New Year, New Mod: Mid-Century Modern in Lexington 

New Year, New Mod: Mid-Century Modern in Lexington 

A new sign at the corner of Nicholasville Road and Southland Drive reflects the retro appeal of the Southland corridor.

The recent unveiling of the new Southland Drive corridor sign is one of the latest examples of Lexington’s ongoing love affair with mid-century design.

It sits at the gateway corner of Southland Drive and Nicholasville Road. The chosen design was proposed by UK student Charlie Harris. Inspired by the corridor’s architecture, the many music-related businesses in the Southland area and the district’s desire for a “retro” feel, the sign represents a guitar complete with strings and frets.

The potential relocation of the turquoise Peoples Bank on Broadway has been three years in the making — and while temporarily stalled, it is not forgotten.

Lucy Jones, founder of the Mid Century society of Lexington, discovered along the path to saving Peoples that Lexington is filled with preservationists who feel the same way. She says,  “I was deeply heartened by the overwhelming community support for the Peoples Bank building and its plight. Within a number of hours after the launch of the People for the Peoples Facebook page it had close to 2,000 supporters. There is a dedicated community of like-minded people who are interested in the preservation of mid-century modern architecture and design in Lexington. I wanted to create a forum to connect these people as well as to provide educational opportunities for those who might be less familiar with the design aesthetic.”

Jones says, “There is a misconception among some people that if a building isn’t 100 years old then it isn’t historically or architecturally significant. What those people fail to realize is that if we tear down every 50-year-old building then they don’t have a chance to become 100-year-old buildings. We can’t be short-sighted in our stewardship. People often take for granted the architecture of their youth without realizing the impact that it can have on the imaginations of future generations. Buildings like the Peoples, which were very of their moment and captured the spirit of the age in which they were built, deserve to be protected.”

She considers Lexington  “fortunate that this building has endured the changing trends of the last 50 years and still retains the defining characteristics that architect Charles Bayless envisioned.” She describes it as “a time capsule which evokes the optimism of the late 1950s and early 1960s. To lose it would have been to lose a piece of our past.”

John Hoffeld, an MCM society member, adds,  “With the popularity of TV shows like Mad Men, MCM style has enjoyed a resurgence and is being introduced to a younger generation. Furniture manufacturers are even starting to produce MCM inspired designs once again.

He says, “Unfortunately, many of our MCM commercial buildings are gone but some good examples of MCM design in Lexington are The People’s Bank, The Gardenside Plaza bus stop, and The Parkette Drive-In. The Catalina Hotel on New Circle road was a great MCM building but is sadly in disrepair.”

On the residential side, he says, “There are many MCM homes still standing in town. The Gardenside and Gainesway neighborhoods have some fine examples of mid-century homes. Even the one that have been added on to or updated still have the good ‘bones’ and once you become familiar with the style you can easily spot them.”

Lexington PVA David O’Neill says, “Eastland subdivision is full of little mid-century modern gems. One of my favorite spots is the little strip of houses on Lane Allen between Garden Spring Drive and Beacon Hill. Another area is Jesselin Drive. There are also some nice ones scattered around the colony and Lansdowne.”

Lexington architect (and realtor) Rebecca Burnworth says,  “I personally really love the MCM houses tucked in around Lansdowne, Southland, Gardenside and other corners of Lexington. They contain powerful spaces that completely changed the way we lived. They brought the kitchen out of the dark back corner and made room for entertainment, not just hosting at the dinner table.”

Lexington architect and realtor Rebecca Burnworth worked on this recently restored modern design which sold in December.

She adds, “this is a bit later than MCM, but my true favorite is the 60s – 70s era homes over by the island off of Lakeshore Drive. The Isenhour residence is located on Bridgeport Drive and has been stunningly renovated and preserved by architect Richard Polk. For MCM – there are a few fabulous high-end examples on Bristol Road that have details not seen in other areas.”

Jones says, “The homes of Richard Isenhour never cease to delight and inspire me. We are extremely fortunate to have had such a visionary residential architect call our city his home and contribute so many masterpieces to our landscape.”

Jones also finds treasures hiding in plain sight, adding “the rest areas on I-64 between Winchester and Mt. Sterling are two of my favorite buildings in Kentucky. I am head over heels for their mosaic murals.”

Among friends, Jones is famous for her finds. She says, “Some of my most valued treasures have been procured from Lexington yard sales! My favorite find dates back to the 1990s. There was a massive amount of glassware piled onto a table with a nondescript cloth covering it. Somehow, I didn’t notice any of that. I just saw a beautiful pair of walnut legs trying to escape from underneath.I asked for permission to remove the glassware and, lo and behold, there was an Adrian Pearsall Jacks coffee table underneath! I didn’t know what it was at the time, I only knew that it was beautiful and that I needed it in my life. It has followed me from apartment to apartment and house to house ever since!”

Everything old is new again

Burnworth lives in a 70s contemporary and says, “We are taught in architecture school that we hate what our parents did, but we love what our grandparents did (style wise). If this is true, then mid-century modern and modern architecture have the nostalgia to capture the 30-40 year-olds that are entering the real estate market right now.”

Burnworth echoes Jones’s sentiments about the People’s Bank project. “Culturally, I think this is so important to save buildings like this. The way we create spaces is very reflective of new cultural attitudes over time. They become time capsules for our beliefs, they are important from every era.”

She finds a lot to love about mid-century design, adding, “Having lived in antique homes (pre-1940) with small windows, disconnected relationships with the backyard and closed floor plans, I feel that people are wanting to create spaces where they can entertain, open (but not expose completely) the kitchen, and have outdoor living space that flows from the interior.  A lot of this involves the sweeping glazed walls of MCM, the different take on spatial relationships and the importance of entertaining (I live in a 70s contemporary with two living rooms — it’s fantastic for entertaining). The idea of adding simple, natural textures to a space is another favorite trend occurring now that was a great MCM trend.”

O’Neill says, “My MCM tastes run more toward the industrial, and since I’m also a big proponent of infill and adaptive reuse, I love the urban trends seen in the Distillery District, N. Jefferson St., North Lime and National Avenue, and I think this trend continues throughout the urban core.”

On Thursday, Jan. 26, the Mid-Century Society of Lexington will host its inaugural event, a free screening of Jacques Tati’s Playtime (shot on 70mm on a constructed set of concrete, glass and steel) at the Farish Theater in the downtown public library.

Founder Lucy Jones says, “The Mid-Century Society of Lexington is a group formed to foster and express appreciation for mid-20th-century architecture, fashion, film, and design.” The group plans to host a series of events including talks, trips, parties, and screenings starting in 2017. She adds, “We look forward to members sharing their favorite mid-century design in Lexington and beyond!”

Jones (also the founder of Lexington’s iconic Harry Dean Stanton fest) says of Playtime, “In addition to being a FANTASTIC film that deserves to be seen on a big screen, this is a great opportunity to meet other folks in Lexington and the region who are interested in mid-century design and film.”