Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Of Elvis, Batawa and Mid (last)-century Modern

A website I follow,, is featuring 1950's and '60's homes. I think it may be in celebration of Elvis Presley's birthday that they have posted photos of his 'honeymoon house', a spectacular semi-circular house designed by Palm Springs builder Robert Alexander. To tour the slideshow of photos of this Desert Modernism style house is to understand why Look Magazine featured it as "the house of tomorrow". People my age understand the excitement that kind of phrase generated - we were living on the edge of the future in the late 50's. This was a revolutionary period in architecture as designers freed themselves from historicizing detail and invented a new aesthetic. They experimented with the new materials, new shapes and new functions needed by increasing post-war affluence - plate glass, textured materials, clerestory windows, sloping roofs and carports, minimalist shrubbery.

The mid-century modern houses in these photos are in Battawa Ontario. The owners of the house at top left have diluted its modernist purity with a retrofit door and a bump-out window. Battawa was a planned hamlet begun by Czech immigrant Thomas Bata, who arrived in the area in 1939 as events in Europe threatened the family's shoe manufacturing business. The Battawa shoe factory, opened in the 40's, was developed on the "commune" concept for manufacturing, creating the classic company town. The company owned the town, provided accommodation for its workers, many of them from Bata's native Czechoslovakia, and controlled most aspects of the village. The Bata shoe plant closed in the 80's due to pressures from cheaper imported goods, an all too common story. The modernist Bata shoe plant still stands in the village today.

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