Tagged: Popular Culture

The Mad Men Effect: A Preservation and Design Recap

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If your Sunday evening was sadly bereft of the SC &P crew and your Monday has been spent pining for more mid-century mod eye candy and late 1960s  goodness, don’t fear! I have just what you’re jonesing for. Behold, a collection of blog posts and articles about Mad Men/1960s style and (of course!) historic preservation.  Here’s to the anticipation of Season 7 and crossed fingers that the  Mad Men Effect will continue to inspire a love for those mid-century buildings that so often get overlooked just because George Washington never slept in them.

1. Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner on Why Don Draper Is a Preservationist – Preservation Nation

2. Is Mad Men Good for Preservation? – DOCOMOMO

3. Mad Men Inspires Appreciation for Architecture of the ‘Recent Past’ – Planetizen

4. Mad Men Locations in Los Angeles – Discover Los Angeles

5. Mad Men’s Village People – GVSHP

6. Montgomery’s Mad Men Modern Buildings – Are They Worth Protecting? – The Washington Post

7. Mad Men, Mad Buildings – Preservation Journey

8. Mad Men Motif Comes to Life in New Canaan, Conn. – Boston Globe

9. Touring Los Angeles’ Modern Skyline – Preservation Nation

10. Mad Men Style : The Best of the 1960s from House Beautiful – House Beautiful

11. Mid-Century Modern? Not Here – LA Times

12. American Style Through the Decades: The Sixties – Apartment Therapy

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The Mad Men Effect

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First season promo.

With season six wrapping up last Sunday, I’ve been reflecting on the effect Mad Men has had. Sometimes it seems like Mad Men single-handedly made mid-century styles popular again. Each week for six seasons, millions of viewers have tuned  in as much for the furniture, art, interior design, clothes, make up, and hair as for the storyline. In the years since it premiered, stores from Banana Republic to Manhattan Home Design rolled out Mad Men inspired collections. It’s undeniable that mod is back in a big way.

And it’s popularity has been a boon for preservation. Mid-century buildings are suddenly cool again. Preservation organizations have harnessed the power of pop culture by throwing Mad Men themed fundraising events and awareness campaigns. The series has become a touchstone around which to discuss preservation and preservation issues. Mad Men itself  even joined the conversation when it featured the demolition of Penn Station in Season 3, which was the birth of the modern preservation movement in the US.

Many television series have been set in the past, from westerns such as Gun Smoke to teen dramas/comedies like That 70s Show, The Wonder Years and Freaks and Geeks, but few have had the cultural impact of Mad Men. I think the secret* lies with show creator/runner Matthew Weiner’s notorious attention to detail.  His staff tirelessly works to make sure each peculiarity, from the size of a bouffant to the size of a pastry is accurate.  This translates into set design and wardrobe that is thoughtful, clever, nostalgic, sumptuous and beautiful.  It also feels authentic, never theatrical or costumey (unless the scene, of course, is meant to be those things).

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The fictitious office of SCDP cum SC&P is located in the real Time Life Building for which Eames designed the executive chair used in this scene. Talk about attention to detail! Image via copycatchic.com

One key to authenticity is Mad Men’s use of a variety of sets and styles. With the exception, maybe, of the SCDP/SC&P offices and the Drapers’ apartment which were newly furnished, no scene design is comprised solely of pieces from one era. Nor is every set a “1960s” set. Take the Draper residence in Ossining, for example. It is based off of a 1910s colonial revival design and is filled with a hodgepodge of furniture. It’s easy to imagine that some of the pieces are family heirlooms or holdovers from Betty or Don’s singledom and that some of it is new. The Francis residence, a Victorian, is similarly decorated with a range of styles from early American to modern. If in each scene every stick of furniture and nicknack and chotsky  was produced in1968, it would feel fabricated and fake. That’s not how people live now and it isn’t how people lived then, either. So the mix and match approach of Mad Men’s set design feels real to us in the present and it makes it easy to see how mid-century pieces can work in contemporary spaces, too.

When possible, Mad Men also tries to utilize the built environment – it films on location in places that existed during the time period. Of course, the “authenticity” of using these places is questionable considering they are in LA locations masquerading as NYC places, but I think that charge (which has actually been leveled by some preservationists) is a little nitpicky. Showcasing existing historical locations, whether they be in LA or NYC makes a scene feel more real and is good for preservation. In fact,one shooting location,  La Villa Basque actually became the center of a preservation campaign.  Shortly after Mad Men filmed, “The Suitcase,” the restaurant planned to overhaul its historic interior. (Unfortunately, despite pressure from preservationists and the media attention generated by its link to Mad Men, the remodel was completed.)

Alas, only one more season of Mad Men remains. Even so, I’m left with a lot of hope.  I hope preservationists use this next year to their full advantage and ride the Mad Men train all the way to the station – educating and  inspiring and saving  places all along the way. I hope Mid-Century Modern styles remain popular and the discussion around buildings of the recent past continues. And I hope there is another period drama in the future that helps people to reexamine the buildings and places around them, that preservationists can hitch their wagons to, that makes preservation topical and interesting a cool.  (Are you listening Matthew Weiner!?) Here’s to the Mad Men Effect and here’s to season 7!

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Image via IMDB

*I think another reason is pure chance. Mad Men came along at just the right time. Mid-Century Modern was already on an upswing (however small) and the series catapulted it to the forefront of design trends.

Happy Memorial Day!

This weekend traditionally marks the start of summer and is usually accompanied by the ceremonial opening of pools everywhere. Unfortunately, much of the country is experience unseasonably cool weather!

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This image is not a part of the slide show, but it is awesome. Check out those socks! Image via Wikimedia

Since most of us aren’t going to be taking a dip today, we can at least enjoy this photo slide show from The Weather Channel of folks frolicking on beaches and  through the centuries. Not only are the fashions fun/bizarre/awkward, but the photos offer a glimpse at many historical seaside resorts and other strange things from our bathing past like “bathing machines” and “skreenettes.”

I hope you’re having a fabulous holiday!

Memorializing Tragedy: MLK and the Lorraine Motel

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Image via The National Civil Rights Museum

Forty-five years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

Just days after King’s assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and King’s legacy was cemented. His advocacy and activism not only advanced the Civil Rights Movement in the US, but it influenced civil rights struggles world wide.

The Lorraine Motel and other buildings associated with King’s assassination were purchased in the early 80s and 90s by the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation, and now house the National Civil Rights Museum.

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King was a frequent guest at the Lorraine Motel, one of the few hotels open to African Americans during the 1960s. Image via CommercialAppeal.com

Fortunately, the owner of the Lorraine, Walter Bailey, recognized the significance of the motel to the history of the Civil Rights Movement early on. After the assassination of King, he maintained rooms 306 and 307 (those used by King and his entourage)  as a shrine to the activist’s memory, even as the motel suffered a long and steep decline. When the motel was threatened by foreclosure and demolition, he reached out for help to maintain the property as a civil rights memorial and the Save The Lorraine campaign was born.  A group of concerned citizens formed the Martin Luther King Foundation (later called the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation).  The Foundation raised enough funds to purchase the motel at auction on the courthouse steps, saving it from sure destruction. Using the design recommendations of a former Smithsonian Institution curator, the Foundation  created the educational facility and memorial site that today is the National Civil Rights Museum.

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The historical Lorraine Motel (c. 1925 and 1945) has been beautiful preserved as The National Civil Rights Museum. (The cars in the courtyard are meant to orient visitors to the time period – they were not owned or used by Dr. King).  Image via Julie’s National Parks

The museum complex is comprised of the Lorraine Motel, former Canipe’s Amusement store and rooming house, and the empty lot in between. The properties were an integral part of Dr. King’s assassination investigation. The museum became custodian of the police and evidence files associated with the manhunt, indictment and confession of the assassin of Dr. King in the late 1990s.  Many of the items, including the rifle and fatal bullet, are on display at the museum.

As one might suspect, the use of the motel to memorialize King and the Civil Rights Movement has not been without controversy.  Using the site where the civil rights leader was slain has been called insensitive and morbid. It has also been faulted for causing gentrification surrounding the museum, forcing the traditionally low-income African American population out of their homes – something antithetical to King’s teachings.

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This iconic photograph was taken just moments after King was shot. Image via the Washington Post

Despite the controversy, it is difficult to deny that the link between Martin Luther King, Jr., the Lorraine Hotel, and the Civil Rights Movement is strong. No one can forget the iconic image of  King’s prostrate body on the second floor balcony surrounded by a group of people pointing toward the boarding house  – an event that was followed by turmoil and a long, contentious investigation.

What do you think? Is the Lorraine Motel an appropriate site for the National Civil Rights Museum? Is it insensitive or morbid to preserve it for visitors to experience? Or is it a powerful and moving place from which to discuss the Civil Rights Movement in America and one of its most beloved leaders?

The Lorraine Motel is designated an historic site by the Tennessee Historical Commission. More than $3 million people have visited the museum since it opened in 1991.

Preservation and the Real Downton Abbey

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Image via The Chicago Maroon

The third season of Downton Abbey currently has its American audience on the edge of its seat and reaching for a box of tissues.  The series that captured the hearts of millions of fans the world over revolves around the fictitious Crawley family as they struggle to hold onto their ancestral home in the early 20th century,  even as their way of life becomes a thing of the past.

It’s easy to see the appeal of the program. The soapy upstairs/downstairs plot! The opulent (and historically accurate) costumes! The dramatic setting! It’s really no wonder that nearly 8 million people tune in every week.

But here is something really interesting – the popularity of the series has helped real life grande country houses in the UK that have been struggling to maintain their buildings and grounds by renewing public interest in them.  And it  has especially helped Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed, whose history is maybe even more interesting than the scripted one now acted out in its halls.

The Decline of English Country Houses

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Hamilton Palace, demolished 1921. Image via Wikimedia

The Crawley family struggle is one that played out at hundreds of real life grande country houses during the 20th century. Before World War I, the houses were the economic hub for the estates surrounding them, which provided income for their owners.  That income allowed them to maintain their often quite large homes and gardens and staff.  A dramatic acceleration of social and economic changes after World War I left many houses without incomes.  Without an income, owners were unable to maintain the houses, grounds, or staff necessary to run them.  As a result, hundreds of country houses were demolished after the war.  The “lost houses” were often dismantled and sold for parts. (Kentucky’s own Spindletop Hall boasts a mantel from Trentham Hall in its library-click here for photo).

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“Two years before the beginning of World War I, on 4 May 1912, the British magazine Country Life carried a seemingly unremarkable advertisement: the roofing balustrade and urns from the roof of Trentham Hall could be purchased for £200.[4] One of Britain’s great ducal country houses, Trentham Hall was demolished with little public comment or interest.” Image via Wikimedia

Those that survived, did so by adapting.  On Downton Abbey, the head of the Crawley family,  Lord Grantham, married a wealthy American in order to bolster his already flagging fortunes before WWI. Other creative marriage proposals are later featured in the story line, as the  Crawleys hope to land upon a scheme that will keep the house in the family after the heir apparent dies aboard the Titanic. (You have to love the historically accurate plot twists!) In real life, creative marriages were one way houses survived. They also survived by being sold, probably a gut wrenching decision considering the houses, in some cases, belonged to a family for centuries.

These days, surviving grande English country houses are mostly maintained by hosting conferences, weddings, and opening the doors to the public for tours (usually during designated times of the year, month or week). Like many house museums, country estates have suffered in recent years from lack of interest.  Fewer and fewer tourists were buying tickets to see inside these ancestral homes – that is until  Downton Abbey premiered.   It has (to some extent) reversed that trend – people are interested again!

Can Downton Abbey Save Highclere Castle?

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Image Via The Daily Mail

None have profited more than Highclere Castle, the estate at which the series is filmed.

Before the series, it earned  a steady income through leasing out the grand rooms in the house for weddings at a base price £10,000.  Since the series began, it has gained several more revenue streams.

It earns a fee from Downton Abbey’s production.  Lady Carnarvon, current mistress of the house, published a best seller on the subject of the Real Downton Abbey last year. A home good lines inspired by the castle is in the works. There might be a Hollywood movie in the pipeline. And it now boasts upwards of 1200 visitors per day!

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A fireplace in one of the dilapidated bedrooms with mold growing on the walls. Image via The Daily Mail

Unfortunately, the house costs over one million dollars a year in upkeep and is in need of some very expensive repairs, both to the house proper and to the gardens.  The Carnarvons have considered selling  small parcels of land at the edges of the estate for development in order to make the estimated £11 million in repairs.

The Real Downton Abbey – Truth Is Better Than Fiction

The Estate:

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The present Highclere Castle was constructed around this Georgian mansion. Image via Nooks, Towers and Turrets

Highclere Castle is a house within a house within a house.   Lady Carnarvon explained, ” It actually was built over the top of a Georgian house, which was built on top of an Elizabethan house, which was built on top of some old bishop’s palaces. The first building record I have here is 749 AD.”  According to the Daily Mail, the grand fireplace in the saloon is in precisely the same spot that Bishop William of Wykeham used to sit in the 1300s!

The present castle was designed by the architect of the Houses of Parliament, Charles Barry!  The 4 Earl commissioned Barry shortly after the Parliament was completed.  Highclere’s beautiful gardens and landscape (5,000 acres) were beautifully designed by the master landscaper Capability Brown.  They feature several follies as well as Lebanon Cedars grown from seeds collected by famous 18th century seed collector, Bishop Stephan Pococke.

The 5th Earl:

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Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon [right] at the opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt, 1922. Image via Philosophy of Science Portal

The castle is most associated with the 5th Earl and his wife, Almina, who lived contemporaneously with the fictional Lord and Lady Grantham.  Their story in some ways mirrors that of Downton Abbey (which may not be a surprise when you consider that series creator, Julian Fellowes, wrote Downton Abbey with Highclere Castle in mind).

Lord Carnarvon was land rich, but cash poor. Just as Lord Grantham admits to having married Cora, a wealthy American heiress, for her fortune in order to save Downton Abbey, Lord Carnarvon married the illegitimate heiress to the Rothschild fortune to support Highclere Castle. He also used her fortune to bankroll his hobby – Egyptology. He famously financed Howard Carter’s discovery of the spectacular Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.

The 5th Earl died as a result of illness following a mosquito bite near the Nile River not long after the discovery of Tutenkahmen’s tomb – a fact that help bolster the legendary Curse of the Pharoahs. The current Lord Carnarvon  has said that his great-grandfather’s dog Susie howled and died back at Highclere Castle in England the same time the 5th Earl died in Egypt.

While much of the 5th Earl’s collection of Egyptian artifacts was purchased by the MET, Lord Carnarvon said he discovered some items from the famous archeological adventure to Egypt remaining at Highclere Castle. Those pieces are now displayed in the old kitchens.

Lady Almina, the 5th Countess:

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Lady Almina. Image via Yahoo

Only 19 when she married, Almina’s life changed in August 1914 when the First World War broke out.  She immediately rolled up her sleeves, turned Highclere Castle into a hospital and began to admit patients coming back from the trenches. Lady Carnarovan said of the events, “She employed 30 of the best and prettiest nurses, apparently, dressed in beautiful uniforms. Her idea was that when a soldier came back from war, he would be put into beautiful sheets with proper pillowcases, have an amazing view, and be made whole in body and soul. Naturally, her father was the source of all cash, and he gave her a lot of money to start it all up. The first patients started arriving back in September. It was a tremendous operation, and there were normally 20 to 30 patients in the bedrooms here in the castle. … [Although Highclere Castle was returned to a family home after the war] The rest of her life centered around nursing, healing and hospitals.”

In Downton Abbey, the estate also played a role in WWI efforts.  The fictional house was converted into a convalescent hospital. However, rather than champion the cause as Lady Almina had done, Lady Cora was a rather reluctant participant in the effort.

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WWII:
WWI was not the last time Highclere Castle would be pulled into war efforts. During the Second World War, the Castle briefly became a home for evacuee children from north London.
Highclere Castle has a fascinating history – from its beginnings as a bishop’s palace to its present role in TV’s prime time.   It physically represents layers and layers of history.  Through it can be traced the history of England – architecturally, politically, socially, culturally and economically, as well as the history of a family.  It is not hard to understand why Lord and Lady Carnarvon or Lord and Lady Grantham or any other family might fight so hard to keep their family’s country estate or work so hard to preserve its legacy. That Downtown Abbey’s tale of a fictional family’s struggle is helping to preserve the remaining country estates in England, including Highclere Castle, is a remarkable case of art imitating life imitating art.
For more stories and behind the scenes access to Highclere Castle, check out CBS Sunday Morning’s segment The Real Downton Abbey.  Downton Abbey airs on Sunday evenings on PBS (the first two seasons are available on Netflix and iTunes).  Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is available from Amazon or your local book shop.