DesignView – Bauhaus to Courthouse

From Bauhaus to Modesto’s Courthouse
by Lee Davis, Founder, Modesto Design Collective (MO.DE)

For many Modestans, Bauhaus is an awesome tapas haus off of Downey and Kimble Aves serving delicious cured and smoked meats, pickled seasonal vegetables, and a wide selection of international and local craft beers. And so it is. But Bauhaus is also one of (if not the) most influential and revolutionary global movements of art, architecture and design.

Founded in Dessau, Germany, in April 1919 by acclaimed architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus was a school whose functional, rational, modernist approach influenced the education, practice and theory of architecture, graphic arts, product design, textiles, and many other forms of art and design worldwide, including here in Modesto. In 2019, a global movement is underway to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus<> and its myriad of contributions to society. And we’ve selected Bauhaus as the theme of the Modesto Architecture and Design Week (MADWEEK), September 21-28, 2019.

The global influence of Bauhaus can be directly traced to and seen in downtown Modesto today. Our iconic Stanislaus County Hall of Records is the first ever “International Style” county building in California. In 2017, the Modesto Art Museum commissioned and published the report “The Stanislaus County Hall of Records: Modesto’s Monument in Modern Architecture,” documenting the historical significance of this architectural gem to Modesto and to California. The structure was built in 1939 with New Deal funds and designed by Modesto architect Russell Guerne DeLappe. Situated on the block demarcated by I, H, 11th and 12th Streets and facing the elegant old post office building, the Hall of Records is a precious example of the modernist Bauhaus architectural style pioneered in Germany in the early 1900s. Its design resembles so closely that of the original Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany, that even a trained eye could be easily fooled.

Just around the corner from and connected to the Hall of Records is the current Stanislaus County Courthouse, Modesto’s most direct line descendant of the Bauhaus. Completed in 1960, the Courthouse was designed by architect Mitchell Van Bourg, who was himself a graduate student of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius at Harvard in the 1940s. Among other elements, Van Bourg’s use of long strips of windows in the Courthouse design are characteristic of the International or Bauhaus style developed by Gropius.

In 2018, the Museum Art Museum commissioned a modernist poster of DeLappe’s Hall of Records by local designer Jordi Camps, Jr. and unveiled during MADWEEK to raise awareness of this priceless architectural, cultural, communal, and economic asset. The Museum has commissioned a second poster this year by local designer Eric Le celebrating the Van Bourg Courthouse to be unveiled during MADWEEK 2019.

As plans for the new courthouse in downtown Modesto moves forward, the fates of the Hall of Records and current Courthouse are unknown. It is crucial that we understand and appreciate the architectural, cultural, economic and historical value of these Bauhaus-inspired buildings now more than ever.

Mark your calendars for MADWEEK, September 21-28, 2019!<>



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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.