If I Said You had a Beautiful Wiener House, Would You Hold It Against Me?

In the patois of Caddo Parish, a “Wiener House” doesn’t refer to a hot-dog stand; it’s a generic term used to describe any of the areas’ many modern residences.

Brothers Samuel G. and William B. Wiener are Shreveport’s most famous — and prolific — modern architects, responsible for many public and private commissions from the 1920s through the 1960s. The brothers achieved renown via their embrace of the so-called International Style after visiting Europe in 1927 and 1931. “We had to go,” Sam’s widow Marion remembered. “We couldn’t see modern architecture here in America and they weren’t teaching it in the architecture schools.”

Today the Wieners are remembered primarily for their trinity of International Style residences built between 1934 and 1937, all of which are currently ensconced on the National Register of Historic Places. The three white stucco masterpieces — the Wile House [1934], the Flesh House [1936] and the Samuel Wiener House [1937] — are all located in Shreveport’s South Highlands neighborhood and have either been maintained or restored to their original glory.

These multi-story Wiener residences are locally famous to the point where any house built after 1945 without a gabled roof is often simply called a “Wiener House.” Not nearly as famous — but on equal historical footing — is a tiny bungalow nestled away in historic Highland, at 222 Jordan.

Louisiana Tech School of Architecture Professor Guy Carwile said: “The phrases ‘bigger isn’t always better’ and ‘small is beautiful’ describe William B. Wiener’s design for the John S. Preston house of 1935. The diminutive Preston house shows that Wiener’s skill as an environmentally sensitive modernist is in no way affected by the physical size of a project or indeed its budget.”

The Preston bungalow cost $3,638, or 20 cents per cubic foot, in 1935 dollars. This price is included here not to promote envy, but to prove a point.

During the height of the Great Depression, many architects took small residential commissions to address the charges of elitism often leveled at advocates of the International Style. So much so that, in October 1935, The Architectural Forum devoted a whole issue to the $5,000 House, featuring 50 examples of affordable housing nationwide. The Preston House was selected for inclusion, along with projects by Richard Neutra and R. M. Schindler.

The Forum editors wrote: “the house is refreshingly straightforward in its recognition of a utilitarian plan that appealed to the owner, regardless of the asymmetrical appearance of the exterior. Conservatives who decry every ultra-modern form of expression must remember that the fundamental criterion of fitness is the comfortable and convenient fulfillment of function; a willingness to subordinate the claims of visual satisfaction.”

The campaign to bring the modern sensibility to rank and file America was waged in every state of the Union and finally succeeded eleven years after the completion of the Preston House. In 1946, Ray and Charles Eames’ revolutionary line of molded plywood furniture finally erased the line that separated the Modern elite from people who simply wanted to furnish their new tract homes.

Professor Carwile informed me that a fellow architect has bought the Preston House and is currently planning a full restoration. We can only hope that the National Register eventually gets another Wiener House added to its illustrious roster.

An image from The Architectural Forum depicting the Preston house
Howard Myers: Editor: THE ARCHITECTURAL FORUM. New York: Time, Inc. Volume 63, No. 4, October 1935. Courtesy of modernism101.com

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