Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Portland Modern: The Northwest Architecture of Van Evera Bailey

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Portland Modern: The Northwest Architecture of Van Evera Bailey

Article excerpt

THE COVER OF THE JULY 1954 ISSUE of Better Homes and Gardens depicts the idealized postwar American family under the sheltering frame of their modern house, designed by Portland architect Van Evera Bailey (1903-1980). The woman of the house, centered under the roof peak, turns her gaze beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows to observe her two children at play on the lawn outside, with a prospect of a valley and mountains beyond. Absent is the man of the house, who is presumably at work, earning the money necessary to finance this idyllic domestic scene. Bailey, the architect, reached a nationwide audience of millions when the house he had designed for David and Cynthia Eyre was featured on the magazine cover. He was approaching the peak of his professional career. Lifestyle magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens and Sunset as well as professional periodicals such as Architectural Forum, Architectural Record, and Progressive Architecture published Bailey's residential designs and featured him alongside such renowned architects as Louis Kahn and Eero Saarinen. By 1960, Bailey was one of Oregon's best-known architects. By the time of his death in 1980, however, he had fallen into obscurity and was all but forgotten in the annals of architectural culture. He is occasionally mentioned among the architects who developed the Northwest Regional style (also known as Northwest style or Northwest Regionalism), but there exists little critical scholarship on Bailey's architecture. His legacy is largely oversimplified as that of an ancillary figure to canonical Northwest Regionalism. Nevertheless, he made a significant contribution to Portland's built environment, and his place in the development of the region's architectural history deserves identification.

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Throughout his forty-year career, Bailey designed several industrial and commercial buildings as well as banks and wartime defense housing, but he is best known for his private residences. The scores of houses he designed, most in western Oregon, embody modernity in their open plans, inclusion of modern conveniences such as dishwashers and attached garages, and location in the suburbs. They reflect the postwar demographic trend of movement away from the city center toward suburban development that contributed to what we label today as sprawl.1 His clients were usually middle- and upperclass whites whose aim was to live outside the city while being able to access it for their professional needs and cultural enrichment. All his houses are on suburban lots, accessible only by car, which even got its own room; a garage is designed into every one of Bailey's houses. Reliance on technology was also apparent in the way Bailey packed his houses with every modern convenience: automatic dishwashers, electric can openers, washing machines and dryers--things that now are standard in many houses but during the 1940s and 1950s signified the height of affluence and technological optimism.

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Bailey commanded the respect of his professional peers while building structures to suit the needs and lifestyles of everyday people. He began working in 1927, and by the early 1940s, his work was regularly featured in top-tier professional magazines. In the May 1945 issue of Architectural Record, Bailey's E.W. Sinclair house in Portland's southwest hills was used to illustrate an article titled "The Post-Modern House" and written by preeminent architecture critic Joseph Hudnut, then dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. (2) The cover of the January 1946 issue of Progressive Architecture (formerly Pencil Points) showed a lineup of recent modern buildings--in which Bailey's de Graaff house features prominently--before a group of American GIs. The headline ran, "Since you went away there has been Progress." (3) Soon the general public caught on, and by the 1950s, his designs were regularly published in the popular press of the burgeoning lifestyle industry. …

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