In Hamilton, on the trail of the ‘super-rare’ Art Moderne home
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Hamilton, Ont.— From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Apr. 07, 2011
Edward Glass: store clerk or designer of spectacular streamlined residences … or both?
I didn’t come to Hamilton in search of Mr. Glass’s true identity. In fact, when I came at the invitation of German-born Martin Hering, 38, to see his single-storey, Art Moderne home in Westdale, neither of us had ever heard of him.
An Art Deco echo in Hamilton
Up until my visit, Mr. Hering wasn’t sure who birthed his 1939 home. In the 14 months he’s owned this little streamlined-and-porthole-windowed bundle of joy, he’s made it his mission to learn about the Art Moderne style – a subgenre of the familiar Art Deco movement – which preceded the more popular and penetrating International Style in Canada by about a dozen years.
In fact, Mr. Hering and co-owner Nadine Kadri, are pursuing a heritage designation. In a letter to the City of Hamilton, they write: “170 Longwood North has all five typical features of Art Moderne: (1) a horizontal composition with a flat roof, (2) a rounded corner, (3) corner windows, (4) continuous horizontal lines, and (5) smooth wall surfaces.” The letter goes on to note the many interior features that remain virtually unchanged in 72 years (more on those later) but there’s no mention of Mr. Glass, of course, since the couple hadn’t heard of him … yet.
Because Mr. Hering is a generous man, he’d arranged to meet at a larger Art Moderne home a short drive away from his own. On top of that, he’d also arranged for a visit to another example that’s larger still, on a prime piece of Burlington lakeshore.
This last visit would give us our first peek at the elusive Mr. Glass.
But let’s not rush ahead.
On a cool, sunny morning last week, we stood outside Anita McGowan’s two-storey 1936 home with cameras aimed at curved white walls, a porthole window and an ogee curve to die for around the front door. Blissfully unaware of Mr. Glass, we were instead invited inside to hear Ms. McGowan’s tale of woe. The woe doesn’t come from how she feels about her home – ”Every day I come home and I say ‘how did I get to be so lucky?’” – but rather via a series of ‘tests’ the home put her family through when they first purchased it six years ago.
Four days after taking possession, the roof caved in. After it was repaired, poorly, it leaked and caused massive damage. Not long after that, a tree fell over and smashed their pool to pieces. If that wasn’t enough, some of the home’s key interior features, such as a multi-hued terrazzo floor and a pink glass fireplace surround, had been damaged by previous owner cover-ups.
Undaunted, Ms. McGowan plugged away, and today it’s hard to tell her sensitive interventions – a beautiful interior metal stair rail and a stepped fireplace surround chief among them – from what’s original. Rounded “Guggenheim” steps leading to the front door are an improvement over the original.
At Mr. Hering’s home a short while later, what’s mind-blowing is just how much is original despite the passage of time. Stucco, one of the first things to get reapplied or, worse, covered with aluminum siding, is most likely original because of the high cement and quartz content (which makes the home sparkle on sunny days). The undulating “cruise ship railings” are intact, and because of the exacting work of Andrew Skuce of Paradigm Shift Custom Renovation, so too are wooden window frames with their telltale horizontal muntin bars.
Inside is preservationist paradise: foyer tile, elaborate hardwood floors, pressed rose-and-vine patterns in the ceiling cornice, built-in wall sconces, a plywood kitchen, green-and-cream tiled bathroom and a basement family room in the rare 1930s “National-Park-Rustic” style (concrete walls are molded and painted to look like a log cabin) are all original.
“In Germany I would have never had the opportunity to do anything like this,” explains Mr. Hering, “because [heritage homes there] are all already restored or they cost a fortune.”
About an hour later, we’re standing with Adam Dann admiring his home on the Burlington waterfront. “I grew up in Oakville, and every time we went to see my grandparents we drove by and my brother and I would be waiting to see it,” says Mr. Dann about his future residence, which he purchased in April, 2010.
“Super-rare,” decides Mr. Hering about Mr. Dann’s wedding-cake-like, two-and-a-half storey home.
After a tour of his ground floor owner’s suite and that of his tenants’, Mr. Dann unrolls the architect’s 1937 drawings. On them, in the bottom right corner, above “Proposed Residence for M.H. Lounsbury” it reads: “Edward Glass – Designer / Delta Bldg 1296 King St. E / Hamilton Ontario.”
While Mr. Glass is discussed at length – ”Why does he call himself ‘designer’? Was he not an architect?” – it’s later that evening, when Mr. Hering is mulling over similarities between his one-storey home and Mr. Dann’s that the investigation begins.
I contact the indefatigable architect Robert Hill, who in 2009 released the Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada. Since there is no entry for Mr. Glass and since the Hamilton architectural community was rather small (and still is), it’s Mr. Hill’s suspicion that he was not licensed by the Ontario Association of Architects, since the organization began mandatory registration in 1931.
“Only those ‘bona fide’ individuals who called themselves ‘an architect’ are tracked in our dictionary,” he writes in an e-mail. However, Mr. Hill does find a 1937 listing for a “one storey warehouse and garage for the American News Co.” attributed to “E. Glass” at 127 MacNab St. N., which still stands today.
The next day, Mr. Hering looks up Mr. Glass in the Hamilton city directories from the 1930s and 40s. It turns out Mr. Glass was a clerk at Seigel’s Shoe Store on Barton St. E. until 1937. From 1938 onward, he was listed as a “designer” in the Delta Building.
So, mystery solved, at least partially. Did Mr. Glass design Mr. Hering’s home? It seems likely. Did he design Ms. McGowan’s? It’d be early in his career and the similarities aren’t as apparent, but, as Mr. Hill points out, “only a few Hamilton designers and architects worked in this progressive style at this time.”
Hmm … perhaps there’s an Art Moderne shoe store somewhere between the two that will provide the missing link?
For more information on Martin Hering's home and other Art Moderne homes in the Hamilton area, visit www.170longwood.ca