By Tom Beal
Some significant "Modern" buildings stand out — the church on North Country Club Road with the thin-shelled concrete roof that touches the ground at the edges of its joined parabolas, the big white bank that incorporates its concrete artwork into its temple-like facade or the car dealership with porte-cochere tall enough to shade a semi-truck.
Others, built mostly between 1945 and 1975, blend into their strip-mall surroundings, their quality noticed only by a trained eye that appreciates columns aligned with double-mullioned windows. We tend to dismiss them, lumping them with the aging, less distinguished shops, restaurants and other businesses that cloned themselves along our major streets in those decades of our air-conditioned expansion.
The Modern Architecture Preservation Project of Tucson has compiled a list of 50 "exceptionally significant" Modern buildings in an attempt to make us look more closely and appreciate the contributions made by Modern architects to the Tucson street scene. The project hopes that recognition will spare some of these buildings from demolition.
A number of factors make them under-appreciated.
• These buildings aren't "Old Pueblo-ish," said architectural historian Annie Nequette. "They don't fit people's picture of what should be here."
• "They're not old," said architect Chris Evans. "They were built, usually within our lifetimes, so people don't accord them the same respect they do historic buildings." People often confuse Modern with "contemporary," Evans said, rather than thinking of Modern as a style that dominated architecture during a 30-year period after World War II.
• Some are simply easy to overlook. Pima Community College's West Campus and the Tucson Police Department's headquarters downtown are prime examples of a Modern style known as "Brutalism," with their unfinished concrete exteriors.
We may have found them stark when first built, but we've grown to accept the style. The police building, said Nequette, "is kind of quiet in a way. Some of those Brutalist buildings are just so solid in terms of the quality of design and construction. The police station doesn't have that kind of 'Look at me' quality." Many of the buildings on the list have uncertain futures, with a number sitting along streets that are slated for widening.
"We've made some really good saves," said Nequette, citing the Wilmot branch of the Pima County Library System and the Chicanos por la Causa building, formerly the First National Bank, at 200 N. Stone Ave.
Evans recently completed a renovation of the former Catalina American Baptist Church on Country Club Road. The structure's roof line soars from ground level to a 30-foot apex.
The congregation of the church, now named Catalina Church of Midtown, had debated demolition before deciding to restore the church.
The Modern church, with its pews and organ loft, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts "traditional" worship services.
Contemporary services are held in a newer, adjoining building that is equipped with a stage, amplifiers for a variety of musical instruments, lighting and video equipment.