Mad For Mod

A few weeks ago I toured one of Boise’s most architecturally significant homes from the mid-20th century. Designed by Jedd Jones of the Boise architectural firm of Hummel, Hummel, and Jones, the house at 105 E. Highland Drive was designed in 1967 for Ethel Chapman—owner of The Mode department store in downtown Boise.

105 E. Highland Drive, Boise

105 E. Highland Drive, Boise

As you can imagine, Chapman, Boise’s fashion maven, spared no expense in the commission of her home where modernist design features include interior and exterior walls faced in quartzite, an exquisite, multi-vaulted pavilion roof/ceiling in the living room, and stunning views of downtown. The home is now for sale [home is no longer for sale, but the photos are still up!) by its third owner, Dorothy Stimpson who commissioned a sympathetic addition in the late 1990s—going so far as to have the original source of the quartzite re-opened in Oregon. See photos of the house [link no longer working] on Preservation Idaho’s Flickr page.

Mrs. Stimpson’s care for the home cannot be universally found in owners of mid-century architecture. Too often, important structures from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s are altered beyond recognition by owners or developers bent on “modernization” of their property. The irony of “modernizing” modernist buildings is apparently lost on those who feel it necessary. Happily, a growing segment of the nation’s population has begun to exhibit a newfound interest in the art and architecture of the recent past.

I recently spent half a day in the convention center at Palm Springs, California distributing information on the value of mid-century design and the efforts of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) to draw attention to its importance. The NTHP has recently launched their Modernism + Recent Past program, also known as TrustModern directed by Christine Madrid French out of the Trust’s Western Regional Office in San Francisco. In the past few years the NTHP has added modernist icons such as Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut and the Farnsworth House outside Chicago designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to their portfolio of nationwide historic sites. TrustModern has also launched a Modern Modules series studying the modernist architectural collections of cities/regions around the nation including Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Boston.

Though not the focus of a Modern Module, Palm Springs is a globally acclaimed mecca of modernist design that has seen a recent renaissance with tourism focused less on sun and golf and more on the architecture the makes the city unique. An annual Modernism Week draws thousands of participants from around the world who flock to this small city in the desert to attend the modernist art and furniture show, take tours of mid-century architecture, and party like movie stars at the homes of celebrities from the 1950s and 1960s. Partners in the promotion the week-long series of events include the Palm Springs Historical Society, the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, the Palm Springs Modern Committee, and the California Preservation Foundation.

Robert Imber giving a bus tour as part of Modernism Week in Palm Springs

Robert Imber giving a bus tour as part of Modernism Week in Palm Springs

Preservation Idaho’s recognition of the importance of these resources began in earnest in 2008 when it co-hosted a symposium in Boise titled Modernism in the Northwest: Mid-century Architecture – Identification and Evaluation. Drawing participants from across the country, the symposium featured lectures, a bus tour, and a party at a fabulous mid-century home in Boise’s foothills. We will soon launch Idaho Modern, to promote the appreciation and awareness of mid-century, modernist, and recent past architecture and design in Idaho through education and advocacy. With hard work and the support of other like-minded Idahoans, the Chapman House and those like it will be valued for their modernist aesthetic rather than dismissed as mid-century mistakes.

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