The Greavette Streamliner is a well loved, greatly admired, Muskoka built antique boat. The Streamliner is part of a marine history that brings Muskoka to the forefront of the world’s stage in boat building.
Likewise, Muskoka is home to architecture of this design and era that merits the same admiration. Unfortunately this built heritage does not have the same fame or appreciation. Learning about the modernist movement can enable us to better appreciate what we have in Muskoka that puts us on the world’s stage in Architecture.
Modern architecture sprang from a cultural movement which began in the late 1800’s in France. Frustrated that commerce, social organization, art, architecture etcetera were not progressing and changing dramatically for the better as a result of the development of scientific knowledge and technological advancement, modernists sought to abandon all that was traditional and embrace all that was new. From this came the title for the movement, “Avant Garde”, which means an overthrow of the traditional or status quo. They wanted to discover what was holding back progress and replace it with a new and better way.
Victorians believed in positivism and rationalism. In an overly simplified form, this meant that the progressively growing scientific knowledge would eventually explain all things and the world would increasingly become a better place to live. The view of the future was positive, created by a belief in the rational nature of the world.
The squalor and dehumanization of the Industrial Revolution left some innovative minds thinking that this was no longer valid philosophy. Darwin was one of the thinkers of this period whose theory of evolution disrupted conventional thought. The chaos of WW1 made even more of the general population reject positivist thinking and question whether society could move forward in its present form. All these factors created a rise in modernism, evidenced by factors like cubism in Picasso’s work and Freud’s theories. Modernism was an attempt to understand the world as it was and to create universal principles from it.
The belief was that without a total break from the past, they would never be sufficiently challenged to explore the full potential of the technology, knowledge and materials that were available to them.
Only by rejecting tradition could they discover radically new ideas and methods. A form of this theory is currently in practice in some large corporations which are dependent on being leaders in technology.
Pensions are structured to allow senior staff to retire around the age 50, and the pension structure penalizes them if they stay longer. This is to make way for fresh ways of thinking and operating. Without a break from the past leadership, it is too easy to fall into a rut of making minor revisions to the past rather than creating a new future.
It was in the first quarter of the 1900’s that a historical event propelled America into the arms of modernism. America had to be left out of the prestigious “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs, Industriels et Modernes” held in Paris in1925 because there was found to be no originality or inspiration from any American source that could be showcased at this event for the world to see. America was not used to such humiliation. It was a call to action.
America joined with Germany’s Bauhaus movement which integrated art and industry. American designers began to create strong lines which suggested movement, called streamlining. Streamlining symbolized modernism itself, speeding forward with an optimistic attitude towards a Utopian future – the American Dream.
This style, influenced by cubism and futurism, was originally called Modernistic or Style Moderne, however it was shortened in the 60’s to the term we are now familiar with, Art Deco, which is an abbreviation of the title of the Paris Exhibition which started it all in America. Modernistic styles embraced machine and automobile patterns and shapes.
Patterns such as stylized gears and wheel were common. A world renowned example is the pattern of the automobile in the decoration of the Chrysler building in New York City.
In Muskoka streamlining was used by Douglas Van Patten when he was hired by Greavette boats in Gravenhurst to create the Greavette Streamliner, many of which are prized antiques still regularly used by Muskoka families.
Opening in 1939 on Lake Joseph, a modernistic hotel was built by the famed and innovative Lambert Love of Elgin House. Like the Streamliner, this building embraced modern thinking and technology. Glen Home, as it was called, had little ornamentation compared to Victorian architecture like Windermere House. It had classic Art Deco styling with corner turrets stepped up like a wedding cake. It was geometric in design with a simple massing. Inside were classic plaster pillars with three concentric circles radiating out from the top. The interior had a look strongly reminiscent of the popular Carlu, College Park, in Toronto, which was constructed in 1930.
Glen Home was designed by the revered Architectural firm of Horwood and White, who designed the Robert Simpson store in 1894. Horwood and White was known for its Chicago style of modern design, consisting of geometric and linear fronts with three zones; ground floor, intermediary floors and attic floors, arranged in vertical bands. The vertical banding on Glen Home is readily apparent.
The famed Dominion Bridge Company did the innovative structural steel engineering for the foundation. This is a rare type of structure in Muskoka, but this company is renowned for its steel work in structures such as the Lion’s Gate Bridge in 1938, The Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver in 1939, and the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower in 1967.
It is extraordinary to have a building with these credentials in Ontario’s north cottage country.
Glen Home was purchased by the Sisters of St Joseph in 1975 and was renamed Mary Grove. This building remains in excellent condition sitting across from the Lake Joseph Club.
If you can, take the time to take a close look at this building in person, remembering the hopes for an improved social and economic future inherent in its streamlined, simplistic modern design and the world wide fame of its architects and builders. Muskoka celebrates its world class antique and classic boats, but it has world class antique and classic architecture too.