Last week kicked off our first bout of field work with a visit to the Cape Cod National Seashore to assess a collection of noteworthy Modernist homes existing within the park property. A quick viewing of Built on Narrow Land, a documentary highlighting the spirit and history of the homes and several of their architects and residents, begins to reveals the historical and cultural significance of these eclectic homes. When the seashore was officially designated in the 1960s, however, the primary goal was to preserve as much natural land as possible by demolishing the properties and allowing disturbed areas to revegetate. In a rare blessing of limited funds, demolition was delayed, and the properties sat largely unconsidered for some years. After 50 years, park properties can be considered for the National Register as this is the estimated period of time necessary to develop and evaluate historical significance. Around this same time, community members on Cape Cod began to draw awareness to the unique and meaningful nature of many of the Modernist homes, and through research and advocacy the park was able to secure National Register status for six properties, and five others are currently eligible. During our trip, we gathered information on current conditions of the homes and landscapes, including views, vegetation, structures, small scale features, and circulation as part of a developing Cultural Landscape Report (CLR). Below are four properties we surveyed.
The Cape Cod Modernist homes are an excellent example of the importance of continuing to research and evaluate our cultural and physical history, especially within the National Park system. While not a natural part of the landscape, the homes and their context allow us to consider the natural landscape in new ways. Modernist architecture reflects a unique consideration not only of physical structure, but of structure in the context of the surrounding geology, topography, natural views, and vegetation. By incorporating and interpreting the significance of these homes and their landscapes, we enhance our understanding of the region’s history and can connect with a broader audience in a greater diversity of ways.
At the Cape Cod National Seashore, many key players are involved in interpreting and maintaining these properties, and we are immensely thankful for their assistance, patience, and hard work. Park Historian Bill Burke and Chief of Interpretation and Cultural Resource Management Sue Moynihan shared in depth knowledge with us about the homes, and are part of a team thinking critically about how to best use and share their value moving forward. Superintendent George Price, along with Deputy Superintendent Kathy Tevyaw took time out of their busy schedules to detail some of the ways in which the history and significance of the homes can be shared with a broad audience. Currently, one home is a vacation rental managed by the park, and three are managed and rented out by the Cape Cod Modern House Trust, a non-profit dedicated to the restoration of the Modernist homes. Three others serve as seasonal park housing, and the remainder are unoccupied. Because their are only so many weeks in the summer open for rental, and the renters deserve privacy, Bill, Sue, George, and Kathy have thought critically and creatively about publicly accessible interpretation. Free education programs, structured tours, online information repositories, and volunteer stewardship activities are all being considered as means of expanding access to the properties.
Moving forward, Designing the Parks intern Julian Huertas will be primarily involved in the continuance of the Cape Cod Modern House project while the rest of us move on to separate projects. Be sure to check his blog out for project updates and details!