“10 Homes That Changed America” is the first episode in a new three-part celebration of man-made marvels from PBS that picks up where 2013’s hugely popular “10 Buildings That Changed America” left off.
Spanning from 15th century pueblos to 21st century prefabs with a spectacular Gilded Age manse placed squarely in between, the program — a "primer in domestic architecture" — tracks the evolution of the American home by zeroing in on the lasting influence of 10 individual residences. It’s an eclectic, geographically diverse bunch to be sure, and like “10 Buildings,” which also featured a small handful of residential structures, viewers are certainly going to have their gripes about certain omissions. Whatever the case, there’s no arguing the vast importance of each home that did make the cut, a majority of which currently operate as museums and historic sites. However, the primary function of a couple of profiled domiciles is still very much that of “home.”
Presented by WTTW Chicago, “10 Homes That Changed America” debuts April 5 at 8 p.m. EST on your local PBS station.
PBS will debut the other two new episodes of “10 That Changed America” on April 12 and April 19, respectively: “10 Parks That Changed America” and “10 Towns That Changed America.” Accompanying the episodes is a robust, info-packed interactive website that further delves into the history of each game-changing building, house, park and town. Users are also encouraged to submit their own two cents and suggest their own ideas. And given that 10 is such a restrictive number, the "10 That Changed" website also includes 10 additional noteworthy buildings, homes, parks and towns not featured in the episodes.
Without further ado, here are the 10 most history-transforming residences in the land per WTTW Chicago. Following that, I’ve also included the requisite “10 More” list.
Eames House, Pacific Palisades, California (1949)
The Eames House proved that post-war family homes could be so much more. (Photo: Ben Godfrey/flickr)
Beloved by West Coast rappers and modern design aficionados alike, the former residence and studio of husband-wife renaissance couple Charles and Ray Eames was conceived and built as experimental prototype dwelling for Art & Architecture magazine’s groundbreaking Case Study House program.
A delightful time capsule of an abode that’s been exceptionally preserved for future generations by the Eames Foundation, Chez Charles and Ray stands as a reminder that the Eames’ — a mid-century modern power couple if there ever was one — were about much more than molded plastic armchairs. One of the Los Angeles area's must-visit historic homes, the Eames House demonstrated that post-war family homes built on the cheap using readily available prefabricated materials could indeed be playful, comfortable, beautiful and, most importantly, lived in. Open to guided public tours (reservations are a must), the Eames House was named a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania (1937)
Fallingwater has the iconic appeal that only a few houses can claim. (Photo: Michael Costello /flickr)
Proto-starchitect Frank Lloyd Wright designed hundreds of homes of all shapes, sizes and styles during his long and scandal-tinged career, birthing entire residential architecture movements in the process.
However, not one single Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home — sorry, Hollyhock House — has gone on to achieve the same iconic heights as Fallingwater, a rural Pennsylvania retreat built for a Pittsburgh department store magnate that interacts with its natural surroundings in a most spectacular fashion. Like many Wright-designed structures, Fallingwater is incredibly high-maintenance, to be sure; it has problems. But with plenty of TLC from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, this cantilevered landmark has withstood the test of time and continues to steal breaths by the tour bus load.
Gamble House, Pasadena, California (1908)
While many might recognize it as the fictional residence of noted DeLorean owner Emmet “Doc” Brown, others recognize Pasadena’s Gamble House as the American Craftsman bungalow to end all American Craftsman bungalows.
Designed by Greene and Greene for Ivory Soap scion David Gamble and his wife, this exceedingly handsome three-story Arts and Crafts style abode is a woodworking enthusiast’s fever dream come to life in teak, maple, oak and mahogany. They don’t call it a “symphony in wood” for nothing. Melding Swiss craftsmanship, American ingenuity and a distinctly Japanese aesthetic, the home, named a National Historic Landmark in 1977, now functions as a public museum and event space co-operated by the city of Pasadena and the University of Southern California School of Architecture.
Glidehouse, Novato, California (2004)
The sole 21st century creation to be honored on the show, Glidehouse and its designer, modern green prefab progenitor Michelle Kaufmann, have been featured numerous times here on MNN and sister site TreeHugger. It’s also the only history-changing abode to be populated by hundreds of homeowners spread out across the country, Kaufmann herself included.
When Blu Homes acquired the design assets of mKDesign in 2009, Glidehouse and other Kaufmann-designed modular homes were not only reborn but tweaked, expanded and introduced to a larger audience curious to try green prefab living on for size. And so, innovative and loaded with environmentally friendly bells and whistles, the Glidehouse ruled as the green prefab poster child of the mid-to late-oughts. Thanks to Glidehouse and its brethren, “factory built” was no longer a dirty word amongst American homeowners. Erased were long-prevailing stereotypes of modular housing as being cheap, flimsy and soulless replaced with something altogether smarter, sleeker and more sustainable.
Langston Terrace, Washington, D.C. (1938)
Huge things came out of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration, a large-scale public works construction agency formed in 1933 as part of the New Deal: the Triborough Bridge, the Grand Coulee Dam, the Fort Peck Dam, the Lincoln Tunnel, LaGuardia Airport, the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys.
Infrastructure aside, no PWA-executed enterprise had the same social impact as Langston Terrace, the first federally funded housing project in Washington, D.C., and the second such project in the nation. Designed in the International style by pioneering African-American architect Hilyard Robinson, the 247-unit complex composed of both low-rise apartment blocks and townhouses in northeast D.C. offered residents — largely African-Americans fleeing the rural South during the Great Migration — a spacious, green space-heavy alternative to cramped inner-city tenements. Envisioned as a “planned utopia” that would empower its residents, Langston Terrace is still maintained by the District of Columbia Housing Authority. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Lyndhurst, Tarrytown, New York (1842)
Lyndhurst may be well known to movie fans, but it should be seen in person. (Photo: MFer Photography/flickr)
“Dark Shadows” fanatics: yes, this is the Collinwood estate. Well, in the original movies anyways.
Everyone else: Perched on a hill above the Hudson River, Lyndhurst is a vaguely creepy and castle-like Gothic Revival county house that’s been inhabited by a former mayor of New York City, a business tycoon and a robber baron — but not a lovelorn vampire named Barnabas. It’s a stunning home — and a something of a left field pick for PBS considering the wealth of better known Gilded Age manses lining the Hudson. But I’m even more smitten with the 67 acres of park-like grounds and auxiliary structures that surround it: rolling lawns, a riverfront bowling alley, rose garden and what remains of the first steel-framed conservatory in the U.S. Maintained by the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 1961, Lyndhurst is best visited during late October when Tarrytown and neighboring Sleepy Hollow are in full, spooky swing. The annual Scarecrow Invasion is not to be missed.
Monticello, Albemarle County, Virginia (1809)
Monticello is one of the most visited homes in America. (Photo: Alan Levine/flickr)
Both a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Monticello is one of the most visited homes in America, alongside White House and Mount Vernon. And Graceland, of course. Described as Jefferson’s “autobiographical masterpiece” this majestic mountaintop estate’s inclusion in the PBS series shouldn’t come as a surprise considering both its vast historic significance and its wide appeal to architecture buffs, gardening/landscaping enthusiasts and anyone who appreciates postcard-perfect scenery and/or two-dollar bills. Built and modified over a 40-year span, the completed structure included 13 skylights, eight fireplaces, three indoor toilets and roughly 11,000-square-feet of living space.
Marina City, Chicago (1962)
Marina City defined big city living — in its heyday. (Photo: Jeffrey Zeldman/flickr)
Composed of twin corncobs shooting 65 stories into the Chicago skyline, Marina City and its signature apartment towers may not exactly scream “urban glamour" — more like "aging concrete dystopia." But back in the early 1960s, this mixed-use 3-acre development floating above the Chicago River was the ultimate in glamorous big city living — an exciting and exotic alternative to the ‘burbs that aimed to draw the middle-class back downtown. Just imagine — a place where you can live, work, eat, shop, go bowling and moor your boat all in the same place! A city within a city!
Designed by Chicago-born Bertrand Goldberg, Marina City might look dated but it's hard not to love. Just as it revolutionized the concept of mixed-use high-rises in an era when downtowns were emptying out, Marina City — the tallest residential building(s) in the world when it first opened — remains an impossible-to-miss Chicago landmark (now official!) that’s appeared in countless films and TV shows. And in case you were wondering, the reinforced concrete towers’ 900 right angle-free apartment units, each with private scalloped balcony, went condo back in 1977.
Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
Taos Pueblo is from another point in time, but the design concepts ring true today. (Photo: Mia and Steve Mestdagh/flickr)
Diverging from game-changing individual residential buildings, the Taos Pueblo is an ancient community constructed from mud, straw and water — and it’s still very much inhabited today. In fact, it’s the only Native American community to achieve designation as a National Historic Landmark and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Needless to say, the Taos Pueblo is a hugely important site.
As noted by PBS, the design considerations of the Taos people over 1,000 years ago remain important to all forms of housing to this day: the self-contained abode dwellings needed to be safe and secure (doors and windows were a latter addition as the only way in and out of the structures were originally through ladder-equipped holes in the roof), foster a strong sense of community and be protect its inhabitants from the elements including extreme hot and cold.
Lower East Side tenements, New York City
These tenements on New York's Lower East Side represent a true melting pot. (Photo: Phil Roeder/flickr)
Producers obviously had a wealth of iconic New York addresses to choose from when putting together “10 Homes That Changed America.” They were smart and opted not for a single residence but for a building type that reflects New York City’s role as a wonderful and chaotic melting pot.
While those living in tenement buildings on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the 19th and early 20th century wouldn’t have exactly called the conditions “wonderful,” these incredibly cramped — and often unsanitary — multi-family apartment buildings are, in a way, the birthplace of modern America, a country of immigrants. While its often overshadowed by glitzier cultural institutions, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a must-visit for those of us whose families originally came from somewhere else. Everyone, basically. Focused on the history of the American urban immigrant, the museum itself housed in a five-story brick tenement building that from 1863 to 1935 housed over 7,000 working-class people hailing from 20 different nations.
10 more homes that changed America
Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Massachusetts (1683); Kingscote, Newport, Rhode Island (1841); the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, Hartford, Connecticut (1871); the Isaac Bell House, Newport, Rhode Island (1883); the Dakota Apartments, New York City (1884), the Lovell Health House, Los Angeles (1929); the Jacobs House, Madison, Wisconsin (1937); the Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois (1951); the Guild House, Philadelphia (1964); the Frank Gehry House, Santa Monica, California (additions: 1978/1991).