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News April 2010

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Not 1, but 2 Modern Landmarks in Connecticut Listed on the National Register

April 22, 2010

The good news continues in Connecticut where two Modern buildings, the Wilde Building in Bloomfield and an early pre-fabricated steel house in New London, have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The listings are particularly gratifying as both were imminently threatened by demolition and neglect. The Wilde Building (1954–1957), formerly part of the Connecticut General Insurance Company’s campus, is one of Connecticut’s foremost examples of International Style architecture. Its design was overseen by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the firm that in the years after World War II set the pattern for corporate offices here and abroad. In addition to Bunshaft, the building’s design includes work by two other major figures, interior designer Florence Knoll and sculptor Isamu Noguchi. In the late 1990s Cigna Corporation (Connecticut General’s successor company) planned to demolish the building in order to redevelop its 600-acre property. But thanks to efforts led by the preservation advocacy group Save Connecticut General and others including the Connecticut Trust, the National Trust and DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State, Cigna was persuaded to retain the building for its operations. The Emhart Building, a second SOM-designed building on the campus, was demolished in 2003.

The steel house at 130 Mohegan Avenue is one of two pioneering prefabricated residences constructed in New London in 1934 by Winslow Ames, a local museum director. Promoted as “houses of tomorrow,” they represented attempts to address the housing shortages of the Great Depression by applying modern materials and industrial production techniques to homebuilding. The Mohegan Avenue house, manufactured by General Houses, Inc., of Chicago, was built of steel panels bolted together without a frame. A flat roof, rooftop deck, open floor plan, attached garage, and the absence of applied ornament were elements of the small house’s innovative design. But eventually the roof leaked, the steel rusted, and the house was vacated. Now Connecticut College has begun to study and restore the house with grants made possible by its listing on the National Register.

Courtesy Campaign to Save Connecticut General