In the Cincinnati suburb of Woodlawn, through what is being called “an exceptional act of philanthropy,” a preservation group has meticulously restored a 1938 International-style Modernist home that had deteriorated ruinously while awaiting demolition.
Paul J. Muller, executive director of the non-profit Cincinnati Preservation Association, credits Emily Rauh Pulitzer’s philanthropy for saving the home and financing the restoration. Pulitzer, who lives in St. Louis and was responsible for commissioning Tadao Ando’s celebrated, cutting-edge Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts museum in that city, grew up in the recently rescued Cincinnati home. In 2010, upon hearing it was endangered, she purchased it, gave ownership to the preservation group, and funded the painstaking restoration.
The two-story, gleaming white, brick-and-cinder-block Rauh House consists of a series of intersecting rectangles that—through expansive windows, terraces, decks and porches—afford views onto the 8½-acre property. Cincinnati architect John W. Becker designed it for insurance salesman Frederick Rauh and his wife, Harriet. Landscape architect A.D. Taylor planned the lot, which included a wooded wildlife trail that is also being restored. Becker built a similar home for himself and wife Marion Rombauer Becker (a Joy of Cooking editor) in another suburb at the exact same time. It was demolished in the 1980s.
Pulitzer came to Cincinnati in late April to welcome guests to the Preserving Modern Architecture in the Midwest symposium at her former home, the first major public event there. She stood in front of a wall portrait of her and brother Lou as children that her brother had saved and returned.
She recalled how one night at her St. Louis home she was looking at a Chicago auction-house catalogue and saw a photo for the Becker-designed fireplace end-irons from her house. She bought them, and eventually had her attorney buy the whole place. “There would be no Ando building if I hadn’t grown up in this house,” she told her attorney by way of explaining her purchase.
Much of the house’s interior—including new floors, lighting, and living-room furnishings such as a sofa and a built-in wood counter—had to be reconstructed. As references, Cincinnati Preservation used old photos, recollections of family members, original drawings for Becker’s own house, and inspections of remaining material.
Patrick Snadon, architecture professor at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, said it usually bothers him when a restoration involves such extensive recreation because so much of the historic original material is gone. But not this time. “Maybe with Modernism the feeling of newness is as important as having the integrity of the original materials,” he said.
Pulitzer has stipulated that Cincinnati Preservation sell the house to someone who wants to live in a classic Modernist environment. “My feeling is it would be wonderful for other families to have the experience of their children grow up in this house,” she said. It will go on the market for $1.395 million, with sale proceeds funding future preservation activities. It will have historic preservation covenants allowing for some type of public events annually.
“This house, by being at the beginning of an architectural movement, and by being an exceptional example of it, is an excellent way to let people have a point of reference for the value of Modernism and for what it looks like when connected to an environment,” said Muller. “So redoing this house is a way to increase the public’s understanding of the value in preserving the best modern architecture.”