Doors Open to Modernism in June

Burns motel
One of the tours to modern sites will take in the Herbert W. Burns-designed motels in Palm Springs. This is the Hideaway Hotel, the former Town and Desert Apartments from 1947. Photo by Dave Weinstein

The second weekend in June will be extraordinary this year for those who care about beautiful, historical, innovative, or even oddball places. Throughout the state, dozens of historic homes, hotels, parks, stores, and more will be open for tours, thanks to our friends at the California Preservation Foundation and their far-flung partners.

Modern sites, for some reason, are relatively sparse in this architectural smorgasbord (no Eichler or Streng neighborhood, alas), but consider the variety of modernism that will be on display.

How about a special visit to the Streamline modernity of San Francisco’s Treasure Island, where you can enjoy the buildings and sculptures built for the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939?

Treasure Island
Moderne structures built on Treasure Island will be open for tours. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Or, from that same year, just a bit further north, catch “screenings and tours” at the neon-bedecked Eureka Theater by architect William David, whose vast cinematic work ranges from the Tower in Sacramento to the Cerrito Theater in El Cerrito.

Historian and preservationist Steven Keylon, who has written the book on architect Herbert W. Burns, will lead a tour of Burn’s 'Palm Springs Hotels.' Keylon, who lives in a Burns-designed house in that desert city, calls Burns' style on these attractive structures “Late Moderne.”

The style “is not that well known,” Keylon said in a recent interview. “It was developed around the time of World War II, and, you know, the Case Study Program kind of knocked it out of popularity. But it's my favorite style.”

“This will be a walking tour showcasing the small apartment hotels designed by architectural designer Herbert W. Burns along West Arenas Road in Palm Springs Tennis Club Historic District,” Keylon writes of the event.

  Pond Farm
Pond Farm in Sonoma County will also be part of the tour events, associated with Bauhaus pottery pioneer Marguerite Wildenhain. Courtesy of Creative Commons

More rustic in appearance is Pond Farm in rural Guerneville, a former artists’ colony created in 1942 by architect Gordon Herr and his wife Jane Herr, which became home to a pottery school that was run for decades by the Bauhaus potter, Marguerite Wildenhain, who played a crucial role in the American Studio Ceramics movement.

The 'Barn,' as the studio is called, and several cottages have been restored, and more work is underway on this site, which is part of a state park and has been declared a National Landmark.

The group helping restore Pond Farm, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, is offering a guided tour they say will start promptly at 9:30 a.m.

“Pond Farm was Marguerite’s home, school, and studio for over 30 years, and she taught hundreds of her students in the traditions of the Bauhaus,” the Stewards write.

For those of a scholarly bent, the weekend offers the opportunity to learn about the work of John Carl Warnecke (1919-2010), by visiting his archive at the Warnecke Ranch in Sonoma County.

Mira Vista
Mira Vista School in Richmond helped put John Carl Warnecke on the architectural map in the early 1950s, with its open-air circulation, skylights, and jagged profile as it made brave use of a steep site. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Warnecke was an amazing and highly successful architect whose work ranges from the Bay Tradition rustic (he was called upon to design modern buildings that would fit in with Julia Morgan’s original arts and crafts structures at Asilomar) , to the 1970s redevelopment of San Francisco’s Market Street.

“Over 100 years of architectural plans, drawings, sketches, photographs, personal papers, journals, project files, and correspondence make up one of the most extensive, remaining architectural archives still in one family,” the tour website states..

“Notable projects include Mid-Century Modern masterworks like the Hawaii State Capital, Asilomar Conference Grounds, Mira Vista Elementary School, the UC Santa Cruz master plan and library, and the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame.”

All these events are tied to the California Preservation Foundation Conference, which is taking place in virtual reality this year. Before the pandemic, conferences would take place in a real city (San Francisco, Sacramento, Napa, Los Angeles), generally happening one year in Northern California, the next down south.

Professional development sessions, workshops, and lectures would take place alongside tours and 'mobile workshops' that would sometimes last all day.

This year, unmoored as the conference is to an actual location, tours are happening statewide. “This year’s Doors Open California, our first-ever, will highlight more than 75 unique and fascinating places in all corners of the state,” the CPF brags.

Registration for these events costs $20.

The Pond Farm tour is 9:30-11:30 a.m. June 11. Treasure Island’s World’s Fair buildings will be open June 11 and 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Eureka Theater will be open from 2-6 p.m. June 12. The Warnecke archive is open June 11 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Herbert Burns tour takes place June 11 from 9 to 11 a.m. It will not be held June 12, despite the posted schedule.


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