Saturday, April 5th will bring what is now an annual rite of spring for local fans of residential architecture: the Street of Eames modern home tour.
Tickets went on sale several days ago and, although I haven't heard any sales figures yet, it's a safe bet that the tour is sold out. Each of the past previous years there has been more demand than can be accommodated. It's probably not easy to convince some of these homeowners to allow hundreds of people to tramp through their homes, even if they do have those little shoe-cover booties on. Regardless, even though people interested in contemporary and/or midcentury architecture probably still only occupy a fraction of the overall market, it has always been encouraging to see just how popular the Street of Eames tour has been from the beginning.
This year's six homes are equally divided between recent projects of the last two years and older homes built in the 1950s and '60s. The oldest (at left) is by Gerald Nusbaum, from 1956. In keeping with local traditions, the house is teeming with natural wood. I also like the sliding screen doors between kitchen and dining room. You know today there woulnd't be a wall there at all, so perhaps it's a little surprising this feature has survived renovations.
Another house on the tour is by Saul Zaik, who was responsible for more than one excellent home in Portland. As Bart King described in his historical timeline of local residential architecture for last month's debut issue of Portland Spaces, Zaik was, along with William Fletcher and others, part of a group of local second-generation modernists here known as the "14th street gang". After reading that, I like to think of these architects dressed up like The Fonz, or perhaps Lenny and Squiggie. I also got to know Saul Zaik a little bit several years ago when I worked at the AIA, and he was always very nice - at least to me.
Another older home of interest on the tour is one of the numerous designed and built by Robert Rummer, a local who was inspired by the thousands of Joseph Eichler-developed homes in California. Many of the Eichler homes used plans designed by Frank Lloyd Wright disciple Robert Anshen of Anshen & Allen and, later, A. Quincy Jones. Most were single-story, wood with pitched roofs and lots of floor to ceiling glass, embodying the postwar California residential vernacular. The Rummer homes here in Oregon have a similar feel, yet are also more tied to the Northwest traditions of people like Zaik, Pietro Belluschi, John Yeon and others.
The three contemporary houses on the tour all date very recently. Brian and Melody Emerick's house (at left) was completed in 2007, while Chris Ingalls' (at right) and Emily & Karl Refi's (below) are from 2006. Of these, I know the Refi house the best because I wrote about it for a recent issue of Portland Monthly.
The Refi house is an excellent example of modernity fitting well into a context of older traditional homes. It has a pitched roof in front, but is flat in back to allow a green roof. Karl and Emily also acted as their own contractors and did much of the construction work themselves, including pouring their own countertops. And on the dark, rainy day I visited their house, not a single electric lamp or fixture was on, but the house was teeming with light.
Street of Eames is also for a good cause: It benefits homeless students in Portland Public Schools. With that and the annual ticket shortage in mind, I wonder if there might be some opportunities in the future to come out with some sort of book, video, calendar or other means of raising more revenue for these kids while providing more of a non-intrusive peek into one of local architecture's greatest but largely hidden assets: its houses.