Midcentury modern architecture revolutionized the way in which Americans live. Seven decades after it was widely embraced, people still desire the spare aesthetic qualities of open interiors with sliding glass walls that dissolve barriers to the outdoors.
Early supporters of modernism might be surprised to realize that modern is now historic, and needs as much protection from the wrecking ball as Victorian-era and Craftsman-style houses.
Oregon’s only midcentury modern Alcoa Care-free Home, one of only 24 experimental houses built across the country to showcase the versatility of aluminum, was bulldozed by new owners in September 2021.
An excavator grabbed and crumpled the aluminum roof and knocked down the Kool Aid-colored walls and ceilings of the 1957 dwelling in Southwest Portland. A truck hauled away handmade, decorative window grilles woven of peacock blue aluminum rods and a royal blue corrugated front door.
“We see old homes demolished everyday, some of them really hurt like losing the Alcoa house in Southwest Portland,” says Nicole Possert, executive director of Restore Oregon, the statewide historic preservation organization. “We also celebrate those places that are preserved, re-used and passed forward.”
Since 2011, Restore Oregon has organized an annual Mid-Century Modern Design Celebration, with educational presentations and tours of private residences designed by Pacific Northwest Regional style modern masters including architects Pietro Belluschi, John Yeon, William Fletcher, Saul Zaik, Van Evera Bailey and John Storrs as well as prolific tract home developer Robert Rummer, who popularized glass atrium entrances.
Restore Oregon’s home tours were paused for two years during the coronavirus pandemic, but on May 6 and May 7, the nonprofit organization will offer a series of fundraising events, including a tour, lecture and book fair.
On Friday, May 6, A Mid-Century Modern Design Celebration and Book Launch pays homage to Oregon’s post-WWII modern architecture and the publication of Restore Oregon’s first book, “Oregon Made, A Tour of Regional Mid-Century Modern Architecture” ($35 at restoreoregon.org, 503-243-1923).
The 110-page book, with photos and descriptions of more than 20 significant homes, will be part of Restore Oregon’s architecture and landscape-focused book fair starting at 5:30 p.m. on May 6 at Jupiter NEXT Arium Ballroom, 900 E. Burnside St. in Portland.
People will have an opportunity to talk to authors and publishers, and purchase copies of Restore Oregon’s book as well as
Also at the Arium Ballroom starting at 6:30 p.m. on May 6, architect Paul McKean will talk about his restoration of architect Richard Campbell’s modern chalet, the Cain-Wong Residence, in Southwest Portland.
The 1966 house showcases the region’s hallmarks of modern design with the use of locally grown Douglas fir as beams and cedar planks on the ceilings as well as transparent walls and openings to provide 360-degree forest views.
On Saturday, May 7, McKean will be at the tour of the historic Campbell Residence, with tickets limited to 80 guests ($75 at restoreoregon.org). Jeff Weithman of Real Estate Through Design/(w)here Real Estate will open the doors to the award-winning treehouse-like dwelling and have original house plans on display.
Restore Oregon’s preservation and educational programs raise awareness of Oregon’s diverse cultural and architectural heritage and generate funds for the nonprofit organization, which assists people who save and revitalize historic places and spaces that, in turn, make communities inclusive, vibrant, livable and sustainable.
Possert says the organization continues to advocate for stronger tools and financial incentives to help all older resources.
“As we work to minimize losses,” she says, “our hope is that people who appreciate midcentury modern will stay involved, beyond a lecture or tour, to support our mission to save historic places throughout the year.”
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072
More on the Oregon historic homes and places:
• Portland Japanese Garden buys Salvation Army’s White Shield campus as education, conference center
• Saving spectacular Oregon houses from the wrecking ball: Could Portland’s Alcoa Home have been protected or salvaged?
• Southeast Portland’s restored Phoenix Pharmacy building to reopen with Foster Outdoor shop
• Oregon’s ‘Terrible Tilly’ lighthouse on private island for sale at $6.5 million
• Portland homes designed by Pietro Belluschi come with camaraderie
• Two Pearl District townhouses in former train station are for sale, starting at $1,575,000
• Forlorn midcentury modern bank in SE Portland becomes sleek company headquarters (see before, after photos)
• Storied Portland Heights mansion on a triple lot is for sale at $3,250,000
• As landscape architects, two Oregon women laid the groundwork for many of the Northwest’s enduring gardens
• See 7 midcentury House of Tomorrow homes: Restore Oregon tour
• Glass-walled Rummer house open during Restore Oregon’s midcentury modern home tour