Modern House

The home that Helen McAuslan chose to construct when she got to Bozeman revealed her thoroughly modernist perspective. In September 1965, at seventy years old, McAuslan bought a triangular, five-acre plot of land from Marguerite Kirk, another older, “single woman.”[1] Unfettered by marriage especially during a time when nearly three-quarters of the U.S. female population over the age of thirty had wedded at least once, McAuslan and Kirk held much in common as well-educated, economically-independent women.[2] Born in 1894 into a prominent Bozeman ranching family, Kirk had earned an undergraduate degree from the University of California-Berkeley in 1917 and a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University in 1936. After working for school districts in New Jersey and Oregon, she returned to Bozeman in 1960 as the new owner and manager of a local bookstore, the Country Bookshelf. Kirk subdivided the family homestead, selling off a small portion to McAuslan in 1966 and donating another section in 1969 for the future site of a community park and natural area. Kirk might have felt reassured turning over land to McAuslan, someone whose life trajectory had mirrored her own.[3] With the new property located about five miles south of Bozeman on rural mail delivery route 3 (currently, the address is 6673 South 3rd Road), McAuslan joined many other Americans who increasingly chose to reside on the exurban fringe.[4]

McAuslan hired the architecture firm Oswald Berg, Jr., & Associates to design a new house that fit with her modern aesthetic. Likely inspired by her frequent travels to Europe, McAuslan wanted her home to be something along the lines of the German Bauhaus, a school of thought that tried to unite the fine arts, such as painting, with the applied arts like architecture.[5] In February 1966, architect Ozzie Berg and his partners finished a proposal to match those ideals. The plans entailed a single-level floorplan with two front doors: a floor-to-ceiling glass entry leading into an open-concept living/dining/kitchen area and two bedrooms with full bathrooms and a carport entry into an art studio and gallery. A partial basement downstairs provided a storage area and a crawlspace for plumbing and other utilities. The floors had dark slate tile in the entryways and living/dining/kitchen area, carpet in the bedrooms, ceramic tile in the bathrooms and gallery, and stained concrete in the studio room. A low-pitched roofline covered in wooden-shake shingles and supported by glue-laminated timber (called “glulam”) beams sat atop the structure. The off-white beams with angular end cuts extended well past the outer edges of the roof, delivering a modern look. As Gennie DeWeese recalled, glass curtain walls descended from gable ends of the house, giving “the view of the mountains from every window”—the Bridgers to the north, the Gallatin Range to the south, and Tobacco Roots to the west—since at the time few neighbors bordered the structure. Overall, Berg’s design fit into the modern “contemporary style” that was prominent among architects following World War II until the mid-1960s.[6]

Architectural Drawing- Front Profile Architectural Drawing- Side Profile Architectural Drawing- Floorplan

Architectural drawings by Oswald Berg, Jr., & Associates, 1966. The front profile (top), side profile (middle), and floorplan (bottom) of the McAuslan house. Courtesy of Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections, Montana State University-Bozeman.

The modern styles that architect Ozzie Berg tried to incorporate into the house owed much to his experiences and education. Born in Lewistown in 1918 to Ingartha Thormodsgaard Berg and Oswald Berg, Sr., he grew up on the family homestead southeast of White Sulphur Springs. After his mother died unexpectedly in 1931, all four of the Berg children moved in with an aunt and uncle who lived in Bozeman, and the young Ozzie graduated from the local high school. Berg received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Washington State College (WSC) in 1941. Once the United States had entered World War II that same year, Berg worked in Washington, D.C., as a structural engineer for the Department of Navy, which exposed him to the military’s new building practices. From wartime mobilization, an emphasis on rational and efficient design would carry over into Berg’s later architectural works. Berg met Norma Thompson in the nation’s capital, and after dating for a short period, they married in 1943. Following the war, the newly-wedded couple moved to Pullman, Washington, where Berg took a job at Northwest Fabricators, Inc. while he enrolled in graduate architectural courses at WSC. In 1949, Ozzie, Norma, and their two children moved to Bozeman into order for him to open his own architectural business. Berg cemented his reputation for modern flair after designing the Montana State College (MSC) athletics’ complex (later named Brick Breeden Fieldhouse) in 1956 and the space-age, “googie-style” J.C. Billion Auto Dealership building in 1968. Berg joined MSC as a visiting professor from 1952 to 1954, during which time he may have encountered fellow faculty member Bob DeWeese and his artist friends, McAuslan included.[7]

Just as McAuslan embraced modern art, modernist architectural principles influenced Berg when designing houses and other buildings. “Modern architecture” had first developed in Europe during the interwar years and by the mid-twentieth century had trickled into the United States. In 1932, the Museum of Modern Art of New York City introduced Americans to the latest overseas trends; the curators Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, an architectural historian and architect, respectively, produced a catalogue to accompany the event in which they coined the term “international style.” It emphasized straight lines, eschewed ornate decorations, and used new building materials—like steel, glass and reinforced concrete—to maintain open, weightless interior spaces. In 1950, House Beautiful magazine’s editor-in-chief Elizabeth Gordon offered the “American style,” a tempered-down, organic version of modernism that still underscored inexpensive and functional architecture. From 1945 to 1966, the Arts & Architecture magazine intermittently commissioned prominent architects such as the Austrian-born designer Richard Neutra to draft experimental structures that would serve as model houses for other practicing architects. Most were built in California and some remained only blueprints, but the “case study houses,” as these issues collectively became known, found their way onto the coffee tables of just about every modern U.S.-based architect. Whether Berg actually read these publications or not, they provided the larger cultural milieu in which he and other Bozeman modernists worked and designed. In the early spring of 1966, McAuslan approved homebuilders to put Berg’s plans into action.[8]

Later that same year, McAuslan moved into her newly-constructed Bozeman home. She furnished the house “like her painting,” as Gennie DeWeese later reminisced, “just the right shape and color to augment the whole.”[9] McAuslan threw numerous dinner parties at her new place with a “special selection of food for particular people” and on occasion, ping-pong tournaments “where she showed kindness to novices and devastation to pretenders.”[10] McAuslan’s friends eventually came to learn that she had been a former New Jersey tennis champion in her younger days. From these social functions, the DeWeeses’ youngest son Josh remembered that the house “was very elegant and pretty good size. It felt very modern.”[11] McAuslan also hosted local chapter meetings of the League of Women Voters at the new house to encourage female participation in public affairs. McAuslan continued to be “active politically” within the Democratic Party; Gennie recollected that she possessed an “untiring support of humanitarian causes [and] a particular concern for women.” For creating her artwork, the new, glass-lined studio, Gennie continued, was “so spacious and light, always containing proof of the changes taking place.”[12]

Contemporary Photos Group 1 Contemporary Photos Group 1 Contemporary Photos Group 1 Studio Sketch

Today’s views of the McAuslan house: laminated beams & glass (first), front entry (second), and studio room (third). Photos by Amanda Hardin. Courtesy of Votive Photography. A McAuslan sketch (last) of her studio room after she had moved in the new house, 1970. Courtesy of Fine Arts Collection, Museum of the Rockies.

  


NOTES

[1] Marguerite Kirk, property deed to Helen McAuslan, deed book 149, pages 110-12, Clerk & Recorder’s Office, Gallatin County Courthouse, Bozeman, MT.

 

[2] “Table 1. Marital History by Sex for Selected Birth Cohorts, 1935-39 to 1975-79,” in U.S. Census Bureau, Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2001, Current Population Reports (February 2005), 3, https://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p70-97.pdf (accessed 11 November 2016).

 

[3] “Marguerite Kirk, 1894-1991,” Find-A-Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=45280795 (accessed 11 November 2016); “Register, 1916-17,” University of California Bulletin 11 (November 1917): 21; Rachel Phillips and the Gallatin History Museum, Legendary Locals of Bozeman Montana (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2016), 46; “40-acre wilderness tract donated to Montana State,” [Butte] Montana Standard, 2 February 1969; Amanda Ricker, “People of the Parks,” Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 9 October 2011; “Biographical Note,” in the finding aid for Marguerite Kirk, “The Maxey Mines Annotated Research Paper, 1966,” MSU Special Collections, http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv78649/pdf (accessed 11 November 2016).

 

[4] For historical context of ex-urbanization, see Lincoln Bramwell, Wilderburbs: Communities on Nature’s Edge (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014).

 

[5] “Bauhaus” in Michael Clarke and Deborah Clarke, Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, 2nd Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Josh DeWeese, interview by Will Wright, 31 October 2016, MSU Special Collections; DeWeese, Helen McAuslan Drawings, 13-14.

 

[6] Oswald Berg, Jr., & Associates, “Architecture Drawings – Helen McAuslan,” February 1966, Sheets 1-6, Collection Number 2320, MSU Special Collections; Quote from DeWeese, Helen McAuslan Drawings, 6; Virginia Savage McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses, Expanded and Revised Edition (New York: Knopf, 2015), 629-46.

 

[7] “Oswald Berg, Jr., obituary,” Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 28 September 2008; George S. Koyl, ed., American Architects Directory, (New York: R. R. Bowker Company, 1962), 50; American Institute of Architects, “Membership File – Oswald Berg, Jr.,” http://public.aia.org/sites/hdoaa/wiki/Wiki%20Pages/ahd1003168.aspx (accessed 13 November 2016); Gelernter, A History of American Architecture, 261-62.

 

[8] Gelernter, A History of American Architecture, 260-92; Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, The International Style (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1966); Monica Penick, “‘Modern but Not Too Modern’: House Beautiful and the American Style,” in Sanctioning Modernism: Architecture and the Making of Postwar Identities, eds., Vladimir Kuli et al. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014), 219-43; Diana J. Painter, Montana Post-World War II Architectural Survey and Inventory, Historic Context and Survey Report (Helena: Montana State Historic Preservation Office, 2010), 19-43, 47.

 

[9] DeWeese, Helen McAuslan Drawings, 5.

 

[10] Ibid., 6.

 

[11] Josh DeWeese, interview by Will Wright, 31 October 2016, MSU Special Collections.

 

[12] DeWeese, Helen McAuslan Drawings, 6.