This combination elementary school, health center, and community center is a sprawling low-rise complex at the base of the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. The buildings compromise 162,000 square feet on multiple levels. The site is oriented along 18th Street but also bridges over Champlain Street and runs along part of Wyoming Avenue. It is a hard building and site to understand in terms of orientation and use.
The building was constructed in 1977 to designs by Louis Fry Jr, a Texas born architect who also designed several other buildings in DC. Among his accomplishments, he was the second African American licensed-architect in Texas. Schools seem to have been one of his specialities.
The materials here are relatively modest brick and concrete in beiges and whites. The complex gives off a Brutalist vibe with exposed rough materials, cavernous entrance areas, and a main plaza with concrete seating areas. These areas, which still largely exist, are a highlight, featuring rounded seating and a large rectangular picnic shelter.
The complex is currently undergoing a modernization project to be completed in 2017. There has been much discussion on whether to renovate or demolish the school but it seems for now the decision is to keep it.
Queens Modern has recently been updated with 50 more sites including a story on the Leo F. Kearns Funeral Home buildings (pictured above) and a feature on Catholic church architect John O’Malley, responsible for more than 100 buildings like American Martyrs RC Church (pictured below). Check it out!
Currently at the Museum of Chinese in Americas is an interesting exhibition that showcases the work of a little known architect, who designed in both NYC and China, Poy Gum Lee. Lee married traditionalist elements with modern building techniques to create designs that speak to both the heritage of the Chinese community as well as what was possible with new building materials. The exhibit takes visitors through Lee’s entire career and highlights numerous buildings including several still standing in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
One of Lee’s last buildings is also one of his most overtly modern. Dating from 1964, the Wong Family Association is a relatively small building in a row at the bottom of the Bowery. Family associations are a traditional structure of ownership in Chinatown and many properties are owned by the associations. As the exhibit text states about the Wong Family building, “The very straightforward–almost corporate –mid-century modern facade employed the second story balcony, one of the family association building typologies in the neighborhood, but otherwise exhibited no overt Chinese decorative references.”
The decorative concrete balcony railing is now gone and some of the paneling has been slightly altered, but otherwise this building remains intact. Chinese Style: Rediscovering the Architecture of Poy Gum Lee, 1923-1968, is open at the Museum of Chinese in Americas until January 31, 2016, and is definitely worth a visit.
This modest building is nowhere near Hyde Park, New York and it’s totally unclear where the name came from, although there are various stories. Instead of Hyde Park, it’s on a quiet residential block of East Flatbush. The main building dates from 1931 and isn’t much to look at, with minimal detailing and some alterations over time.
The real reason to visit is the great colorful mural by Venetian Art Mosaics of NYC on the 1950s addition next door. The vivid design includes a burning bush and possibly tells that story of Moses, although there are no figures in the mosaic. In addition to two smaller corner plaques listing the maker of the mosaic and the dedication (Dedicated by Morris Kirshenbaum and family), there is a larger metal panel in the upper left corner but it is illegible from street level. The mosaic placement also includes an original lighting fixture above so that the mural could be viewed at night.
St. Stephen the Martyr is sited near George Washington University close to the border of Georgetown. The church fits in well with its immediate mid-rise residential neighbors along Pennsylvania Avenue. The arched front facade is set off by a concrete bell tower.
Donald S. Johnson and Harold L. Boutin were the architects. They did more than 40 churches, the large majority in the DC area. At one end of the front is a porcelain statue of St. Stephen done by noted sculptor Felix de Weldon. It is an unusual inclusion, stiff and transitional.
The interior is minimal and largely white with a striking ceiling formation. A church in Rockville by the same architects also features arches and a rounded ceiling structure.
There is also figurative mid-century stained glass throughout.
The most significant fact about this church is probably that it was one of the Kennedys favorite places to worship. In the entrance lobby of the church is a picture of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. The church lent several items to the White House lying in of John F. Kennedy and several priests from St. Stephen’s participated in ceremonies around Kennedy’s death.
“Felix de Weldon” Wikipedia <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_de_Weldon>
“Saint Stephen Martyr Catholic Church” Wikipedia <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Stephen_Martyr_Catholic_Church_(Washington,_D.C.>
Barnes, Bart “Harold L. Boutin” The Washington Post, 11 October 1987.
The Salem Missionary Baptist Church is a popular venue on Sundays with people coming and going and numerous ushers waiting to greeting you at the entrance. The congregation takes wonderful care of the mid-century structure. What is even more interesting is that the building was actually built as a synagogue and Salem Baptist has made almost no alterations to the interior or exterior, leaving in place the existing Jewish symbolism. The most noticeable decoration still visible is the burning bush sculpture adorning the curved facade and created by noted artist Ludwig Wolpert.
The building was built as Shaare Torah in 1958. The congregation was previously at 2252 Bedford Avenue, a building now demolished and designed by Brooklyn architect Adolph Goldberg. They discussed moving in the 1940s and by 1954 had built the community center at this location and the synagogue four years later. The community center and most likely the synagogue were designed by Samuel Juster, a local architect, known in the Jewish community. He also did this small Jewish community center, among other projects.
Shaare Torah merged with a neighboring congregation and Salem Missionary Baptist Church took over the space sometime in the late 1970s. But as noted, they have been wonderful stewards of the building.
Special thanks to Ellen Levitt of the Lost Synagogues of New York and New Jersey for introducing me to many of these mid-century Jewish buildings around Brooklyn.
The Glenwood Jewish Center exists in a neighborhood largely devoid of a Jewish population today. The original building from 1953 is an extremely plain, utilitarian design of brick and today houses a church.
The neighboring addition however is both striking and currently abandoned. Designed in 1958 by architect Milton F. Kirchman, the building originally held classrooms and an auditorium. It is clad in beige bricks with blue brick accents. The entrance is fronted by a concrete canopy of arches ending in blue brick piers. Kirchman did apartment buildings and police precincts in Manhattan and at least one other Jewish Center in Brooklyn, the Madison Jewish Center addition of 1955.
With a declining population, the Glenwood Jewish Center closed in the early 1990s. In 1992 the remaining funds, commemorative plaques, and most interestingly–the actual name–were transferred to Israel where now a Glenwood Jewish Center continues to exist.