Academic journal article Material Culture

Washington and Baltimore Art Deco: A Design History of Neighboring Cities

Academic journal article Material Culture

Washington and Baltimore Art Deco: A Design History of Neighboring Cities

Article excerpt

Washington and Baltimore Art Deco: A Design History of Neighboring Cities By Richard Striner and Melissa Blair Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. x + 243 pp. Coda, Principal Architects, notes, essay on sources, and index. $49.95, ISBN 9781421411620.

Art Deco is a term that summons the glamour and sophistication of the modern city. Sleek streamlined forms, towering ziggurats and rounded window walls, and exotic interior décors all invoke the drama and theatricality of this signature style of the 1930s . Most often associated with Miami or New York City, Art Deco was an international architectural movement in Europe and throughout the U S , including Washington, D . C . and Baltimore, Maryland, places not usually associated with this distinctive and highly recognizable modern style . However, as historian Richard Striner and art historian Melissa Blair's engrossing book demonstrates, Art Deco was comfortably adapted to the regional character of these two "neighboring cities," separated by barely 40 miles but occupying distinct social, economic, and cultural contexts

Washington and Baltimore Art Deco is an insightful comparative study that builds on the authors' research of the 1980s, drawing on an impressive variety of primary and secondary resources that shape their exhaustive survey of Art Deco buildings, both extant and demolished . The range of buildings is equally impressive from large-scale apartment houses, institutional and commercial buildings, residential architecture, and a bevy of luxurious movie theaters and swanky cafés, among other building types . They devote their first chapter to the "spirit of art deco," carefully charting the complex lineage of the style which debuted at the 1925 Paris Exposition of the Decorative and Industrial Arts and was formulated in the "architectural war" of the 1920s and 1930s as a kind of "mediation" or "middle range" between polarized factions of conservative traditionalists and passionate radicals, both theorists and practitioners Embracing an eclectic range of architectural themes and design motifs, from ancient Egyptian and Mayan cultures to Buck Rogers futuristic streamlined forms, Art Deco was vilified, championed, and damned with faint praise while it "sought to 'locate' the culture of the twentieth century in broader patterns of meaning" (p . 4) .

Chapter Two, "Washington and Baltimore in the Age of Art Deco," examines the different civic and cultural settings of these two cities that fostered regional development of the Art Deco style Newspaper articles and advertisements, architectural publications (including the formidable Federal Architect), government records, biographies, and the wealth of scholarship on the history and development of Washington and Baltimore all serve to highlight differences between the two cities: bureaucratic Washington invigorated by the influx of an energetic and ambitious generation of New Dealers who modernized the City with brash idealism; and the port city of Baltimore energized with industrial growth and booming blue collar and burgeoning middle class populations As Striner and Blair observe, these two mid-Atlantic cities, so different in cultural personalities, "grew closer during this generation ... [as the] Baltimore-Washington corridor was coming into being" (p . 24) .

Subsequent chapters are organized by building types in each city. Standouts include Washington's large hotels and apartment buildings, including an early entry of 1927, the Moorings on Q St . , the Shoreham Hotel (1930), and the sumptuous Kennedy-Warren apartment building (1931) on Connecticut Avenue . Well-crafted architectural descriptions are punctuated with frequent glimpses into the daily life of these buildings, with notations on famous guests at the Shoreham Hotel (Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich) and Texas Congressman Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird, who were tenants at Kennedy-Warren . More compelling is Striner and Blair's probing study of public housing in Baltimore and the planning of Greenbelt, both controversial housing projects and reminders of Maryland's once segregated past

Striner and Blair also feature Baltimore's imposing Art Deco office buildings, including the Baltimore Trust Company Building (1929) designed by two Baltimore firms (Taylor & Fisher and Smith and May) and decorated by a cadre of internationally known artists . …

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