New in New Canaan: Gores Pavilion in Irwin Park
May 31, 2011
The newly renovated Gores Pavilion for the Arts in New Canaan’s Irwin Park, originally a mid-century pool house, was opened to the public for the first time earlier this month. Six years ago the fate of the then-dilapidated building looked grim. The town of New Canaan bought the 36-acre Irwin estate in 2005 for use as a park and planned to demolish the pool house. Designed by Landis Gores, one of the “Harvard Five” architects and Philip Johnson’s associate on the Glass House, the pool house escaped this fate and was listed on the state Register of Historic Places in 2006.
The Irwin’s pool house was originally dedicated in 1960 at a grand surprise party arranged by Johnson in honor of its architect, Gores, with guests including Marcel Breuer, Eliot Noyes, Paul Rudolph, Edward Larrabee Barnes, I.M. Pei and other leading mid-century architects.
A handful of New Canaan residents, the Friends of the Gores Pavilion, were instrumental in stopping the proposed demolition, says Janet Lindstrom, executive director of the New Canaan Historical Society. Once the town agreed to preserve the pool house, the New Canaan Historical Society leased it from the town and restoration plans began in earnest. The Connecticut Department of Culture & Tourism is providing a $75,000 matching grant. The Historical Society raised more than the $75,000 needed for the match and spent it on a two-year restoration under the supervision of William Earls, an architect and author of The Harvard Five In New Canaan. Much of the fundraising was done in honor of New Canaan resident and design legend Jens Risom. The main entertaining space is now called “The Jens Risom Room.” Risom’s daughter Peg Risom donated two period one-of-a-kind sofas Risom designed for her for the pavilion. The pavilion also contains original furnishings.
The Irwin family used the building as a lodge in the winter when they didn’t open up the main house, and as a pool house in the summer (the pool has been filled in). It needed major work, including rebuilding the chimney, laying new vinyl flooring to match the original materials and patterns exactly (it looks like poured terrazzo), and adding a handicapped-accessible bathroom. “The entertaining space is not like a museum where you can’t touch anything but a room that you can use,” Earls says. “Most people don’t live in a Modern house. They can visit and see this is Modern and a warm and comfortable space.”
The two wings flanking the glass enclosed central space originally housed bathrooms, changing rooms and bedroom. They have been repurposed as gallery spaces. The opening exhibit “Living Modern in New Canaan” was mounted by Robert Gregson and debuted in 2009 at the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism Gallery in Hartford, CT. On May 6 the Historical Society held a private reception at the Gores Pavilion to honor Risom and Pam Gores, Landis Gores’ widow. Then on May 14, the Pavilion was open to participants in the New Canaan Modern House Day Tour & Symposium, a bi-annual fundraiser for the Historical Society. The following week local residents were invited to visit their town’s newest Modern showpiece for a special preview. Visiting hours for the general public have not been set at this time. Watch this email newsletter for updates or check with the New Canaan Historical Society the next time you’re planning to be in town.
For more information: New Canaan Historical Society