By August 3, 2015 Read More →

ArchitectureView – Mid Century Gem

by: Barrett Lipomi, AIA

A Mid-century Gem in Downtown Modesto
When you think about historic landmark buildings, what image comes to mind? For many, I imagine you are seeing a building with a symmetrical brick facade, carved stone, ornate detailing, maybe a rhythmic colonnade. We often think of historic buildings having these classical forms as this has most often been the style in which our country has built its great public buildings. In fact this neo-classical style of architecture was still very prevalent during the 20th century. A local example is the beautifully restored former post office on the corner of 12th and I streets in downtown Modesto. Built in 1933, this is a historic landmark building that shares this “historic” look.

However directly across the street is a different style of historic building, one that has likely remained unnoticed by many. Built just 6 years after the post office, Modesto’s Hall of Records building stands in stark contrast to its neo-classical neighbor. Designed by local architect Russell deLappe, the Hall of Records is an amazingly well preserved example of International Style architecture. Horizontal rows of glass slice through the rising unadorned concrete walls. Steps lead up to the open glass entrance while a concrete canopy cantilevers overhead. Flanking the entry is the stair tower with its tall expanse of glass block stretching from the ground to the roof above. The building is void of ornament, allowing its carefully detailed proportions and form to shine through as a marvelous example of this mid-century modern style.

As we have engrained in us this mental image of what a “historic” building should look like, buildings like the Hall of Records often get overlooked. As a result many great mid-century buildings have been demolished. It is important for us to understand, appreciate, and preserve these modernist structures as they truly are landmarks for our communities. There are plans in the coming years to build a new courthouse a few blocks away and vacate the Hall of Records and adjacent courthouse building. When this happens, I hope that our community understands the value of these buildings and steps up to preserve them. Just as we observed across the street at the post office, we can preserve our historic buildings while giving them a new purpose. So I hope the next time you are walking down I street, you can look up at the Hall of Records with a new appreciation and imagine the endless possibilities for its future use.

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