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GRAVEL, ROCKS, PALMS AND TOPIARY, that’s what Las Vegas landscaping is made of. My wasband just got back from a visit there with these images in his pocket, taken in Paradise Palms, a neighborhood of mid-century houses by architects Palmer and Krisel, best known for their Palm Springs developments, that are pretty swell in their own right. (The houses, by the way, are real bargain by East and West Coast standards. One in fairly good condition might go for around $230,000. Others need a complete makeover.)

Something about these freewheeling front yards makes me want to laugh. Is it the anthropomorphic look of the pruned hedges, the casual strewing of boulders, the symmetrical line-up of mini-cacti in gray gravel? It’s so different from what we call a garden here in the East. Scroll down for a look at what can be done under pretty arid circumstances.

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Photos: Jeff Greenberg

 

 

 

 

 

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LUCKY LU ANDREWS. She was the secretary for the architecture firm of Ralph Twitchell, which in its 1940s-’60s heyday helped make Sarasota, Florida, an epicenter of important modern architecture. Over the years, Lu Andrews’ employers designed three houses for her. This, the third of them, built in 1959, is a 909-square-foot, 2 BR, 2 bath jewel, with brilliantly pared-down lines and compact design.

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In my view, this is a highly covetable winter/retirement or year-round home, its small size mitigated by sliding glass walls that visually extend the house out into its lush tropical setting and insure abundant light throughout the day.

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I was in Sarasota once many years ago and don’t know it well. The location is said to be prime though — “west of trail” and close to downtown, the bay, parks, marina, restaurants, galleries, beaches, St. Armands Circle (a high-end shopping/dining district), and the Ringling College of Art and Design.

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The house is listed by Martie Lieberman of Premier Sotheby’s International, who specializes in modern properties and cares enormously about their preservation. As she says about this one, “I’d like to see it get into safe hands.”

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The official listing, with more photos, slideshow and video tour, is here.

To read more about the Sarasota School of Architecture, go here and here.

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Photos: Glenn SRQ360.com  courtesy Martie Lieberman

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ONCE-MIGHTY TROY, N.Y., one of the nation’s wealthiest cities in the glory days of the Industrial Revolution (iron, steel, precision tools, shirts and collars), fell on hard times in the 20th century, but much of its impressive — in fact, gorgeous — architecture remains intact. Some of its brownstones are more stellar, even, than Brooklyn’s best, and its commercial buildings, in the uniformly antique downtown area, are great beauties.

There’s much for an architecture aficionada to explore, and explore I did last Saturday, in the company of my travelin’ cousin Susan and Brownstoner columnist Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris), a new Troy resident and now expert on the buildings of that city. (Her recent New York Daily News article on the revitalization of Troy is here.)

photoHere we are at Lucas Confectionery, a hip new wine bar/ restaurant/grocery that retains the name of the original 1863 store in this space, toasting the wonders of the city named after the ancient Troy, whose motto is “Ilium fuit, Troja est (Latin for “Ilium was, Troy is”) — and, young entrepreneurs and real estate developers hope, will be.

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Above, Suzanne with Lucas Confectionery owner Vic Christopher, formerly of…Brooklyn!

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The obvious place to begin a walking tour of vintage Troy is Monument Square, where a towering column topped by a figure of Liberty commemorates Civil War dead, and around which are a few thriving boutiques like Truly Rhe and a phenomenally unspoiled Victorian bar/cafe, Illium Cafe (photos below of the building that houses it and its wholly original interior). Try the strawberry mimosa.

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The elegant 1904 McCarthy building on Monument Square, of terra cotta with a proscenium-style arched window, below, just waiting for the right tenant.

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Angling off Monument Square toward the Hudson River — narrower here than in New York City, but the original source of Troy’s commercial success — is River Street, below. The spectacular wedge-shaped Rice Building, an 1871 High Gothic landmark at the corner of River at First, replaced an earlier structure wiped out in an 1820 fire that destroyed all the businesses and warehouses along River Street, which had been a busy commercial district since the 1790s.

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River Street is optimistically dubbed Antiques Row. More buildings are vacant than occupied at present, though the potential in its sturdy, attractive building stock, below, is evident. One of the best stores now open: Country Charm at #188, where painted cupboards and iron bedsteads similar to those found in Hudson, N.Y., shops are offered at a fraction of the price. Another goodie: Playing on the Furniture, a place to find cheerily repainted and refurbished secondhand pieces.

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Off Monument Square in the other direction, on River and Third Streets, are livelier boutiques, vintage clothing stores and flower shops (The Botanic Studio specializes in terrariums), and more fine commercial buildings in need of tenants.

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Above, Dang! That’s Cherry, a vintage clothing boutique that also sells mid-century kitsch and kitchenware.

Troy seems to have no shortage of fine public buildings. Below, the interior of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, an 1870s auditorium with original pipe organ, long famed for its acoustics, has a full calendar of important names in classical, jazz and popular music.

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Below, the Troy Public Library, remnant of proud bygone days, with magnificent iron sconces.

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Below, two early buildings at Russell Sage College, founded in 1916 in a public park in Downtown Troy.

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There are numerous blocks of well-preserved row houses — a few early Federal clapboards and many later homes of brick or stone, in Italianate, Romanesque Revival, and other fanciful late 19th century styles. The best of them seem to be along 2nd Street, which we wandered, admiring bay windows, cupolas, friezes, ironwork, cornices, and other details.

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Above: the Federal style Hart-Cluett House, built in 1827 with a marble facade, now the home of the Rensselaer County Historical Society.

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Eventually we came to Washington Park, below, established in 1840 and one of only two private ornamental parks in the state, open by key to residents of surrounding buildings (the other such park is Gramercy Park in NYC). Some of the homes are freestanding mansions, below; others are row houses.

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Above, one of the last remaining cobblestone streets in Troy.

We returned to Monument Square along 3rd Street, where the homes are more modest. There are two interesting houses of worship: the 1827 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, below, whose 1890s interior is all Tiffany; stained glass windows, woodwork, metalwork and lighting. And a cute blue-painted 1870 synagogue, in continuous use for the past 144 years.

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Wherever you roam, there’s interesting stuff to see, like the leaded glass storefront and rusting Art Deco hotel sign, below.

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That’s Troy 101 for you. What do you make of it?

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I’VE BEEN A FAN OF TEL AVIV’S BAUHAUS-STYLE ARCHITECTURE at least since 1984, when a show at New York’s Jewish Museum made me aware of the design importance of the so-called “White City.” German Jewish architects influenced by the Bauhaus and LeCorbusier emigrated to Tel Aviv in great numbers in the 1930s, fleeing the Nazi rise to power. Erich Mendelsohn is probably the best-known of them; he and others brought International Style ideas of modernity to the construction of mostly low-rise apartment buildings, adapting their design principles to a hot climate.

Now Israeli artist Avner Gicelter has launched a website featuring meticulous graphic illustrations of 11 (so far) outstanding buildings throughout his beloved city. It’s an attractive resource and a useful document.

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I’ve written before about Tel Aviv’s stock of 4,000 such modernist buildings, including an outraged letter to the New York Times Travel section after a writer summed up the city’s architecture as “awful.” Remembering a walking tour conducted by Israeli friends, I described the city’s back streets as “uniform blocks of characteristically flat-roofed, cubic structures with ribbons of balconies, or with sleek curves and rounded corners that rival anything in Miami’s South Beach for streamlined modernity.”

The city’s collection is impressive. Three districts were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, and Conde Nast Traveler magazine has called Tel Aviv one of the world’s best cities for architecture lovers. Some of the Bauhaus-style structures anchor broad boulevards, like the elegant Rothschild Boulevard, or encircle plazas like well-known Dizengoff Square. More line narrow side streets. Some have been carefully restored; others are still in an unfortunate state of disrepair. There’s an ongoing preservation battle.

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All the above illustrations are from Gicelter’s website, where you can see more building images and subscribe to the continuing series.

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I’VE JUST RETURNED from a four-day vacation in Virginia, taken with my wasband to commemorate our 40th unniversary and shared interest in American history, old houses, gardens, and many other things. We both recently read Founding Gardeners, Andrea Wulf’s story of the early founders’ vision of the U.S. as an agrarian society, full of fascinating details such as Thomas Jefferson experimenting with 40 kinds of rice on a Philadelphia windowsill and George Washington planting trees in January (they failed, but he just couldn’t wait). Each owned thousands of Virginia acres planted in tobacco and wheat, and hundreds of slaves, the irony of which became clearer and more bitter as our trip unfolded.

Our first stop was Alexandria, a convenient base for visiting Washington’s Mount Vernon a few miles to the south. I had a single distant memory of Alexandria from a long-ago visit — a rose bush climbing out of the sidewalk to arch over the doorway of a tiny brick row house. I knew there had to be more to Alexandria, and indeed there is.

Founded in 1749 by Scottish merchants, Alexandria’s Old Town has an extensive collection of 18th and 19th century townhouses on a grid of streets surveyed by, among others, a young George Washington. You can walk along streets named Prince, Princess, Duke, Queen, and King reading commemorative plaques (Robert E. Lee grew up here, and Washington kept a pied-a-terre), glimpse Colonial-style gardens down alleys and over fences, and tour the c.1750 Carlyle House, below, for a real sense of gentrified life in that era.

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Unlike at Mount Vernon and Monticello, photography is permitted in the Carlyle House,  modeled on an English country manor and painstakingly restored with bold wall colors and fine antique furniture. The house is currently decked out for Halloween, set up to look as if John Carlyle had recently died. His coffin is in the main parlor, below, and mirrors and portraits are draped in black. Mannequins of slaves in livery kept startling me as we traipsed through the rooms with a docent and one other visitor, a woman veiled and draped in black herself (she had just attended a witches’ tea on the back porch).

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John Carlyle 1720-1780

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The wonderful yellow entry hall

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The bed in which John Carlyle died, predeceased by two wives and all but two of his eleven children

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Carlyle’s manservant, Moses, above

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A bed set up on the floor of an upstairs landing for the physician who attended Carlyle’s death, part of the Halloween display

More of what Alexandria has to offer the history- and/or architecture-obsessed visitor, below. (These are private homes, closed to the public.)

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Replica of George Washington’s townhouse on Cameron Street, above, based on a sketch done by a neighbor

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The John Douglass Brown house, above, a farmhouse that may date in part to the 17th century

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Alley, above, was used for walking horses through to the backyard

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The c.1806 Patton-Fowle House, above, possibly by architect Charles Bulfinch, considered one of the country’s best examples of Federal architecture

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Above: Elegant 19th century townhouses in styles from Gothic to Italianate to Greek Revival

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Above, “Captain’s Row,” a street sloping down to the Potomac River, paved with stones originally used as ships’ ballast

DSC_0885We stayed at the 42-room Morrison House, left, a comfortable boutique hotel built in the 1980s but passable at a glance as a Federal building. We missed the lantern tour and the view of the ballroom at the c.1790 Gadsby’s Tavern, but enjoyed our dinner in one of four candlelit rooms (the fried oysters and porter stand out). In any case, I can see the original ballroom woodwork here in New York City; it was removed in 1917 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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