In 1845, Henry David Thoreau built a tiny cabin near Walden Pond in Massachusetts, lived there for two years, then published a book about it. “Most men,” he wrote, “appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have.” A century later, a German architect in flight from the Nazis moved to a meadow a stone’s throw from Walden Pond, where he put up a small house that is as deeply considered a dwelling as has ever existed.
The Gropius House, built by Walter Gropius in 1938, is a simple two-story structure that still looks breathtakingly contemporary. Its clean, right-angled lines and uncluttered floor plan are the very essence of the architectural style now known to aficionados as midcentury modernism. I paid a visit to the Gropius House the other day, and as I pulled into the driveway, I thought, This house could have been built yesterday–except that in 2007, few people would be willing to build a home that looks so utterly unlike the ones in which their neighbors live….
Like the Louis Armstrong House in Queens and the H.L. Mencken House in Baltimore (which is, alas, no longer open to the public), the Gropius House has been painstakingly restored to its original condition, and it looks as if its designer-owner had just stepped out for a walk. The walls are covered with very appropriate art, including a Hans Hofmann watercolor and a gorgeous lithograph by Toko Shinoda, an artist whom I now long to add to the Teachout Museum. In my experience, most midcentury-modern house-museums have superior tour guides, and this one was no exception: Joyce Bowden showed off its myriad marvels with informed and irresistible enthusiasm.
Next stop: Peterborough, New Hampshire, home of the MacDowell Colony, where Paul Moravec spent part of the summer writing the first three scenes of The Letter and Thornton Wilder wrote most of Our Town (which is widely thought to be a fictional portrayal of life in Peterborough). Dinner at Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar, an uncommonly fine Asian-fusion place incongruously located in a strip mall, followed by the Peterborough Players‘ splendid revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner (about which more here). Spent the night at the Benjamin Prescott Inn, built in 1853, whose proprietors are as nice as can be.
• AUGUST 3 To Portsmouth, New Hampshire, there to spend two days seeing the Seacoast Repertory Theatre‘s productions of Damn Yankees and West Side Story (about which more here and here). Dinner at Pesce Blue, recommended by the authors of Fodor’s New England, who nailed it in one. My seafood risotto was meltingly good.
• AUGUST 5 To Colby College in Waterville, Maine, alma mater of Linda Greenlaw, whose museum contains major collections of works by John Marin and Alex Katz, both prominently represented in the Teachout Museum. I went there on my first visit to Maine four years ago and have been dying to return ever since. The Marin galleries house the best selection of that great American artist’s work to be seen in any museum, not excluding my beloved Phillips Collection.
Next stop: Maine’s Blue Hill Peninsula, there to spend the night at the Oakland House Seaside Inn, whose accommodations include an 1907 arts-and-crafts-style cottage with a gazebo on the water. I passed the afternoon in a rocking chair on the porch, lapping up the salt air and reading a moldering copy of Good Evening, Everybody, the autobiography of Lowell Thomas, which I found on a bookshelf in the cottage library, tucked away among the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.
Most people remember Thomas–if at all–as the mellifluous voice of Twentieth Century Fox’s Movietone newsreels and the man who “discovered” T.E. Lawrence. (Arthur Kennedy played him in Lawrence of Arabia.) In my parents’ day, though, he was also America’s best-known and best-loved radio newscaster. Lowell Thomas and the News went on the air in 1930 and ran until 1976, long enough for me to tune in his farewell broadcast. Thomas grew up in Cripple Creek, Colorado, the wildest of the gold-rush towns, and lived to tell his dwindling band of aging listeners about Watergate. Now, like the rest of the stars of golden-age network radio, he is forgotten save by nostalgia-crazed old-time radio buffs. Sic transit gloria mundi!
(To be continued)