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Highlights: The Architecture of Kaneji Domoto in Usonia, DOCOMOMO US Tour Day

December 3, 2019

On October 12, as part of the nationwide DOCOMOMO US Tour Day, DOCOMOMO US/NY Tri-State organized a members-only tour to the Usonia community in Pleasantville, NY, to experience Kaneji Domoto’s work. This year’s thematic focus, “The Diversity of Modernism,” reflects the efforts of DOCOMOMO US and its chapters to raise awareness of sites designed by minority and women designers. Kaneji Domoto (1902–2002), an American of Japanese descent who spent time in a Japanese internment camp in Amache, CO, during WWII, designed five houses in Usonia. Twenty-five DOCOMOMO members spent the day visiting these houses. A lunch at the Lurie House and a talk with Roland Reisley, Frank Lloyd Wright’s last living client, added to the experience.

We started the day at the Lurie House (1949–1950), which is currently being renovated by our tour leader and Domoto expert Lynnette Widder.  

The tour continued to a meeting with Roland Reisley, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s original Usonia clients, at the house Wright designed for him, completed in 1951. Reisley, author of Usonia, New York: Building a Community with Frank Lloyd Wright, discussed the creation of the Usonia community—from Wright’s original vision to the twists and turns that followed—and his experience working with Wright. After a great meeting full of stories, we walked to the Bier House (1949) and spent time touring and talking to the owners who also knew Domoto personally. 

After a walk through the neighborhood we returned to the Lurie House for lunch. Curator Lynnette Widder provided an introduction to Kaneji Domoto’s work with references to Japanese design and his connection to landscape architecture. She entertained us with first-person accounts of the renovation underway at the Lurie House. Participants reviewed and studied Domoto’s drawings and historic photos of his Usonian houses on display for the tour.

Following lunch we went across the street to visit Domoto’s Silson House (1954). The Silson House recalls a shogun temple with its symmetrical, steep roof overhangs. After a lengthier walk, all the time enjoying the Usonia neighborhood, we were welcomed by the current owners of the Siegel House (1955) which features a surprising interior Japanese-inspired koi pond and sliding Shoji screens. Finally, we visited the exterior of the Harris House (1949–1950) next door to the Lurie House.

It was then back to the Lurie House. Having thoroughly enjoyed the Usonia neighborhood and learning about Kaneji Domoto on a beautiful fall day we said thank you and goodbye to our tour leader Lynnette Widder.

D’juro Villaran-Rokovich

Bier House, Kaneji Domoto, Usonia/Pleasantville, NY 1949). Photo: Bob Gregson
Roland Reisely speaking to the DOCOMOMO group. Photo: Bob Gregson.
Lurie House, Kaneji Domoto, Usonia/Pleasantville, NY 1949–1950). Photo: Bob Gregson
Bier House, Kaneji Domoto, Usonia/Pleasantville, NY 1949). Photo: Bob Gregson
Bier House, Kaneji Domoto, Usonia/Pleasantville, NY 1949). Photo: Bob Gregson
Bier House, Kaneji Domoto, Usonia/Pleasantville, NY 1949). Photo: D'juro Villaran Rokovich.
Silson House, Kaneji Domoto, Usonia/Pleasantville, NY 1954). Photo: Bob Gregson
Siegel House, Kaneji Domoto, Usonia/Pleasantville, NY 1955). Photo: Bob Gregson
Siegel House, Kaneji Domoto, Usonia/Pleasantville, NY 1955). Photo: Bob Gregson
Harris House, Kaneji Domoto, Usonia/Pleasantville, NY 1949–1950). Photo: Bob Gregson