Sunday, May 13, 2018

Exhibition as Cultural Struggle: Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region (1949): Between the Question of Regionalism and the International Style

José Parra. PhD Architect, Assistant Professor, University of Alicante
John Crosse, Architectural Historian, Independent Scholar, Los Angeles

Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region exhibition. Ernest Born’s 1949 original installation at the San Francisco Museum of Art. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art archives, SFMOMA

In the fall of 1949, while most cultural institutions and architectural periodicals in the United States were engaged in the battle of styles and “isms”, the San Francisco Museum of Art took full advantage of the stir caused by the strident discussions on regionalism and architectural identity and put on a traveling exhibition that became a central event in the history of American architectural theory. Outspokenly entitled Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region the show, which was on display at the Civic Center, from mid-September to November, 1949, and was extensively circulated across the nation for two more years, would epitomize the conflict of perceptions and interests defining the complex relationship between the country’s East and West Coasts. Its resulting catalogue, which provided an illustrated manifesto of Lewis Mumford’s regional stance, would also represent one of the major turning points in the US postwar debate surrounding the question of the autonomy of a truly American modern tradition.

Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region, San Franciso Museum of Art catalogue cover, 1949. From author's collection.

Although many studies have acknowledged the historical importance of this show entirely devoted to the architectural work of the Bay Area School as a “free yet unobtrusive expression of the terrain, the climate and the life on the Coast” (Mumford 1947, 109), a comprehensive analysis of the exhibition itself is long overdue. In fact, a further research of its content, the circumstances and decisions behind the organization of the show as well as of its strategically planned national and international venues reveal that the 1949 exhibition was part of a series or orchestrated campaigns that had begun approximately ten years before Lewis Mumford wrote his renowned October 11, 1947 New Yorker column  triggering the widespread controversy on the existence of a “Bay Region Style” owing no debts to European modernism.

By then, the San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMA) had a credited reputation in organizing architecture exhibitions, mostly focused on domestic architecture, housing programs, war and postwar modern living as well as urban and regional planning. The institution had also a prolific history of curatorial exchanges with other major museums in the United States, mainly with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York which had provided many shows to be held in San Francisco but also received the influence of California exhibitors and even their exhibitions. Thus, the 1949 Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region (DASFBR) exhibition coincided with the culmination of a decade of cooperation between the two museums being primarily the result of a crescendo of interlocked advertising and publicity of Northern California modernism which had the effect of establishing for the Bay Region domestic tradition a room in the pantheon of architectural history.

1. Exhibiting Domestic Architecture at the San Francisco Museum of Art:
A Brief Introduction to Grace Morley’s Early Years

The San Francisco Museum of Art opened on January 18, 1935, on the fourth floor of the War Memorial Building in San Francisco’s Civic Center. Moving away from the purposes of the two existing art institutions in San Francisco –the M. H. de Young Museum and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor– SFMA focused on contemporary culture, becoming the only museum on the West Coast devoted solely to modern[2] art.

Arthur Brown’s 1932 War Memorial Building, Civic Center, San Francisco. Moulin Studios.

 Grace Morley, Portrait by Brett Weston, 1940. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art archives, SFMOMA.    

By the mid-1940s, SFMA had already secured its position as the country’s second museum of its kind due, in large part, to its founding Director, Dr. Grace McCann Morley’s extraordinary talent and political savvy. Morley[3], who ran the Museum until her resignation in 1958, was a determined supporter of modern art and artists. As her biographer, scholar Kara Kirk has emphasized, she “believed passionately in cultural democracy –that art should be available to everyone– and held firm convictions about the crucial role that museums could play in this endeavor” (Kirk 2009, 71).  Morley’s vision was to make SFMA a site for experimentation and interactive learning. In her struggle to address the many fields of modern art and their intersections, she understood that a modern museum had to present and discuss the latest developments in contemporary creation through in a wide variety of media, which included photography, experimental film, architecture and landscape design (Kirk 2009, 71,73).

"The Intellectual Climate of San Francisco", (Architects Gardner Dailey, John Funk, William Wurster and his houser wife Catherine Bauer (top); photographers Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange (center); and museum directors Grace McCann Morley, Douglas MacAgy and his wife  and Jermayne MacAgy and Thomas Carr Howe (bottom)) by Lisette Modelle, Harper's Bazaar, February 1947, pp. 222-223.

Grace Morley was a habitué in San Francisco’s avant-garde groups, as well as in its cultural and educational institutions, most of which promoted a wide-ranging collaboration between the international art scene and regional art movements. She, for instance, lectured[i] at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) and was very much interested in the School and its faculty. In conjunction with her former assistant director Douglas MacAgy[ii] and CSFA’s Department of Photography members Ansel Adams and Minor White, SFMA exhibited the work of photography students who, in exchange, produced didactic displays for shows like DASFBR (Gunderson 2009, 73).

During her directorship Morley maintained an active involvement in several art associations and public organizations. She worked extensively for the American Association of Museums, the American Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Federation of Arts (AFA), where she acted as Vice President. After the war, as her Museum gained prominence and she became an expert of global influence, Morley dedicated herself to high-profile international programs such as the United Nations’ –to which she served as the first Head of the Museum Division of UNESCO. As a leading cultural manager, Morley worked closely with art and architectural press. From the beginning of her tenure, SFMA’s activities captured the attention of the two most significant California architectural magazines, Los Angeles’s California Arts & Architecture and San Francisco’s Architect and Engineer, becoming a member of the editorial board of the former and contributing a monthly column to the latter. Likewise, her national connections secured the coverage of her Museum’s exhibitions through a variety media, among which, in the field of architecture, Architectural Forum and AFA’s Magazine of Art would be instrumental in the promotion of Bay Region architects.

Notwithstanding her worldwide reputation and professional network, Morley had to overcome a number of significant financial[iii], geographic, and philosophical challenges, “especially as a woman working outside the East Coast art establishment” (Kirk 2009, 71). Evidence of her promethean efforts to champion avant-garde culture is that, during her first years as Director, she managed to annually mount dozens of exhibitions and to host a wide range of talks, gallery tours and educational events. Such a vigorous schedule responded to Morley’s anti-elitist purpose “to get the public into the habit of visiting frequently by making sure there was always something new on display[iv](Kirk 2009, 72).

Yet, Morley’s contributions, particularly in the case of architectural history, still deserve proper recognition. Most references to the crucial 1949 exhibition omit the importance of earlier shows at SFMA, which by then had a well-established tradition of exhibiting the achievements of Bay Area domestic architecture and landscape design. For example, Pierluigi Serraino’s comprehensive survey of modern architecture in Northern California barely addresses the importance of SFMA’s role during the prewar context, despite the Museum being one of the cultural institutions which contributed the most to the process of codification of Bay Area modernism. More recently, Raúl Rodriguez, in an article devoted to midcentury debates on regionalism, in the Madrid-based research magazine Cuaderno de notas has inaccurately stated that in 1949 “for the first time, the San Francisco Museum of Art organized an exhibition entirely devoted to the vernacular architecture of this city, entitled Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region” (Rodríguez García 2015: 61). This widespread misconception thus underestimates a long list of crucial architectural shows and installations at SFMA without which it is hard to understand the whys-and-wherefores of the 1949 exhibition. Among the San Francisco Museum of Art’s shows and exhibition policies prior to DASFBR, at least, it is necessary to mention the following events organized under Morley:

[i] Information provided by Jeff Gunderson whose insightful comments on the history of the San Francisco Art Institute –named California School of Fine Arts in the 1940s–, particularly in the field of photography, have benefited this research.

[ii] Upon the end of World War II, CSFA Director Douglas MacAgy, who formerly assisted and was very close to Morley and also a special consultant to the Director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, made the School a hub for Abstract Expressionism. Its faculty included Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhard and Clyfford Still, among others. Morely and MacAgy collaborated in mounting pioneering solo shows for some of the most important emerging artists of the day (Gunderson 2009, 139).

[iii] Due to its shortage of funds, SFMA operated with a very small staff counting on the support of a dedicated pool of volunteers, largely provided by the Women’s Board, an educational and fundraising auxiliary to the Board of Trustees (Holz and Lemieux 2007, 5-6).

[iv] Morley was also ahead of her time when she made the decision of keeping the museum open until very late in the evening, six days a week (Kirk 2009, 72).

Grace Morley was a habitué in San Francisco’s avant-garde groups, as well as in its cultural and educational institutions, most of which promoted a wide-ranging collaboration between the international art scene and regional art movements. She, for instance, lectured[4] at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) and was very much interested in the School and its faculty. In conjunction with her former assistant director Douglas MacAgy[5] and CSFA’s Department of Photography members Ansel Adams and Minor White, SFMA exhibited the work of photography students who, in exchange, produced didactic displays for shows like DASFBR (Gunderson 2009, 73).

During her directorship Morley maintained an active involvement in several art associations and public organizations. She worked extensively for the American Association of Museums, the American Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Federation of Arts (AFA), where she acted as Vice President. After the war, as her Museum gained prominence and she became an expert of global influence, Morley dedicated herself to high-profile international programs such as the United Nations’ –to which she served as the first Head of the Museum Division of UNESCO. As a leading cultural manager, Morley worked closely with art and architectural press. From the beginning of her tenure, SFMA’s activities captured the attention of the two most significant California architectural magazines, Los Angeles’s California Arts & Architecture and San Francisco’s Architect and Engineer, becoming a member of the editorial board of the former and contributing a monthly column to the latter. Likewise, her national connections secured the coverage of her Museum’s exhibitions through a variety media, among which, in the field of architecture, Architectural Forum and AFA’s Magazine of Art would be instrumental in the promotion of Bay Region architects.

Notwithstanding her worldwide reputation and professional network, Morley had to overcome a number of significant financial[6], geographic, and philosophical challenges, “especially as a woman working outside the East Coast art establishment” (Kirk 2009, 71). Evidence of her promethean efforts to champion avant-garde culture is that, during her first years as Director, she managed to annually mount dozens of exhibitions and to host a wide range of talks, gallery tours and educational events. Such a vigorous schedule responded to Morley’s anti-elitist purpose “to get the public into the habit of visiting frequently by making sure there was always something new on display[7]” (Kirk 2009, 72).

Yet, Morley’s contributions, particularly in the case of architectural history, still deserve proper recognition. Most references to the crucial 1949 exhibition omit the importance of earlier shows at SFMA, which by then had a well-established tradition of exhibiting the achievements of Bay Area domestic architecture and landscape design. For example, Pierluigi Serraino’s comprehensive survey of modern architecture in Northern California barely addresses the importance of SFMA’s role during the prewar context, despite the Museum being one of the cultural institutions which contributed the most to the process of codification of Bay Area modernism. More recently, Raúl Rodriguez, in an article devoted to midcentury debates on regionalism, in the Madrid-based research magazine Cuaderno de notas has inaccurately stated that in 1949 “for the first time, the San Francisco Museum of Art organized an exhibition entirely devoted to the vernacular architecture of this city, entitled Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region” (Rodríguez García 2015: 61). This widespread misconception thus underestimates a long list of crucial architectural shows and installations at SFMA without which it is hard to understand the whys-and-wherefores of the 1949 exhibition. Among the San Francisco Museum of Art’s shows and exhibition policies prior to DASFBR, at least, it is necessary to mention the following events organized under Morley:

Contemporary Landscape Architecture (1937) 

In February 1937, SFMA’s produced Contemporary Landscape Architecture. It was the Museum’s first major show devoted to architecture and, as an exhibition on contemporary landscape design, the first of its kind ever mounted internationally. The show was assembled and curated by Morley herself, counting on the assistance of her closest architectural circles. Among them, landscape architect Thomas Church and architects Ernest Born, Gardner Dailey and William Wurster held central positions in the show through which their work was introduced to SFMA’s audience for the first time.
The show was the expected response to SFMA’s attendee’s appreciation[8] of the surrounding landscape, as well as Bay Region architects’ concerns about the relation between the modern house and the garden as an integral part of itself. Consequently, as Morley recalled in her foreword to the catalogue, “the presentation of such an exhibition [was] logical in California”, a place where its earliest architecture had pioneered a consistent experimentation in gardening which had contributed to harmonizing function and adaptation to the site. Morley’s pedagogical effort to explain the many implications of the exhibition topic is evident in the structure of the catalogue including historical sections devoted to the background, philosophy and sources of contemporary landscape design to which Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Richard Neutra, among others, contributed an introduction and essays.             

Architect & Engineer, March 1937 issue featuring SFMA’s exhibition of Contemporary Landscape Architecture.

Acclaimed by both the critics and the public, the professional press and lifestyle magazines such as Sunset, the show was extensively covered by San Francisco-based Architect and Engineer journal which, as Morley rapidly grew in stature throughout the 1940s, began prominently featuring the Museum’s activities on a monthly basis. Being the first of a series of exhibitions[9] devoted to environmental design, this show succeeded in its many goals. It emphasized the importance of context, attracted attention to the field of landscape architecture, inspired a younger generation of practitioners and increased the national prestige of Bay Area garden designers and architects.
Contemporary Landscape Architecture exhibition catalogue cover (left). Gallery talk during the display of Contemporary Landscape Architecture at SFMA. SFMOMA archives (right)

American Institute of Architect’s Northern California Chapter Exhibition (1938)

In the fall of 1938, SFMA held the first great exhibition of juried works entirely devoted to contemporary architecture of the Bay Area. The show, which was entitled AIA Exhibition of Northern California Licensed Architects focused primarily on houses and apartment buildings. Entitled AIA Exhibition of Northern California Licensed Architects, it was organized under the stewardship of this chapter of the American Institute of Architects and was timed to coincide with its local convention in October[10]. As chairman of the exhibition committee, William W. Wurster proposed San Francisco architect Ernest Born, who in addition to being a fine architect was also an accomplished designer and illustrator, to curating and designing the show. This exhibition was formative in its intention to promote a clear image of the Bay Area as a coherent architectural region notwithstanding the variety of proposals, scales and sensitiveness[11]. Although private residences were an important part of the show, social housing was also present with United States Housing Authority contributions via Catherine Bauer[12].

Ernest Born’s 1938 Exhibition of Northern California Architects at SFMA’s North Gallery. SFMOMA archive.

From the beginning of its preparation, Morley had insisted on the importance of thinking every architectural event at the Museum also from the layperson’s point of view. Her correspondence with Wurster is revealing of her profoundly pedagogical struggle to get the message out to the public. In a 1938 letter[13] to Wurster, Morley wondered about how to make an architectural exhibition more attractive and interesting to the non-expert “than such shows usually are”. After all, she wrote, “it is the general public you most want to reach”.  Morley elucidated that her main goal was to get the message out to the public and that to achieve a convincing outcome the selection of participants had to be more restrictive and consistent with the topic. “I believe that”, Morley wrote, “by special planning such an exhibition could be exceedingly interesting […] It should be considerably smaller. Each architect should choose a problem which he feels he has solved well and which he would illustrate with photographs and plans of a single or several structures. The whos would have to be both dramatically and educationally presented”. 

Ernest Born’s 1938 AIA exhibition at SFMA. Installation plan published in Architectural Forum, December 1938. 

Being in full charge of choosing and organizing the exhibition material, Ernest Born was responsible for bringing to life Morley’s vision. Yet, as Born’s biographer Nicholas Olsberg has expounded, it was not an easy task. Born had to grapple with strenuous resistance from the AIA and many of the included architects, as he refused to privilege any individual. Instead, he decided to present the ensemble of the forty selected works in an unprecedented systematic and uniform manner. Its different sections were arranged as an itinerary along the walls of the North and West galleries of the Museum which were covered by a series of boards laid out on saw-tooth plan. Explaining each project in two pieces, the first devoted to full size drawings, the second to pictures, “Born set up a stunningly simple system of large-scale photographs and blueprints, unfolding on their concertina of plywood panels like the pages of a gigantic book” (Olsberg 2015, 173).
Local and national press immediately remarked upon Born’s highly imaginative and appealing installation. In its October issue, Architect and Engineer appreciated that the design of the exhibition itself had been “a matter of utmost concern” allowing the visitor to read the show as a “coherent body of architectural works” very expressive of the “fine reputation” that California had “so justly acquired” (A&E October 1938, 17). Two months later, Architectural Forum gave emphasis to the simplicity and visual order accomplished by Born’s show which was far more than a properly designed exhibition, rather, it was “a complete reversal of the usual practice of fitting together whatever material available might be” (Architectural Forum, December 1938, 468)

Also noticed by Architectural Forum was the popular success of the exhibition. San Franciscans flocked to the Museum so enthusiastically that the closing date had to be extended[14] for two more weeks to accommodate the unexpected number of visitors. It was one of the most important outcomes of the event since the pre-supposedly disinterested public completely proved the opposite, encouraging Morley to keep and to enhance her programs on modern architecture.

The 1938 exhibition set an exceedingly high standard for futures shows at SFMA. It “inaugurated a decade of pathfinding contemporary architecture exhibitions” (Olsberg 2015, 173) and provided design cues for future experiments with presentations, such as Dinwiddie’s 1940 Space for Living show (Olsberg 2015, 173). Born’s highly innovative undertaking of an architectural showing was without parallel in the United States. No other museum in the country, including MoMA, had as yet arisen to this challenge. In fact, the originality and quality of Born’s first proposals at SFMA might be only comparable to the work that by then George Nelson produced for the New York Architectural League.

Ernest Born’s 1938 Exhibition of Northern California Architects at SFMA’s North Gallery. SFMOMA archives

Space for Living. An Exhibition of Planning and Architecture (1940)

Another seminal show was organized in 1940 by Telesis, a local research group[15] of progressive thinkers and practitioners composed of architects, landscape architects, urban planners, industrial designers and social reformers who, after having met for about a year were invited by Grace Morley to put on an exhibition intended as a collective manifesto on “what planning could do for cities” (Knight Scott 1990, 8). In 1940, for the first time, the group showcased their planning concerns as not limited to the city but to the entire urban region since, as Telesis member Garret Eckbo would later explain, the whole Bay “most people have recognized for a long time is a coherent region in terms of what you see and how it feels to live there” (Eckbo 1993, 53).

The show opened at the South Gallery of the San Francisco Museum of Art on July 29, 1940 and was visited by over 10,000 people seduced by the promising idea of a comprehensive urban and landscape planning for the Bay Area[16]. Through the above-mentioned ground-breaking design conceived by John Dinwiddie the exhibition challenged “the man in the street” to think far beyond the domestic scale and look at the built environment to picture a future where “Living, Working, Playing, and Services” were provided without destroying the unique landscape of the Bay Area. Grace Morley, who facilitated several Telesis exhibitions[17] on modern planning at SFMA, William Wurster, and later his wife since 1940, housing expert Catherine Bauer were among their regular circle of contributors and supporters. Their environmental concerns and personal connections to Mumford must have influenced the critic’s understanding of Bay Region architecture as an organic response to the physical and cultural landscape of that place.
Telesis’s 1940 exhibition Space for Living. Installation at SFMA (left), invitation card (right). SFMOMA archives

The fortuitous relocation of Serge Chermayeff[18] and Erich Mendelsohn to the Bay Area in 1941 also gave a boost to the region’s prestige. The month before the 1941 AIA National Convention in Yosemite National Park, Chermayeff wrote a California Arts & Architecture piece in which he singled out Bernard Maybeck’s legacy regretting the lack of attention it had hitherto received. Furthermore, the Russian-born British architect praised the public housing work of Telesis members Vernon DeMars and Garret Eckbo and insisted that the measure of the Californian contribution to contemporary design had not to be sought in its attractive modern residences but in other “things that until quite recently received little publicity”, such as the “various camps, labor homes, farms and community buildings, designed in the Western Branch of the Farm Security Administration centered in San Francisco (Chermayeff 1941, 40). According to Chermayeff, these projects showed their fellow San Francisco residents the importance of planning over building (Chermayeff 1942, 46-47). (Author's note: For more details on the California impacts on the FSA see also my "Packard Family Architectural Connections").

Prize Winning Houses of Seven Bay Region Architects (1941)

An early indication of the national exposure of Bay Region architects’ work, from January 21 to February 14, 1941, the San Francisco Museum of Art held an exhibition of houses awarded in the recent House Beautiful 13th Annual Small House Competition and the House and Garden contest of 1940.

Curated by Charles Lindstrom, the exhibition was financially supported[19] by William W. Wurster, whose celebrated Green House in Diablo was included along with structures by James Anderson, Hervey Parke Clark, Frederick Confer, Gardner Dailey, John Dinwiddie and Clarence Mayhew. This early 1941 show was the first of a busy domestic architecture exhibition program leading to the full-scale Domestic Architecture Around San Francisco Bay exhibition mounted in the summer. To some extent, Domestic Architecture Around San Francisco Bay could be considered as comprehensive prewar mirror image of its almost homonymous 1949 show Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region.

William W. Wurster: Week-end house for Robert Green, Mount Diablo, California, 1941. Photo by Roger Sturtevant

Domestic Architecture Around San Francisco Bay (1941)

Both major 1941 and 1949 displays at SFMA were designed by Ernest Born who, as mentioned before, had also been in charge of the well-regarded 1938 show. From 1929 to 1936, architect and graphic designer Ernest and his wife, notable architectural photographer Esther Born, had moved to New York where the couple was very active in a number of influential circles through which they would contribute to the national visibility of their fellow Bay Region architects. Ernest had joined the artistic staff of Architectural Record from 1933 to 1934 and then served on the editorial board of Architectural Forum up until his 1936 return to San Francisco. He was also prominent in some of the New York Architectural League’s initiatives. As he became one of the most valuable assets of Bay Area on the East Coast, Born likely facilitated Bay Region architects’ entrée to the League shows of 1938, 1941 –to be further discussed–, 1946[20] and possibly others.

In the spring of 1941, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the AIA and the State Association of California Architects, Northern Section, took advantage of the well-advertised presence of the first AIA National Convention in California to put on several shows in San Francisco devoted to its region’s residential architecture. The first, opening May 28 and lasting to June 7, was held at Gump’s Galleries on Post Street. It was conceived and executed by a small group of young designers led by Ernest Born, who collaborated closely with his wife. The work exhibited consisted of domestic projects by twenty-five Bay Region architects which were carefully selected and limited in quantity to prioritize the quality of the resulting display. 

Ernest Born’s 1941 residential architecture exhibition at Gump’s Galleries, San Francisco. Pictures by Esther Born  

The primarily visual documentation consisted of exceedingly handsome black and white pictures taken by Esther, as well as architectural plans which were all made and printed ad hoc for the exhibition. In order to enliven the presentation, scale models showed pedagogically the different phases of house design. Along with this showing of “outstanding and prize-winning homes” demonstrating the “startling achievements of California home planners and builders” [21], six afternoon lectures were programmed to introduce the public in a wide range of issues concerning community planning, house planning, building, interior decoration and landscape architecture. Among the speakers were Serge Chermayeff, Gardner Dailey and Catherine Bauer. Also, a different local architect was in attendance each day during store hours to explain exhibit features, guide the public and answer its questions. The lectures were strategically scheduled at three in the afternoon to catch the housewives shopping at the different departments. Gump’s successful event was clearly one more publicity undertaking to secure the presence of Bay Region architects both inside and outside the Museum’s halls. Being quoted by the Sunday Building Section of the Oakland Tribune (May 18, 1941), Born himself recognized that the display had been produced with publicity in mind: “We plan through this exhibition to show to our Eastern visitors and to the public the progress which Western residential architecture has achieved”. 

As in 1938, Ernest Born’s proposal for the installation was pioneering. The main space was defined by a dramatic set of perforated metal plates which combined with vegetal elements to create a unique atmosphere. Secondary spaces provided plenty of stimuli such as the recreation of a study room having a large table and racks upon which were displayed a year’s worth of colorful copies of several architectural magazines where visitor could learn and fantasize.

Pencil Points' coverage of the show extolled the high quality of both its content and format praising the exhibition’s effectiveness in public education since it demonstrated that “people are really interested in subjects concerning architecture when they are given the opportunity to be instructed” (Pencil Points, August 1941, 522). Likewise, in an article published in the June issue of California ,Arts & Architecture, Born himself insisted on the importance of constantly organizing exhibitions on residential architecture to educate the public: “Exhibitions of architecture should be held often. Large exhibitions, small exhibitions –uptown, downtown, here, there, everywhere, especially in the schools” (Born 1941, 25).

June 1941 monograph issue of Architect & Engineer devoted to SFMA exhibit Domestic Architecture Around San Francisco Bay. Central spread featuring the Bay Region architectural firms whose work was included in the show

Shortly after closing his Gump’s exhibition, Born devoted his talent to mount Domestic Architecture Around San Francisco Bay (DAASFB) which was on display at the San Francisco Museum of Art from June 17 to July 6, 1941 and was circulated to other Western institutions the following year. Ernest Born co-curated the show sharing this responsibility with Hervey Clarke. His wife Esther, along with Ansel Adams and Roger Sturtevant were among the most relevant photographers who illustrated the work of the seventeen Northern California architectural firms featured in the exhibition. The firms included: Norman Blanchard & Edward Maher; Hervey Parke Clark; Frederick Confer; Gardner Dailey; John Dinwiddie, Albert Henry Hill & Phillip Joseph, associates; Charles Franklin & Ernest Kump; John Funk; Michael Goodman; Francis Lloyd; Francis Joseph McCarthy; Clarence Mayhew; James Mitchell; Warren Perry; Timothy Pflueger; Eldridge Spencer; Winfield Scott Wellington; and William W. Wurster, many of them also exhibited in the 1949 show. Among their work, Clark’s Kent House (Marin County); Confer’s Hall House (Sausalito); Dailey’s refined Owens House (Sausalito); Dinwiddie’s Taylor House (Marin County); Funk’s celebrated Heckendorf House (Modesto); Mayhew’s Manor House (Contra Costa) and Wurster’s recurrent Green House (Mount Diablo) were the most remarkable residential designs.

A special program of motion pictures and talks was arranged to accompany the show at SFMA making the public’s visit an attractive experience similar to what they had found at Gump’s the month before.

Prior to its opening in San Francisco, the same architectural firms had made up an invitational exhibition preview in New York, which was entitled Architecture Around San Francisco Bay. Conceived as a simpler, first version of the show, it was presented in April at the Architectural League sharing its galleries with Forty Architects under Forty[22]. The Bay Area projects included in both exhibits focused on one of the West Coast’s arguably most admired contributions to modern architecture, the single family dwelling, being intended to lure possible visitors to the impending AIA Convention.

Ernest Born’s presentation of the June 1941 issue of Architect & Engineer released as DAASFB exhibition catalogue

Serving as an unofficial exhibition catalogue, the June 1941 issue of Architect and Engineer provided biographical notes about the architects and their collaborators, as well as graphic documentation related to their exhibited works. It was in large part designed by Born himself whose presentation to the monographic issue capsulized the show’s refrain. Strikingly, it prefigured almost word for word the arguments Lewis Mumford would years later stress in his controversial October 11, 1947 New Yorker article. Born’s introduction reiterated that regardless of the individualism of their fellow Bay Region architects, what they all had in common was their sensitive approach to the region’s genius loci: “There is general concurrence in letting the program and the materials spell integration and dictate the solution […] Our credos are direct, not fanciful; genuine, not startling. We wave no revolutionary banners; shout no strong words of destroying the past and starting a new order. […] One trait is evident in all of our work. It is an unselfconscious adaptation of new architectural forms and concepts for use in informal and rational houses. In short, the radical and the extreme are weighed, selected, scaled to everyday use, and humanized. Individuals may differ as to the path we take, but not as to its direction”.

Ansel Adams photo.
Ernest Born cover line.
From top to bottom: covers of Pencil Points May 1941 (photo by Ansel Adams); California Arts & Architecture June 1941; and Architect & Engineer (deigned by Ernest Born) issues devoted to the 1941 AIA National Convention and related exhibitions in San Francisco

Charles Magruder, managing editor of Pencil Points, in an article published in its May 1941 issue, devoted to the AIA Convention, had quoted Born’s same statement before it was released in Architect and Engineer, emphasizing that however the paths, the common direction of the efforts of Bay Region architects was contributing to create a “regional style” (Magruder 1941, 292). In the above mentioned June 1941 issue of California Arts & Architecture, Born’s essay on his exhibition at Gump’s –which was published during the time of DAASFB’s display at SFMA– also insisted on identifying the achievements of a regional style with the group’s shared strategies in domestic design: adaptation to site, simplicity in the handling of the available materials and space, and casual approach to architecture. Again, somehow anticipating Mumford’s 1947 New Yorker piece, Born wrote: “California is leading the nation in the development of a view point toward the residence. Perhaps this is because we are the first to ‘find ourselves’ as to the way we want to live as a group, coupled with the extraordinary good luck of having a talented group of architects living here to interpret and give life to a regional view point” (Born 1941, 25).

All the events –lectures, exhibitions, tours and social gatherings– organized in San Francisco on the occasion of the National AIA Convention turned to be of great importance in the construction of the region’s image as it made most East Coast architects and critics turn their eyes to what was happening in California since the 1930s. Likewise, dozens of Bay Area houses were published in Architectural Forum’s and Architectural Record’s pages in the months leading up to the 1941 show and Convention evidencing a successful publicity campaign[23] that, years later, would be strongly duplicated in the 1949 show promotional effort.

Pages from June 1941 issue of Architect & Engineer featuring Gardner Dailey’s 1939 Owens House. The same graphic material and photographs by Roger Sturtevant would be published in the 1944 Built in USA exhibition catalogue.

The 1941 AIA Convention in San Francisco was a seminal event in the historiography of modern architecture in California. Lewis Mumford’s visit to San Francisco resulted in a personal tour with Wurster –and the critic’s former lover, and since the previous year Wurster’s new wife, Catherine Bauer– from which emanated[24] his interest and later love for Bay Region architecture. Unlike Mumford’s first sight appreciation of the region and its architects, Hitchcock’s early opinion of the work of William Wurster, was not very high. During the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exhibition’s run Hitchcock first visited the West Coast, after which he wrote an essay on his findings being published in the December issue of John Entenza’s recently acquired California Arts & Architecture magazine. In his December 1940 article, the Eastern critic wrote: “Wurster’s work, which has for some years been well publicized, is not exactly disappointing[25]. It is perhaps duller than one expects and the gradual development away from a simplified traditionalism toward more overtly modern, or at least original forms, seems either to have been arrested late or to have taken an unfortunate turning” (Hitchcock, Henry Russell, 1940, 22)

Western Living. Five Houses under $7,500 (1942)

Almost a year after DAASFB closed, the Museum put on another exhibition on California residential architecture with a high media profile. Being on display at the Veteran’s Building, April 7 through April 29, 1942, the genesis of the exhibition was an article by Talbot Hamlin, which was published in January 1942 in Harper’s magazine as a result of the intense promotion that Bay Region architects had undertaken through 1941.

Hamlin’s 1942 article “The trend of American Architecture” anticipated by half a decade Lewis Mumford’s picture of Bay Area as an oasis of American values. In his Harper’s piece Hamlin presented West Coast’s mores as very much “distinguished from those of Europe”. He wrote: “Along the Pacific Coast […] there is evolving a kind of house architecture that is perhaps the most advanced domestic architecture in the world today. It is characterized by a bold use of available materials, a free handling of spaces, a constant preoccupation with the actual living of its inhabitants”. Not by chance, Lewis Mumford’s essay in the DASFBR exhibition catalogue would recognize Talbot Hamlin as the only exception in the existing histories of American architecture’s disregard of the remarkable tradition of Bay Area.

Cover (left) and pages from the March 1942 issue of California Arts & Architecture devoted to Western Living show.

The exhibition was conceived to illustrate the work of the architects mentioned by Hamlin and included the work of John Dinwiddie and Albert Henry Hill associates; Hervey Parke Clark; Harwell H. Harris; Richard Neutra and William W. Wurster[26]. Contrary to previous shows, this exhibition was not restricted exclusively to Northern California licensed architects and included houses by Southern California architects Neutra and his disciple Harris. Each architect –or team– was represented by one residence, shown in photographs, blueprints and models. As in previous shows, both Morley’s correspondence with authors and curator Clark’s statements emphasized the didactics of the exhibit as a “three-dimensional and free-standing (rather than hung on a wall)” show on small houses “to have the widest popular appeal”. Models partially drawn in perspective and partially built-up at a large scale of the actual materials of the houses were arranged to touch and look into.

The show was sponsored by John Entenza’s California Arts & Architecture. From the exhibition’s correspondence files there were numerous international requests[27] for copies of the non-existent exhibition catalogue. Grace Morley’s replies referenced using the architectural section of the March 1942 issue of Entenza’s magazine as the catalogue[28], to which Morley herself contributed an introductory article.

According to Time magazine, the 1942 showing at SFMA proved three things: that California had developed “its own brand new style of domestic architecture; that it was one of most advanced and progressive of the world; and that the California house was “modern and homelike at the same time”. Anticipating what Mumford and the rest of the contributors to the 1949 exhibition catalogue would certify years later Time stated that “light, airy, cheap”, the houses in the Museum’s exhibition were “pleasantly unconventional, individual, beautifully suited to their California settings”. Recalling the simplicity of Japanese houses, glass walls and sliding partitions catered to the California outdoor life and made adjacent gardens and natural surroundings an intimate part of the interior space. The article emphasized the inspiration of local influences on the “California style”: use of native materials like redwood, dictated by economy and response to the benign climate of the region as distinguishing features. The magazine also remembered Northern California architects’ recognition of “an 80-year-old pioneer named Bernard Ralph Maybeck” (Time 1942, 23).

Clark’s presentation in Architect and Engineer (April 1942, 10), used the military rhetoric of a time marked by the recent entry of the United States in World War II: “Good planning is good defense. Good planning is good offense […] Our exhibition, besides showing the houses, has a two-fold objective: first, to demonstrate that good planning is vital in wartime, and second to reaffirm by example our avowed American principle of a free democratic way of life”.

As usual, the show was sent to public venues in other institutions in the West such as Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; and the Los Angeles County Museum.  Most interestingly and indication of the cross-pollination with MoMA is Western Living exhibition which traveled to MoMA in 1943 under the form and title of Five California Houses.

2. Architectural Press and the Expansive Publicity of Bay Region ‘Soft Modernism’

Notable architectural historian David Gebhard claimed that the public became aware of the existence of a Northern California tradition in architecture in the late 1940s (Gebhard 1976, 2). However, as seen before, it is possible to track down the beginning of various systematically organized campaigns to promote the domestic architecture of San Francisco Bay since, at least, a decade earlier. Coupling with the beginning of the SFMA’s own architecture exhibition program, from 1938 on, the work of the Bay Region designers was featured more and more frequently in both the professional architectural press and shelter magazines where their houses would be unceasingly published.

Bay Region architects, through a diversity of effective channels and alliances surrounding the SFMA circles, regardless of their limited financial resources compared to the East Coast, were able to put forward their agenda and to capture the attention of the American establishment leading to the most significant ideological debates of the postwar era as epitomized by the 1947 schism at MoMA, the subsequent year of national discussion and the illustrated response pertaining to DASFBR.      

From left to right: Pencil Points August 1938 (monograph issue devoted to William W. Wurster; Architectural Forum April 1940; and Architect & Engineer March 1940 (also devoted to Wurster)

From 1938 to 1941, in a series of articles published in Pencil Points, Talbot Hamlin, had expressed his interest in the domestic architecture of the Bay Area. In his perceptive review of the 1938 exhibition at the Architectural League of New York, Hamlin had praised William W. Wurster and Gardner Dailey’s “sincere simplicity” (Hamlin 1938, 346). Likewise, Mumford’s April 30, 1938 Sky Line piece reviewing the same exhibition indicates that, by then, Wurster was already under his radar. Mumford’s article celebrated Wurster’s Clark Beach House in San Francisco as an example of the renewed architectural appreciation of wood (Mumford 1938, 50). In 1938, both Hamlin and Mumford independently agreed to the importance of such vigorous regional expressions of ‘soft modernism’, that “blow” New York’s “metropolitan pride” (Mumford 1938, 50). Or, to put it in Hamlin’s words: “We who live in New York must now realize that control of the architectural destinies of America is not ours, despite the crowding together here of money and of publications”. This would have been reinforced by the upcoming August 1938 Pencil Points issue devoted to "The Architect and the House: William Wilson Wurster", placing him as a visible head of the Bay Area, competing only with Dailey.

Early in the 1940s, a consistently maintained collaboration between Life magazine and Architectural Forum boosted both architects’ public notoriety, mainly Wurster’s. He was paired with H. Roy Kelley in the September 26, 1938 issue of Life to each design a low-cost house for a real family. Both designs were republished in The 1940 Book of Small Houses by the Editors of the Architectural Forum, from which George Nelson would later compile much of this early material in his iconic 1945 Tomorrow’s House[29].

Wurster’s recognition increased after his marriage to Catherine Bauer in 1940. Although he retained his office in San Francisco, in 1943, the couple moved to Cambridge when he decided to pursue an unrequited Degree in Planning at Harvard University with the purpose of receiving a Doctorate under Joseph Hudnut’s advisorship. In 1944 Wurster was appointed Dean of Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). On this occasion, through the largess of Grace Morley, AFA’s Magazine of Art published “San Francisco Bay Portfolio” which was a tribute to the city’s architecture consisting of a Wurster’s selection and discussion of six photographs –one by Esther Born, all others by Roger Sturtevant– capturing the essence of Bay Area’s built environment. Wurster’s choice of pictures included a street view, an infrastructure view (the Bay Bridge), two influential historical structures (Maybeck’s 1910 Christian Science Church and Polk’s 1918 Hallidie Building) and more images featuring contemporary architecture exemplified by Mayhew’s 1939 Manor House, Dailey’s 1942 Hail House and his own 1939 Grove House. At the time this tribute was published Wurster was also teaching at Yale University where he had a solo exhibition evidencing, once more, East Coast exposure for the Bay Region.

Wurster’s deanship at MIT, along with Catherine Bauer’s and Grace Morley’s continuing contacts secured his position on the editorial boards of such esteemed architectural journals as Entenza’s Arts & Architecture, as well as his regular participation in architecture competitions, award juries, academic debates and public presentations, where he exerted his influence. Likewise, his close relation with the ideologically diverse scholars he hired to lecture at his Architecture School – from Robert Woods Kennedy and Vernon DeMars to Henry-Russell Hitchcock – provided many opportunities for cultural exchange.

In the wake of Wurster’s celebrity, a younger generation of San Francisco designers soon received increasingly growing media attention during the pre and postwar years. Among them, Corbertt, DeMars, Dinwiddie, Funk and Kump became the most published names of American editors who, by then, were fully aware that “Bay Area architects were creating something out of the normal” (Gebhard 1976, 7). Evidence of their public outreach is a commentary published December 11, 1949 – one month after DASFBR’s closing, in the San Francisco Chronicle – by House Beautiful editor James Marston Fitch, who wrote: “One of the most curious problems facing the architectural editor of a national magazine is trying to keep good West Coast dwellings from monopolizing its pages” (Serraino 2006, 59).

3. Debates on Regionalism and Style: “What has Happened to Lewis Mumford?”[30]

Two years before the opening of Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region at SFMA, Lewis Mumford had presented to his American readers the achievements of Bay Region architectural tradition as model of environmental adaptation. His well-known October 11, 1947 The Sky Line column of the New Yorker labeling San Francisco Bay Area domestic architecture as a coherent ‘style’, fueled a national debate to which the 1949 exhibition at SFMA would later contribute. Entitled “Status Quo”, Mumford’s essay expressed his disaffection with the mechanical and formalist interpretations of modernism which, not only reassessed Hitchcock’s and Johnson’s 1932 International Style principles but also criticized their insistence on reusing them to evaluate contemporary architecture.

Opposing what Mumford considered the sterile and abstract one-sided interpretation of functionalism the critic believed that these principles, as inherited from European criticism, fostered a superficial attachment to the symbolism rather than a deep understanding of the emancipatory possibilities of technology (Canizaro 2005, 288). Instead, Mumford proposed a more human-concerned architectural practice emerging from empathic responses to the different physical, social and cultural landscapes. To illustrate his point, he provided –all but coincidentally– the example of Bay Region domestic architecture, and more particularly the work of William Wurster whom, as its titular head, Mumford eloquently presented as a model[31].   

As it is known, Mumford’s excerpt from The Sky Line provoked such an angry response from some circles of the Eastern establishment, headed by MoMA's Philip Johnson (Blake 1996, 106), feeling that the hegemony of the International Style was threatened, that it prompted Johnson and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, to conduct a symposium directly confronting his criticism. The event, which took place on February 11, 1948, was alarmingly entitled “What is Happening to Modern Architecture?”

1948 Symposium at MoMA. Photo published in Architectural Record’s March 1948 review of the event. Lewis Mumford sat in the front row (first from right). Walter Gropius at rostrum.

Alfred Barr and Henry-Russell Hitchcock opened the symposium by denouncing Mumford’s misreading of the International Style. Acting as the leaders of the critic’s opponents they used their position as introductory speakers to aggressively undermine Mumford’s argument for Bay Region architecture’s “native and humane form of modernism”, as scholar Gail Fenske has remarked. Both Barr and Hitchcock used the word ‘style’ in their own interests to discredit their adversary. Barr dismissively dubbed Mumford’s original ‘Bay Region Style’ ‘Cottage Style’ as a less serious, provincial version of the International Style. The term was also bandied about by other speakers who, as Barr, used it contemptuously to underline that it was merely restricted to the field of domestic architecture: “It is significant, however, that when such a master of Cottage Style as William Wurster is faced with a problem of designing an office or a great project for the United Nations, he falls back upon a pretty orthodox version of the International Style (Barr et al. 1948, p. 8).

Moreover, instead of presenting and focusing on the main cultural implications of Mumford’s proposal, Barr and Hitchcock facilitated that subsequent panelists, Walter Gropius, George Nelson, Marcel Breuer, Peter Blake and Frederick Gutheim, among others, charted ancillary lines of discussion through related contemporary debates concerning monumentality, functionalism and style, which ultimately diffused the argument’s force and clarity. Consequently, Mumford’s challenge[32] never received the level of debate it deserved (Fenske 1997, 38).

Gail Fenske’s insightful analysis of the 1948 symposium, however, overlooked[33] Philip Johnson’s role as the ongoing debate instigator. Peter Blake’s autobiographical account No Place Like Utopia intimates that Philip Johnson, who had taken Mumford’s comments as an attack[34] against all that he and “the Museum of Modern Art held most dear” (Blake 1996, 106), orchestrated carefully the event at MoMA to refute Mumford’s opinions in The Sky Line. Hitchcock’s 1948 correspondence[35] with MoMA provides corroboration of Blake’s statement. Likewise, the Breuer-Johnson communication during the organization of the symposium discussing how to rebut “Lewis Mumford’s Isms”[36] also indicates that Philip Johnson was stacking the deck against Mumford at the time MoMA was simultaneously planning a retrospective of Breuer’s work. Johnson’s strategy to neutralize Mumford was twofold: first, he assigned his antagonist the role of moderator (Bletter and Ockman 2015, 2) which limited Mumford’s possibilities of defending his arguments; secondly, upon arrival at the Museum, a number of Mumford’s adversaries[37] were handed out Barr’s and Hitchcock’s comments, evidencing Johnson’s interest in controlling how the discussion could possibly unfold[38].

After his return to MoMA, Johnson’s change of mind regarding Bay Region architecture seems evident. In “Architecture in 1941”, an unpublished article written in 1942 for an encyclopedia, Johnson praised DeMars’s work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and mentioned Wurster’s large-scale defense project in Vallejo as an example of site prefabrication in the field public housing. Johnson had also appreciative comments on the West Coast domestic architecture “boom”, particularly on California houses which he considered “simpler than Wright’s, more fitted to wood construction than any European models, more straightforward than any eclecticism”, adding that the careers of some California young architects –among which he included John Funk, John Dinwiddie and Gardner Dailey– should be followed. Yet, in 1947, within the coast-to-coast saturation of Bay Region architecture’s press coverage, Mumford’s New Yorker article must have been the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and was therefore perceived by Johnson[39] as a threat to his goal of reinstating a new Miesian order at the Museum of Modern Art. 

Architectural Record May 1949 cover (left) and first pages of Elizabeth K. Thompson’s central spread entitled “Is there a Bay Area Style?” (right) 

As Northern California historian Pierluigi Serraino (2006, 93-94) has remarked, San Francisco Bay’s “romantic blend of natural beauty and cultural legitimacy”, was identified by Mumford’s followers with a sort of oasis of national values and proud citizenship. Conversely, to the critic’s opponents, Bay Region residential architecture was turned into an instrumental myth by those sharing a discomfort with the growing presence of foreign architecture in the country.

To make it a more complex situation, regardless of the fact that the national recognition of Bay Region architecture was firmly established by articles, symposiums and exhibitions its acceptance as an articulated phenomenon was questioned by both its detractors and supporters, including its practitioners.

Having reached no conclusion, MoMA’s “What is Happening to Modern Architecture?” had the dichotomous effect of pigeonholing the San Francisco Area architects into a ‘Bay Region Style’ of which none of its protagonists agreed they were consciously a part. In fact, when the following year nine Bay Region architects were asked by Architectural Record West Coast editor Elizabeth Kendall Thompson whether there was a regional style in Northern California, the interviewed authors responded evasively or answered no to the question. Still, Thompson’s “Is there a Bay Area Style?” Architectural Record article published in its May 1949 issue demonstrated that, implicitly, to what most of them agreed was about the existence of a common ground regarding their understanding of a shared culture of place. Later, Thompson herself would explain the result of her survey by avowing that individual architects justifiably rebelled against such a restrictive label. She wrote: “the individualism of each architect is almost enough reason in itself for doubting that there is such a thing, and that the whole idea of a Bay Region Style should indeed be gravely questioned” (Thompson 1951, 16). Or, to rephrase Thompson’s declaration in Southern California regionalist Harwell H. Harris’s words: “no ‘style’ –meaning ‘restriction’– has ever burdened the West”[40].

Thus, the main battle lines had apparently been drawn following the 1948 symposium and the dispute between supporters and opponents of Mumford’s arguments played themselves out on the pages of the most reputed architectural journals of the country, mainly in Progressive Architecture. For instance, in its April[41] 1948 issue, Thomas Creighton published an editorial under the form of a letter to Philip Johnson expressing his support of Lewis Mumford’s viewpoint. Correspondingly, in December 1948 Creighton published a highly Wurster-sympathetic essay entitled “Architecture: Not Sytle” which summarized the magazine’s “attitude toward several architectural fallacies”. Creighton criticized the “authoritarian doctrine” that architecture “must be self-consciously designed in a style; that works designed “out of style” are wrong and “therefore a social anomaly” or that American architecture “isn’t important because it isn´t ‘monumental’”. As the example[42] provided by the magazine to illustrate its point was –one more– Wurster’s disregarded ‘cottagy’ work, the December editorial resulted in incendiary responses. Being published in the January and February issues of Progressive Architecture, the reactions to Creighton’s editorial speak volumes about how aggressively and differently the interpretations of Mumford’s hot topic were received[43].   

Consequently, taking advantage of the hoopla surrounding existence of a Bay Region “Style”, Northern California architects, led by Ernest Born and supported by some Eastern publishers, most likely around mid or late February, agreed to collaborate on the organization and publishing campaign for a new major exhibition, tellingly named Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region, to be held at the San Francisco Museum of Art during the coming fall.

Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region. Ernest Born’s 1949 installation at SFMA. SFMOMA archives

4. Framing Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region

Contrary to Pierluigi Serraino’s (2006, 70-71) statement that both the label “Bay Region Style” and the arguments of its cultural legitimacy were invented on the East Coast, and the controversy only reached California in 1949, two years after the debate had snowballed from a passing comment in a weekly publication to the subject of a dispute of international proportions, it must be recalled –as expounded upon– that Bay Region architects provided the controversial conditions that echoed as far as the London Architectural Review, which openly endorsed Mumford’s stance (Architectural Review October 1948, 164).

At the beginning of the preparations for DASFBR, in February 1949, the San Francisco Museum of Art was also involved in the organization of the “Western Roundtable on Modern Art”, an international conference prompted by Douglas MacAgy, Director of the California School of Fine Arts and Morley’s frequent collaborator. The event, which took place at the Civic Center building of SFMA on April 8 and 9, had been conceived to rebut the assumptions on modern art discussed the previous year in a similar symposium held at MoMA but sponsored by Life magazine, whose coverage of the meeting had been critical of modern art for its elitist positions. Among the participants, Frank Lloyd Wright was the best-known panelist to the public and his presence in San Francisco attracted local media attention to the SFMA 1949 debates on modern art (Turner 2016, 81-82). Many Bay Region architects soon to exhibit at DASFBR, as well as its organizers, were in attendance at these sessions which most likely inspired them to forge full steam ahead with DASFBR which, along with the “Western Roundtable on Modern Art” must be understood as part of the Museum’s effort to confront the new ideological direction taken by MoMA after Philip Johnson’s return and subsequent ouster of regionalist curator Elizabeth Mock, Wurster’s sister-in-law and frequent MoMA collaborator Catherine Bauer.   

The DAASFBR exhibition counted on the support of both Northern California and East Bay Chapters of the American Institute of Architects. It opened Friday September 16, 1949 and closed Sunday October 6, 1949[44]. Ernest Born –by then in his early 50s– organized the show counting on the collaboration of SFMA’s Assistant Curator Robert Church and of Richard B. Freeman, who was acting as Executive Director during Grace Morely’s 1947-1949 leave of absence in Paris to work for UNESCO.
Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region. Call for submittals and questionnaire. SFMOMA archives

From May 2 to May 23, 1949, the Exhibition Committee launched an open call for submittals to Bay Area practitioners which, unlike the prewar show Domestic Architecture Around San Francisco Bay did not have to be necessarily AIA registered architects. In fact, the call stressed the condition that the works from licensed architects, designers and students would be equally welcome. 

Ernest Born, along with Gardner Dailey and Bolton White made up the three-architect selection jury, who also each had at least one house included in the exhibition. All the structures selected, except for Anshen and Allen’s small Stiavelli Apartment Building in San Francisco were single family residences, being most of them built between 1946 and early in 1949, with the sole exception of Born’s Quillen House in Stanford and Dinwiddie’s Spight House in Orinda, which were both completed during the war.

Other significant architects in the show were Mario Corbett; Joseph Esherick; Jack Hillmer & Warren Callister; Fred Langhorst; Joseph McCarthy; and William Wurster in association with wartime partners Bernardi & Emmons. Despite the talent of the group, one of the most evident features of the exhibition was that as a result of its intention to show a wide diversity of sensitiveness, scales and design problems, the resulting ensemble rendered uneven levels of accomplishment, ranging from houses of not especially distinguishable quality to the most exceedingly fine ones such as young designers Hillmer’s and Callister’s groundbreaking 1947 Hall House or Mario Corbett’s own award-winning residence.

The average age of the architects participating in the show was 40 years and only one of them was a woman, Helen Douglass, who had worked independently and together with her husband, landscape architect Prentiss French. About half of the houses shown in 1949 were designed by architects who had begun practicing after returning from the front very shortly after the war. Thus, a large number of projects included in DASFBR were the first architectural work attesting to the interest of the young Bay Region exhibition contributors.

The installation design was once more entrusted to Ernest Born who provided the exhibition with the accustomed conceptual clarity and expressive force of his previous collaborations with the Museum. Born’s 1949 installation resumed his aforementioned concept of a series of panels presented as open books, first experimented with in 1938, which he changed from one continuous horizontal wall structure to independent vertical self-standing displays. The exhibition occupied three major galleries of the Museum. It was installed according to a circuit plan consisting of both wall and self-supporting redwood structures containing white pine panels.

The original exhibition, as shown at SFMA, included 52 houses by 35 architects. Of these, eleven structures took up three panels and the rest of the residences were exhibited on two. According to the exhibition technical description, there were also 5 panels devoted to “an introductory statement with enlarged photographs of the San Francisco Bay and a graphic presentation of the problems of Site, Climate and Materials”, which made the final total of 120 panels plus the four ones devoted to the historical background of modern Bay Region architecture.  The plans for each house were redrawn in a simplified manner with similar scale, treatment and indication, including plot plan and contour when significant.

Among the photographers who provided pictures for the show were Roger Sturtevant[45], who would become the most prominent architectural photographer of the Bay Area; Maynard Parker, largely associated with House Beautiful; Rondal Partridge, Minor White, Pirkle Jones, Morley Baer and Esther Born. 

Regarding the photographs, for artistic reasons, the Van Dyke brown process was used to print all pictures in the show thus giving uniformity in color. The pictures were mounted directly on the panels, except for one photograph summarizing the project of each house, which was highlighted by enlarging and mounting it on a board which was in turn tacked to the panel. First used in the 1938 exhibit and again in the 1941 shows, Born’s strategy of including one large easily-read plan and one extra-large photograph with three or four smaller pictures to explain each house was repeated in DASFBR showing for pedagogical reasons.  A label giving the owner, location, architect, credits as well as brief commentary on the problems and solutions written by Ernest and Esther Born completed the information provided for each residence.

Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region. Ernest Born’s 1949 installation at SFMA. SFMOMA archives

Since the exhibition was intended as a political demonstration of “the current work of the region’s architects”, contemporary houses by non-Bay Area-based architects such as Richard Neutra or Frank Lloyd Wright were not included in the show. This requirement would also explain why regionalist Harwell H. Harris’s masterpiece Havens House in the Berkeley Hills, which was still under construction in 1941, was not exhibited either in 1949, indicating that the organizers’ interest was restricted to Bay Region designers.

Due to the Museum’s scarcity of funds, the participant architects paid pro-rata for redrawing the blueprints. Also, local companies and manufacturers such as Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company or Kraftile Company got involved in the production of the show by paying[46] the costs of materials for its installation.  
 “Architectural Forum” event at Macy’s published in the September 1949 issue of Architectural Forum (from left to right: moderator Hal Cruzan, Henry Hill, Fred Langhorst, Don Emmons, Ernest Kump and Mario Corbett.

During the final preparation of DASFBR, on August 13, 1949, Macy’s San Francisco Department Store hosted a public symposium in its fourth-floor auditorium which was called “Architectural Forum”. Mario Corbett, Wurster’s associate Don Emmons, Henry Hill, Ernest Kump and Fred Langhorst were among the speakers who discussed legal, design and material questions concerning the architect-designed house and the many difficulties to face the growing pressure of a mass-market demand interested in diminishing the role of the client. Clearly as part of their publicity campaign for the impending show at SFMA, the architects also devoted time to discuss other “topics such as Bay Area style” (Architectural Forum September 1949, 14).

SFMA also held its own programs devoted to discussing the challenges of building a modern house on a regular basis. For instance, in March 1946 the Museum had co-organized The House I Want Program. It was launched by the Women’s Architectural League and consisted in a series of six lectures given by architects, landscape architects, decorators, realtors, etc., whose purpose was introduced by Morley herself in the pages of a monographic issue of Architect and Engineer devoted to Bay Region modern residential design (Morley 1946, 7). The 1946 program at SFMA was mirrored in June with another series of lectures and a show at Gump’s. Entitled Meet the Architect, it was organized by Hervey Parke Clark and sponsored by John Entenza’s Arts & Architecture magazine, which covered the event in an eight-page spread published in its October-November issue[47].

Pages from the October-November 1946 issue of Arts & Architecture featuring the 1946 Meet the Architect show at Gump’s Galleries, San Francisco

Just before the opening of the 1949 major exhibit in San Francisco, Bay Region architects successfully replicated at Macy’s the small shows and talks held at Gump’s in 1941 and 1946. This reveals their interests in leading public conversations on domestic design as well as in linking lively debates with the Museum’s agenda. For their own sake, local architects prompted their fellow citizens to gather in familiar premises such as design galleries or home furnishing retailers where they informally presented their most recent projects and shared with the attending pool of potential clients their perspectives and concerns on the state of housing. Thus, most of these events were coordinated with the Museum’s inveterate efforts to reach wider audiences by expanding and diversifying the scope of publicity for its architectural circles.

Likewise, two Sunday tours joined by hundreds of people interested in visiting the houses were held in conjunction with the 1949 exhibition: San Francisco Modern: A House Tour and Modern in Marin: A Sunday House Tour.

5. DASFBR and the Public Agenda of the Bay Region School: Exhibition Catalogue, Venues and the Promotional Campaigns

Upon the commotion caused by Mumford’s advocacy of “Bay Region Style” and its subsequent debates, unlike the 1938 and 1941 events, the Museum did not want to miss the opportunity of publishing a catalogue which was also designed by Ernest Born. However, due to its limited resources, it was conceived as a humble brochure contrasting its modesty with the brilliant presentation of the original installation and the graphic quality with which some houses in the show were published by SFMA’s allied architectural journals.

Ernest Born’s design for DASFBR exhibition catalogue cover (left) and Lewis Mumford’s essay first page (right).

The exhibition accompanying catalogue featured seven opening essays validating the existence of a vigorous modern school in the Bay Region and providing arguments for its consistency as unique regional tradition. The book included the fifty-two contemporary examples of private residences as well as a background section of historic structures built by the first generation of California pioneers, among whom were Bernard Maybeck, A. C. Schweinfurth, Ernest Coxhead, Greene & Greene, Julia Morgan, Louis Christian Mullgardt and John Galen Howard.

Richard Freeman, as Director temporarily in charge, prefaced the book with a text emphasizing the leitmotif of the catalogue: local architects had won international recognition for “the imaginative way in which they had met the problems of site, climate, materials and client requirements”, being almost impossible to pick up an architectural magazine of the past several years without seeing one or another Bay Region house spotlighted for their “outstanding merit”.

The catalogue’s second text, written by Lewis Mumford was the book’s most significant contribution. Mumford’s essay “The Architecture of the Bay Region” reframed and clarified the ideas put forward in his New Yorker column. Reemphasizing his discourse[48] at the 1948 MoMA symposium Mumford explained his sense of architectural regionalism and advocated the individualism of West Coast architects stating that their common ground was their sensitivity towards the environment and, again, contrasted it with the “restricted and arid formulas of the so-called International Style”. Mumford called historians and critics for proper study and recognition of what he more accurately renamed as ‘Bay Region School’. As a new all-inclusive designation, this new term rectified his former use of the word ‘style’, which he lamented as an “unfortunate slip” (Mumford 1949 exh. cat.: unpaginated). Quintessentially Mumford’s essay revealed the work of the lucid and progressive thinker he was: “The main problem of architecture today is to reconcile the universal and the regional, the mechanical and the human, the cosmopolitan and the indigenous. No manner of building that exaggerates the local at the expense of the universal can possibly answer to the needs of our time; and if the Bay Region work were so singular and so confined, it would hardly be worth critical recognition at this late day. It is for just the opposite reason that the best Bay Region architecture is significant. Here the architects have absorbed the universal lessons of science and the machine, and have reconciled them with human wants and human desires with full regard for the setting of nature, the climate and topography and vegetation […] Bay Region both belongs to the region and transcends the region: it embraces the machine and it transcends the machine. It does not ignore particular needs, customs, conditions, but translates them into the common form of our civilization”.

Architectural Record Western editor Elizabeth Thompson’s contribution underscored the idea that it was the architects’ individualism rather than a style[49] which distinguished Bay Area production and provided it with historical context to demonstrate its existence within a coherent architectural tradition: “There are many styles of architecture here, as there are in any city or region, and there is no predominant one which can be termed ‘Bay Region Style’. But there is a group of houses, relatively small in number, built during the last fifty or so years, which because of an individualistic insistence on principle rather than on style has withstood the rigors of time and of fashion and which, to trained and untrained eye alike, remain good architecture” (Thompson 1949 exh. cat.: unpaginated).

William Wilson Wurster contributed the fourth essay, “A Personal View”, which was perhaps the most suggestive text in the catalogue. His essay recalled the virtues of the informal California lifestyle, the freedom and audaciousness of the Bay Area’s first settlers and the pleasure of feeling the anonymous houses built by the western pioneers. Highlighting the first-hand experience of architecture itself over printed images, Wurster focused on the architectural qualities that eluded the camera and therefore remained invisible to architectural publishers.

Finally, Gardner Dailey and Francis Joseph McCarthy signed a couple of quite standard texts about the “Post-war House” and the “Contribution of the Client”, respectively. Clarence Mayhew argued the “Japanese influence”.

Being consistent with the importance of landscape design in the architectural tradition of San Francisco Bay, the Museum asked reputed local landscape architect Garret Eckbo to contribute an essay, which he had to decline due to lack of time. Similarly, Jean Murray Bangs Harris was among the expected contributors. Mrs. Harris first accepted the organizers’ invitation although, as Eckbo, she was not able to complete her writing on time. Despite her absence in the catalogue, Harris’s wife played a significant role in the exhibition as she helped documenting the work of the Greene brothers and Bernard Maybeck on whom she would curate an anthological show at SFMA in 1951. Finally, Harvard Dean Joseph Hudnut was also invited but, from the beginning, he refused to participate in the catalogue.

Unlike the houses in the historical section, none of the contemporary residences included in the catalogue were dated, which can only be explained if everyone visiting the show knew that it was an exhibition entirely devoted the most recent[50] architectural production of the Bay Area, say, to postwar houses.  Gardner Dailey’s title to his contribution to the catalogue would confirm this assumption. Dailey’s mention of “The Large Small House” was the same title used for Esherick[51]‘s house on the cover of the September 1949 issue of Architectural Record, indicating the crosstalk among the architects during the show’s planning. Also, the gap existing between the background section featuring the earliest work of the first generation of Bay Region masters spanning from 1925 to 1946 would also explains that the structures completed over the 1930s and early 1940s had already been covered in previous shows.
Architectural Forum September 1949 cover (left) and pages from its central spread devoted to Bay Region houses featuring Hillmer’s and Callister’s 1947 Hall House (right)

The exhibition was extensively promoted by Architectural Record staff editor Elizabeth Kendall Thompson, being one of the magazine’s finest writers she was brains behind the exhibition’s national publicity campaign. As West Coast editor, Thompson had a vested interest in her close group of Bay Region architects whose work she would champion until her retirement in 1975. The intense editorial activity performed by Thomson during the months DASFBR was under preparation speaks volumes about her promotional effort to take advantage of the debates following MoMA’s 1948 symposium. The earliest correspondence kept in the Museum archives is dated March 2, 1949. Six months prior to its opening, Thompson had published the aforementioned “Is There a Bay Region Style?” spread in the May of 1949 issue of Architectural Record, which must have had at least a couple of month lead time to get the feedback from the architects interviewed and to put out such an insightful and well-designed article – former Architectural Record employee Ernest Born’s fingerprints are most likeley all over the design of the spread.
Life magazine, September 1949 central spread featuring San Francisco houses and Bay Area landscape

Coupling this promotion with DASFBR’s pre and post-production process, Architectural Record released several pieces documenting the show. First, the May 1949 issue; then, in September, perfectly timed to coincide with its opening, an exhibition guide and a richly illustrated presentation of the show for which, according to Olsberg (2015, 74), Born himself designed the layout. Finally, Architectural Record along with Architectural Forum and Life magazine, published different monographs on individual houses in the exhibition including, in the case of the Forum and Life, full color pictures.

Bay Region architects’ and local architectural photographers’ good terms with the three journals resulted in their involvement in the national promotion of the exhibition. Thompson most likely collaborated as well with Architectural Forum editor Douglas Haskell who was close with Lewis Mumford, Catherine Bauer, William Wurster and Ernest Born. Evidence of their maintained collaboration, Born, Wurster and Thompson, as the leaders[52] of the 1949 exhibition publicity campaign would again collaborate on the first architectural guide of the Bay Region, first printed on the occasion of the AIA annual meeting in San Francisco in 1960.
Architectural Record, pages from the September 1949 issue’s central spread devoted to the 1949 exhibition at SFMA

The September 1949 issue of Architectural Record tried to buttress visually the coherence of their architectural design in the context of the dramatic landscape of the Bay Region. To do so it published an eight-page central spread consisting of a photographical report including double page layouts where images of the houses were combined with pictures of flowered valleys, unspoiled hills, the San Francisco fog and, of course, the redwood trees from which came the building material of most of the structures in the show.  
Architectural Record, Western Section, an architectural guide to DASFBR published in the September 1949 issue

Along with its central spread the September issue of the Architectural Record offered its Western Section readers a four-page hand guide listing the houses shown in the exhibition and locating them on a map designed[53] under Thompson’s supervision. As the American Federation of Arts exhibition records reveal the Museum used strategically these two Architectural Record supplements to enhance the publicity of DASFBR, since they both were sent to every venue as part of the exhibition documentation along with its catalogue and other press clipings consisting mostly of tear sheets from the three mentioned magazines.

Another tangible result of this collaboration was that most of architectural press felt immediately the magnetism of the Bay Area domestic architecture. For instance, the editorials of Elizabeth Gordon’s House Beautiful, began to point increasingly to the West Coast to exemplify the new directions modernism should take in America. Paradoxically, Arts & Architecture, which until then had been actively supporting some of the most significant SFMA’s activities deliberately did not mention the 1949 show. Instead, Entenza preferred to publish an Edgar Kauffmann, Jr. article tellingly named “What is Happening to Modern Architecture?” which tried a compromising formula by saying that the “opposition between the so-called International Style and the informal or cottage style” was not “worth the noise made about it” (Kauffmann, Jr., 1949, 27). Entenza’s interest in not displeasing Johnson and MoMA might be a plausible explanation for his magazine’s clear change of editorial direction.

From the beginning of its conception, Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Area was planned as a touring show available to other museums in the country. The exhibition was circulated by the American Federation of Arts which coordinated with the institutions participating in the tour sharing both the shipping and insurance costs. The Museum invested the circulation fees to produce a smaller version of the 1949 show in which the 52 houses integrating the contemporary section were reduced[54] to  just 16 entries distributed in 36 panels –two devoted to each house plus four introductory panels.

Starting in Portland, the AFA records refer the following twelve venues in North America indicating an average duration of three weeks per display: Museum of Art Portland, Oregon (February 1950); Nelson Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City, MO (March 1950); Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA (April 1950); University of Illinois Gallery, Chicago, IL (May 1950); Speed Art Museum Louisville, Kentucky (June 1950); Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, Shreveport, LA (August 1950); Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (September-October 1950); Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA (November 1950); Cleveland, Ohio (December 1950 - January 1951); University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada (March 1951); University of Texas, Austin, TX (April 1951); and Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego, CA (July 1951).

Installation plan for DASFBR venue at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts prepared by Leslie Cheek. VMFA archives

Correspondence reveals that both Leslie Cheek and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, in charge respectively of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Smith College, showed an avid interest in the show. Cheek was a very innovative museum director. He was close to Morley whom he knew from the American Federation of Arts and the Magazine of Art activities. He knew Mumford and Frank Lloyd Wright as well and was interested in the polemics so the moment he was aware the San Francisco Museum of Art was preparing DASFBR, months before its opening in California, he contacted the AFA to ask for a venue at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Considering[55] that this show was “the most charming contemporary example of a domestic style”, Cheek scheduled DASFBR’s venue in Richmond as the opening exhibition of the 1950-51 season at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Cheek himself outlined the installation and wrote an article for the Museum Bulletin[56] justifying this  decision to bring this show to Virginia “in answer to the national interest in the Bay homes” and insisting on the uniqueness of the architectural production of the Bay Area as very different from the rest of the country, which indicates the effect that the promotional effort of its architects was having on public discussion.

Hitchcock as well was interested in obtaining the show from the very the moment it was presented. Hitchcock’s correspondence[57] during the Smith College venue exposes some of his ideas concerning the show. For instance, that the critic considered Greene and Greene as the perfect product of Bay Area tradition or that Wurster had evolved moving away gradually from previous restraints. However, he also spoke contemptuously about San Francisco’s taste and expressed his doubts about the exhibition catalogue “inadequacies”. Also interesting is that he planned to include Bay Area architecture in his own course lessons.

1950 installation of Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

During the Cleveland venue the State Department confirmed its interest in circulating the exhibition internationally. Grace Morley’s working on projects with the State Department and other US Government Office likely facilitated the DASFBR travelling to Europe. After the State Department’s approval in November 1950, Morley herself coordinated[58] the duplication of the materials. The copy of the exhibition as well as reprints of Architectural Record brochures and guides were ready[59] in May 1951 to be sent to the “American Zone of Germany”. Along with DASFBR, the State Department decided to purchase a print of the film Architecture West (1950)[60], written by Esther McCoy and directed by Erven Jourdan.

The exhibition was on display in the Constructa exhibition in Hannover in July 1951. It was part of the United States pavilion where the AIA’s circulating Amerikanische Architektur seit 1947 show[61] was also exhibited. SFMA’s circulating version of Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region and AIA’s American Architecture since 1947 shows both traveling to Europe in 1951 seemingly would have inspired Johnson’s and Hitchcock’s 1953 Built in USA effort which followed to Europe soon afterward.

Inspired by the 1949 exhibition’s success, which was attended by thousands of visitors just in San Francisco, the Museum continued to mount shows on Bay Area architecture during the following decades. The last major circulating exhibition of this kind under Morley’s directorship was San Francisco Bay Region Architecture: A Current Report. Sponsored by the California Redwood Association, it contained eighteen architectural projects by leading Bay Region architects who had been chosen for “their originality, suitability to climate and site, and skillful and economical use of redwood and other native materials”[62] attesting to the interest of local industry in being part of the promotional campaigns of Bay Area architecture. Five years later, John and Sally Woodbridge’s Guide to the Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region, published on the occasion of the Annual AIA Convention in San Francisco, April 18 to April 22, 1960, would close the circle. The book was designed by Ernest Born who, during the rest of his life, continued to promote the cause of Bay Area domestic architecture as a paradigm of new humanism. Born, along with Wurster and Elizabeth Kendall Thompson constituted the special committee appointed by the AIA Northern California Chapter to assist in the preparation of this first architectural guide which, as a precedent the forthcoming series of scholarly studies marked the official entrance of the Bay Area School in the history of architecture.   

6. 194X: A Decade of Regional Collaborations.
The Intertwined SFMA-MoMA Exhibition Policies

Grace Morley’s prominent role in the American Federation of Arts and in other national museum associations benefited significantly SFMA’s exhibition planning, as well as its reputation as a premier West Coast venue for contemporary art and architecture. Her lobbying effort to secure a Western circuit for shows coming from the East primarily resulted in a close collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art, New York beginning as early back as 1937, as her correspondence[63] indicates. Her close relationship with Alfred Barr –evolving from professional to very familiar over the forties (Potter 2015, 148)– and later with Elizabeth Mock via Catherine Bauer and William Wurster, facilitated that a number of noteworthy circulating exhibitions borrowed from MoMA naturally fit into her architectural programs. Both directors had a growing interest in enhancing the cooperation between their two museums. Barr to secure financially the success of MoMA’s exhibitions; Morley to supplement the San Francisco Museum of Art’s limited programs with MoMA’s exhibition resources. This was, for example, recognized in a 1941 letter[64] to Barr expressing to him her gratitude for enabling SFMA to present shows which would otherwise have been financially infeasible.

By then, Catherine Bauer’s first move to the Bay Area and later to Cambridge and her sister Elizabeth Mock’s arrival[65] at MoMA –through Bauer’s largess– secured the collaboration between the two museums in the field of architectural exhibitions. Mock’s correspondence[66] with Taliesin reveals that she was collaborating with her sister Catherine and Grace Morley at least since 1938. A triangle of intertwined personal lives and professional circles on both Coasts made up by SFMA (Morley-Wurster-Bauer), Taliesin (Wright-Mock) and MoMA (Bauer-Mock) would explain the vigorous circulation of exhibitions between the two museums during the time Elizabeth Mock was serving both as first, curatorial assistant and later, architectural curator at MoMA. Bauer’s and Wurster’s professional relationship with her sister and sister-in-law also affected the cultural exchange of progressive ideas regarding modern planning, public housing and, of course, the regional viewpoint. 

After Catherine Bauer’s 1940 wedding to William Wurster, the sisters’ correspondence gives documentary evidence of Elizabeth Mock’s frequent professional and personal travels to meet her sister and brother-in-law in California in 1940 and 1941. Upon her returns from the Bay Area, armed with fresh perspective, Mock organized American Architecture, Regional Building in America and The Wooden House in America, three regionalist-slanted shows which included work by West Coast artists Harris, Funk and other[67] Bay Region architects, precisely around the same time people belonging to their circles took similar regionalist stances, such as Katherine Morrow Ford’s publishing of “Modern is Regional” article in House and Garden (March 1941) or Lewis Mumford’s delivering of “The South in Architecture” lecture at Alabama College (April 1941).

The decade 1937-1947 is representative of MoMA’s socio-political change of direction to embrace a broader regionalist perspective. As Peter Blake would later concede[68]: “except for a brief period of time in the late 1930s and 1940s” –when the Department of Architecture was headed by curators as John McAndrew, and later his former student and collaborator Elizabeth Mock after the resignation of the former in 1941– “MoMA’s position on architecture and design was that these were to be judged solely according to esthetic criteria” (Blake quoted in Postal 1998, 156).

Between 1942 and her departure[69] in December 1946, Mock’s exhibitions had the largest audiences on both Coasts to date. She focused on America and on domestic architecture, the topic and focus in which the public were most interested. Her Wurster-Mumford well-informed regionalist slant was thus ideological but also the result of financial reasoning due to the Museum’s concerns in attracting more people to its exhibitions. In this sense, the circulation of exhibitions had two primary goals: to broaden the museum’s audiences and to secure financially the museum’s programs by leasing its shows to other institutions (Postal 1998, 54).

Among Mock’s main exhibitions on housing which traveled to San Francisco, the following are revealing of the political commitment of her architectural agenda:

Wartime Housing (1942)
Presented at MoMA in April 1942, the exhibit was installed at SFMA in December. The show was sponsored by the National Committee on the Housing Emergency –Catherine Bauer was a prominent member of its Board– and prepared in cooperation with the National Housing Agency. This circumstance assured Wurster involvement, the two sisters’ collaboration and Mumford’s New Yorker’s positive review of the show which included works by Wurster (experimental units for the Vallejo housing project), DeMars and Eckbo.

Look At Your Neighborhood: Principles of Neighborhood Planning (1944)
Opening in March 1944 at SFMA this exhibition consisting of twelve panels was designed by Elizabeth Mock’s husband Rudolf Mock and Bauer’s former associate Clarence Stein. The show had many circulating copies, one of which was immediately picked up by Morley to be exhibited in San Francisco from June to July, 1944. As a prequel of the exhibition, Wurster delivered the lectured “Toward Urban Redevelopment” at SFMA on May 31, which was published in two parts in the June and July issues of Architect & Engineer.

If You Want to Build a House (1946)
Getting much pre-exhibition feedback from her sister Catherine, who was also on the exhibition committee, Elizabeth Mock presented a series of examples of domestic designs –most being California residences[70]– that regardless of their ‘style’ she considered as truly modern because of their efficiency and suitability[71] to different environments, programs or budgets (Mock 1946, 7). Inspired by this teaching exhibition If You Want to Build a House, which opened at MoMA January 1946 and was on display at SFMA May 7 through June 2, 1946, Morley’s launched a busy program of exhibitions, lectures and public talks on the topic of postwar house design and construction such as SFMA’s series The House I Want expounded upon.
Pages from the 1946 March issue of Architect & Engineer featuring Grace Morley’s SFMA program The House I Want

Likewise, drawing inspiration from MoMA’s circulating exhibitions relating to the “What is good design in useful objects?” question –also on display in San Francisco–, in 1949, some months prior to the opening of DASFBR, the Museum organized a series of four supplementary showings and round tables entitled Design in the Kitchen, Dining Room, Living Room and Patio. Covering most segments of everyday life, each exhibition aimed to evaluate to which extent household goods, articles and appliances could solve common domestic problems by means of thoughtful interior and industrial design. They all were mounted in cooperation with Bay Region architects, such as Mayhew, Langhorst or Wong, local designers and the owners of some San Francisco stores whose collaboration resulted in one of the most popular events ever offered by SFMA[72]. With this series, the institution reinforced a policy of producing educational shows relying on installations of outstanding architectural and museographical quality. Among them, certainly, the most striking one was landscape architectural firm Eckbo, Royston and Williams’s experimental set for a patio, wind screen and sun shelter “predicting the shape of outdoor living rooms to come” (San Francisco Chronicle 1949, 3L). Again, the ground-breaking presentation of these shows evidences SFMA’s West Coast-leading role in the public discussion on domestic design, whose comparison with MoMA’s was long overdue. 

1949 Design in the Patio exhibition at SFMA. Eckbo, Royston and Williams’s experimental set. SFMOMA archives

Conversely, in January 1943 the Museum of Modern Art borrowed Hervey Parke Clark’s 1942 small exhibition Western Living from SFMA. The show, which was renamed Five California Houses to emphasize both its regional context and its domestic scope would reverse the usual flow of exhibitions from East to West so that audiences in the East, as MoMA’s press release remarked, “may have an opportunity to become more familiar with this highly characteristic architecture indigenous to Western climate and living habits”.

From another perspective, it is enlightening to compare the discourse of Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region with the shifting approaches to California residential architecture that reveal two of the most significant MoMA-produced exhibitions encompassing the San Francisco show during and after Mock’s curatorship: Built in USA: 1932-1944 and Built in USA: Post-war Architecture.

Elizabeth Mock’s 1944 Built in USA: 1932-1944 show at MoMA. John Funk’s 1939 Heckendorf House in Modesto, CA is on the left side of the picture; Gardner Dailey’s Owen House in Sausalito, CA in the middle. MoMA archives.

The first exhibition Built in USA: 1932-1944 was conceived as a show highly critical of the International Style 1932 show. Capsulizing Wurster’s architectural philosophy, in the promotional sheet for one of her most popular[73] exhibitions, Regional Building in America (Michelson 1993, 418), in 1941 Mock had already declared that: “...good regional building, old and new, is concerned with the straightforward use of materials in forms suitable to specific function, site, and climate. Recent years have seen a new appreciation of this country’s indigenous building tradition and of the contribution which that tradition can make to architecture today”. Again, in her 1944 preface to Built in USA, Mock insisted on the fact that, since 1932, architecture had managed to adopt “a human basis for design”. Her message was that Americans had learned to naturalize the modernist idiom with local materials and the appropriate floor plans and building volumes for living in the different climates of the country. To illustrate her view, she alluded to the architecture in the Bay Region[74], anticipating what three years later Mumford would term as “Bay Region Style”. According to Mock, California had “a flexible native style which could go over into modern architecture without any serious break”. Praising her brother-in-law’s work, she continued: “Wurster, for example, was producing straightforward, essentially modern houses well before 1932, based on good sense and the California wood tradition rather than on specific theories of design” (Mock 1944, 14).

Philip Goodwin’s preface stressed the prominence of domestic architecture in the show, a field he considered as one of the most propitious for the American architects. Yet, in spite of the considerable amount of examples of California residential designs –compared to other regions– exhibited in Built in USA Goodwin apologized for “the small number of West Coast houses which have been included [since] California has led in both quantity and average quality” (Goodwin 1944, 8). Significantly, John Funk’s quintessentially Bay Region Heckendorf House completed in 1939 in Modesto, California, illustrated the cover[75] of Mock’s Built in USA: 1932-1944 exhibition catalogue.
Cover of Mock’s 1944 Built in USA: 1932-1944 exhibition catalogue featuring John Funk’s Heckendorf House (left). Cover of 1952 Hitchcock’s and Drexler’s Built in USA: Postwar Architecture book designed by Alvin Lustig (right)

In his enlightening review of Mock’s Built in USA catalogue, Architect and Engineer postwar planning editor Michael Goodman (1944, 32) attributed the emergence and diversity of styles of domestic architecture to Architectural Forum’s, Architectural Record’s and the Museum of Modern Art’s stance –under Mock– which he praised for its most recent campaigns to educate the public in the acceptance of a wide range of different interpretations of modernism.

Mock’s collaboration with her sister Catherine Bauer –who was on the exhibition committee– had another substantial aftermath. Thanks to Bauer’s assistance in the show the issues of affordable homes for working families, urban facilities and community planning were of major concern. FSA Programs and Public housing by Bay Region designers like Wurster, Vernon DeMars and Garret Eckbo figured prominently in the exhibition catalogue. Also the importance of setting and how architecture responses to it was paramount in the show, evidencing at MoMA one of the major concerns of the Bay Region School.

However, none of the admirable works of these Bay Region-based architects in the field of social housing were included in Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region. Once again, it would evidence that the political interest of the 1949 show was a discussion on identity that ultimately folded upon architectural language. Despite the emphasis of the exhibition catalogue on the egalitarianism and progressive spirit of the region, the show eluded a huge variety of innovative design practices and essential themes such as the minimum house and community planning that were pivotal in William Wurster’s career. As the 1949 exhibition understood regionalism, it was restricted to the realm of the single-family house –ironically as Barr had pointed out at the 1948 symposium– lacking a broader urban vision that would take into account the role of the market forces in the transformation of American cities and landscapes, such as the pre-War Telesis exhibition had already tackled.

Elizabeth Mock’s 1944 Built in USA: 1932-1944 show at MoMA. Vernon De Mars’s and Garrett Eckbo FSA rural community in Woodville, CA (panels and model) is on the left side of the picture. MoMA archives.

The second Built in USA show, adding the sub-title Postwar Architecture, was mounted in January 1953 as a major retrospective to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of MoMA’s Architecture Department. The exhibition was curated by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Arthur Drexler under Philip Johnson’s tutelage. Unlike Mock’s homonymous exhibition, the second Built in USA: Postwar Architecture focused more on corporate buildings and the private residence than on urban planning and public housing and its domestic section deliberately turned its back on the Bay Region School, which was reduced to a couple of irrelevant examples: Mario Corbett’s wood-framed stone and plastic Moritz Thomsen House in Vina and Gardner Dailey’s poured-concrete Red Cross Building in San Francisco, none of which being easily identified as prototypical Bay Region structures. William Wurster was not present in this exhibition. Instead, Harwell Harris’s personal tribute to Greene and Greene was the only representation of Western regionalism whereas the ‘real’ California identity was summarized through the industrial paradigm exemplified by the Case Study House Program as a new national brand within the expanding globalizing world of domestic architecture.

After a decade-long series of events devoted to introduce MoMA’s audiences to regional planning and building, Philip Johnson triumphal preface stating that “the battle of modern architecture has long been won” implicitly claimed that there was no other possible architectural present in America but an evolution from the International Style. Johnson based his arguments on Hitchcock’s analysis and criteria, and delegated him to choose the exhibition entries. Although, according to Johnson, Hitchcock’s criterion of selection was a double one: “quality and significance of the moment”, Wurster was not even mentioned in the catalogue despite being one of the authors most clearly identified with the major architectural debates of the time. As a first deduction, this fact could be considered a logical consequence of Johnson’s interest in securing his viewpoint. However, the question seems far more complicated.

Always less overtly polemical than Johnson or Barr, Hitchcock’s consideration of Wurster and his fellow Bay Region architects was problematic. Due to his strict formal and visual criteria he always had serious reservations about the domestic architecture of San Francisco Bay. Yet, Hitchcock’s interest in obtaining the exhibition at Smith College signaled his curiosity about their contributions. Indeed, except for the occasions in which the critic collaborated closely with Johnson (such as for the 1948 symposium or the 1953 show), Hitchcock’s stance vis-à-vis Wurster is ambivalent. One can only wonder to what extent the two Bauer sisters influenced or partially affected Hitchcock’s vision of California. They planted seeds for the production of In the Nature of Materials, 1887-1941: The Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright in conjunction with the 1940-41 MoMA exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright, American Architect. Bauer had collaborated with Hitchcock and Munford in 1932 MoMA show and again on the 1937 Modern Architecture in England book and exhibition. Hitchcock’s inevitable mellowing as the impact of the International Style faded is evident in this 1951 article “The International Style Twenty Years After” accepting Dean Wurster’s architecture which was published in the August 1951 issue of Architectural Record. It predicted Hitchcock’s continuum referencing to the death of the International Style in his 1965 intro to the 1966 edition of International Style, as well as his apologetic introduction to David Gerhard’s 1971 survey on Schindler.

During the time Built in USA: Postwar Architecture was under preparation, Hitchcock’s relation with both Catherine and William Wurster was very fluent if not familiar as their 1951-1952 correspondence[76] reveals. Thus, it is likely that Wurster purposefully declined to participate in the show as he was completely devoted to the task of organizing the Architecture School at Berkeley University –for which he had just commissioned Hitchcock a report on how to set up its library. Moreover, the majority of the members of Built in USA: Postwar Architecture advisory committee were sympathetic to Wurster, being among them Creighton, Hamlin or his sister-in-law Elizabeth Mock. Wurster’s MIT faculty members Vernon DeMars, Carl Koch, and Robert Woods Kennedy had a project in the show; Aalto’s Baker House commissioned under Wurster’s MIT tenure was included; his successor Pietro Belluschi had his work exhibited as did Charles Eames and Marcel Breuer whom Wurster had invited to teach at Berkeley. Notwithstanding his absence from the catalogue, as a figure of national stature and influence, Wurster’s fingerprints were all over this show. 

7. Conclusions

The circumstances and decisions behind the organization of the 1949 show at the San Francisco Museum of Art, as well as of its strategically planned national and international venues reveal that this exhibition was part of a well-orchestrated campaign that had begun more than a decade before Lewis Mumford wrote his renowned 1947 New Yorker piece triggering the ideological controversy on the existence of a “Bay Region Style” as a regionalist alternative to the International Style.

Previous displays in San Francisco cultural institutions and popular department stores, as well as traveling shows exhibited in other American cities prove that Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region was not an isolated event. Rather, the 1949 show was another milestone in the series of promotional actions that, under the directorship of Grace McCann Morley, had been developed by active groups of San Francisco-based architects counting on the support of the Museum circles, the American Federation of Arts, the local chapters of the AIA and several editorial hubs that sponsored the cause of Bay Region architecture throughout the country years before regionalism became a nexus of national debates.

Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region. Ernest Born’s 1949 installation at SFMA. SFMOMA archives.

Leading Eastern architects’, scholars’ and editors’ early experience to Bay Region architecture through William Wurster, Catherine Bauer, Ernest Born and their Bay Region colleagues as well as the continuum of 1940s MoMA-SFMA collaboration and their New York Architectural League connections approximately coincided with Mumford teaching at Stanford[77] (1942-1944) and with the rise and fall of the curatorship of Elizabeth Mock assisted by the connections of her sister. All these situations and exchanges would coalesce into Mumford’s recognition, observation and support of a distinctive Bay Region understanding of architecture. Thus, although this exhibition made the most of the stir caused by the 1948 MoMA symposium, the 1949 show cannot be considered as a delayed reaction to it, as most of the prevailing literature has claimed. On the contrary, Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region was part of a coherent public agenda whose main achievement had been, precisely, that some of the most influential actors in the United States were exposed, indoctrinated or seduced by the so-called Bay Region School and its emphasis on social, political and environmental concerns. 

During the processes of codification of California modern architecture, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art played a major role concerning the Bay Region that could be compared to what John Entenza’s Arts & Architecture and its circles did in Southern California. Pierluigi Serraino’s insightful monograph advocates that, in many ways, the Bay Region Style was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Only seven years prior to the 1949 exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Art, the historian wrote, Time magazine had paired regionalists William Wilson Wurster and Harwell Hamilton Harris “as colleagues who shared a similar design direction. After the show, however, a completely different picture emerged that assigned two irreconcilable destinies to architecture in Northern and Southern California” (Serraino 2006, 95). Yet, as demonstrated before, except for a few exhibitions where Northern and Southern California residences were shown in the same gallery space, such as 1942 Western Living or Six West Coast Architects –another influential touring exhibition circulated in Australia in 1948– SFMA’s own production primarily focused on architectural shows, such as the major 1938 or 1941 exhibits, which promoted exclusively the work of Bay Region-based authors. Although DASFBR was not the split between Northern and Southern California Serraino claims, it is also true that in the common places of California architectural histories, after 1949, the South began to attract media attention to a “steel modernism” cliché that looked in the direction of the East Coast editorial hubs, whereas the North was irremediably associated with myth of a woodsy Bay Region Style. In this regard, Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region is representative of a conflict of interests that would shape the misunderstanding of the complex reality of California modernism to the rest of the country and which ultimately affected the historiography of American architecture. 

8. Bibliographical references

Books and exhibition catalogues

Blake, Peter. 1996 [1993]. No Place Like Utopia: Modern Architecture and the Company We Kept. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Bletter, Rosemarie H., and Ockman, Joan (eds.). 2015. The Modern Architecture Symposia, 1962-1966: A Critical Edition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Canizaro, Vincent B. (ed.). 2005. Architectural Regionalism. Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity and Tradition. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Mock, Elizabeth, foreword by Goodwin, Philip. 1944. Built in USA: 1932-1944 (exhibition catalogue). New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Mock, Elizabeth. 1946. If You Want to Build a House (exhibition catalogue). New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Editorial Office. 1939. The 1940 Book of Small Houses by the Editors of the Architectural Forum. New York: Simon and Shuster.

Germany, Lisa: Harwell Hamilton Harris. 2000 [1991]. Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, and Drexler, Arthur (eds.), preface by Johnson, Philip. 1952. Built in USA: Post-war Architecture (exhibition catalogue). New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Lefaivre, Liane, and Tzonis, Alexander. 2012. Architecture of Regionalism in the Age of Globalization. London: Routledge.

Mumford, Lewis. 2000 [1952]. Arts & Techniques. Introduction by Casey Nelson Blake. New York: Columbia University Press.

Nelson, George, and Wright, Henry. 1945. Tomorrow’s House. A Complete Guide for the Home-Builder. New York: Simon and Shuster.

Olsberg, Nicholas. 2015. Architects and Artists: The Work of Ernest and Esther Born. San Francisco: The Book Club of California.

Schulze, Franz. 1996 [1994]. Philip Johnson. Life and Work. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Serraino, Pierluigi. 2006. NorCalMod: Icons of Northern California Modernism. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Smith, Kathryn. 2017. Wright on Exhibit: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architectural Exhibitions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Tobias, Jennifer. 2003. "Elizabeth Mock at the Museum of Modern Art, 1938-1946". Unpublished manuscript provided by Jennifer Tobias (Archives of the Museum of Modern Art).

Turner, Paul V. 2016. Frank Lloyd Wright and San Francisco. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Woodbridge, John, and Woodbridge, Sally. 1960. Buildings of the Bay Area. A Guide to the Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region. New York: Grove Press.

Book chapters

Colomina, Beatriz. 1997. “1949”. In Autonomy and Ideology. Positioning an Avant-Garde in America, edited by Robert Somol, 301-325. New York: Monacelli Press.

Fenske, Gail. 1997. “Lewis Mumford, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and the Bay Region Style”. In The Education of the Architect. Historiography, Urbanism, and the Growth of Architectural Knowledge, edited by Martha Pollack, 37-85. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Gebhard, David. 1976. Introduction: The Bay Area Tradition. In Bay Area Houses, edited by Sally Woodbridge, 3-22. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gebhard, 1999 [1995]. “William Wurster and His California Contemporaries. The Idea of Regionalism and Soft Modernism”. In An Everyday Modernism: The Houses of William Wurster, edited by Marc Treib: 164-183. Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art & University of California Press.

Gunderson, Jeff, 2009. “A Combination of Accidents. The San Francisco Art Scene in the 1940s.” In San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: 75 Years of Looking Forward, edited by Janet Bishop, Corey Keller, and Sarah Roberts, 135-143. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Imbert, Dorothée. 1999 [1995]. “Of Gardens and Houses as Places to Live. Thomas Church and William Wurster”. In An Everyday Modernism: The Houses of William Wurster, edited by Marc Treib: 114-137. Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art & University of California Press.

Kirk, Kara, 2009. “Grace McCann Morley and the Modern Museum”. In San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: 75 Years of Looking Forward, edited by Janet Bishop, Corey Keller, and Sarah Roberts, 71-77. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Morley, Grace L. M. 1937. “Foreword” to Contemporary Landscape Architecture and its Sources (exhibition catalogue). San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Museum of Art. 

Mumford, Lewis. 1949. “The Architecture of Bay Region”. In Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region (exhibition catalogue, unpaged). San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art.

Thompson, Elizabeth K. 1949. “Backgrounds and Beginnings”. In Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region (exhibition catalogue, unpaginated). San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art.

Treib, Marc. 1999 [1995]. “William Wilson Wurster: The Feeling of Function”. In An Everyday Modernism: The Houses of William Wurster, edited by Marc Treib: 12-83. Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art & University of California Press.

Wurster, William W. 1949. “A Personal View”. In Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region (exhibition catalogue, unpaginated). San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art.

Journals/ Articles

1938. “AIA Exhibition of Architecture, San Francisco. Ernest Born, Architect”. Architectural Forum 68 (December): 468-469.

1938. “An Exhibit of Architecture”. Architect & Engineer 142 (October): 16-17.

1941. “Architects to Give Exhibit”. Oakland Tribune, Building Development, Sunday Section, May 18.

1941. “Bay Architects Display New House Design Trends”. Oakland Tribune, June 22: 23.

1941. “Portfolio of Houses by Gardner A. Dailey. California Residential Architecture at its Distinctive Best”. Architectural Forum 74 (May): 363-371.

1941. “Architecture Around San Francisco Bay”. Architect & Engineer 145 (June): 17-53.

1941. “Exhibition at Gump’s. San Francisco Architects Show the Public”. Pencil Points 22 (August): 521-522.

1942. “New California Architecture”. Time, April 20: 23.

1942. “Architecture at the San Francisco Museum”. Architect and Engineer 146 (April): 10.

1948. “Bay Region Domestic”. Architectural Review 104 (October): 164-170.

1946. “Meet the Architect. An Architectural Exhibit at Gump’s Gallery, San Francisco”. Arts & Architecture 63 (October-November): 41-48.

1948. “Architecture not Style”. Progressive Architecture 29 (December): 49, 120, 122 & 138.

1949. “Replies to ‘Architecture not Style’ in December 1948 P/A”. Progressive Architecture 30 (January): 8, 10 & 12.

1949. “More Replies to ‘Architecture not Style’”. Progressive Architecture 30 (February): 8, 10 & 12.

1949. “Geometry in the Patio”. San Francisco Chronicle, July 10: 3L.

1950. “Home Exhibit Opens Season at Museum”. Richmond News Leader, September 15: 34.

1949. “Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Area. Exhibition of the San Francisco Museum of Art”. Architectural Record 105 (September): 119-126.

1949. “Architectural Forum”. Architectural Forum 91 (September): 14.

1949. “Houses”. Architectural Forum 91 (September): 51-80.

1949. “San Francisco Houses”. Life magazine. September 5.

Allen, Peter. 2009. “Progress Intentionally Planned. Telesis and the Modernist Agenda”. The Urbanist 482 (June-July): 38-42.

Barr, Alfred, et al. 1948. “What is Happening to Modern Architecture? A Symposium at the Museum of Modern Art”. Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art. 15 (Spring): 4-20.

Bauer, Catherine. 1941. “Large-Scale Housing. A Balance Sheet of Progress”. Architectural Record 89 (May): 89-105.

Born, Ernest. 1941: “Exhibition of Residential Architecture”. California Arts & Architecture 58 (June): 24-25.

Bourjaily, Vance. 1949: “An Exhibit Steps into an Argument”. San Francisco Chronicle, September 11: 5L.

Cheek, Lesley, and Editorial Office. 1950. “Bay Region Homes”. 11 (September).

Chermayeff, Serge. 1941. “Architecture and a New World”. California Arts & Architecture 58 (May): 12-13, 38 & 40.

Chermayeff, Serge. 1942. “Birth of a Group. Telesis”. Pencil Points 23 (July): 45-48.

Goodman, Michael. 1944. “Built in U.S.A.: 1932-1944”. Book review. Architect and Engineer 157 (September): 32.

Gordon, Elizabeth. 1945. “People Who Influence Your Life. Meet William Wurster”. House Beautiful 87 (June): 69.

Hamlin, Talbot. 1938. “The Architectural League Exhibition. Reviewing Contemporary American Architecture”. Pencil Points 19 (June): 343-355.

Hamlin, Talbot. 1939. “California Fair Houses”. Pencil Points 20 (May): 293-296.

Hamlin, Talbot. 1939. “What Makes It American: Architecture in the Southwest”. Pencil Points 20 (December): 762-776.

Hamlin, Talbot. 1942. “The Trend of American Architecture”. Harper’s (January). Unpaged reprint for SFMA Western Living exhibition.

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. 1940. “An Eastern Critic Looks at Western Architecture”. California Arts & Architecture 57 (December): 21-23 & 40-41.

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. 1951. “The International Style Twenty Years After”. Architectural Record 110 (August): 89-97.

Holz, Dayna, and Lemieux, Jessica. 2008. Finding Aid to the San Francisco Museum of Art, Office of the Director Records, 1935-195. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Johnson, Philip. 1942. “Architecture in 1941” (unpublished). Included in Johnson, Philip. 1979. Writings, 56-60. New York: Oxford University Press.

Johnson, Philip, and Blake, Peter. 1948. “Architectural Freedom and Order: An Answer to Robert W. Kennedy”. Magazine of Art 41 (October): 228-231.

Kauffmann, Edgar Jr. 1949. “What is Happening to Modern Architecture”. Arts & Architecture 66 (September): 26-29.

Kennedy, Robert W. 1948. “The Small House in New England”. Magazine of Art 41 (April): 123-128.

Lemieux, Jessica. 2008. Finding Aid to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records, 1934-ongoing (bulk 1935-1975). San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Magruder, Charles. 1941. “Words about California”. Pencil Points 22 (May): 292.

Morley, Grace M. 1942. “Western Living. 6 Architects in Exhibition”. California Arts & Architecture 59 (March): 24-25.

Morley, Grace M. 1946. “The House I Want”. Architect and Engineer 164 (March): 7.

Mumford, Lewis. 1938 “The Sky Line: The Golden Age in the West and the South”. The New Yorker, April 30: 50-51.

Mumford, Lewis. 1947. “The Sky Line: Status Quo”. The New Yorker, October/September 11: 106-109.

Mumford, Lewis. 1949. “Monumentalism, Fundamentalism and Style”. Architectural Review 105 (April): 174-180.

Rodríguez García, Raúl. 2015. “La aportación regionalista en EE. UU. Génesis bibliográfica de una ‘nueva filosofía’ arquitectónica“. Cuaderno de notas 16 (July): 54-72.

Thompson, Elizabeth K. 1949. “Is There a Bay Regional Style?” Architectural Record 105 (May): 92-9.

Thompson, Elizabeth K. 1949. “Domestic Architecture of the Bay Region: A Guide”. Western Section brochure. Architectural Record 105 (September).

Thompson, Elizabeth K. 1951. “The Early Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region”. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 10 (October): 15-21.

Wurster. William W. 1944. “San Francisco Bay Portfolio”. Magazine of Art, American Federation of Arts 38 (December): 300-305.

Wurster. William W. 1946. “From Log Cabin to Modern House. An Architect Urges a Return to Simple Fundamentals in Planning our New Homes”. The New York Times, January 20: 10 & 53.

Thesis and doctoral dissertations

Michelson, Alan R. 1993. Towards a Regional Synthesis: The Suburban and Country Residences of William Wilson Wurster, 1922-1964. Doctoral Dissertation (Advisor: Paul V. Turner). Stanford University.

Postal, Mathew A. 1998. “Toward a Democratic Esthetic?”. The Modern House in America. Doctoral Dissertation (Advisor: Rosemarie H. Bletter). The City University of New York.

Potter, Berit. 2015. Grace McCann Morley and the Dialectical Exchange of Modern Art in the Americas, 1935-1958. Doctoral Dissertation (Advisors: Thomas E. Crow and Edward J. Sullivan). Institute of Fine Arts. New York University.

Tobias, Jennifer. 2012. The Museum of Modern Art’s What is Modern? Series 1936-1969. Doctoral Dissertation (Advisor: Rosemarie H. Bletter). The City University of New York.

Oral histories

Chermayeff, Serge. 2001 [1986]. Oral History conducted in 1985 by Betty J. Blum. Chicago Architects Oral History Program. Ernest R. Graham Study Center for Architectural Drawings. Department of Architecture. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Eckbo, Garret. 1993. “Landscape Architecture. The Profession in California, 1935-1940, and Telesis”.  An Oral History conducted in 1990 by Suzanne B. Riess. Regional Oral History Office. Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley.

Knight Scott, Geraldine. 1991. “A Woman in Landscape Architecture in California, 1926-1989”. An Oral History conducted in 1976 by Jack Buktenica. Regional Oral History Office. Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley.

Wurster, William W. 1964. “College of Environmental Design, University of California, Campus Planning, and Architectural Practice”. An Interview conducted by Suzanne B. Reiss. Regional Cultural History Project. Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley.

Exhibition records

Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution.
Collection: American Federation of Arts records, 1895-1993, bulk 1909-1969
            Box 72, folder 7: San Francisco Architecture 1950-1951.
Collection: Henry-Russell Hitchcock Papers, 1919-1987.
            Box 3, folder 36: correspondence, Museum of Modern Art, 1948.
Collection: Marcel Breuer Papers, 1920-1986.
            Box 2. Reel 5711, frame 419-462: correspondence, December 1947; frame 463-549: correspondence, 1948-1949.

Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley.
            Collection: Catherine Bauer Wurster Papers.
            Series 1. Biographical papers.
Subseries 1.2. Correspondence 1921-1964, undated. Box 1, folders 8-10. Catherine Bauer Wurster to Elizabeth (Bauer) Mock (Kassler) and vice versa.
            Series 2. Professional papers.
Subseries 2.2. Correspondence 1928-1964. Box 19, folder 13: Hitchcock, Henry-Russell 1944-1952.
Subseries 2.5. Organizations 1927-1964. Carton 2, folder 37: Museum of Modern Art, New York, correspondence 1941-1942.
Museum of Virginia Fine Arts.
State Government Records Collection. Richmond, VA: The Library of Virginia.
Exhibition Files 1936-1992.
Box 34, accession 31633: Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region, 1950-1951.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Collection: Exhibition Records 1934-ongoing (bulk 1935-75). ARCH. EXH. 001.
Box 6, folder 1: Landscape Architecture Exhibition (12.02.1937 to 22.03.1937).
Box 9, folder 23: AIA Architecture Exhibition (01.10.1938 to 06.11.1938).
Box 13, folder 2: Telesis. Space for Living. An Exhibition on Planning and Architecture (29.07.1940 to 01.09.1940).
Box 14, folder 7: Prize Winning Houses of Seven Bay Region Architects (21.01.1941 to 14.02.1941).
Box 15, folder 1: Architecture around San Francisco Bay (17.06.1941 to 06.07.1941).
Box. 16, folder 29: Western Living (07.04.1942 to 27.04.1942).
Box 18, folder 37: Telesis. Planning for Safety and Better Living: Suggestions for Post-War California (12.04.1943 to 02.05.1943)
Box 30, folder 12: Landscape Design (18.11.1948 to 26.12.1948).
Box 31, folder 33: Design in the Patio (07.07.1949 to 08.08.1949).
Box 32, folder 3: Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region (16.09.1949 to 06.11.1949).
Box 35, folder 27: Architecture of Maybeck (18.05.1951 to 02.07.1951)
Box 44, folder 4: San Francisco Bay Region Architecture: A Current Report (16.01.1955 to 15.05.1955)

Collection: Office of the Director Records 1935-1958. ARCH. ADM. 001.
Box 43, folder 9: Museums.

Collection: Women’s Board Records 1934-1977. ARCH. ADM. 003.
Subseries 3.7: House Tours, 1947-1954. Carton 6, folders 6-12.


We are particularly indebted to Peggy Tran-Le, archivist and records manager at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; as well as a to Courtney Tkacz, archivist at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Both of whom have facilitated our research by enthusiastically guiding us through the extraordinary archives of their museums. This chapter has benefited as well from the help of Jennifer Tobias, librarian at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, whose comments and exchanges on Elizabeth Mock have been of the greatest importance to us.

We are also profoundly grateful to Henriette Kets de Vries, manager of the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings and Photographs at Smith College Museum of Art; and to Jeff Gunderson, archivist and librarian of the Anne Bremer Memorial Library at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Many thanks are due to Natalie Vielfaure, archivist at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections; to Erin Kinhart, archivist at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; and to Tara Z. Laver, archivist at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. All of whom have contributed to the project in different ways.

Finally, our thanks should go to the Department of Graphic Expression, Architectural Composition and Design of the Alicante University, Spain, which has contributed to the financial support of this research.


[1] According to Beatriz Colomina, 1949 coincides with the beginning but, perhaps, also with the end of an American architectural avant-garde. 1949 would represent the date in which the “eyes of the architectural world shifted direction”, from Europe to America, the critic wrote. “1949 is simply emblematic of what had happened in architecture in the United States in the immediate postwar years, and what would soon move in a completely different direction” (Colomina 1997, 304). The year would also epitomize a major turning point in the development of critical discourses surrounding the problems of the identity and autonomy of an American avant-garde, just at the time regionalism have become an issue. 

[2] The word ‘modern’ was not add to the Museum’s name until 1976, when it changed to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

 Grace M. Morley was a Bay Area native who, after graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of California, earned a doctorate in French art and literature from the University of Paris. In 1934 she was hired to fill the void left behind by the dismissal of Lloyd LaPage Rollins, who had directed the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum and California Palace of the Legion of Honor between 1930 and 1933. Rollins was fired for being too far ahead of his time but also for being a homosexual. He exhibited the work of R. M. Schindler and his Kings Road tenant Galka Scheyer's collection of The Blue Four. However, Rollins’s showings of his close friends, photographers Edward and son Brett Weston, Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham, and numerous other modernist, were not yet accepted by wealthy San Francisco art patrons. Tragically, Morley had as well to resign her SFMA post in 1958 for being a lesbian.

 Information provided by Jeff Gunderson whose insightful comments on the history of the San Francisco Art Institute –named California School of Fine Arts in the 1940s–, particularly in the field of photography, have benefited this research.

[5] Upon the end of World War II, CSFA Director Douglas MacAgy, who formerly assisted and was very close to Morley and also a special consultant to the Director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, made the School a hub for Abstract Expressionism. Its faculty included Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhard and Clyfford Still, among others. Morely and MacAgy collaborated in mounting pioneering solo shows for some of the most important emerging artists of the day (Gunderson 2009, 139).

[6] Due to its shortage of funds, SFMA operated with a very small staff counting on the support of a dedicated pool of volunteers, largely provided by the Women’s Board, an educational and fundraising auxiliary to the Board of Trustees (Holz and Lemieux 2007, 5-6).

[7] Morley was also ahead of her time when she made the decision of keeping the museum open until very late in the evening, six days a week (Kirk 2009, 72).

[8] Evidence of the local community’s commitment to the exhibition is the involvement in the show of local private and public associations and institutions such as the Pacific Coast Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Department of Landscape Design at the University of California, Berkeley.

[9] The Museum would mount a second landscape architecture showing in 1948. It was titled Landscape Design and reoriented both its focus and scale of inquiry from residential gardens to urban planning and housing (Imbert 1999, 125). On display from mid-November to the end of that year, the exhibition was organized during the peak of the national debates on regionalism, which evidences the importance that the topic had in the San Francisco design community. Under Morley’s directorship, two more shows on landscape architecture were held in 1956 and 1957.

[10] The Eleventh Annual Convention of the American Institute of Architects, Northern Chapter, was held in San Francisco, October 13 through October 15, 1938.

[11] Among the participants in the 1938 exhibition, William Ambrose, Hervey Parke Clark, Frederick Confer, Mario Corbett, Gardner Dailey, Clarence Mayhew, Eldridge Spencer and William W. Wurster were also exhibited in the 1949 show.

[12] Catherine Bauer letter to SFMA, December 15, 1938. SFMOMA Archives: ARCH. EXH. 001.

[13] Grace M. Morley letter to William W. Wurster, January 15, 1938.  SFMOMA Archives: ARCH. EXH. 001.

[14] The show opened the 30th of September, 1938. It was originally scheduled for three weeks. However, the success of the exhibition resulted in its holding through the 6th of November.

[15] Among Telesis founding members were Vernon DeMars, John Dinwiddie, Garret Eckbo, T. J. Kent, Joseph McCarthy, Francis Violich, etc. 

[16] At the time of the 1940 Telesis exhibition San Francisco was one of the few major American cities without having an independent department of professional city planning. The show and its subsequent public debates contributed to changing this situation which had been denounced, among others, by Catherine Bauer. In fact, the exhibit inspired the San Francisco Housing Association to expand from housing reform advocacy to a group mostly concerned with city planning, renaming itself the San Francisco Planning and Housing Association, which in turn, became SPUR (See Allen 2009).

[17] Such as the subsequent Telesis shows Planning for Safety and Better Living: Suggestions for Post-War California (1943) or The Next Million People (1950).                                                                              

[18] Grace M. Morley helped Serge Chermayeff to establish himself professionally. She also introduced the architect to her circles when he moved to the Bay Area (Chermayeff’s Oral History 2001, 22)

[19] As in most of the SFMA shows, Bay Region architects contributed to the expenses of the show. For instance, when SFMA decided to invite architecture curator John McAndrew from MoMA to speak, Wurster was asked to help finance the lecture fees (See Grace M. Morley letter to William W. Wurster, October 16, 1940. SFMOMA Archives: ARCH. EXH. 001).

[20] How Northern California Lives, Architectural League of New York, January 1946. It was an exhibition of photographs of San Francisco Bay houses by Roger Sturtevant.

[21] Ad published in the Oakland Tribune on May 25, 1941.

[22] Forty Architects under Forty was organized in collaboration with Architectural Forum and exhibited in the galleries of the Architectural League of New York. California was represented by Los Angeles-based Harwell H. Harris and by some promising Bay Region architects: Hervey P. Clark, John Dinwiddie, Albert Henry Hill, Philip Joseph and John Funk, all of them except Joseph were included in the 1949 DASFBR show.

[23] For instance, Bauer’s major article on large-scale housing published in the May 1941 issue of Architectural Record was timed to coincide with the 1941 AIA Convention. Wurster was featured in the same issue. Also in May 1941, Architectural Forum featured a Gardner Dailey portfolio indicating Bay Region architects’ strong editorial connections.

[24] Wurster’s effort in showing Mumford around would challenge Marc Treib’s suggestion that in 1948, “quite unknowingly and surprisingly”, Wurster must have found himself in the middle of a theoretical debate to reestablish the evaluation criteria of modernism (Treib 1999, 58).

[25] Even though Hitchcock’s comments on Dailey, Clark, Dinwiddie, Funk and McCarthy were more indulgent than his review of his future employer at MIT, the historian clearly expressed his preference for Portland architecs, such as Pietro Belluschi, over Wurster and the rest of mentioned Bay Region architects.

[26] Hamlin also mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright, who finally declined Morley’s invitation to exhibit. 

[27] Among them were requests from Argentina, Canada, Mexico and South Africa.

[28] Grace Morley letter to Frank Lloyd Wright, February 6, 1942. Frank Lloyd Wright Correspondence. Microfiche copy. Research Library. The Getty Research Institute.

[29] Bay Region architects were preeminently published in Tomorrow’s House, being listed on the final credits along with leading figures of the Southern California architectural scene –such as Harwell H. Harris, Paul Laszlo, Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano and Lloyd Wright. Among the Bay Area practitioners whose work appeared in Nelson’s 1945 book were: Hervey Parke Clark, Frederick Confer, Mario Corbett, Gardner A. Dailey, John E. Dinwiddie, Joseph Esherick, John Funk, Albert Henry Hill; Philip Joseph, Francis E. Lloyd, Clarence W. Mayhew and William Wurster (as Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons), all of them except for Joseph and Lloyd would also be exhibitioners in the 1949 show at SFMA.

[30] “What has Happened to Lewis Mumford?” is the sarcastic title of the 1948 symposium report published in the Graduate School of Design (GSD) Bulletin at Harvard University. The article, which was highly slanted against Mumford’s “attack on the modernist” reveals the divergent stances on the issue taken by the two faculties in Cambridge. Whereas MIT backed its Dean Wurster, Harvard adopted MoMA's position so the GSD report came to this conclusion summarizing the School’s interpretation: “The consensus of opinion seemed to be that Mr. Mumford’s claim that the Bay Region style was a new form of architecture is incorrect and it should be judged as a regional expression of modern movement”.  It was likely written by R.D. Thompson who was listed as a contributor on the masthead.  The copy consulted is from Marcel Breuer Papers where there is also a letter from Bulletin staffer Joseph Eldredge transmitting this particular Bulletin issue to Breuer and pleading with him to stay at the School. See Marcel Breuer Papers, 1920-1986. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[31] Regarding his central position within the controversy due to Mumford’s 1947 essay, William Wurster would later write: “a storm of criticism arose because it isn´t a style and many people didn´t feel my work was that important […] and they considered I am too unorthodox […] both as a designer and as an educator” (Wurster 1964, 278).

[32] Mumford's interpretation of the architecture produced around San Francisco Bay emerged from a wider conceptual frame considering the built environment as interdependent with its natural surroundings as well as its urban and socio-cultural context. Mumford’s and Hitchcock’s dissimilar understanding of Wurster’s work is expressive of their confrontation over the Bay Region Style. Their dispute was based, as Gail Fenske has observed, in two fundamentally opposed interpretations of architecture. Mumford could not accept Hitchcock's methodology of evaluating buildings on the basis of formal criteria and Hitchcock was unable to appreciate Mumford's complex approach to architecture which was deeply rooted in the ecological and social orientation of Patrick Geddes (Fenske 1997, 45, 63).

[33] Fenske did not consider either Wurster’s and Bauer’s institutional relationships concerning MIT, Harvard and MoMA, or Wurster’s employment of Hitchcock, Kennedy and DeMars and his and Bauer’s close relationship with Breuer and many other MoMA Symposium participants. The situation and the cross interests among them were thus much more complex than she related.

[34] Peter Blake who, after meeting Philip Johnson in 1947 was appointed Curator at MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design (1948-1950) would also admit in his autobiography that they were all wrong about Mumford (Blake 1996, 107).

[35] Philip Johnson letter to Henry-Russell Hitchcock, January 30, 1948. Henry-Russell Hitchcock Papers, 1919-1987. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (Johnson organized a first dinner before the symposium and a second one the following day, inviting Mumford, Barr and Hitchcock to discuss the terms of the meeting and its proceeding’s publication).

[36] Marcel Breuer letter to Philip Johnson, December 30, 1947. Marcel Breuer Papers, 1920-1986. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[37] Mary Barnes letter to Marcel Breuer, January 30, 1948. Marcel Breuer Papers, 1920-1986. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[38] Blake’s correspondence and discussion with Hitchcock about Johnson’s and Blake’s October 1948 article in Magazine of Art rebutting Robert Woods Kennedy’s earlier piece on New England regionalism would further evidence their collusion in the February Symposium at MoMA. Their article continued the ‘Cottage’ versus ‘International Style’ debates resumed at every occasion from the symposium through 1949. See Peter Blake letter to Henry-Russell Hitchcock, October 14, 1948. Henry-Russell Hitchcock Papers, 1919-1987. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[39] The 1947 Princeton symposium “Building for Modern Man”, which was attended by Johnson himself and counted on many of the same participants he invited to MoMA the following year, might have provided the inspiration for his “What is Happening to Modern Architecture?” debate.

[40] It is likely that Mumford had also Harris’s work in mind when he coined the label ‘Bay Region Style’ to confront the functionalist approach to American domesticity. However, he might have considered the regionalist connection between Northern and Southern California less effective for the purpose of his argument. As Lisa Germany (2000, 109-110) has observed, Harris’s wife writer Jean Murray Bangs set the critic straight about the geographical limitations of the Bay Area. In a 1948 article for Architectural Forum devoted to the work of the Greene brothers, she chastised Mumford for misusing the word ‘style’ for defining the diversity of the Bay Area architecture and for failing to notice that it continued further south.

[41] That month, Robert Woods Kennedy, who was then on Wurster's faculty at MIT, published a Wurster-sympathetic piece “The Small House in New England” in the April issue of Magazine of Art. Kennedy’s essay was harshly answered by Philip Johnson and Peter Blake in an article published in the December issue of the same magazine.

[42] The editorial claimed: “For example ‘critics’ points to Wurster’s residential work as being ‘cottagy’, while his large buildings are, according to them, in the International Style. The International Style is accepted (by this group of critics) as the correct style. Therefore, the ‘cottagy’ building is wrong. Therefore, as Philip Johnson and Peter Blake write in the Magazine of Art, ‘In the architectural framework of order there can be no room for the anarchy of cottages’. Or, as Henry-Russell Hitchcock said at the Museum of Modern Art, ‘It’s activities (the cottage style’s) are centered on what is frankly not one of the important problems of the architecture of the present day’. To such a weird conclusion this twisted architectural logic leads –the small individual house is, Hitchcock went on to say, ‘of very little statistical consequence today’” (Progressive Architecture 1948, 122).

[43] In January 1949, Progressive Architecture received supportive letters to the editor from Bay Region architects Gardner Dailey, Ernest Kump and William Wurster, also from Wurster’s then MIT faculty member Robert Woods Kennedy, as well as more confusing letters from Christopher Tunnard and Henry-Russel Hitchcock. In February 1949 mixed letters to the editor came from Philip Goodwin, Talbot Hamlin, Philip Johnson and Peter Blake. The following month Creighton published the annotated proceedings to the 1947 Princeton symposium “Building for Modern Man” which sympathized with Mumford and Wurster.

[44] Initially planned to be closed the 30th of October, 1949, the show was extended one more week until Sunday November 6.

[45] Roger Sturtevant (1903-1982) photographed 32 of the 52 residences exhibited in the 1949 showing at SFMA. Born and raised in California, he was a self-trained photographer that eventually moved from fine art photography to architectural photography. Pauline Schindler most likely influenced his selection of architectural photography as a career after commissioning him to provide photographs for her pioneering 1930 Contemporary Creative Architecture of California traveling exhibition. Rondal Partridge's pedigree as the son of iconic Group f.64 member Imogen Cunningham and apprenticeship under fellow member Dorothea Lange was impressive to say the least. Fellow Group f.64 member Edward Weston's disciple Minor White also gained later fame as a fine arts photographer. Same as Pirkle Jones, who was one of the first Ansel Adam’s students at California School of Fine Arts. In his turn, rising Southern California architectural photographer Julius Shulman's entrée into the Bay Region market had up until this time been limited to the work of his most important client Richard Neutra and he was not commissioned to take any picture of the houses shown at this exhibit.

[46] Richard B. Freeman letter to Don W. Lyon, President, Producers Council of San Francisco, September 19, 1949. SFMOMA Archives: ARCH. EXH. 001

[47]  “Meet the Architect” spread covered the exhibit held in June at Gump’s Galleries in San Francisco and announced its impending venue at the Los Angeles County Museum. The article featured houses by Joseph Allen Stein, Dinwiddie-Hill + Mendelsohn, John Funk, Joseph Esherick, Fred Langhorst, Anshen and Allen, Hervey Parke Clark and Howard Moise.

[48] Around the time he was invited to contribute an essay to the exhibition catalogue, Mumford's article in the April issue of Architectural Review insisted that the “restrictive definition of modern architecture” emerging from the 1932 show was “still maintained” at MoMA in 1948 (Mumford 1948, 174).

[49] Correspondence between Thompson and SFMA also emphasized this fact (See Richard B. Freeman letter to Elizabeth K. Thompson, September 26, 1949. SFMOMA Archives: ARCH. EXH. 001).

[50] This fact would also explain why Harwell H. Harris’s masterpiece Weston Haven House, which had been completed late in 1941, was not part of this show either.

[51] Esherick's four projects was the largest number in the group of exhibited architects.

[52] In 1949, with Wurster in Cambridge and Morley in Paris, Born and Thompson were responsible for the communication strategies from San Francisco.

[53] Katherine A. Baker (Secretary to SFMA Director) on behalf of Robert Church letter to Elizabeth Kendall Thomspson (Mrs. Frank Thompson), July 6, 1949. SFMOMA Archives: ARCH. EXH. 001.

[54] Architects included in the traveling exhibition were Anshen and Allen; Worley K. Wong; Hervey Parke Clark; Mario Corbett; Gardner A. Dailey; Joseph Esherick; John Funk; Hans U. Gerson; Henry Hill; Jack Hillmer and Warren Callister; John G. Kelley; Fred Langhorst; Francis Joseph McCarthy; Elridge T. Spencer and William Clement Ambrose; Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons. Neither John Dinwiddie nor Ernest Born were included.

[55] Leslie Cheek letter to AFA, July 19, 1949. VMFA. The Library of Virginia archives hold the most complete records of this exhibition outside SFMA.

[56]In September 1950, the Richmond News Leader and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Members’ Bulletin, echoed the words of Leslie Cheek Jr, Virginia Museum director: “During the last 50 years, on the steep slopes that surround San Francisco Bay in California, there have been built houses with a vitality distinctive in all of America. The special quality of these homes is perhaps due to a blending of the pioneer spirit with the mild climate and dramatic terrain of this far western region. The resultant houses have now become the most potent influence in our contemporary domestic architecture” (VMFA Bulletin 1950: unpaginated).

[57] Henry-Russell Hitchcock letter to Robert J. Duemling, April 21, 1950. In this letter he offers his viewpoint on the show to Duemling, who had been invited to give a lecture on Bay Area architecture at Smith College on the occasion of the DASFBR venue organized by Hitchcock himself. Referring to the house in Berkeley by Greene & Greene exhibited on the historical section of the 1949 showing at SFMA, the critic considered that the Greene brothers were quintessentially Bay Region architects regardless of their practice and office being based in Southern California. 

[58] Grace M. Morley letter to Thomas Parker, AFA Director, November 7, 1950. AFA records. AAA. Smithsonian Institution. The cost of duplicating the show was estimated in 2.800 USD. 36 Masonite panels (measuring 4x4 feet each) modified the wood solution to get a lighter installation for circulation abroad.

[59] Grace M. Morley letter to Philip Hodge. Division of Libraries and Institutes. Department of State, May 7, 1951. AFA records. AAA. Smithsonian Institution. The final cost of reproduction was 3.200 USD. Morley explained her satisfaction for the result which, according to her words, the Museum considered “technically quite the finest presentation we have ever made”.

[60] The twenty-minute sound and color documentary showed examples of architecture produced on the West Coast from mid-19th century. It featured works from Bernard Maybeck and Frank Lloyd Wright to Richard Neutra as well as some of the most recent structures, such as glass and aluminum Equitable Building by Pietro Belluschi. 

[61] Mary Mix’s catalogue accompanying this exhibition published a wide range of examples of domestic architecture of the Bay Area. Mix, who had worked with Douglas Haskell in Architectural Forum -where she had featured Bauer in 1946– and was working for Architectural Record, was part of AIA’s Committee on International Relations. Mix was also involved with AFA and the State Department which explains her crucial role in the German edition of the catalogue. The show would later travel to other European cities, including Milan (1951) and Barcelona (1953).

[62] See The Courier-Journal, Louisville (Kentucky), October 9, 1955, p. 86.

[63] October 1937 letters from Grace M. Morley to MoMA’s Director Secretary. SFMOMA Archives: ARCH. EXH. 001.

[64] Grace M. Morley letter to Alfred Barr, April 22, 1941. SFMOMA Archives: ARCH. ADM. 001.

[65] Elizabeth Mock arrived at MoMA in time to assist with the hanging of her former patron Frank Lloyd Wright’s solo show on Falling Water House which opened on January 25, 1938.

[66]Elizabeth Mock letter to Taliesin, April 4, 1940. During the preparation of the modern section of The Wooden House in America MoMA show, Mock informed that she was aware that F. L. Wright’s Sturges House was to be published in the April 1940 issue of California Arts & Architecture where Morley would be named editorial board advisor the following month. Frank Lloyd Wright Correspondence. Microfiche copy. Research Library. The Getty Research Institute.

[67] For instance, The Wooden House in America not only included single family residences but also cooperative housing such as Vernon DeMars’s FSA Yuba City Farm Workers Community (California, 1940), indicating Mock’s and her sister Catherine’s shared concerns about public programs.

[68] Peter Blake: “Architecture is an Art and MoMA is its Prophet”. ARTnews (October 1979): 99.

[69] Late in 1945 Philip Johnson began to be again involved with MoMA, in part because of few opportunities to build (Tobias 2012, 183). The following year, he was already acting as the unofficial Director of its Department of Architecture. Lefaivre and Tzonis (2012, 120) have assumed Franz Schulze’s account (Schulze 1996, 173-174) that Johnson eliminated Elizabeth Mock upon his return to MoMA to reclaim his former position. However, according to Jennifer Tobias there are two versions of Mock’s departure: “In 1995 she explained it was her choice, that she left to join her husband in Tennessee, where he was chief architect for the Tennessee Valley Authority. She said that Architecture Committee Chair Philip Goodwin begged her to stay, but she was adamant. In 1991 Philip Johnson said he didn’t remember why she left. His biographer [Schulze] says Mock ‘never had a chance’ upon Johnson's return, that (for example) Johnson purposely ignored her during a lunch with Barr. If the reasons for her departure are unclear, the date is certain. In a December 1946 memo outlining department activities for that year, Philip Johnson reports these personnel changes: Elisabeth B. Mock resigned as Curator July 15, 1946; Philip C. Johnson, Consultant Since August, 1946” (Tobias 2003, 33-34).

[70] Houses by Bay Area regionalists Corbett, Dailey, Dinwiddie, Funk, Mayhew, McCarthy and Wurster, along with the work of Southern California architects Harris, Lautner and Neutra were exhibited.

[71] In line with her sister-in-law’s analysis, Wurster would write an article on the most frequent problems concerning the process of designing and building a suitable modern house which was timely published by The New York Times ten days after the show’s opening at MoMA.

[72] See Press Release. Design in the Patio, July 7, 1949. SFMOMA Archives: ARCH. EXH. 001.

[73] Exhibited in twenty-six venues the show was circulating between 1941 and 1947 (Smith 2017, 147).

[74] The exhibition featured works by Wright, Harris, Neutra, Soriano and Ain. The selection of Bay Region architects including Corbett, Dailey, DeMars, Funk, Kump and Wurster was perceptibly well-covered.

[75] Among other MoMA’s shows organized by Mock during the 1940s, John Funk’s 1939 Heckendorf House was included in The Wooden House in America (1941) and in If You Want to Build a House (1946). Funk as well had a model exhibited in Mock’s celebrated Tomorrow's Small House at MoMA (1945) where his fellow Bay Region architects Corbett, DeMars, Kump and Wurster were also included.

[76] Hitchcock informed Bauer and Wurster about his new “association” with Philip Johnson to “get together a new Built in USA exhibition and publication”. Although there is no invitation to Wurster to submit materials to the exhibit, the critic spoke frankly about it. Hitchcock even provided them with references of some of his students and collaborators in the ongoing show which were interested in visiting the Bay Area for summer internships and research trips. See Henry-Russell Hitchcock letter to Catherine B. and William W. Wurster, June 6, 1952. Catherine Bauer Wurster Papers. Bancroft Library. UC Berkeley.

[77] In 1942 Mumford accepted a faculty offer to take a position at Stanford University “with the hope of designing a humanities program reflecting his methodology in cultural history” although he left the University two years later frustrated by the disciplinary difficulties to accomplish such a program (Mumford 2000, xxi).