April 28, 2014 Mid-Century Modern

Appreciation: Harold L. Esten, FAIA

Hal Esten

Sad news to report. Harold Esten, FAIA, one of Washington’s leading modernist architects, passed away in February at the age of 94. I was lucky to meet with Hal and his wife Alice before they moved to California to be closer to family. I was honored to list their house in Hammond Wood, which Hal was instrumental in designing when he worked for Charles Goodman.
Esten House

The Esten family home in Hammond Wood. I listed the house in 2011.

Here’s a look back at Hal’s award-winning career, which thankfully left the Washington area with some very elegant and stunning mid-century modern design.
Esten, who was born in 1920 in Philadelphia to Russian immigrants, studied civil engineering at the University of Alabama and George Washington University before the World War II. After Pearl Harbor, he worked for the Civil Aeronautics Administration and the Coast and Geodetic Survey, identifying landing strips, landmarks and obstacles to aerial navigation until he was called up for active duty.

He served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946, on the USS Wasatch as a cartographer and photographer. He participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf; in landing operations in Lingayen and Polloc Harbor in the Philippines and in Balikpapan, Borneo; in the Occupation of Japan; and in peacetime operations in China.

After the war, he entered the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology on the G.I. Bill. The Institute of Design was founded by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in 1937 as the New Bauhaus, after the Nazis shut down the original Bauhaus in Germany. After World War II, the Institute of Design joined the Illinois Institute of Technology. The architecture program at IIT was headed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. However, Esten did not join Mies’s class because, he said, he was afraid of becoming an imitator.

After receiving his BA in Architecture at ID/IIT in 1950, he moved with his wife, the former Alice McCaffrey, to Washington, where his own father already lived, and took a job with Goodman’s firm, which has already started Hollin Hills. Esten was very involved in the creation of Hammond Wood. Goodman designed the Hammond Wood prototypes and Esten adapted them to the individual sites. He even bought one lot for himself.

After leaving Goodman’s office, Esten continued to build projects with developer Paul Hammond. He left Goodman in 1953 and worked for a year with Ronald Senseman as a project manager and architect/planner. In January 1955, he started his own practice in Silver Spring. Halex House on Thayer Ave was built some years later to house his practice and his interior Design Gallery.

Halex House2

Esten’s Halex House is slated for demolition.

Esten taught at Howard University as an associate professor, critic and lecturer from 1958 to 1962. He returned in the 1970s and retired as a full professor in 1986.

Hal Esten FAIA

Hal Esten (left) at his induction as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

He was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and received numerous awards from the AIA Potomac Valley Chapter: two for theĀ  Katinas residence, (one for architecture, and one for interior/exterior detail), and individual awards for the Kaufman, Kitchen, Landreth, Marcus, Marino (with Ronald Senseman) and Nelson residences; a First Place Award for the Green Acres School (1958, with the firm Davis, Brody, Wisniewski), and another for the synagogue Nevey Shalom, built for the Jewish Congregation of Belair.

Jasper House

The Jasper House in Mohican Hills. Hal designed this for friends he met in Hammond Wood.

He also received an award for Architectural Excellence from the Washington Board of Trade, a Special Award from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce for Excellence in Building Design (1970), and the Suburban Maryland Builders’ Association Home Building Competition, Special Award of Excellence (Individual Homes Class) for a home on Brigadoon Dr. in Wilson Knolls in Bethesda.

His work was published in architecture journals such as Arts and Architecture, and featured in the local Washington press.

Harold Esten married Alice Louise McCaffrey in 1948. This marriage lasted until his death 65 years later. He is survived by his sister Florence Esten Kaufman, by his three children, and by five grandchildren.

I want to thank Hal’s children Hugh, Amy and Dora for providing the images and information on their dad’s career. He will be missed but he assuredly left his modernist mark on the Washington area.