- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

Sightseers visit Savannah to lose themselves in the 19th-century ambiance of antebellum mansions and oak-shaded squares. For them, Drayton Tower packs a jolt.
Rising above its red-brick and wrought-iron surroundings, the 12-story concrete box with ribbons of green windows stands out like a steering wheel on a horse-drawn carriage.
Drayton Tower was billed as "ultramodern" when it opened in 1951. It had heat-absorbing windows and faucets that dispensed ice water. Unlike any other apartment building in Georgia, it had central air conditioning.
Its culture-clash design, now marred by soot stains and cracked windows, makes Drayton Tower a building Savannahians love to hate. Many call it an eyesore that detracts from the city's Old South charm.
But Drayton Tower now has something in common with its older neighbors: The city declared in August that at 51 years old, the tower is a historic building.
"Absurd," says Lee Adler, one of Savannah's preservation leaders.
"We were looking down on that very ugly building and wishing that it could be imploded," adds Mr. Adler's wife, Emma.
The Drayton Tower case is part of one of the hottest debates in historic preservation: How much of postwar modernism is worth saving?
The bold shift in architecture after World War II favored stark, boxy facades of unadorned raw materials. Half a century later, many consider these buildings positively ugly.
But more preservationists are taking up modernism's cause for what it tells us about American life in the 1950s a time when people looked optimistically to the future, constructing buildings that looked ahead of their time.
To gauge modernism's worth by today's standards of taste is wrong-headed, says Wendy Nicholas, Northeast director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
"People of my parents' generation just railed against Victorian buildings as ugly, not worth saving," Miss Nicholas says.
New York's Lever House, a 1952 skyscraper of stainless steel and glass, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
As more modern buildings reach 50 years generally the minimum age for historic status preservationists face the irony of saving architecture their movement once considered its enemy.
"Many, many people became historic preservationists out of their hatred of modern design," says Diane Wray, a Colorado preservation consultant who has fought to save modernist buildings.
The National Trust also has taken up modernism's cause. Two modernist buildings made its list of this year's 11 most endangered historic places:
The 1958 Gold Dome Bank in Oklahoma City, which is topped with a geodesic dome 150 feet in diameter. It needs $1.7 million in repairs. Its owner, Bank One, wants to demolish the building rather than restore it.
Minneapolis' 1963 Guthrie Theater, one of America's oldest repertory theaters outside Broadway. The Walker Art Center, which owns the Guthrie, wants to build a larger replacement.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide