Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Historic Arlington, TX: The Old Mayor's House

"The Old Mayor's House" 814 E. Abram St., Arlington, TX

(DISCLAIMER: This article is actually a heavily stripped-down, low-res version of a preservation presentation I had to prepare for my architecture class. These images are welcome for non-commercial use, especially students and historic preservation sites. If you want the high-resolution photos or the 4-meg Power Point presentation, contact me for details. ) The Powerpoint presentation is chronologically organized and includes the context. This blog entry article is more about the difficult journey of trying to get the information before the PPT was ever put together.)

Our professor wanted to expose us to the Preservation side of architecture. Arlington, Texas has a number of historical sites scattered about. Of course, one must keep in mind that "historic" in the DFW Metroplex means it's older than about 50 years old, once again proving Eddie Izzard correct when he makes fun of us.

"We've restored this building to the way it looked over FIFTY YEARS AGO!!!"

"Surely not! No one was alive back then!"

Now, granted, we don't have any buildings that one can literally rent or buy that someone built before the advent of Monotheism. And one would be hard pressed to even find a building constructed before the 1900's over here. Be that as it may, we are slowly gaining an appreciation for our own history, so long as it doesn't get in the way of gigantic sports stadiums, theme parks, car dealerships, parking lots, or anyone with a large enough wad of cash to make us forget that maybe there was a reason for that quaint old place to stay there.

The Arlignton Historical Society seeks to preserve what few historic landmarks remain in "The Heart of Arlington," and our duty for this assignment was to help them present a case for preserving certain structures. I chose "The Old Mayor's House" on 814 E. Abram Street. I also had no idea what I was in for. For one thing, aside from this article that you are reading right now, you won't find a single reference to it on the web except for a tiny blurb on a scanned in 1-liner next to a single current-day photo, from a pamplet advertising to tour historic Arlington. Go ahead and look, this article will be here when you come back...


...Done looking? I couldn't even find a reference to the current owner. I tried contacting the Historical Society and received no answer. So far the only information I had been able to find out was from that one liner blurb on the pamplet.

The only other thing online about The Old Mayor's House

On a hunch, my professor gave me the name and number of a very kind woman named Geraldine who was able to give me the current owner's name (Xavier Carrillo) and the greenlight to visit the site. Meanwhile, I visited the University of Texas at Arlington Special Collections archives to see if I could find anything at all about the building. My search turned up absolutely nothing. I found one photo of the 800 block of East Abrams, but it was taken between 1910-1915, and according to the pamplet, the house was built in 1928, and the archives were closing for the evening.

The next morning, I visited the site to find it was currently a Tax Specialist office.

So, I headed along to the side of the office to get a better look.

It is a beautiful house, well restored Tudor-Revival House with what appears to be Mid-Atlantic Tan brickwork and stained-glass windows. The place has a very loved, well-manicured look about it. I head to the front and find it closed. Then I realize the driveway actually leads to a parking lot in back. Perhaps that would be where I need to park and enter through the back. No such luck, it's closed and locked too.

Geraldine had greenlit my taking photos of the house, but I wanted to be extra careful not to offend anyone, so I called the non-emergency line for the Arlington Police Department, and informed them of what I was doing. For any students of architecture, history, photography, etc. Whenever you have to study a site, it's always a very good idea to let the police know exactly what you are doing, why, for how long, what you are wearing, and so forth. Otherwise, at best you might merely be stopped by the police and inconvenienced for half an hour while they figure out if your story is legit. At worst, you might get shot for trespassing by a panicked owner. My conscience clear, I stepped out of the car and got as many exterior photos as I could.

The front photos aside, one thing I noticed is the house is now ADA Compliant. Complete with a handicapped parking spot, a ramp. The house also now has a fire escape as a method of egress. Both would be required for a business, technically, but doing so is always difficult because one ultimately risks damage to the historic nature of the house, the look and spirit of the place can become ruined. I think in this case, they did quite a good job. The ramp access is in back, so that the front of the house is preserved, and yet it gives easy access and parking. I noticed on the side opposite the driveway was a very picturesque garden, and had to take a closer look.

Wow. Makes me wish I had one of these. What looks like a roof is actually a portico with a trellis, and a thick layer of foliage along the top. The flagstone, arches, greenery, and shade makes a great refuge from the heat and noise of the house's unfortunate surrounding context of auto shops, convenience stores, and fast food chains.

I took another couple of pictures when sure enough, someone approached me to see what I was about. I explained my situation as honestly as possible and it turned out she was the property manager, had access to the interior, and would be happy to show me around the place. She even knew of a few old photos of the place and a few articles. I had struck archival gold!

The first thing she showed me was a couple of photos of the place before it had been bought and restored by Mr. Carrillo.

As you might be able to tell, the two front corners of the house had been cut out and replaced with large plate glass display windows. That's because it had been a dress shop before it had been purchased by Mr. Carrillo. It also had no central heating and air conditioning. It had no driveway, no parking lot in back, and the whole house itself, though handsome, was in a considerable state of disrepair. But Xavier Carrillo had seen promise in the place, and sought to restore its original beauty. He did a great job. In fact, he did so well, they gave him an award.

The property was acquired by Xavier Carrillo in 1993, who renovated it over 9 months, and won the top honor "Excellence Award" in urban design in 1994 for revitalization of a city landmark. Here's a partial list of what he did:
  • Original slate roof was restored, though in 2006 had to be replaced with a standard composite roof due to prohibitive cost.
  • Plate glass window on northwest corner was replaced with brick.
  • Plate glass window on southwest corner replaced by arched window to match the rest of the house’s theme.
  • Back porch portico converted into interior space with large arched windows.
  • House completely rewired.
  • Brick was cleaned.
  • Central A/C and Heating installed.
  • ADA ramp installed.
  • Arbor, curbs, sidewalks, and a drive for rear parking were all installed.
The property manager also showed me a few photos and articles of other houses restored by Mr. Carrillo, which looked great. He apparently restores historic landmarks as a personal hobby, and one at which I must say he's become quite proficient. I asked if they had any older photos or information on the house, at which point the Property Manager directed me to this painting.

What you are looking at now is a painting of the house as it would have looked prior to the crude re-purposing the dress shop had inflicted on the property (~1950's). As you can see, there is a significant difference in the look of the place. The artist is a miss Gretchen Schwab, who painted this in 1996 as a gift for Mr. Carrillo. The east (left) part of the house is shown as an open porch with an arched portico which has since been converted into internal space with arched windows and an external portico added. And, of course, no tacky plate glass display windows.

As previously mentioned, Carrillo internalized the arched portico space, converting it into a great connecting rear foyer. The room is beautifully decorated and the brickwork matches the rest of the house perfectly. The third photo you see used to be the back door leading to the portico.

This is the other side of that door. We are now in the signing room, what would at one time have been the formal dining room. It is, likewise, beautifully done.

The fireplace is gas. I never did get a final answer on whether or not the actual framework of it is original or not.

The dining room sports a simple, but elegantly vaulted ceiling...

...with the original chandelier, which I later found out was designed by the home's architect.

The stained glass windows are all original, as are the arched doorways. I'm not certain whether or not the doors themselves are, however. When I was attempting to get a better shot of the front door, I saw this:

When I asked about it, the PM told me it used to be a phone booth, and that Mr. Carrillo had decided to leave it like it was. As it turns out, this was an incredibly wise decision. When I returned to the UTA Special Collections Archives later that day, I decided to change my tactic, and search for things relating to "The Old Mayor" rather than the house. Barney C. Barnes was mayor from 1947 to 1951, and is the person the house got it's nickname from. By odd coincidence, he was also instrumental in getting UTA up and running, though it wasn't called UTA at the time. Perhaps one of those photos, articles, or books somewhere would have something about the house.

I should take a moment to mention that searching through Special Collections archives is a painfully slow task. In an age where high-speed wireless internet access and streaming video of nearly everything in the world is available on most modern cell phones, the archives are like a black hole of knowledge which never escapes to the digital world. Hardcopies are actually stored according to how many linear feet they take up. Checking out even one single item requires first thumbing through literal pages upon pages of finding-aids, guessing at what box might have something about what you're looking for, filling out a form, waiting for it to be processed, the box to be looked up, carted out, gloves worn to manually examine the contents one at a time. The vast, vast majority of the time you will not find what you are looking for, and will have to start the process all over again.

Assuming you do find a photo, article, or anything else that you would like, you will need to fill out two additional forms, wait for them to be processed. The item you wish to have copied will need to be returned internally to a special lab where you might see your copy in about half an hour if you are lucky enough to only need a xerox of an article or post card. If you actually need a scan of a photo, it will cost you six dollars per copy and a few days wait. These areas are also typically only open during normal business hours.

I don't say this to denigrate the UTA Special Collections by any means. They have their processes in place for very good reasons, and serve a vital purpose to researchers. What I wish to convey to the reader is that this type of research will not only seem alien to you if you've never done it before, but it is also not a quick process. Should you ever have a project that requires access to a Special Collections archive, expect it to take days to find even one relevent item.

Well, as it turns out, after three visits, there just happened to be a book (thus only a 30 minute wait for the reproduction) on historic politics in Arlington that had a photo of Mayor Barnes...

Recognize that phone booth? Now look closely at the phone. It's a rotary-dial phone, as opposed to a crank-switch. And why on Earth would someone have taken a photo of the mayor on the phone, at his house, while he obviously poses for the shot?

I found the answer about two hours later, thumbing through the Special Collections' randomly clipped and saved articles from the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

There's more to the article, but there's the important part. Or most of the important part. It turns out that, for at least a brief time, thanks to a deal brokered by B. C. Barnes, Arlington had the most advanced phone system on Earth, and that the very first use of that new phone system was at none other than the Mayor's house, at 814 E. Abram St. So, the age of the building aside (over 80 years old), there is reason number two for its preservation: an historically significant event, and photo documentation to prove it. Reason number three came after I'd finally gotten in contact with Mr. Carrillo, who, in addition to answering some questions about the house, had remembered that it had been built by a Mr. Hutsell. A bit more investigation finally gave me the name of the architect, Clifford D. Hutsell.

Clifford D. Hutsell was a rather prolific architect in the Dallas area. After a trip to California in 1929, he was an architect specializing in Spanish Colonial revival style. His flamboyant style typically incorporated multi-colored ceramic tile, wide-arched stained glass windows, balcony porches, exterior stairs, and several houses of his together in a row would seem to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. He is credited as the primary architectural influence in the Lakewood County Club District as well as Highland Park--two of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Dallas. However, before he left for California, he was not an architect, but merely a Grapevine-born city planner who had tried his hand at designing two houses. One was at 1306 W. Abram St. The other was at 814 E. Abram St., designed for a certain cattle baron (Dave Martin) who had inherited a patch of land. The house was later sold to W. T. Waggoner (the richest man West of the Mississippi) who built Arlington’s 1st and only Horse Racing Track.

So, there are two more previously unknown reasons for its preservation. The architect was a native-born Texan (an extreme rarity for the time, as most of our architects came from "Damned Yankee States"), and was a major architectural influence on the area. The last reason is because of the figures of note who lived there, (Waggoner and Barnes). Thus, the case for preservation is made. I will be producing a CD with my powerpoint, findings, and original photos for myself, the UTA Special Collections, and Mr. Carrillo, should anyone need more information. This article was primarily about the journey. The powerpoint is far more succinct and chronological.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Sketch: State Capitol "Flying Saucer" Bank

The Oklahoma State Capitol Bank was one of the more unique buildings to come out of the 60's. Built in 1964, this is the original look of the bank. It has since been pretty heavily modified for security and heating and air conditioning concerns. In searching for information about this bank, I came across a new blog called Oklahoma Modern. I rather like it, so I'll be linking to it. Apparently the author is also a big fan of Julius Shulman as well. Shulman, incidentally, is the one who took this photo.

My sketch, as usual, did not come out very well. I sincerely home my ability improves over time. As it is, my saucers are drooping, my details are scarce, and my car is pathetic. But I persevere in hopes that one day I won't completely suck at sketching buildings.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rest In Peace, Julius Shulman

I only recently found out that Julius Shulman died at 98 on July 15th, 2009. If you have not had the chance to do so, please read his obituary. He was to architectural photography what Annie Leibovitz is to people portraits, or what Ansel Adams is to natural photography. Shulman was a Photog, which is photographer lingo for "master of the lens." And among photogs, Shulman was a grand master, an icon, accomplished something few others can ever do: capturing the spirit of a structure in one frame. If you are an architect, or plan to be one, studying Shulman's work should be considered as important as studying Palladio, Wright, and Le Corbusier. The average layperson neither knows nor cares about golden scale, red and blue series, incolumniation, or anything of the sort. Shulman made the genius and spirit of great architecture accessible to the general public in ways that no architectural set of plans or books could ever do.

Most people don't appreciate photography anymore because when you have a digital camera and a memory card that can hold thousands of images, why bother composing? Why worry about whether you have the perfect image when you can pick the best out of 100 or 1000. Why not just use hi-def video and freeze-frame on the right moment, crop it, photoshop it, and print it? But there was a day and age when you often only had that one perfect moment in time, that would only exist for a split second before passing into regretful memory. A True Photog might wait days, months, even years for the right moment, at the right time, in the right light, weather, and conditions, to attempt to capture that moment on film. A Master Photog manages to actually accomplish this.

Shulman understood the essence of architecture in the same way that Leibovitz understood the essence of a celebrity. He understood the composition of the light, the time of day, the shadows, and textures in the same way that Adams did in nature. All three had the ability to capture the spiritual, mental, and physical essence of that moment in one perfect frame. And they did so with cameras that required manual focusing, guesswork on the proper f-stop for the lens, and rolls of film that rarely if ever exceeded 36 possible images. There was no photoshopping the final product. You had hard tangible film, and if an accident occurred during development of the negatives, that image was ruined forever. There are a number of tricks that could be performed with an enlarger, the machine that shines light through a negative onto the photo paper, but nothing on the scale of Photoshop. If an image was poor, the light not right, the shot overexposed or underexposed, there was very little one could do to improve upon the original.

This is what separated master photogs from amateurs: the ability to compose and capture the essence of a moment and place so skillfully, so expertly, with so few resources at their disposal, that they elevated photography from mere documentation to the level of art so profound it could be likened to masterworks of painters. Some might scoff at the idea of photography as an art, or if so, might begrudge it ever being equal to that of the brush and canvas, or the sculpture, but I challenge anyone to ever deny that what Shulman accomplished, over and over again, was anything short of artistic genius.

This is my very humble attempt to sketch one of his more famous photographs, Case Study House #22, in Los Angeles. It is also known as The Stahl House, and the architect is Pierre Koenig. I did not do a very good job on this sketch, but it's my own humble homage to this great man and champion of architecture. I had intended to visit Shulman after this summer semester ended, before starting the fall semester. I will now never have that chance. A hero of mine has died, after a very long, fulfilling life.

Rest in Peace, Julius Shulman, you will be dearly missed...

-Brandon Safford

Monday, July 27, 2009

The 3D Midterm (Re-Planning and Model)

As I mentioned in this previous blog entry, I've been working on my mid-term assignment. The general idea is that we would make an arrangement of geometric shapes that uses at least 3 of the rules of proximity and involves at least 2 basic pure geometric shapes. After the approval of our 2D layout, we are to make a 3D model of the result that explains the parti. In the last entry, my 2D model looked something like this...

Yeah... that didn't happen, though the Professor liked the concept. She liked it a lot actually, but had a few cool ideas to toss in, like slicing the circles and honeycombs and rotating them 90 degrees. We also discussed perhaps making a beehive effect out of it. In the end, however, I realized there was no way I could make a good honeycomb model on my own, and I would need to simplify the concept considerably. But I still really liked the slicing effect.

As a result, this is what I turned in for the "final draft." Keep in mind that we can alter the draft slightly during the modeling phase, but for the most part, this is what I committed to. To make it clearer, here's the same layout, but with the guiding lines and grid added...
I call this the "gears" concept. Imagine 3 gears have rotated. The first gear is in the northwest portion of the parti. The large western hex has a slice rotated 90 counter-clockwise towards the north. The next gear, in the middle, slices a golden scale smaller hex, and smaller circle, and rotates them 90degrees clockwise (as if turned by the larger gear). The third gear is in the southeast, where the larger circle has been sliced and rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, as if turned by the smaller gear. For you gearnuts out there, no, I almost certainly did not get the correct gear ratio on these turns.

So now, grandious schemes develop as to how I'm going to translate this thing into 3D. The concept I came up with, much like the cube project earlier this month, was overly complex. I planned on having crystal pillars with lights inserted into them, and the two bottom bases elevated, a mirror. The structures would be plaster of paris, the central pillars would be clear plastic (or dyed). This would be an experiement in light along with the assignment. The professor nixed the lights idea. Thank g-d.

The final concept would look something like this. Each crystal pillar would support two floors at differing elevations. The elevations would increase by 2" for each floor, starting with the western structure and going up clockwise from there. Each floor would be a rigid, clear plastic sheet, so that one could look down from a top view and still see the 2D effect of the slice. The elevations tell the story of the slice directions. West, then North, then East, then South. The whole thing seemed quite beatiful in my mind, and I think had I a bit more time, patience, money, and skill, I could have pulled it off, even with the lights, and made something truly cool out of it. But no matter... leaving out the lights would simply mean more time to work on the actual meat of the project. Again, thank g-d that the professor nixed the lights idea.

After the first day, I had basically managed to get all my materials together, make a huge mess, and a really, truly, horrible attempt at a hexagonal structure. See that white thing that looks like a crumpled ball of paper in the upper left? That was the hexagon. It gets worse, but I'll spare you the details there. Suffice it to say I only had one day left, and all my previous work had done was to tell me how NOT to build a model. This would take a lot more simplification...and measurements.

The first thing I did was go back to the idea of using foamboard. Good old reliable foamboard, how I love thee. Only, building a complex shape out of foamboard required a good deal of math and also a lot of carving foam away from the corners so they would join properly. I also figured I'd shorten everything by an inch. I'm not sure how I forgot about that second part, because in the end, the floors ended up being 2", 4", 6", 8", with all the bases at effectively zero-elevation.

The 3/4 dome and 1/4 dome structures were actually far easier to develop, thanks largely in part to the hollow cristmas tree ornament I'd bought and cut for the job. Of course, I'd have to cut my PVC pipe a lot more precisely, so no more hand-saw. Instead, it was time to bring out the big guns.

This is a compound miter-saw, capable of cutting at nearly any angle needed. It's used to cut molding. In this case, I just bought a thin plywood-blade (~130 teeth) and that worked fine for cutting PVC pipe. However, a word of advice to those of you looking to but this wonderful little timesaver for your own work: get the 10" saw, not the 7.x". There's almost nothing you can fully cut through with a 7.x" miter saw. Not even a 2x4. I had to play all sorts of crazy-dangerous finger-arobics in order to cut what I needed, then flip it around and do the exact same thing, only in reverse. For every single piece.

Once my shapes were properly assembled, I gave them a quick layer of white undercoat to help hide all the scotch tape I used putting them together. If I'd had another day, I'd have painted the model very carefully to improve upon this. As it is, I only finished the thing an hour or two ago.

The table, with my tools, my drinks, and my replans. Before I continue, I must take a moment to thank my wife and son. I thank my wife, because she not only gave me the entire weekend to work on this project, she took care of all the chores, the boy, and and fed me as I toiled over this thing. She did so with a smile and grace I never would have been able to manage, even though she deserved so much more than what I was able to give her this weekend. I also thank my son, who occasionally forced my hand in taking a break and remembering the reason I was doing this in the first place. I feel terrible about missing out on time with him so much lately, but summer semesters are just like that. I thank him for trading his hours with Daddy for hours with Mommy. I just wasn't able to be a very good father this weekend.

So, here's my "Model Draft." I'm not really sure what we were supposed to call it. But you'll notice a few changes, such as the loss of the extraneous bases, the blatant circle to emphasize central slices, and the removal of the invisible lines. Here are the final results in 3D.

The western view is actually quite similar to the one in the original 3D planning phase. It's just lacking the extra bases and elevation differences on the bases. The final result is a model that has a 13"x13" datum, and golden height of 8". The crystal pillars in the center were a bit of a paradox. In some ways, they came out better than I'd feared, but worse than I'd hoped. I learned a number of valuable lessons.

The first is that if you are going to use polyester resign to form something, you need a leak-proof, non-pourous, easy to open and remove mold. One of my molds was made from aluminum cans and duct tape. The aluminum did peel off revealing beautifully smooth clean surfaces underneath, but the duct tape was a mess. Even worse, though, the "slice" had been created with a cut piece of paper towel tubing (actually model rocket tubing, but the point remains the same). Both leaked terribly, losing me about 3/4 the resign through the bottom and sides of the containers. After curing, when I removed them, not only did I end up having to cause a lot of damage to the exterior part of the crystal pillars to separate them (the carboard tube divided had leaked, remember, but the cardboard the tube was made of didn't come off. The stuff is bonded to it like expoxy. Goo-B-Gone, sand-paper, whittling with a razor...none of these things could fully remove the stuff. I resigned myself to having bad crystal pillars. There was no way to re-create them in my timeframe and budget. Which brings me to my second lesson...

If I think I'm going to use polyester resin again, I need to order it bulk, online, and not from the local hobby store. I also need to design smaller things for it. That stuff is expensive! Anyway, the actual strength and relative shape of the cured resin was pretty decent. It does not exactly match the circle they've been aligned with, but it's a close enough fit that it gets the spirit of the parti across.

Of course, I fully expect that the professor will want some things changed with it, though honestly I'm not sure how much I could actually change at this point. In any event, I look forward to the class discussion in a few hours.

Good lord, I need to go to bed!!!

My Shelfari Bookshelf

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog