keyboards with the Gand Band at the Purple Room. Photo by Dave Weinstein

They recently sold the home but are staying in Palm Springs, moving to “an incredible one-of-a-kind Alexander house -- it's designed by Hal Levitt, and has a sunken living room and swim-up bar,” Joan says. “Super glam!”

The Gands also helped revive the Purple Room, a closed-up nightclub in Palm Springs,  returning it to life as a swank supper club. If the Gand Band is playing when you’re in town, heed this advice – they are a superb soul and R&B band.

“We're doing lots of fun theme shows like Spy Night, Monterey Pop Festival, Tiki Chic Night, Viva Palm Springs -- we'll continue to develop those mid-century themes,” Joan reports.

Yes, mid-century modern can be fun.

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