Historic preservation five focuses on Art Deco, a modern style in American architecture. The style known as Art Deco was a decorative arts and architecture movement that originated in the 1920s in Paris France. Officially launched by the 1925 Expostion Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Induistriels, the movement quickly swept across Europe, and reached the United States in the 1930s.
Art Deco represents modernism, high style and is seen in architecture, furniture, jewelry, accessories, and fashion. It is sleek, anti-traditional and elegant, symbolizing weath and sophistication. See my earlier post on Ruhlmann, the master of Art Deco furnishings.
Art Deco poster image courtesy of World's Fair magazine, volume VII, Number 3, 1988
The purpose of the exposition was to show the world that French taste would lead the efforts to evolve into a new style. "So the agenda for the Exposition internationale des arts decoratifs et industriels modernes was set: to show the world that French taste would once again lead the way in evolving a new international style. Just as French artists and craftsmen had set the standards for taste in the fine and decorative arts since the time of Louis XIV, so postwar Paris would show the world that France was willing and able to define the elements of the emerging style that would be known as Art Deco."
Read an entire history written by Arthur Chandler at his website.
Above image: Home page of the Art Deco Society of Washington
Art Deco architectural excellence is all over the globe, and here in Washington, DC we have many examples to admire and appreciate thanks in part to a local organization. The Art Deco Society of Washington, DC (noted above) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to foster awareness, preservation and the appreciation of the Art Deco period in the Washington, DC area.
"... Anchored by early successes like helping save the Greenbelt School and the preservation plus sympathetic adaptive reuse of the Greyhound Terminal, historic preservation continues as the core of our mission."
From exclusive apartment houses to repurposed industrial buildigs, and residental homes, all of them celebrate the ornate style and unique application of materails, (stone, metal, and glass). One famous example of residential architecture is the Kennedy-Warren apartment house on Connecticut Avenue, NW.
The Kennedy-Warren was designed by Washington architect Joseph Younger in 1930, and is considered the most important privately owned example of Art Deco style in Washington DC. The exterior of the building is known for its attention to detail, "... from the carved limestone eagles embellishing the front entrance to the geometric aluminum spandrels flanked by a saw-tooth pattern of multicolor brick."
The building’s entrance is one of the best in Washington, with a distinctive tower and a beautiful aluminum canopy full of intricate details. The building materials in aluminum, limestone, and brick reflect Aztec and other exotic motifs, and continue to the inside lobby.
The Art Deco Society of Washington was instrumental in retaining the original details of the Kennedy-Warren lobby. However, in viewing the apartments on the website, I was disappointed that the exuberent style has not carried to the upper floors. I will say that the fit and finish is excellent. This was not as shocking as my discovery inside another classic residential building, the Chastleton on Sixteenth Street, NW. The lobby is a Gothic feast for the eyes, but upon viewing a unit in person, I informed the agent that I had seen enough. I never made it to the bedrooms as the unit was stripped of all historical detail, and with plain white walls and grey industrial carpeting. I almost became ill on the spot.
Connecticut Avenue entrance to the Kennedy-Warren. Image courtesy of The Kennedy-Warren Apartment House.
Shown below, is a close-up of some building details that reveal a pair of stylized eagles perched under a highly stylized medalliion. I mean, just look at those expressions! What beautiful stonework!
Image courtesy of the Kennedy-Warren
The main lobby at the Kennedy-Warren. Image courtesy of The Kennedy-Warren.
Resident's Lounge at the Kennedy-Warren. Image courtesy of The Kennedy-Warren.
Pictured below, is a postcard with an original image of the Washington DC Greyhound bus terminal. From the "The Streets of Washington, in 2010: "The terminal is a classic art deco (or moderne) landmark with a streamlined 1930s look that epitomizes the promise of the industrial age as the hope for the future and the savior of civilization.
The stepped central tower, a typical "ziggurat" design, exudes freshness and optimism with its clean, triumphal lines. The smoothed corners and streamlined look of course also suggest the speed with which Greyhound's Super Coaches were to whisk you to your destination. The building's architect, Louisville-based William S. Arrasmith, designed over 50 streamlined bus stations for Greyhound in the 1930s and 1940s, and this Super Terminal may be his finest.
The building's exterior is faced in Indiana limestone and neatly rimmed along its upper edges with glazed black terracotta coping. Aluminum trim and glass-block accentuate the entrance. Inside is a large, round central waiting room with stores on either side. The floor was a jazzy checkerboard terrazzo. The walls were originally partially finished in walnut and trimmed in burnished copper.
Large photo murals of scenic places throughout the United States were on the upper portions of the walls. Formica in dark red, brown, and gray was used for wainscoting, columns, and counter tops."
Postcard image courtesy of "Streets of Washington"
Alas, the 70s came, and someone got the bright idea that the terminal needed something. Architect Gordon Holmquist "fixed it" by installing concrete asbestos panels and a squat-looking metal mansard roof around the entire building. Shown below, the result was awkward and inappropriate to say the least. Another cause to become ill? Eventually it was abandoned, and put up for sale. Greyhound sold the property for $21 million in 1985, and fortunately the Art Deco Society of Washington eventually came to the rescue.
"ADSW led the battle to save the terminal. We knew it was still there because ADSW found the firm that covered it and confirmed that they had not damaged the original facade. As an extraordinary next step, we were able to landmark a building you couldn’t see. We then worked with a developer (several, in fact, until the right one bought the site) and architects Keyes Condon Florance Eichbaum Esocoff King to create a sensitive reuse and a harmonious design.
The [mistake] slipcover was removed in 1991,and the Greyhound Terminal reopened as the lobby of a major new office building. The first 42 feet of the terminal remain, meticulously restored. Inside is an information desk adapted from the ticket booth and an explanatory display highlighting the history of bus transportation."
Image courtesy of "Streets of Washington"
The above image shows how 1100 New York Avenue appears today. The original facade remains and a complementary facade to a new office building backing it. Kudos to all involved. I have been inside, and it is a beautiful preservation project. From Streets of Washington: "Led by Richard Longstreth of the Committee of 100 and Richard Striner of the Art Deco Society of Washington, a coalition of preservationists rallied in the early 1980s to get the old terminal designated as an historic landmark.
Their efforts were complicated by the fact that the original facade was covered over and its condition unknown. The developers at first thought to just incorporate elements of the station's facade in their new monster office building, but the preservationists wanted the entire building saved and mounted a sophisticated campaign to do so.
Finally, a breakthrough was reached in 1988 when the developers and the future owners of the office building agreed to a 10 percent decrease in total office space that would allow the entire terminal to be saved as a gateway to the new building. The handsomely-restored bus station cum office building opened in 1991. It includes a striking permanent exhibit on the history of the bus terminal, complete with life-size plaster casts of historic buses standing precisely where their bays would have been at the back of the original terminal."
Read the entire "Streets of Washington" story.
If you have interest in how other Greyhound Terminals looked across the country, check out Flashback's website. It is a fun trip back in time.
For more preservation see the "Preservation" section on the ADSW website.
Below are examples of Art Deco architecture I l like in other places:
Another great story with a somewhat pleasant ending began in 1896 with the opening of the first Hecht department store in Washington, DC. Washington DC author, and Washingtonian, John DeFerrari, writes, "Hecht's, like Woodies, [Woodward & Lothrop] sought to transfer much of its service operations outside of the downtown area. The solution was a new, beautifully-streamlined Art Deco warehouse along New York Avenue NE in Ivy City, which opened in 1937. The building remains one of the city's finest examples of Art Deco styling. The Washington Herald noted that the building was "symbolic of an arresting type of architecture that is destined to precipitate a revolutionary transformation in the appearance and utility of the buildings..." Expanded several times, the structure was used by Hecht's as a warehouse until 2006. It was converted to apartments in 2015."
The new Hecht Co. warehouse as it looked when opened in 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Hecht Co. warehouse today. Image courtesty of Colonial Electric.
Apartment at the Hecht Co. warehouse. Image courtesy of Apartments.com.
Show below, are views from the historic Omaha Union Station, in Omaha Nebraska. The station was converted to a national museum in 1975. From the museum website:
"...Gilbert Stanley Underwood, one of the finest architects in the classic art-deco style, was given free rein in designing the structure and his style is reflected in every facet of the construction. He utilized a terracotta exterior overlay to create a visually stunning effect and was involved in all artistic decisions from the ceiling of the Main Waiting Room to the door handles on the ticket counter. Peter Kiewit Sons’ was commissioned to build Underwood’s steel framed structure. After twenty months and $3.5 million, the 124,000 square-foot building was complete.
The station opened to great fanfare on January 15, 1931 and quickly became one of the busiest stations in the nation. At its peak, 64 passenger trains and some 10,000 passengers utilized the facility every day. The focal point is the Main Waiting Room, currently the Suzanne and Walter Scott Great Hall. Measuring 160 feet by 72 feet, it is spanned by a 60 foot high ceiling. The Hall features a ceiling of sculptured plaster, with painted gold and silver leaf trim, ten cathedral-like plate glass windows, a patterned terrazzo floor, columnettes of blue Belgian marble, and a wainscoting of black Belgian marble. Six immense chandeliers, 13 feet tall, five feet in diameter, and suspended 20 feet from the ceiling, light the Great Hall..."
Above, the building as seen in 1931. From left to right: Building and grounds, main lobby, dining room, and barber shop. Images courtesy of The Durham Museum Photo Archive.
Shown below, is a recent full-color view of the 10th Street corridor with restored ceiling details and original surface-mounted luminaires. According to the US Department of the Interior, "...The station is one of the most distinctive and complete examples of Art Decor architecture in the nation. The station outstandingly expresses the style’s innovative and diverse surface ornamentation inspired by the machine age. As one of the earliest Art Deco train stations designed by the Union Pacific (UP) Railroad, its ultra-modern appearance was a major departure from previous railroad station designs."
Exit to 10th Street from the station. Image courtesy of Jenni Morton
Bold line and shape harmoniously decorate this corridor ceiling inside the Omaha Nebraska train station, now a historic museum. Freelance engineering and construction technology writer Jennie Morton documents rich architectural history in the Midwest, through her camera lens, and her blog, "Herringbone Freelance."
Learn more about the history of Omaha Union Station and other architecture.
Traveling far from Washington, we arrive in London for a glimpes of another Art Deco jewel, caught up in the demolition of a once-thriving factory district.
Image courtesy of Modernism In Metro-Land
Balanced symmetry, curved, and straight lines form the beauty of this facade. The original 1933 factory for the Coty Cosmetics company in Brentford, London, was designed by Architect: Wallis, Gilbert and Partners.
"Designed for a French perfume company, this building has a striking exterior of sculpted curves, quite different from Wallis, Gilbert & Partners other buildings. Like all of the Golden Mile factories, it was designed with an Art Deco facade in front and a functional factory area behind. The factory area has now been demolished."
So many Art Deco gems have been demolished wherever they originally existed, but many remain thanks to preservation efforts by those who have a a vision. it is often more economical and aesthetically pleasing to reuse than to destroy and rebuild.
Celebrating the Visual Arts
Finally, ending this post with more grandiose architecture form the period, the historic Cincinnati Union Terminal in Ohio now houses the Cincinnati Museum Center.
From Ohio History Central:
"Architects Alfred Fellheimer and Stewart Wagner, whose firm was located in New York City, designed the structure. The final design followed the popular Art Deco style of that era. The project eventually cost $41,000,000 to complete and was finished on March 31, 1933. At the time, Union Terminal had the largest half-dome in the world, and even today it is the largest half-dome in the Western hemisphere.
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The architects created a building that could accommodate as many as 17,000 people and 216 trains (108 in and 108 out) each day. During World War II, when many soldiers traveled to their posts by train, the terminal sometimes hosted as many as twenty thousand people.
The artwork associated with Union Terminal was as amazing as the physical structure. Maxfield Keck designed bas-relief figures that represented Commerce and Transportation to flank the main doors. Winold Reiss, a German-born artist, designed murals made from glass mosaic tiles to decorate the interior of the terminal.
The murals, which also follow the Art Deco style, illustrates the United States' transportation history, different types of work in the United States, and Cincinnati history. Most of the murals were placed within the main entry of the terminal, but additional murals, portraying major Cincinnati businesses, were located in the concourse. The concourse was torn down in the 1970s, and these murals were relocated to the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati International Airport. Another artist, Pierre Bourdelle, created another mural at the entrance of the women's lounge."
Read the entire history at Ohio History Central.
"...As a whole, Cincinnati Union Terminal underwent a massive two-year renovation, starting in 2016. EverGreene Architectural Arts began work on site in November 2017. The scope of work was divided into two phases. The first phase took approximately four months and included the conservation of eight, monumental glass mosaic murals designed by Winold Reiss. (The two largest panels were 22′ x 110′.) The murals depict the history of Cincinnati, the people involved with the engineering and construction of Union Terminal, as well as the various industries in the area. Treatment for these iconic mosaics included surface cleaning, washing the glass tiles with a mild solution, patching and repairing of the tinted mortar in the background as needed, and replacement in kind of missing tiles."
Read more about the Winold Reiss mosaic Murals.
North rotunda view. Image courtesy of Evergreen.com
Detail of mural figure. Image courtesy of Evergreene.com