Harlingen is home to mid-century modernism

HARLINGEN — The russet Saltillo tile spread through the home, from the kitchen to the dining room that seemed to flow into the living room.

Exposed brick rose from floor to ceiling, and windows along one wall seemed to deny the rele-vance of any separation. Instead, they invited the afternoon sunlight into the living room, where architects and architect enthusiasts toured the home.

“I love the way the house transcends down and unifies the open spaces,” said Michelle Honl, who teaches archi-tecture in the Harlingen school district.

“I just love the open flow of the entire structure,” she said. The tour was coordinated by RGVMod and Houston Mod.

The group’s primary in-terest was mid-century modern architecture. Nydia Tapia-Gonzales, a local architecture enthusiast, said mid-century modernism was a movement that took place from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. It’s characterized by large windows and flat roofs. Two of the architects who built many of the Rio Grande Valley’s mid-century modernist homes were John York and Alan Taniguchi.

Many people aren’t aware of the relevance of mid-century modern architecture. Too many of these homes, Tapia-Gonzalez said, are being remodeled and their unique features removed. She’s trying to raise awareness about the importance of these homes so the owners will keep them intact.

The group had just fin-ished touring Temple Beth Israel, where Fernando Russek spoke to the group about the structure de-signed by York.

“It has a high ceiling and a lot of windows for light and air,” said Russek, a member of the synagogue.

He stepped through a doorway. “Look at this here,” he said, pulling a door from a wall. “Pocket door.”

Stephen Fox, a professor of historic architecture at Rice University in Houston, made reference to the windows at the bottom and the top.

“It was not uncommon in the early 1950s not to have air conditioning,” said Fox, the tour guide. “There was a clerestory window we used to draw the breeze.”

The tour offered a great opportunity to see mid-century modern architecture in the Valley, said Jeff Carowitz, 44, of Houston. He also appreciated the use of both inside and outside space.

“I think we have become accustomed to walls of glass,” he said. “In the 1940s and 1950s the architects used walls of glass.”

Other parts of the country were already using glass and then Valley residents warmed to the idea.

The next home designed by Taniguchi sat on the curve of a street.

“I think it’s interesting he used the curve of the street,” said Fox, who stood in the backyard facing the house with its slight corners angling back and forth.

“He used that street curve to create space that’s very different inside the house than outside the house,” said Fox. “It separates public space from private space. You’ve got a private bedroom wing as well as a garage.”

The family living in the home has three children. Honl thought the bed-rooms were delightful.

“Every room is irregular and playful,” she said. “It’s a little whimsical. They’re trapezoids or polygons. Not a square.”

The girl’s room at the end of the hall had lilac-colored walls and a bright pink bedspread.

Honl reached for the white chest of drawers built into the wall. Rather than using drawer pulls, the front of each drawer slanted outward at a slight angle.

The feature is perfect for a child’s tiny hands, and the house, with decades of memories lingering in its walls, continues to mature as new lives appear to design futures of their own.