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I. M. Pei's Contributions to Our 1962 Roadtrips

1962 IN ENTERTAINMENT AND THE ARTS

Though you may think of “the arts” as including only entertainment, design and architecture is commonly acknowledged to be part of this field. One of the 20th century’s major architects, I. M. Pei, died recently on May 15, 2019 at age 102, so it’s a good time for Roadtrip-'62 ™ to review his work in general and how he contributed to the year 1962 in particular.

 
Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio
Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio

For starters, I found that we visited three of his buildings on our US-6 roadtrip! First up is the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, which we saw on Day 13. This building did not exist back in 1962, but the subject and some rock-n-roll memories it houses did, so it was fair game to visit. The impressive glass pyramid building was designed after Mr. Pei did a lot of research about rock and roll. In the end, he was successful in his stated mission of designing a building to echo the energy of rock and roll. Architectural writer and reviewer Herbert Muschamp wrote that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s geometric forms that cantilevered out from the middle of a six-story tower formed, “a “swivel-hipped apparition in metal and glass.” Thus, he felt the 1995 building echoed the style and edge of Elvis Presley and was worthy of hosting the energy of American rock history.

 
Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa postcard
Original building of the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa (Photo by Hank Zalatel at Flickr, used by permission.)

The next building we saw along US-6 was the Des Moines Art Center, on Day 23 in Des Moines, Iowa. This remarkable building was actually designed and built in stages over the years by three of the great architects of the 20th century: Eliel Saarinen, I. M. Pei, and Richard Meier! The original building was designed by Saarinen beginning in 1945. The design was a distinctly modern building with a horizontal profile and flat roof that snuggled into the natural setting of the city’s Greenwood Park. We would only have seen that in 1962 because I. M. Pei’s addition was built in 1968. It’s a very different style and exterior material, using bushhammered concrete, and was designed not to obstruct view of the original building. Richard Meier supplied the final addition in 1985, building in porcelain and granite.

 
ice skating at Zeckendorf Plaza, Denver, Colorado, 1962 postcard
Ice skating at Zeckendorf Plaza, Denver, Colorado (1962 postcard, from online auction)

The final I. M. Pei building we saw was the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, on Day 29, in Denver, Colorado. This is the only one of the three that actually was present in 1962, as it was completed in 1960 along with Pei’s Zeckendorf Plaza, a department store, and the Mile High Center building. Sadly though, the civic plaza and part of Mile High Center were demolished. The exterior of the department store building was remodeled to hide some of the mid-century modern touches, leaving only the hotel.

 
Place Ville-Marie tower, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Place Ville-Marie tower, Montreal, Quebec, Canada (Photo by chrisinphilly5448 at Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.)

Besides Denver’s buildings, we could have seen a few others by Mr. Pei back in 1962, though it was early in his career. The Place Ville-Marie tower in Montreal, Quebec, Canada was designed in 1958 and completed in 1962. This was designed in partnership with Henry N. Cobb, who also worked with Pei on the Denver project, and was the third tallest skyscraper outside the United States at the time. It transformed Montreal’s skyline and allowed Pei and his firm to become a key advocate of Modernist architecture. It has been integrated into Montreal's underground city providing indoor access to over 1,600 shops, restaurants, offices, businesses, and metro stations all over downtown. The closest any of our 1962 roadtrips come to Montreal is about 35 miles away, at Champlain, New York, where US-9 begins and US-11 intersects.



Hale Manoa Dormitory, East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
Hale Manoa Dormitory, East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii (Public domain photo by Joel Bradshaw at Wikimedia Commons.)

He also designed three buildings at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. There is no US-numbered route in Hawaii, and of course it is across the Pacific Ocean, so no roadtrip here is possible. However, three of his buildings are here and one could be seen in our favorite year! Hale Manoa, a 13-story building, is the East–West Center's student dormitory, which opened in 1962. It was originally an all-male dormitory, with a sister dormitory also designed later by Mr. Pei, Hale Kuahine, situated just next to the Imin Center, for females. Both Hale Manoa and Hale Kuahine are now unisex dormitories. His other building from 1962 is the John F. Kennedy Theater. It was originally named the East-West Center Theater but was renamed the John F. Kennedy Theater just five days after the president's in 1963. Kennedy Theater was the first public building named after the late president.

 
University Apartments, Chicago, Illinois, 1961
University Apartments, Chicago, Illinois, 1961 (Photo by TonyTheTiger at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

The University Apartments in Chicago, Illinois was built in 1961 and designed in colaboration with Araldo and Loewenberg & Loewenberg. I. M. Pei used some of the same design principles as used for Denver’s Zeckendorf Plaza for the frame windows, including a special lightweight concrete he developed. The University Apartments are a pair of ten-story towers which originally had a public park sheltered between them. You could find this building on any of the following US-numbered routes, as they all pass through Chicago: US-12, US-14, US-20, US-30ALT, US-34, US-41, US-54, and of course, the Mother Road, US-66.

 
Green Building, Center for Earth Sciences, at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Green Building, Center for Earth Sciences, at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Public domain photo by Daderot at Wikimedia Commons.)

As with the University of Hawaii, Pei also designed three buildings at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, though two are newer than 1962. The Green Building, Center for Earth Sciences, was constructed between 1962-64 as part of Mr. Pei’s campus design. It is a 21-story building flanked by two strongly horizontal buildings constructed later, the Dreyfus Building and the Landau Building. Though a concrete building, the Green Building is colored to blend with the other two limestone structures. His Dreyfus building was constructed between 1967-70 and the Landau Chemical Engineering Building between 1973-76. A convenient roadtrip to these buildings would be on highway US-3, at its south end in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 
Cathedral Square, Providence Rhode Island
Cathedral Square, Providence Rhode Island (Photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Though designed in 1962, the Cathedral Square of Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul project in Providence, Rhode Island was not completed. A part was built in 1972 coinciding with a complete renovation of The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. The City of Providence had hired I. M. Pei to redesign Cathedral Square as part of an ambitious larger plan to redesign downtown. Unfortunately, the city ran out of money and later construction of a low-income housing complex and the I-95 freeway had changed the neighborhood's character permanently. The finished portion is a paved open public space in front of the Cathedral. This site can be seen at Day 4 of our US-6 roadtrip, though I did not make a stop there.

I. M. Pei’s other projects were designed and completed much later, around the world as his fame grew. Perhaps his most famous is the glass pyramid which is part of his additions to the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. The 70ft-tall, steel-framed, glass-walled pyramid is a grand entrance for the museum. Pei said the Louvre was undoubtedly the most difficult job of his career.

 

All photos by the author and Copyright © 2019 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2019 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.

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