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La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
   Now in our eleventh calendar year
    PCR #550  (Vol. 11, No. 41)  This edition is for the week of October 4--10, 2010.

"Life As We Know It"  by Mike Smith
The Works of John Randal McDonald, Part Three -- Long Overdue Recognition  by William Moriaty
Friday the 13th: 30th Anniversary  by ED Tucker
Sisters of Gion (1936)  by Jason Fetters
Passing On .... Greg's Back .... .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith

The Fabulous Architecture of the Tampa Bay Region, Part 14:

The Works of John Randal McDonald, Part Three -- Long Overdue Recognition

The post World War Two economy of the United States brought about growth and prosperity that was unparalleled in its history. Most important, this prosperity gave rise to a burgeoning middle class that was able to live at a standard of living rarely witnessed in world history for those who were not born into wealth or royalty. This prosperity also gave rise to growth in science, technology, culture, arts and architecture also rarely witnessed in world history in such a relatively short span.

As the emerging middle class had this new buying power, the G.I. Bill was made for veterans, and a Post World War "Baby Boom" was in the works, providing affordable housing was tantamount for the continued growth of the country. Much of this housing from the late 1940's to the early 1970's was made possible through bold and innovate architectural concepts that had their beginnings years earlier thanks to the efforts of Walter Gropius and his German Bauhaus school of architecture, which was credited with starting a "Modernist" style of architecture.

A house designed by John Randal McDonald (location unknown to author) demonstrating his extensive use of indigenous materials giving his creations an organic and natural look. Copyright 2003 John Randal McDonald AIA. All Rights Reserved
In addition to the Bauhaus, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright influenced many Post World War Two architects with his "organic" style of architecture, a style denoting that the work itself appeared to have naturally evolved from the site on which it was placed. In addition he coined the term "Usonian House", a type of house made of native materials that is typically single story with a flat roof with clerestory windows to provide natural lighting, along with radiant floor heating and a strong visual connection between exterior and interior spaces. Wright also coined the term "carport" to describe an overhang attached to the house that is used for a car to park beneath.

Many of America's premiere architects borrowed elements from both the Bauhaus and Frank Lloyd Wright and created what would become now known as a "Mid-Century Modern" style of architecture.

The epicenter of this movement was undoubtedly California in the late 1940's and 1950's through the works of architects such as Joseph Eichler who created close to 40,000 affordable "Atomic Ranch" style homes in the San Francisco Bay area, Greater Los Angeles, Palo Alto, San Mateo, Thousand Oaks, Sacramento, Grenada Hills and other California locations.

Architect John Lautner, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright's brought a space age "populuxe" and "Googie" look to the Los Angeles area that was mimicked throughout the country's restaurants, churches, bowling alleys and other structures. His most famous work is probably the flying saucer shaped house in West Hollywood called "The Chemosphere". Other notable Mid-Century Modern works in L.A. were made by architects R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra.

McDonald's Carlisle Linclon-Mercury dealership design located at Gulf to Bay Boulevard in Clearwater, Florida, Copyright 2003 John Randal McDonald AIA. All Rights Reserved
The desert sands of Palm Springs provided yet another Mid-Century Modern epicenter with "Atomic Ranch" style houses by architects Cliff May, William Cody, William Krisel, Richard Neutra and many others.

Moving further up the West Coast, Portland and Seattle have many extent examples of Mid-Century Modern houses and designs, most notably "The Space Needle" which was designed by John Graham and Company for the 1962 World's Fair, and overseen by architect Victor Steinbreuck.

Further east, Denver, Colorado had a plethora of "Atomic Ranch" style houses and other Mid-Century Modern structures designed or built or both by the likes of Victor Hornbein, Joseph and Louise Marlowe, Eugene Steinborg and Gerry Dion.

Not that the Midwestern and Northeast U.S. did not have its fair share of Mid-Century Modern architecture, but moving ever closer to Florida, both Dallas and Houston, Texas had a good number of "Atomic Ranch" style houses and other Mid-Century Modern structures.

Lastly, some of America's most space age, "Jetsonian" and "populuxe" architecture was designed by Eero Saarinen who created such Modernist structures as the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois, the Trans World Airlines Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, the main terminal of Dulles International Airport near Washington D.C. and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.

Mid-Century Modern Architecture In Florida

Not surprisingly, the epicenter of Mid-Century Architecture in Florida was the Miami area, particularly Miami Beach. Most notable of these Miami Modern or "MiMo" structures were the Fontainebleau, Seacoast Towers and Eden Roc by architect Morris Lapidus. Other notable MiMo architects included Albert Law Weed, Leonard Glasser, Norman Giller, Stewart-Skinner Associates (Pan American Airlines "Taj Mahal" Latin American Headquarters), Melvin Grossman, Charles Johnson, Alfred Browning Parker and Pancoast, Ferendino, Spillas and Candela.

Another view of the Carlisle Lincoln-Mercury dealership. Copyright 2003 John Randal McDonald AIA. All Rights Reserved
Next in line would be the Sarasota area with the Mid-Century Modern works of the Sarasota School of Architecture which is generally believed to have been composed of architects Victor Lundy, Paul Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell, Gene Leedy, Jack West, Phillip Hiss, Bert Brosmith and Mark Hampton. Leedy went on to do many works in the Winter Haven area, while Lundy designed several churches in the Tampa Bay area and Hampton designed a unique house along the Hillsborough River in Temple Terrace.

Orlando's most notable Mid-Century Modern architect was yet another Wright Taliesin disciple, Nils M. Schweizer FAIA. Schweizer did a large body of residential and commercial work throughout the Orlando area.

In the Tampa Bay area, enclaves of Mid-Century Modern architecture are most commonly found in the Eagle Crest and Pinellas Point neighborhoods of St. Petersburg. Architect Glenn Q. Johnson's most notable work included the "Bird Cage" style of "Atomic Ranch" house found along Pinellas Point Drive South and 69th Avenue South in south St. Petersburg.

Other Mid-Century Modern works in the Bay area can be found in St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach and Belleair Beach.

The Bay area's Mid-Century Modern epicenter, however, appears to be Temple Terrace with its numerous "Atomic Ranch" style houses, particularly south of the Bullard Parkway. Of this large collection, one residential home is known to have been designed by Sarasota School of Architecture practitioner Mark Hampton, while two houses are believed to be the work of the actual subject of our series, architect John Randal McDonald, although these works cannot be verified at this time.

John Randal McDonald, Mid-Century Modern Architect of the Tampa Bay Region

One of McDonald's house emphasizing curvilinear and circular shapes (location unknown to author). Copyright 2003 John Randal McDonald AIA. All Rights Reserved
One fact is undeniable. Racine, Wisconsin architect John Randal McDonald AIA was one of the Tampa Bay region's premier Mid-Century Modern architects, if not the premier MCM architect. Regrettably, he is virtually unknown in the Bay area for the works he completed 40 to 50 years ago which is a shame due to the great design, vision and quality that was left behind in his works. I am committed to see that his legacy becomes re-established in Tampa Bay area history in the same manner that I have been committed to re-establishing the Bay area's disturbed and destroyed natural communities through the planting of indigenous trees.

The most comprehensive listings of John Randal McDonald's works can be found in Brian Beno's book on the architect. More information on the book is available here.

Those structures in the Tampa Bay area that this author is aware were designed by McDonald include:

1. Seaside Artisan Motel, Dunedin (extant)
2. Carlisle Lincoln-Mercury showroom, Clearwater (may have been demolished).
3. Clearwater Church of Christ on Hercules Avenue (extant)
4. Grace Lutheran Church, St. Petersburg (extant)
5. St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Largo (extant)
6. Christ Presbyterian Church, Largo (extant)
7. Christ the King Lutheran Church, Largo (extant--upgraded last year)
8. Scarritt Lincoln-Mercury, Clearwater (status unknown to author)
9. Modern Marine, Island Estates, Clearwater (may have been demolished).
10. Suncoast Osteopathic Hospital, Largo (status unknown to author)
11. Belleair Beach Town Hall (status unknown to author)

In addition, two houses in Temple Terrace are thought to be his but no empirical evidence has been presented thus far to validate such claims. Hopefully with more in-depth investigation this can be clarified. Personally, I believe that one of them is his as what appears to be the Travertene limestone used in so many of his works in the Bay area is used extensively for this structure and the design is very similar to some of the houses shown in this edition. I have not seen any other house like it in the Bay area and its composition bears a striking resemblance to that of the Clearwater Church of Christ and Christ Presbyterian Church buildings. Regrettably, however, without the smoking-gun proof, conjecture, and not validation, becomes the order of the day.

McDonald on Architects

The Wallace Home. Another one of McDonald's may home designs (location unknown to author). Copyright 2003 John Randal McDonald AIA. All Rights Reserved
Based on 1958 and 1959 Clearwater Sun newspaper articles. John Randal McDonald sounded like an architect possessing good common sense, strong opinions and critical thinking. He was quoted as classifying ..."most architects in two groups - - the ones who are making a business of architecture and those who are so purely artistic they're almost Bohemian." He went on to state that "...Somewhere in between the two should meet (as)..."Architecture is a fine art, but with limitations which shouldn't be allowed to oppress the architect."

McDonald hated the word "conformity" as to him it ..."means mediocrity - - therefore to conform means to be mediocre." He used the word in a different context, however, to point out that the "...architect should conform to the limit of the elements of reality." In other words, the architect at a minimum needs to conform to the limitations of available materials, building codes, climate and environmental factors.

"...An architect is creating shelter, but with a difference. The individual requires so much more than just a roof over his head. He requires a sense of beauty, charm, dignity and scale, so just drawing in a building is not enough. The basic esthetics (sic) have been performed, but it is still not enough."

Somewhat prophetically, McDonald mused that the Tampa Bay area of Florida was virginal in the architectural sense.

"...that it wants a sense of pure architecture."

Thanks to the efforts of local historians and architects such as Grant Rimbey of Temple Terrace, architects who left their legacies in the Bay area are more and more finally getting recognition that is long overdue. The majority of these architects are those who designed the 1920's Mediterranean Revival style structures that came to prominence during Florida's first land boom. These were generally structures limited only to the very wealthy. But the Bay area has a plethora of Mid-Century Modern structures that were very futuristic in design yet affordable to a rising middle class. These structures and their architects are also deserving of recognition that is long overdue.

Foremost amongst these architects should be John Randal McDonald, a visionary who left behind works that have come to define a place in time and a sense of place in the Tampa Bay area that should not be forgotten or overlooked

For more photographs and drawings of McDonald's work, link to http://www.pwp2.com/jrm/.

Again, my many thanks to Tom Bloczynski, the last assistant that McDonald had before his passing in 2003. Tom was even kind enough to invite me along with Grant Rimbey to the annual John Randal McDonald home owners meeting held in Mequon, Wisconsin on Sunday October 17, 2010!

Related McDonald links:


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