January 7, 2013 Mid-Century Modern
Modern Snapshot: A Bit of Bauhaus in Jersey
The D.C. area is blessed with five mid-century modern communities on the National Register of Historic Places: Carderock Springs, Hammond Wood, Rock Creek Woods, the five Takoma Park Goodmans and Holmes Run Acres. Hollin Hills is currently pursuing a National Register designation. There are other designated mid-century modern suburban communities around the country such as Arapahoe Acres in Denver and Ladue Estates near St. Louis to name just two. I recently discovered an earlier modernist community in New Jersey, just a few miles from where I grew up. I never knew it existed and decided to explore it this past summer.
Roosevelt, originally founded as Jersey Homesteads, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The community was established in 1936 under FDR’s New Deal as an agricultural-industrial cooperative community for Jewish garment workers and farmers.
Alfred Kastner, a German-born architect and city planner known for his designs for low-cost housing, was picked to design the new community. Kastner tapped a young Louis I. Kahn as his associate. The homes were Bauhaus-inspired simple, flat-roof cinder block ranches with walls of glass on the back situated on half-acre lots surrounded by trees. Today, many of 300 or so modest homes have been altered, including second levels. Some have kept with the modernist bent while others have not. (You can see some vintage pictures here.)
Unusual for the 1930s, the homes were built with garages. Many were built by using the garages to attach two homes. Here you see two homes attached: one severely altered while the other one has kept the original design.
Roosevelt is the only town in the United States that has a synagogue as its only house of worship.
One of the most prominent residents of Roosevelt was American social realist artist Ben Shahn. His house was designed by Kahn with a later addition by George Nakashima. It was recently on the market and sold for $315,000 in October.