New Canaan's Modern Houses and the National Register of Historic Places
The people who want to put New Canaan's modern houses on the National Register of Historic Places (which I wrote about last Friday) say they've already been in touch with more than 80 homeowners and that, so far, the reaction has been good.
The project seems to be a collaboration among the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, the New Canaan Historical Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (which owns and operates Philip Johnson's Glass House). And there's an advisory committee of John Johansen, John Black Lee, Toshiko Mori, Theo Prudon and Robert A.M. Stern. (Johansen is the only survivor of the Harvard Five architects (Johnson, Breuer, Noyes and Gores were the others); John Black Lee designed a number of New Canaan moderns, including one of my favorites, on Chichester Road, which Toshiko Mori, the chair of the Department of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, re-did a few years back (Lee also supervised the construction of my in-laws' house in Pound Ridge, although he didn't design it); Stern is the dean of the Yale School of Architecture; I don't know who Theo Prudon is, although I probably should).
Here's the idea behind the project, from the Glass House website:
The knowledge gained from this project is not only intended to shed light on the individual importance of this community in its greater influence outside of CT, but it is intended to inform other Modernist communities across the United States that wish to embark on similar studies. The recognition of mid-century Modern homes and their role as an asset within real estate investment is growing, however the formal recognition of this architecture is still necessary for a proactive approach to preservation. The thematic National Register Nomination of a number of these homes will serve this purpose.
I haven't heard about any modern houses in New Canaan being razed lately, which not long ago was a huge problem. I'm sure there are still threats, and I think the town government itself still takes a hands-off attitude about it, as if tear-downs were merely a function of the free market when in fact, with all the zoning regulations in New Canaan and elsewhere, real estate and development are almost completely under government control and tear-downs could be regulated too if the town thought it important enough.
Listing on the National Register in itself won't prevent tear downs. But it will be one more way to put encourage owners to preserve modern houses and, with any luck, discourage the spec developers from buying them and tearing them down. I think it's a terrific and very ambitious idea.
Which prompts this thought: while the list is being prepared for the National Register, someone ought to come up with a complementary list of developers who buy and tear down modern houses. Maybe they'd be less willing to do it if we make their names known (like this guy, in Westport).