VAF 2023 Conference Papers & Posters
All presentations are 20 minutes unless otherwise noted. Order of papers is subject to change at the discretion of the Papers Chair.
8:15 - 9:45 am – Paper Session One
1.1 Vernacular Interiors: Past Present and Future
Chairs: Paula Lupkin – University of North Texas & William Littmann – California College of the Arts
Mania Taher – University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee – World-making through Everyday Objects Inside the Dwellings of Bangladeshi Immigrant Women in New York
This paper investigates the everyday objects inside Bangladeshi immigrant women's dwellings in New York to affirm that many of these objects act as mnemonic devices that reconstruct their users' transnational memories of past-lived spaces. From the narratives of seven research participants, it is understood that they knew each of their past-lived places as 'home' before their resettlement in New York. They all spoke about how they negotiated and reformed their spatial practices within an existing built environment as part of their place construction process and often co-habited with people from other cultures. They arrived at different periods in New York with or without their family member/s and shared similarities and dissimilarities in their social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. As a result, their place experiences shaped their identities over the years, where everyday objects inside their dwellings helped them to encounter and establish a dynamic relationship with their visited spaces. For example, the dining table in a Bangladeshi immigrant dwelling serves multiple meanings of care, agency, and belonging through its performed activities, where foods prepared by the women often play a meaningful role. On the other hand, food preparation in their kitchen spaces is usually laborious, where many utensils and cooking techniques arrive from the other side of the world. While sharing pandemic experiences inside the dwellings, most of these women reflected on their prayer spaces as the corner where they could find mental solace during these difficult times.
This research reflects a gendered perspective of transnational memories inside these dwellings through objects, and several queries come forward: How do people remember their experiences and activities through everyday objects? How do these remembered objects interact through their users' multisensorial activities, such as gaze, touch, smell, and sound? Can spatial memories of past-lived dwellings add meaning to the current living practices? Through analyzing everyday objects and their spatial practices, this research's objective is two-fold: first, to gain insight into the lived experiences of these immigrant women inside their dwellings; second, to assess the efficacy of the research methods used here to receive reflections on their occupied built environments. Through ethnographic observation, oral histories, photo-elicitation from family archives, and documentation through photographs and drawings, this research explores material practices and performative acts of Bangladeshi immigrant women inside their current dwellings that transformed over time in their acculturation process in a new setting.
Aimée L. Keithan – Pejepscot History Center – In Plain Sight: Re-visioning Servant Spaces as Vernacular Architecture
In the field of vernacular architecture, the mere mention of a Gilded Age mansion can make us run for the hills. Over studied, elite, Anglo-centric: they are everything vernacular architecture isn’t. Or are they? The hierarchical architectural structure is reflected by the households’ social organization, which was itself a microcosm of wider society. They were constructed not only as upper-class homes, but also contained the myriad of servants who ran them. During this time, service was one of America’s largest employment sectors. Noteably, the servant class heavily intersected with populations least represented in traditional American history narratives.
Although it is frequently assumed that American domestic service grew from British traditions, slavery actually has a far stronger claim as its nexus. Servants were also disproportionally women; another underrepresented group in architectural history. Likewise, service played a critical role for American immigrants, as the country’s elite clamored for affordable foreign workers to support luxurious lifestyles. This makes servants one of the most diverse, yet overlooked groups of people in architectural history. Focusing only on polite spaces discounts the roles of gender, race, and ethnicity in Gilded Age history, ignoring a powerful resource for understanding marginalized populations during a time of vast socioeconomic disparity.
Kingscote (1839) is arguably one of Newport’s earliest Gilded Age mansions. Built by a Southern enslaver, the house was subsequently expanded and renovated, supported by hired immigrant and local servants to meet the needs of several generations of Newport’s elite. Each campaign was driven by change to or impacted the service spaces. And although much is known about the owners and their elaborate spaces, the service spaces remained relatively unexplored.
This paper combines buildings archaeology techniques, spatial analysis, and archival research, focusing on the “everyday nature” of Kingscote’s service spaces. Comparable methodologies have been successfully applied to Southern plantation estate buildings, and have been instrumental in revealing the lived experiences of enslaved peoples. Similarly, this paper considers individual spaces within the wider context of the mansion, examining how relationships between spaces impacted servants and how servants themselves helped shape changes over time. Using a spatial organization method devised in my doctoral dissertation, rooms are examined according to the role they played in servants’ lives: facilities (working spaces), accommodation, circulation, and outbuildings, instead of how the spaces supported elite lives or spaces. Ultimately, this expands the usefulness of vernacular methodologies by revealing their efficacy in settings beyond what is considered traditional, opening up an entirely new way to study the “silent inhabitants” of the Gilded Age.Paula Lupkin – University of North Texas – Vernacular Interiors: Surveying a Field
1.2 Constructing Race and Labor
Chair: C. Ian Stevenson
Lydia Mattice Brandt – University of South Carolina & Philip Mills Herrington – James Madison University – The Plantation Revival at Magnolia-on-the-Ashley
The sight of the twenty-eight monumental columns on the big house at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens may come as a shock for visitors familiar with its nineteenth-century history. Yet the modern Magnolia mansion was not designed to surprise. Located just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, today’s Magnolia offers a predictable historic plantation experience. It exemplifies the longstanding commercial appeal of the white-columned plantation house and the ability of monumental columns to communicate narrative tropes about Southern history with lightning speed—regardless of the history of the site or the authenticity of its resources.
When it first welcomed the public in 1870, Magnolia-on-the-Ashley was America’s second plantation to open as a tourist destination (after only George Washington’s Mount Vernon). Its garden—portions of which were a century old, though its famed azaleas and camellias arrived in the 1840s and ‘50s—was a remarkable surviving pleasure landscape. In February 1865, at the end of the Civil War, Union forces laid waste to most of the plantations lining the Ashley River, burning the modest main house at Magnolia. The owners, the Drayton family, soon replaced the house with an architecturally undistinguished cottage and expanded it again at the end of the nineteenth century. The family home served as little more than a minor set piece at a seasonal attraction that emphasized its “romantic-style garden” over the property’s history as a cash crop-producing plantation. As much of the visual evidence of Magnolia’s colonial and antebellum past had vanished, the property’s history as a plantation was peripheral to the landscape-focused story tourists encountered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Things changed in the 1970s when John Drayton Hastie, scion of a new generations of Drayton heirs,gained full ownership of the property. Looking to reinvigorate its flagging popularity and compete with neighbor plantation-museums Drayton Hall and Middleton Place, Hastie rebranded the site as a historic plantation open year-round. His efforts culminated in the transformation of the century-old cottage into a Louisiana-style Southern mansion through the addition of a peripteral colonnade that projected uneasily from the asymmetrical Victorian dwelling behind it. The new white columns at Magnolia illustrate the ongoing power and appeal of the plantation house stereotype and reveal the interpretive challenges faced by historic plantation sites altered by a “Plantation Revival” remodeling.
Christine G. O’Malley – Historic Ithaca – Faithful Daniel Jackson
"FAITHFUL" is carefully inscribed above the name of Daniel Jackson (1814-1889) on his gravestone in the Ithaca City Cemetery in Ithaca, New York. Several lines of text below it contain a poignant and succinct record of Jackson’s life, a moving artifact revealing his self-liberation from chattel slavery, his separation from his beloved mother, and their loving reunification. Like the fabric sack embroidered with text examined in historian Tiya Miles' compelling recent book, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, A Black Family Keepsake, Jackson's gravestone is a similar singular object that hauntingly speaks to the present reader as another form of documentary evidence found outside traditional archives. Upon his death in 1889, Jackson’s life story was recounted in the local newspaper by his white former employer, E.S. Esty (1824-1890), a successful Ithaca businessman, supporter of local charitable endeavors, and former New York State Assemblyman and Senator. The wording of Esty’s tribute and the gravestone’s inscription are similar enough that local historians believe Esty provided the text for the gravestone after Jackson died. Scholars like Richard Francaviglia, Donald Zeigler, and others view cemeteries as “repositories of cultural information” (Zeigler). If Esty was the likely author of the gravestone’s inscription, why did Esty want Jackson’s life story and struggle to be known and seen in the cemetery landscape? For whose eyes were the words on the gravestone intended and what message was being conveyed? This paper explores these questions, arguing that Jackson’s gravestone within the cemetery landscape operates as a type of document and memorial acknowledging the history of the Underground Railroad and the rare example of family reunification. Based on site visits and archival research, this paper analyzes the gravestone within its cemetery context and compares it to selected known gravestones of formerly enslaved individuals. Although many historians and preservationists focus on the Underground Railroad’s history as it is connected to actual building locations and known transportation routes, this paper argues that Jackson’s gravestone in the cemetery can be read as another significant part of the Underground Railroad’s landscape and history.
Brian Whetstone – University of Massachusetts Amherst – Building Race: Asher Benjamin, Phelps Farm, and Racial Identity in the Atlantic World
Drawing from a large cache of newly discovered archival materials, this paper explores connections between racial subjectivity, Federal-style architecture and the works of Asher Benjamin, and Massachusetts’ rural and urban built environments. This paper situates Phelps Farm, the nineteenth-century Hadley, Massachusetts farmstead of lawyer, merchant, and farmer Charles Porter Phelps, as a key site where ideas about race, architectural style, and labor commingled and where Phelps instrumentalized the built environment to inform his own racial subjectivity. Focusing on the farmhouse Phelps first constructed in 1816 and elaborated through a significant 1822 addition and 1825 construction of a working ell, this paper argues that the emergence, promotion, and adoption of the Federal style as a rational embodiment of national ideals by figures like Phelps intertwined with the formation of modern ideologies of race. Drawing on previously unknown records salvaged from the farmhouse’s attic and newly processed archival materials at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the research explores the farmhouse’s origins in Phelps’ engagement with the Atlantic slave economy. Encompassing roughly 200 cubic feet of new material, these archival sources offer unparalleled insight into this working landscape and how Phelps’ architectural choices crystallized racial, gender, and class hierarchies in the built environment through the juxtaposition of working and formal spaces.
This paper engages the farmhouse at Phelps Farm as critical evidence to explore intersections between race and architecture. Mothballed since 1988 and recently acquired by the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Foundation (PPH), the farmhouse’s deteriorated condition underscores the urgency of material and architectural investigation as PPH prepares to preserve and interpret the farmhouse for the public. Alongside the farmhouse, this paper reads the books of Asher Benjamin (an acquaintance of Phelps, via their shared work as representatives for the Boston Board of Assistant Assessors) as treatises on modern racial and political identity. Phelps drew from Benjamin’s published patterns to design and enlarge the farmhouse; rather than solely examine the structure as an example of Benjamin’s work, close consideration instead reveals that Benjamin’s Federal-style designs retained purchase for Phelps because of their ability to transparently indicate racial and moral character. This approach addresses the calls of architectural historians, material culture scholars, and urban and cultural historians to examine ways that race influenced the creation of modern architectural discourse and practice.
1.3 Global Housing Practices
Chair: Valentina Davila – McGill University
Noam Shoked – Tel Aviv University – New Suburbanites: Bedouin Villas in the Negev Desert
Since the 1990s, members of an emerging Bedouin elite in the Negev, a desertous area in southern Israel, have been building luxury villas, whose size and grandiose features belie the Bedouins' longer history of neglect and destitution under Israeli rule. Designed by Bedouin draftspersons and constructed by Palestinian contractors, these houses borrow liberally from different aesthetic traditions, mixing oriental tropes with medieval crenellations and over-sized neo-classical porticos. These houses first appeared in towns built exclusively for the Negev Bedouin. But over time, as upwardly mobile Bedouin families began moving out of Bedouin towns, they have become a common feature also in nearby middle-class suburbs that until recently catered exclusively to Jewish Israelis.
The new Bedouin villas have been met with mixed reactions. Some local news reporters and old-time residents of these once-homogenous middle-class Jewish suburbs dismiss them as architectural kitsch, a sign of cultural backwardness. Others allege that they were built with money obtained through illegal activity. That these houses render visible the presence of Bedouin families in some of the Negev’s more affluent suburbs has surely bolstered such views.
For Bedouin homeowners, however, their new houses are at once a source of Arab solidarity and an emblem of their hard-fought integration into the Israeli middle-classes. Drawing upon interviews, spatial analysis, and archival material, this paper traces the short architectural history of the Bedouin villas. Focusing on Rahat, the largest Bedouin town in the Negev, and Lehavim, a nearby Jewish suburb, it shows how these houses reflect Bedouins’ claims for inclusion in Israeli polity at the same time as they point towards their growing sense of solidarity with the neighboring Palestinians. In addition, it shows how the Bedouin villas helped transforming a once sleepy suburban landscape into a stage for bitter conflicts between Bedouin suburbanites and their Jewish neighbors over national belonging.
Matthew Teismann – MKC Architects, Independent Researcher – Architecture Without Origins: Cultural & Spiritual Estrangement in Postcolonial Bawömataluo
In the nineteenth century under the directive of Dutch ethical policy, many great omo sebua (chief's house of origin) were razed, particularly on the smaller islands off the coast of Java and Sumatra. Justification for this destruction was the fear of tuberculosis and promiscuity. The culmination of a prolonged Dutch offensive against local inhabitants, however, this act was control manifest through the erasure of a non-European cultural way of life.
Relatively unknown outside of Indonesia, Bawömataluo, a small village in southern Nias, exemplifies vernacular architecture culminating in its monumental omo sebua. Resulting from its isolation, this house-type has seldom been studied, surveyed, or codified either by colonial experts or post-independence Indonesian architects. Derived from cardinal directions, the omo sebua embodied a microcosm of villagers' spiritual place in the world, and like the universe itself, was vertically stratified into heaven, earth, and the underworld. Inspired by Levi-Strauss' suggestion of the house as a social institution, and Esra Akcan's melancholy of the colonized, my investigation will deepen the limited understanding of post-colonial anthropology through architecture itself. Based on historical and architectural evidence, this paper analyzes how cultural and social estrangement in Indonesia has been influenced by the disappearance of deeply rooted architectural heritage exemplified in the omo sebua of Bawömataluo. What can the sacred, unique, and at times idiosyncratic, tell us about cultural identification of the inhabitants of Bawömataluo? More importantly how can colonization impact the symbolism of a particular building and its memory?
This essay is a reverse-intervention enables architecture to address a broader discourse of what is gained or lost in the detraction of vernacular ways of life in lieu of modern intervention through colonization. Not merely about the destruction of a particular building, this paper aims to engage a deeper topic of the destruction of cultural and spiritual identification through the disappearance of the built environment. Funded by the Harvard Kennedy School Indonesia Program Research Grant, this essay is the culmination of a year's worth of investigation and a month of field research in an isolated community on a small island of Western Indonesia.
Tian Zhang – University of Virginia & Tongji University, Shanghai – Constructions before Architects: A Study of Chinese Builders by Analyzing Lawsuits in Shanghai 1880-1930
In a court in Shanghai International Settlement in 1910, an American lady, Miss B, sued her house’s construction contractor, Carpenter Wan, and his guarantor for going over the budget and leaving some work undone by the appointed deadline. Wan and his lawyer defended themselves, explaining that Miss B decided to switch the house design from Chinese style to Western style in the middle of the construction works. They had offered a new budget for this change to Miss B, who did not approve it. After consulting the U.S. consul, an officer of the court ruled that Miss B should pay ten more percent for her abrupt change, while Wan must finish all the construction work in the next two months. Most prior work on the modernization of Chinese architecture has been devoted to the iconic buildings and their architects. However, this lawsuit, published in Shenzhou News, casts light on how an everyday building was contracted and built without the presence of professional architects. Between 1880 to 1930, there were hundreds of construction lawsuits published in local newspaper. Westerns clients, Chinese clients, contractor carpenters, journeymen, skilled and unskilled labor, sued each other for disagreements over budget, salary, style of building, construction processes. These lawsuits provide us a window into how Chinese vernacular modern buildings were built before 1930s, the time local Chinese architects have not emerged.
Examining these lawsuits, this paper mainly aims to analysis the builders’ practices during this time. First, the division of builders is clarified by a review of the lawsuits between builders themselves, followed by a description of the patterns of cooperation among builders and their clients, including Westerns and Chinese clients. Then, this paper shifts its focus on the lawsuits about construction processes to depict how builders worked on the construction site. At last, this paper compares the builders’ working pattern before and after 1930s, the time that Shanghai Construction Industry Guild was established. Finally, this paper summarizes how a Chinese everyday building materialized in the wake of modernity, and the differences of builder’s situation before and after the rise of professional architects.10:00-11:30 am – President's Plenary Session
11:30 am - 1:30 pm – Lunch & Poster Sessions
Authors will be present to discuss their work
Dennis Pogue - University of Maryland – “Befriending More Friendless Farm Buildings: Preliminary Results of Survey and Documentation Projects in Southern Maryland, 2021-2023”
David Turturo – Texas Tech University – “The Texas Courthouse Square as Logistic Permutation”
Megan Reed - National Park Service – “Using 3D Digital Documentation to Preserve the Legacy of a Virginian African American Community”
Enrique Vicente Ledesma, AIA – EEL Studio – “Capturing the Past – Today: A photography workshop on capturing, developing, and
processing images of the built environment”
Kristen Dahlmann - Boston University –“A Palimpsest of Footfalls: The Egalitarian Modern Layers of Cultural Landscape in the Camino de Santiago de Compostela”
Bailey Albrecht – Mead & Hunt – “Vermont Mobile Homes and Parks: Surveying and Documenting a Property Type”
1:30 - 3:00 pm – Paper Session Two
2.1 Preservation: What Gets Lost, What Gets Remembered
Chair: Kathryn Lasdow – Suffolk University
Alba Menedez Pereda – University of California, Los Angeles – Shaky Foundations: Rebuilding the Coricancha in the Twentieth Century
Five seconds is all it took for an earthquake to leave the city of Cuzco, Peru, in a state of ruin, misery, and desolation on May 21st, 1950. Although one third of Cuzco’s built environment collapsed, Inca structures withstood the seismic activity. The most damaged buildings were vernacular structures built using adobe or bricks, as well as religious complexes dating to the colonial period. The architectural monuments of this so-called archaeological capital of South America became the focus of reconstruction efforts in the following decades. Among the sites whose future triggered the most debate—and the one which suffered the greatest was the former Inca temple of the Coricancha, now known as the Convento de Santo Domingo. The Coricancha was once the most sacred temple of the Inca Empire and thus one of the most significant sites of the Indigenous Americas. To understand the current appearance and treatment of the Coricancha as an archaeological park swallowed by a Christian worship space, we must examine the transformation of the Coricancha into a Catholic religious edifice in the sixteenth century, and the social discourse and cultural management practices prevalent in Cuzco in the mid-twentieth century. At a time when the Venice Charter had not yet been signed and Peru’s National Ministry of Culture had not been founded, individual archaeologists, architects and engineers became the voices of expertise in reconstruction matters. These professionals engaged in scholarly discussions within academic conferences as well as in public debates in newspapers that functioned as open fora for heritage conversations. Whereas a school of thought advocated for the dismantlement of the convent to liberate the Inca architecture, others argued for the artistic and historical value of the colonial structure and the need for its reconstruction in situ. Through an examination of historical photographs, newspaper articles, project reports, and scholarly publications, in this paper I investigate the reconstruction program undertaken at the Coricancha-Convent following the 1950 earthquake and its effects on this multilayered site. Rather than questioning the project’s appropriateness and accuracy, this paper interrogates the underlying reasoning which led to the making of a modern state-sponsored Inca temple of national value in the twentieth century. I argue that this project was done with the intent of building and upholding regional memory and identity over questions of historical significance or authenticity.
Gabrielle Berlinger – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Destruction as Preservation: New Approaches to Sites of Jewish Historical Memory
This paper is part of a larger project-in-progress that explores creative approaches to material preservation at sites of Jewish history across the Eastern United States. Each of these sites was once an ordinary housing or retail structure that was eventually closed and abandoned, sometimes for decades, and then was rediscovered with its contents intact. These sites thus became time-capsules, their physical interiors “frozen” in the mid- to late-20th century, then unexpectedly discovered and reinterpreted to become extraordinary spaces for public engagement. These structures and their material contents have today been revived as dynamic art, community, museum, and social activist spaces. At all of these sites, I am interested in how unconventional, even “radical,” efforts to preserve and interpret these historic structures and their decaying interiors reveal changing social and cultural values. How do innovative approaches to material preservation demonstrate expansive notions of contemporary Jewish American identity, social value, and community? And, how do performance and memory play roles in the re-envisioning of Jewish histories and futures through creative material engagement?
At the VAF meeting, I will discuss one site in particular: the Elsewhere Living Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. This building, a former three-story thrift store, was purchased in 1939 by Joe and Sylvia Gray to expand their furniture business but became Sylvia’s second-hand store when Joe passed away. For over four decades, Sylvia filled it with troves of toys, books, fabrics, dishes, buttons, tools, clothing, and more. When she died, the building was sealed with its materials inside, reopened years later as a living museum. As a folklorist rooted in ethnographic fieldwork methodology, I have observed and participated in everyday and special events at Elsewhere over seven years, interviewed Sylvia’s daughter and grandson (Elsewhere’s founder), and have become a collaborator of Elsewhere in my teaching and research at UNC. Through this ongoing fieldwork, I have learned how the Gray family’s Jewish values informed Elsewhere’s creative, inclusive community space, particularly in its radical approaches to material preservation and presentation. Sites such as Elsewhere underscore the importance of material culture in Jewish experience, and materials not created specifically for Jewish religious use, but rather, everyday things found, salvaged, remade, and reinterpreted with new Jewish purpose.
This paper explores how unconventional approaches to the preservation of historic structures, spaces, and their material contents can help us reimagine singular pasts as a way forward into greater collective futures.
2.2 Housing: Typologies and New Evidence
Chair: Sarah Fayen Scarlett – Michigan Technological University
James Kelleher – Dovertail Cultural Resource Group – The Half House Made Whole: Evidence from Southeastern Massachusetts, 1650-1730
This paper examines the end-chimney house (often called a “half house”) in southeastern Massachusetts as a distinct architectural form, rather than as a “starter house,” or the genesis of a larger structure. Investigating patterns of use, construction techniques, and adaptations over time, and focusing roughly on the era between 1650 and 1730, I argue that these houses were remarkably flexible, accommodating several different types of household organization probably derived from English regional attitudes.
As early as the mid seventeenth century, end chimney houses reflected a specific preference in household organization, in which a private room (usually a parlor) was situated beyond a more public space (Fig. 1). This organization was linear, and was distinct from the oppositional plan of a center chimney hall-and-parlor house. It may have reflected the regional preferences of the English highlands, while the hall-and-parlor house was favored among East Anglian settlers.
The side chimney, double-pile house seems to have been especially popular in southeastern Massachusetts, and appears in the region at least as early as the 1661 Churchill house (Fig. 2). These houses, while visually distinct from “long and low” house plans like that of John Howland’s dwelling, could embody a similarly linear organization, in which private and formal space is situated inward, away from the principal entrance and through a multipurpose, semi-public antechamber.
However, these houses could also contain a rear kitchen, in which work functions were made private and the front public space was made comparatively more formal. In either case, the resulting plan is distinct from the center-chimney hall-and-parlor arrangement, and suggests the variety of attitudes towards housing that persisted among English settlers into the eighteenth century. Not necessarily smaller or cheaper than their center-chimney counterparts, these once- common houses were the result of preference rather than thrift.
Close analysis of historic buildings, including some of those on the VAF Plymouth tour (the Churchill house and the Harlow house), informed this investigation, which is bolstered by documentary evidence in Plymouth and surrounding regions. Much of this data is based on fieldwork carried out in 2019 and 2020 with Dr. Ritchie Garrison and the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design.
Thomas Hubka – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee – Numbers Count: Emphasizing Most Numerous House Types in Local and Regional History
In my recent book, How the Working Class Home Became Modern, I argue for the importance of interpreting often overlooked common-vernacular housing of a “middle majority”—the central 60% of the national population in terms of income and economic status. Here I focus on a related, but different, approach—I argue for emphasizing the importance of house types that have been produced in greatest number as a way of emphasizing a more egalitarian interpretation of local and regional housing histories.
In all periods across America, we can identify small groups of the most popularly constructed house types, like Capes and shotguns (and many lesser-known types), that when combined, typically constitute a major portion of a region’s total housing stock, including infrequently documented houses of the lower working class and minorities. My primary intent is to describe what local-regional housing histories would look like if their major historical narratives were generated by these most numerous houses built in successive periods-- instead of middle-to- upper class houses most often analyzed.
While it might be assumed that local and regional studies of America’s dwellings address the most popular house-types, it can be demonstrated that, except for the post-WWII housing era, where ranches, Capes, and public housing were widely analyzed, the range of common dwellings typically analyzed (even in vernacular studies) is quite small and highly selective. Of course, there are substantive regional studies, such as Heath’s three-deckers and Bigott’s bungalows, but their paucity makes my point.
I recommend that a simple, straight forward improvement to most local-regional histories is to emphasize the historic progression of an area’s most numerous house-types. In all regions, there are identifiable dominant housing types—we just haven’t recognized their interpretive potential and especially their vast numbers. And it is their vast numbers that allows these repetitive dwellings to be used as credible sources for interpreting difficult to evaluate local cultures and the conditions and standards of living of common domestic life. Such analysis stands in sharp contrast to traditional architectural narratives emphasizing architectural style, technological innovation, architect designers, and famous owners typically compiled from far fewer houses of the middle-to- Upper classes.
To focus analysis, I will concentrate on a fifty-year period, 1890 to 1940, and compare housing case-studies in urban, suburban, and rural areas of Portland, Oregon, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Portland, Maine; regions where I have conducted extensive fieldwork and research. (The houses of Portland, Oregon will be used for detailed empirical analysis.)
Jesse Kling – Higgens Quasebarth & Partners – Solid Brick Homes” The Continuing Row House Tradition of Postwar Brooklyn and Queens
As new neighborhoods developed in New York City’s outer boroughs after the Second World War, the row house endured as a major speculative housing typology. In the years just prior to the war, the architecture of the boroughs’ row houses evolved drastically in response to changing patterns of urban development and the needs for affordability and compatibility with the automobile. When the postwar housing boom supercharged the residential development of the remaining vacant land in outer Brooklyn and Queens in the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, it created new and expanded neighborhoods of modern brick row houses. A crop of obscure but prolific architects and builders working in Brooklyn and Queens forged an idiosyncratic, distinctive architectural language for the row houses, influenced simultaneously by the vernacular Tapestry Brick ornamentation of the 1910s and 1920s, the persistent Colonial Revival style, and the modern suburban Ranch houses of the period.
As products of the discriminatory Federal Housing Administration policies of the postwar era, the mid- century row houses of Brooklyn and Queens where marketed and sold to an overwhelmingly White clientele; in the last fifty years however, many of the neighborhoods with concentrations of postwar row houses have experienced significant demographic change. The case study neighborhoods investigated in this paper, Kew Gardens Hills, Queens and Canarsie and Flatlands, Brooklyn, which were overwhelmingly Jewish and Italian in the 1950s and 1960s, are today home to growing middle- and working-class communities of Asian, West Indian, and African Americans. Neighborhood change is reflected in the row houses themselves through the application of new architectural ornament by residents, rendering these houses as dynamic, living expressions of vernacular architecture. To evaluate the importance of these houses and their architecture to both longtime and more recent neighborhood residents, this project uses oral history interviews collected by the author. Using a perspective rooted in vernacular architectural history, supplemented by historical analysis, formal analysis, neighborhood case studies, and oral history, this project seeks to evaluate the significance of this not-yet-considered subject within the context of mid-twentieth-century New York City residential development.
2.3 Remembering Marginalized Community Spaces
Chair: Willa Granger – Florida Atlantic University
Margaretta Lovell – University of California, Berkeley – The Past, Present, and Future of a Formerly Redlined Neighborhood in Berkeley
This paper concerns the evolution of an historically non-white residential section of Berkeley, the result of generations of inventiveness inspired by a sense of community and consensus as well as by raw, sometimes hostile, economic and social forces. Looking at architecture, city planning, plantings and parks, immigration and jobs, banks and financing, the study investigates its character as a designed environment, and as a neighborhood that fostered the careers of such figures as politician William Byron Rumford who fought housing discrimination, Rhythm and Blues musician Johnny Otis, and WPA artist Sargent Johnson. It was also home to a large population of Japanese whose properties were forfeit with Internment in 1942. The project has involved undergraduates writing micro-histories of a hundred properties based on primary sources, and interviewing current and former residents. Its goal is to teach students to be literate in "reading" streetscapes and understanding--in human, material, social, and financial dimensions—what we see, recognize, and value today, as well as what we can know about the past. The study is based on census data, building permits, historical maps, legal documents, sidewalk surveys, and oral histories.
The San Pablo Park district was laid out in a grid on former grazing land by the Mason McDuffie Company in 1906 as a middle class neighborhood with a 13- acre park at its heart. No restrictive covenants or investment thresholds constrained the purchase of house lots or quality of buildings to be erected. Close to the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks (and the city’s industrial district) on the west, it was crossed by the Santa Fe Railroad right of way on the east, and was serviced by light rail commuter lines. Known as an historically-Black neighborhood, it has actually always been ethnically mixed. The 40 x 100-foot house lots were bought by white, Black, and Asian migrants to California from Iowa, South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, and to this country from Scandinavia, Ireland, Germany, and Japan. The many different contractors the first- generation owners hired to build their homes were local builders clearly partial to the modest 1-story, 1000-square-foot, 5-room bungalows that quickly became the predominant building type. Seventy percent of these families were able to own their houses although they were often crowded, and often they took in boarders to help make the payments.
The Homeowners Loan Corporation Risk Map of 1937 shows that then, when the neighborhood was about 50% African- merican and 8% Japanese, it was judged “Hazardous” for lenders. But residents did find financing. They used the equity in their homes to build churches and temples and to send their children to college, and established a firm neighborhood identity of stability and even prosperity.
In the 1940s, the Great Migration brought thousands of new Black families from the South to Berkeley for high-paying jobs in the defense industries, and they too settled near the park.
In the 1960s, when the city was stabilizing zoning, the San Pablo Park neighbors, predominantly Black, petitioned and won single-family R1 zoning for the district, on a par with the all-white hills districts. They also successfully petitioned to obstruct through traffic with bollards, mini-circles, and deliberately to dead-end through streets so that their residential area would feel more like the suburbs. By 1970 the area was 90% African- merican. Since that time, the percentage of Black families has decreased to, in 2020 30%, as Berkeley as a whole has lost Black families. Most properties now have ADUs, mostly with garage conversions, continuing the historical mix of owner, renter, boarder populations.
Currently this historically and significantly disadvantaged community is about to lose one of its most important engines of upward mobility and prosperity. The San Pablo Park neighborhood, in the current rebuild-with-rental-towers densification enthusiasm has flat land, deep lots, good freeway access, and cheaper cost than elsewhere in Berkeley. Discussing these issues and the potential for an Historic District involve undergraduates in socially-engaged architectural history and in important public policy decisions.
Gray Read - Florida International University & Students of Florida International University and Miami Dade College – Visualizing the Black Main Street of Coconut Grove in the 1960s
In the 1950s and 60s, segregated Black communities across the South centered around vibrant main streets lined with businesses. Vanishingly little trace remains of these main street buildings. We propose to present a digital 3D model of the Black main street of Coconut Grove in Miami Florida, based on photos and the stories of those who grew up there and remember the life of the Grove. The work will be done during the Spring semester by a group of Architecture students from Florida International University and Miami Dade College in collaboration with Coconut Grove residents and local historians. The model will be presented in a GIS Story Map format in which oral history narratives and photos are included in a virtual walk down this former main street.
Elderly residents of Coconut Grove's Black neighborhood, now renamed Little Bahamas, remember growing up in a tightly-knit community centered on Grand Avenue, lined with shops, offices, restaurants, and entertainment venues. They remember going to the Ace Theater to watch movies, hearing the music from juke joints such as the Tiki Club and Gil's Spot, and stopping by Art's Grocery Store for oatmeal cookies. They recall with great warmth the community that nurtured and sheltered them, where everyone knew each other and greeted one another on the street.
These memories offer a grounding for the future of the community, even as the area is under intense pressure for redevelopment and gentrification. Community leaders say that being able to tell the story of their past is just as important for those that move away as for those who stay. The street in general and the juke joints in particular served as a 'third place' for the community, neither home nor work, but a place to meet and socialize. Some of this quality remains in the churches and in the barber shops and beauty salons, which were among the few businesses to survive. The memory of Grand Avenue as a community core is increasingly significant as the neighborhood changes, even for those who experienced only its decline.
The students creating the model have funding from a Humanities Edge grant to come to the VAF conference. They will present their Story Map with embedded video and present a short paper about their experience, about Grand Avenue at its height, and the role of memory in community.
Carter Jackson – Boston University – Constructing a Solution for the Welfare Apparatus: The Ambitions, Contradictions, and Functionality of Boston’s Government Service Center
The Boston Government Service Center (BGSC) bears the distinction of being perhaps the most ambitious, divisive, and ill-fated, building complex within Boston’s Government Center. Built between 1962–1971 to help dispense expanding welfare benefits to the state’s mentally handicapped and unemployed, this Brutalist structure was initially lauded by critics as one of the most “progressive public [building] programs in the country.” However, after nearly a decade of planning and construction, political winds shifted, and enthusiasm for the Great Society vision underpinning the project waned significantly. Construction was halted in 1971, leaving the massive, thirty-story administrative tower intended for the center of the BGSC unbuilt. Since then, the complex has weathered ad hoc alterations and fallen victim to neglect. Most architectural historians have since viewed its architecture as a monument to Brutalism, focusing narrowly on the role of its supervising architect, Paul Rudolph, and his design vision.
This paper will push beyond these inquiries that prioritize a singular architect in order to explore the complex’s larger role as a calculated solution to the disorganization and discrimination embedded within the Massachusetts welfare apparatus in the mid-twentieth century. Using evidence I compiled for a HABS report on the complex during the summer of 2022, including field notes and an array of primary sources, such as institutional memos, correspondence, design drawings, and press clippings, this paper will consider how the design of the BGSC was intended to respond to the welfare system’s lack of administrative oversight, protests from groups who had been denied access to social services benefits, and a push to sensitively reintegrate those living in the state’s large and inhumane institutions back into their urban community. In this way, the complex will emerge as an embodiment of a turning point in American mental healthcare and institutional architecture. The remainder of the paper will consider how the BGSC has been adapted and utilized by the at-risk people it was designed to serve since construction concluded, exploring the extent to which its idiosyncratic architecture, and the persistent desire to preserve Rudolph’s design, have negatively impacted the wellbeing of disadvantaged Bostonians. It is this focus on the complex’s everyday use and, specifically, its indelible role in both promoting and obstructing equity for some of the city’s most consistently overlooked demographics, that makes VAF the ideal venue for this paper.
3:30-5:00 pm Paper Session Three
3.1 Ephemeral Spatial Practices
Chair: Alec Stewart – Mills College at Northeastern University
William D. Moore – Boston University – RLDS Reunion Grounds: Landscapes of Moderate Mormonism
The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called the RLDS, initiated multi- day outdoor reunions for its membership in the final decades of the nineteenth century. The RLDS, one of six historical branches of Mormonism, developed after a mob killed the prophet Joseph Smith in 1844. Congregations of Smith’s followers in the American Midwest subsequently formed what they claimed to be the true Mormon church, rejecting Brigham Young’s leadership and condemning polygamy. Religious scholars have suggested the RLDS, currently known as the Community of Christ, practiced a “Moderate Mormonism” and the theology and praxis of the denomination evolved separately from other LDS branches in relation to adjacent Protestant religious practices.
Largely held during the summer months, RLDS reunions became increasingly formalized over the course of the twentieth century. With encouragement from the denomination’s leadership, local and regional organizations acquired property throughout the United States they modified to house their annual gatherings. By 1981, the church maintained 132 developed grounds which were frequently wooded and almost universally provided access to water, both for recreation and for the group’s sacramental enactment of baptism. Like camp meeting groves of Methodists, Adventists, Spiritualists, and other Protestant denominations, RLDS reunion grounds evolved to contain tents and other sleeping accommodations, recreational facilities, dining structures, and spaces for worship and religious education. Over the course of the century, reunion grounds became essential sites for enacting and inculcating RLDS identity and ideology.
Although RLDS reunion grounds were located literally from the Atlantic to the Pacific and throughout the states and provinces in between, they have not been adequately documented and interpreted. By drawing upon written records, church publications, historical photographs, and the buildings and landscapes which comprise these institutions, this twenty-minute, illustrated, introductory overview seeks to rectify this gap in the literature while simultaneously contributing to a more nuanced history of the American Restorationist movement, thus tempering historiographic emphasis upon the Utah-based LDS Church. The design and use of these reunion grounds intersect with the broader history of American Protestant camp meetings while differentiating the RLDS from other Mormon churches.Tania Gutiérrez-Monroy – University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee – Landscapes of Indigenous Resistance: Protest Dynamics, Appropriation, and the Rewriting of Place in Contemporary Mexico
This paper focuses on the networks of Indigenous resistance built across urban and rural landscapes within Mexico. It proposes a spatial reading of the dual forms of organization through which these networks develop: through both anchoring and mobile forms, Indigenous protests create new folds and connections between landscape and social fabric. This means that protests bring new meanings to the landscapes where they take place, meanings cyclically informed by both dwellers and travelling demonstrators. Using place as a tissue to weave relations with the broader society, these protesting collectives expand the circles engaged with their cause (i.e., dwellers of one site learn about grievances similar to theirs elsewhere). This research project observes how the demonstrations use site as an artifact of shared awareness and connection, as well as how, from the site, such events draw attention to an urgent condition at the root of the protest.
Instances of the anchoring form of this resistance are the “Casa de los Pueblos y Comunidades Indígenas, Yä nghü yä jhöy, Samir Flores Soberanes” (Mexico City) and a former water extraction plant ephemerally taken by Cholulteca peoples and renamed “Casa de los Pueblos Altepelmelcalli” (Puebla). The takeover of these sites sheds light on particular issues affecting Indigenous peoples: the former was once the seat of an assimilating institution of the Mexican State and the latter was an extractivist infrastructure that had dispossessed a community of its water. Instances of the mobile form of this Indigenous resistance are the travelling protests led by members of the grassroots, nation-wide organization Congreso Nacional Indígena. As is the case with the anchoring forms, the mobile demonstrations shed light on site-specific colonial extractivist issues, with the added goal of creating a constellation of activism. This constellation is formed by the peoples impacted at different sites, whom the travelling protests inform of their shared struggles, and who are meant to unite as a political front.
This research follows the transformation of the wider social fabric (including non- Indigenous groups) as the demonstrations raise public awareness through new narratives of place. Events of protest transform spaces, both in their temporal appropriation and in the microhistories that keep resonating when they end. Both the anchoring and the travelling forms of demonstration reshape the sites where they take place and trace new connections between different affected landscapes. I contend that the network emerging from these processes translates spatially the resistances of Indigenous organizations across Mexico.
Stella Nair – University of California, Los Angeles – “Ephemeral Empire: Warfare, Women, and the Origins of Inca Architecture”
From the stunning buildings that spread across a steep mountainside at Machu Picchu, to the impressive and imposing Inca walls that line the streets of Cuzco, Inca architecture is experienced today as a series of lithic monuments. However, stone was only one of the many building materials in the Inca architectural cannon. A diversity of ephemeral structures —now overlooked— once housed the complexity of Inca life. In this paper, I will explore this other side of Inca architecture, exposing not only a variety of materials, but also shedding critical light on the multiple ways that gender informed the meaning, making and use of Inca vernacular architecture. In particular, I will examine the ephemeral architecture of Inca military encampments and the critical roles played by women in designing, constructing, using, and giving meaning to these places.
From the thatch and reeds that were woven into towering roofs, to the adobe, rammed earth, wattle and daub, and quincha walls that shaped Inca life across the western rim of South America, the Inca built environment was complex and varied. Different materials necessitated very different knowledge systems and ways of building as well as carried distinct meanings. Materials such as textiles and leather came to define the impressive tent cities that were assembled and disassembled quickly as Inca military units of 10,000 and more people marched rapidly across the Andes. Inca army encampments housed equal numbers of men and women, plus children. Hence, in this paper, I will focus on the women who made and maintained the tents. I also examine the tents’ materials, construction, transportation, and spatial mapping that came to serve as the model for how the Inca laid out all their settlements. I will demonstrate how ephemeral Inca architecture, constructed largely by women, materialized the Inca colonial project and came to define later permanent Inca settlements. Recognizing the critical role that women played in these ephemeral landscapes raises questions for how we have come to understand (and erase) the role of women and ephemeral architecture in the Inca (and other) architectural canon.
3.2 Challenges and Methods in Interpreting the Material Culture of Enslavement
Chair: Catherine W. Zipf – Bristol Historical & Preservation Society
Emily Varley – University of Southern California – Reconstruction Right Now: Conserving Vernacular Heritage in Beaufort, South Carolina as an act of Reconstructing Preservation Practice
On the edge of a large parcel sits a nondescript one-story cottage that appears to be aging in place, its windows and doors boarded up and porch slightly sagging. Paint is peeling off the wooden clapboard siding and a rusted tin roof covers the original side gabled wood shingled roof. Riding my bike past the house nearly every day of my NCPE internship as the Cultural Resource Management Intern at Reconstruction Era National Historical Park in the summer of 2022, I barely noticed it amongst the many other structures of like construction, materials, style, and age in the northwest quadrant of the city of Beaufort, South Carolina. Moreover, my eyes were often drawn to the extravagant plantation style mansions meticulously restored that I also passed on my way into work. Despite appearances, the house at 1313 Congress Street is a repository of incredible history as it is an extant example of a freedman’s cottage, virtually unchanged from its construction estimated to be in 1870. Freedman’s cottages are residences built during and immediately after the Civil War by formerly enslaved individuals seeking to integrate themselves and their families into full United States citizenry through the powerful act of exercising their newfound right to purchase land and build their home. That story was made visible to me as I had the honor of collaborating with the non-profit organization, Second Founding of America as well as with the homeowners/descendants as one of the National Park Service representatives conducting research on the house in 2022.
For my thesis requirement in the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California as part of the Heritage Conservation Master’s Program, I am writing about the house and its associated social and built history, however, the main purpose of my thesis is to challenge traditional conservation practices that have focused on the grand plantation homes of the area and instead draw attention to the importance of conserving the vernacular heritage of a freedman’s cottage. I aim to tell the brief version of the untold history of the house at 1313 Congress Street in Beaufort, South Carolina and argue that the illumination of such “vernacular heritage” is an active part of reconstructing preservation practice to create a more equitable, inclusive, and dynamic field of heritage conservation.
Daves Rossell – Savannah College of Art and Design – Servitude and Service in Savannah’s African American Place of Burial
Outlines of the development and changing meaning of the American cemetery are well established in scholarly literature. Understanding the range of African American expression in rural southern graveyards has strong beginnings. Savannah’s history of segregated burial and the development of Laurel Grove Cemetery South as the city’s municipal segregated cemetery is now well known. This paper seeks to add to this discussion by analyzing specific African American grave markers in Laurel Grove and interpreting them in light of recent historical scholarship seeking a fuller appreciation of what emancipation meant and did not meaning the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Faced with physical, economic, and political constraints after the Civil War, Savannah’s African American population expressed their challenges but also showed a remarkable and diverse determination through the materials, the form, and the inscription of their markers.
This appreciation of Savannah’s challenged African American community is demonstrated through interpretations of distinctive markers that ranged dramatically from frank expression of servitude to the needs of masters to others that present a resolute and proud sense of service to the community and larger public as a free people. The least known are a sizable number of grave markers given by prominent owners or employers of African Americans extoling their servants’ sterling sense of trustworthiness, spiritual devotion, or friendship. Following in the lineage of faithful slave narratives, some stones carry this theme to the 1940s. A second group included individual markers made by and for blacks that were often given by congregations and celebrated the power of various Savannah churches as centers of collective belonging and power. Savannah’s importance in the early independence of the black church in America but also its great struggle in achieving that goal makes these figures and their churches particularly significant. A final and more diverse collection made by and for blacks expresses a life of service to the family, to community or to larger causes. These are perhaps the most numerous of any in the cemetery as a whole. In all, Savannah’s Laurel Grove Cemetery South speaks strongly of a people seeking emancipation and the fruits of all that could mean.
Courtney Garrity, Eleanor Langham, and Lynn Smith – Researching the History of Enslavement in Bristol, RI
Bristol, RI, is well known as being the center of the DeWolf family’s illegal slave trading operations from about 1765 to about 1815. But in fact, enslaved people were present in Bristol from the town’s founding in 1680 and well into the 1820s. A recent effort to recover the names of the enslaved who lived in Bristol has generated a list of approximately 700 people who lived, labored, and died in service to the town’s thriving early businesses. This panel will explore the reconstruction of this history and present three in-progress research projects with an eye towards creating a better understanding of enslavement in the urban American north.
Courtney Garrity will present on the construction of the Timeline of Enslavement in Bristol, a 50-ft+ fabric piece documenting all known enslaved people as of March, 2022, and on a companion database that will allow the names of those enslaved to be searched by various attributes. She will also discuss the compilation of the data and the process through which the attributes were determined, as well as the pitfalls of presenting such research to the public.
Eleanor Langham will speak on her efforts to map the Timeline by locating Bristol’s enslaved people within the town’s plan and on the research that informs her choice of which properties to associate with which enslaved person. She will also explain the challenges of electronic mapping systems in relation to the need for an open and accessible public interface.
Lynn Smith will discuss her research on Bristol’s New Goree neighborhood, which was located outside Bristol’s original compact downtown and which housed formerly enslaved individuals. Established in about 1800 and lasting until about 1865, New Goree has achieved a mythic status in Bristol’s history and Smith’s work is one of the first to reconstruct the neighborhood’s residents and the location of its houses.
The panel will conclude with a conversation moderated by Dr. Zipf and with audience questions. A copy of the Timeline of Enslavement in Bristol will be on hand for participants to examine.
3.2 Imagining Place
Chair: Lydia Mattice Brandt – University of South Carolina
Stephen Yerly – University of Florida – Sconset: Authenticity, Form and Place
In his famous novel Moby Dick, Herman Melville provided the following description of the island of Nantucket: “that pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried about like bits of the true cross in Rome;” Writing during the peak of the Nantucket whaling industry, Melville’s depiction of Nantucket was an attempt to establish the singularity of both the island’s physical characteristics as well as its inhabitants. More importantly, though, his observations demonstrate the uniqueness of the now-famous cottage houses, potentially built from those collected wooden pieces, that dot Nantucket’s ostensible weedless dunes.
Notable among the wooden buildings on Nantucket are the cottage houses of Siasconset, a village located on the island’s southeasternmost edge. Sconset, as it is known colloquially, was established in the late seventeenth century as a fishing village and outpost for spotting whales. The earliest cottages in Sconset date to this period, while additional fishing structures and cottages were built throughout the eighteenth century. By the time Melville was writing Moby Dick, the Town of Nantucket was a bustling global center based around industrial whaling. In contrast to the busy, fetid, crowded wharves and factories of Nantucket Town, Sconset offered a quasi-rural retreat. Today, visitors to Nantucket Island can still observe the formal commercial center that is the Town of Nantucket and the informal, semi-rural setting that is the Village of Sconset. It is within the tensions of formal versus informal, urban versus rural, and the monumental versus the vernacular that the significance of Sconset both architecturally and culturally comes to the forefront.
In this paper, I explore Sconset as both a historical place and as a historical construct. The complex relationships between architecture, the historic communities of Sconset, and historic land uses are critical to understanding the contemporary architectural and physical environment of Sconset. I argue that ideas of authenticity as they relate to historic structures, their maintenance, and infill development as governed by the island’s Historic District Commission are problematic due to historic preservation efforts that have been at odds with historical narratives. This paper also proposes that the concept of authenticity as it relates to historical architecture in Sconset is an aesthetic construct that has been used during the late nineteenth century through the present to create—both physically and culturally—the landscape that is the modern Village of Siasconset.
Ryan K. Smith – Virginia Commonwealth University – Decommissioned Lighthouses: Renewed Beacons for a Troubled Age
Few classes of buildings hold such symbolic resonance as lighthouses. Yet only a few decades ago, historic lighthouses along the coasts of the United States were decommissioned and abandoned by the U.S. Coast Guard after new technologies rendered their primary functions obsolete. These nineteenth-century structures subsequently fell victim to vandalism and decay until grassroots organizations began agitating for their restoration. By the 1970s, coastal residents saw these lighthouses as potential sites for heritage education and tourism, so they raised huge sums to restore the structures with the goal of offering public access. Congress affirmed and formalized these efforts by passing the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act in 2000. Their successes point to the birth of a contemporary symbol charged by nostalgia, commerce, religious imagery, public/private partnerships, and now climate change, rooted in particular vernacular settings.
For the VAF conference in Plymouth, Massachusetts, amid a maritime landscape anchored by some of the nation’s most iconic lighthouses, I propose to chart this late-twentieth-century transformation in lighthouse meanings and uses. To do so, I will draw upon key examples along the East and Gulf coasts of the United States, including Cape St. George and St. Augustine in Florida, Cape Hatteras and Currituck in North Carolina, and Plymouth and Boston in Massachusetts. Each of those sites has undergone automation followed by preservation and renewed visitation in the modern era. My method will be grounded in cultural history, field research, and comparative examples.
My argument holds that in the movement for restoring and repurposing these aging, outdated structures for modern visitors, the historic lighthouses have taken on a meaning as significant as any they had during their original uses. As much as the reclamation efforts represent a success story for historic preservation, however, they also show the limits of such mobilization to address broader, pressing concerns. For just as the lighthouses have been lavished with new attention and resources, their place on the coasts is further imperiled by the sea level rise and climate-driven storms that now threaten the existence of their surrounding communities. Ironically, those existential challenges have not garnered a response comparable to the adoring new fixation on lighthouses.
Margaret Grubiak – Villanova – Kick Off Your Sunday Shoes: The Vernacular Architecture and Material Religion of Footloose
Now nearing its 40th anniversary, the 1984 movie Footloose has become embedded in American popular culture. The film features the struggle between the leaders of a rural American town, who believe dancing is a gateway to sin, and Chicago transplant Ren McCormack (actor Kevin Bacon), who is determined to revive the high school prom and redeem dancing as rejoicing. While the movie is well remembered for songs like Kenny Loggin’s “Footloose” with the famed lyric “kick off your Sunday shoes,” less well known is that the movie was based on real events in Elmore City, Oklahoma, where high schoolers successfully reinstated the prom in 1980 after an 80-year ban. The fictional movie and real account of Elmore City highlight a Protestant subculture whose restrictions on personal behaviors like dancing are both anathema and curiosity to mainstream American life.
This paper argues that the architectural and environmental settings of Footloose communicate specific and placed images of American religion. Filmed south of Salt Lake City, Utah due to the proximity of the Osmond Family production studios, the movie situates the fictional small town of Bomont (“Beautiful Mountain”) in a real agricultural landscape against the dramatic Wasatch Range. This physical setting elides the conservative religious cultures of the intermountain West (where Mormonism is prominent) and the American South (where conservative Protestant denominations, including Southern Baptists, dominate). In the film, Reverend Shaw Moore (actor John Lithgow) thunders from the pulpit of fictional Bomont First Christian Church, filmed in an 1879 Gothic Revival Presbyterian church in American Fork, Utah. The church’s severe white interior with little iconography conveys the Protestant identity at the center of the town’s ban of dancing, drinking, and rock music (figure 1). Bomont is continually juxtaposed against the “big city” of Chicago to contrast conservative and liberal beliefs, and the far reach of industrialization plays out in the film’s scenes in a railyard and flour mill. The ending dance scene was filmed at the Lehi Roller Mills building (1905) in Lehi, Utah ).
Although a popular culture icon, Footloose has received little critical examination in the fields of vernacular architecture, material religion, film studies, and religious studies. My recent interview with Footloose screenwriter Dean Pitchford reveals he intended the movie as a universal, placeless American fable. Yet the visual language of the movie actually reveals that American religion is always rootedness in place, architecture, and materiality.