Explore Modern Marvels from Your Home

Clean Lines
There's a wide world of modernism out there waiting to be discovered by those sheltering in place. Consider this cute little home -- from Arkansas. Courtesy of the film 'Clean Lines and Open Space.'

Are you feeling the Covid-19 blues? No, you can’t visit open houses in Eichler neighborhoods this weekend or go to Palm Springs or cool retro shops in San Jose.

But you sure can cruise the Worldwide Web, which is bursting with sites devoted to gorgeous or challenging (or both) content designed to lure fans of modern design. Many landmarks and preservation organizations have boosted their content just to cater to – you.

Are you looking for the classics? Docomomo, an organization devoted to preserving modern architecture, is providing remarkable content as part of their 'Stay Modern While Staying Home' project.

The site provides links to a plethora of other sites. But let’s start with a Docomomo project, Explore Modern, which “features a fresh, authentic, and comprehensive catalogue of our nation’s historic modern sites, layering scholarly research with user-sourced information, maps, and plans as well as historic and user-submitted photos.”

Matt Lassner
A fascinating talk by Matt Lassner focusing on Joe Eichler's role in promoting housing for all can be watched online, as can other talks from the UC Berkeley series. Courtesy of the Environmental Design Archive.

You’ll find banks, apartments, college dorms – and you can track them by locality. Docomomo is trying to build a thorough online archive of modern buildings – and asks people to add their favorities. Buildings can be standing, altered – or even demolished.

Docomomo also offers another treat – a guide to astounding modern homes currently on the market – including architect John Lautner’s personal LA residence.

Feel like a quick trip to Pam Springs? The Docomomo site links to a video tour of Albert Frey’s wonderful Frey House, or how about stepping inside Frank Sinatra’s house by E. Stewart Williams? You know, the one with the piano-shaped pool.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has a particularly rich collection of eye-watering sites to enjoy online. One is a road trip down iconic Route 66.

You can even find fascinating material delving deeply into the legacy of builder Joe Eichler.

Eichler Network of course has a website well worth exploring, with hundreds of articles telling the Eichler story in detail.

The Society of Architectural Historians offers a site with a wide-ranging collection of fascinating buildings to view and learn about, including this Bob's Big Boy in Burbank. Photo by by Jessica Hodgdon, Los Angeles Conservancy

Matt Lassner discussed 'Eichler Homes and the Reinvention of Affordable Housings in the Bay Area' back in 2017, but now it's posted online in perpetuity. Lassner takes a different look at Eichler’s role in socially conscious, race-neutral homebuilding.

Lassner’s talk is from a series UC Berkeley’s Environmental Design Archive has been putting on for years. Many are available on Vimeo and well worth watching. They are roughly an hour long each.

Another in the series that touches on Eichler is a talk by Hannah Simonson on San Francisco’s Diamond Heights, a redevelopment project where Eichler contributed unusual, for him, mostly two-story row houses.

The entire Diamond Heights story is fascinating, and Eichler’s participation suggests that what he was after in his endeavor was widely shared by socially conscious planners and architects of the time – if not, perhaps, by as many merchant builders.

Among the many websites that, like that of Docomomo, seek to become comprehensive sources of architectural information, the one produced by the Society of Architectural Historians is of note.

And, yes, they do include something on Eichler, specifically the San Mateo Highlands tract. “Unfortunately for Eichler,” author Heather N. McMahon writes, “his houses were often too innovative for the dominant tastes of his middle-class buyers, and Eichler Homes never made large profit margins.”

One of the best websites devoted to mid-century modern architects is put together by Justin Wood and focuses on Carter Sparks. Note how he finds photos for as many homes as he can and meticulously charts each project. From the Carter Sparks Archive

The SAH provides information on places that can be browsed by location, style, architect, and other criteria. Under 'California Modernism' you’ll find 17 items, ranging from Eichler’s 'The Life House' in the Highlands to Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank.

The architect list really is a work in progress. For Eichler’s architect A. Quincy Jones, for instance, the only structure shown is the Herman Miller headquarters in Zeeland, Michigan.

If you haven’t explored the Carter Sparks Archive in a while (it has been a labor of love for Justin Wood since 2017), this loving and in-depth look at the oeuvre of the architect who designed Streng Brothers home in the Sacramento Valley is a great way to while away your sheltering in place.

This modern home certainly has its own look, from 'Clean Lines and Open Space.'

The Strengs were the 'Eichler' of the Central Valley, and Sparks had worked for Eichler’s original architects, Anshen and Allen. Sparks had an architectural personality all his own, and a quirky one at that.

The site focuses on many of his custom homes, some with wild and beautiful touches, that often are not easy to find, even when folks are allowed to get out and about. How about the concrete and steel Norskog house, with a fluttering, batwing roof?

“Affectionately called by neighbors: the circus tent, UFO, and hanky,” Wood writes.

But let’s leave California for...Arkansas. That’s where architect Edward Durrel Stone grew up. He was the man who gave the Bay Area so many romantic modern masterpieces, including the Stanford Medical Center and Palo Alto’s City Hall and Rinconada Library.

Well worth spending an hour on is ‘Clean Lines and Open Space,’ a history of mid-century modern design by filmmaker Mark Wilcken, opening with the Bauhaus then focusing on Arkansas. Commentators include architects and professors from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

You’ll be intrigued by the forlorn Mountainaire Hotel, and will admire what mid-century architects did with homes in a state that lacked a Joe Eichler of their own.

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