Parkitect: Carl Freund and Organic Modernism in Cincinnati’s Public Landscapes

July 26, 2018

 Open Shelter Pavilion, Burnet Woods, Clifton, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1936. Photographed by Elizabeth Meyer, 2017.


 

Cincinnati Architect R. Carl Freund (1902-59) worked for the Cincinnati Park Board for three decades, from the 1930s -1950s, and furnished the city’s parks with a delightful array of small buildings designed in Freund’s creative interpretation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Modernism.  

 

  Bellevue Hill Park Pavilion, Clifton Heights, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1955.  Photograph by E. Meyer, 2018.  From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries

 

Stone Steps Shelter, Mount Airy Forest Park, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1950.   Photograph by E. Meyer, 2018.   From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries

 

 

Born in Appleton, Wisconsin, slightly over 100 miles from Taliesin, Freund surely saw buildings by Wright, though Wright began training pupils only in 1932, too late for Freund to study with him.  Freund studied architecture in the early 1920s at the University of Cincinnati and the Ohio Mechanics Institute—perhaps attracted by the developing co-operative education program that provided students with work experience in the offices of practicing architects.  Freund worked for several Cincinnati architects, including John S. Adkins, Crowe and Shulte, Fechheimer and Ihorst, and Zettel and Rapp.   Early in his career Freund specialized in religious buildings and schools, eventually establishing his own practice.  

 

 Oak Ridge Lodge, Mount Airy Forest Park, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1948.  Cincinnati Park Board Archives


 

In 1930, with the Great Depression deepening and architectural work declining, Freund began contract work for the City of Cincinnati, soon becoming staff architect and building superintendent for the Board of Park Commissioners.  Freund’s work corresponded with an influx of public funding and labor from Depression-era New Deal programs such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that resulted in extensive construction in the city's public parks.  Cincinnati's park system is one of the best in the United States, encompassing over 5,000 acres and including some of the city’s most varied and dramatic landscapes. Freund ultimately designed over three dozen park structures, ranging from shelter pavilions, to comfort stations, to lodges, and including the Park Board administration building in Eden Park. Cincinnati politician Murray Seasongood, Mayor of the city from 1926-30, was an advocate for the city and county park systems and a great admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright [see Reviving Frank Lloyd Reviving Wright in Cincinnati].  It is possible that Seasongood encouraged the Wrightian quality of Cincinnati’s park architecture.

 

Park Board Administration Building, Eden Park, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1955


 

Although Wright's Organic Modernism seemed a perfect match for American park landscapes, Wright himself ironically designed few structures specifically for parks. This forced Freund to study Wright’s organic design principles and other Wright building types as creative inspiration for Cincinnati’s park structures.  Freund’s park buildings tend to be small and programmatically simple but, like landscape pavilions from the 18th-century onward, his park buildings are sensitively sited to function both as objects within the landscape and as "viewing cameras” for heightening visitors' experiences of the natural landscape.  Freund’s park pavilions often capture dramatic views of Cincinnati and the Ohio River Valley.  

 

Pavilion, Fernbank Park, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1947.   Photograph by Erin Connelly. 2009.  From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries

 

 

 Freund’s designs for his park structures evolved from an Arts and Crafts / WPA “rustic style" into ever more bold and modern “Wrightian-organic” compositions. From the mid-1930s through the 1950s, Freund paid close attention to Wright’s organic principles.  Wrightian “features” embraced by Freund included: 

 

•  The use of natural and local materials such as stone, brick and wood,

•  Cruciform plans, 

•  Long, low and sometimes asymmetrical compositions,

•  Shallow, overhanging, hipped or flat roofs, 

•  Large chimneys with fireplaces deep inside the masonry 

•  Openness to the outdoors—a Wrightian characteristic that Freund could exaggerate, because his park 

      pavilions seldom needed glass or other climate control features.

 

Open Shelter Pavilion, Mount Echo Park, Cincinnati, Ohio, by R. Carl Freund, 1940.  Photograph by Erin Connelly. 2009.   From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries

 

 

 

The Organic Evolution of Freund’s park buildings

 

As early as 1936, when he designed the Open Shelter Pavilion in Burnet Woods, Freund showed an awareness of Wright’s buildings and principles.  This pavilion, sited in a valley and approached from above, has a long, low hipped roof, its truss-work supported on evenly-spaced stone piers.  The impression is that of looking down upon an open, simplified, and regularized version of a Wright house.   

 

 Open Shelter Pavilion in Burnet Woods Park, Clifton, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1936.  Photograph by E. Meyer, 2017

 

 

In 1939, Freund designed the more complex Trailside Museum in Burnet Woods.  It included museum spaces for the interpretation of plants and animals, classrooms and lecture rooms for the teaching of schoolchildren and visitors, employee offices, and restrooms.  Its composition included Wrightian features such as textured stone walls, steel-sash corner windows, and flat, cantilevered concrete roofs.

 

Trailside Nature Museum, Burnet Woods, Clifton, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1939.  Above:  Current view of entrance front (with later gable roof). Photograph:  E. Meyer, 2017.  Below:  old photograph of rear, showing original flat roofs.   Photograph:  Cincinnati Park Board Archives

 

 

However, other influences are also present in the Trailside Museum.  Its sculptural accents recall the geometry of Art Deco; its rounded corners recall the “Streamlined Moderne” of the 1930s, and the “log loggias” of its entry front echo the rustic qualities of earlier American park and recreational architecture, such as the Adirondack lodges of Upstate New York or the National Park architecture of the American West.  A 1975 remodeling replaced the original flat roofs with gable roofs and other unsympathetic features.

 

Trailside Nature Museum, Burnet Woods Park, Clifton, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1939.  Above:  Log loggia on the entrance front.  Below:  rear (with later gable roof and other alterations).  Photographed by Elizabeth Meyer, 2017.

 


In 1940, Freund built the Open Shelter Pavilion in Mount Echo Park.  It consists of a low, Wrightian, hipped roof, supported by and cantilevered from two, massive stone chimney stacks.  Lacking any perimeter walls or columns, the pavilion is extraordinarily open to the surrounding landscape and to the park’s panoramic views of the Ohio River Valley.

 

Open Shelter Pavilion,  Mount Echo Park, Western Hills, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1940.  Photograph by Erin Connelly. 2009.   From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries


 

Wright advocated using roofs rather than walls to define interior space; this pavilion takes his principle to its utmost.  The twin chimneys emerge above the roof with spiraling brickwork that dilutes the Wrightian-modern quality of the structure, giving it an Arts and Crafts or Tudor Revival character.  But the shallow, hipped roof, with its dramatic, cantilevers, shows that Freund was observing and learning from Wright's buildings.  

 

Detail of  brick chimneys, Open Shelter Pavilion, Mount Echo Park, Western Hills, Cincinnati, Ohio, by R. Carl Freund, 1940.   Photograph by Erin Connelly. 2009.   From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries

 

 

Sited alongside the Ohio River, Freund’s 1941 Fernbank Park Pavilion shows a significant step toward a more Wrightian Modernism.  The insistent horizontality and asymmetry of its composition, its textured stone walls, its large, open loggia, its clerestory-level corner windows, and its flat cantilevered concrete roof give it a more progressive and undiluted Wrightian character than Freund’s previous buildings.  

 

Pavilion, Fernbank Park, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1941, R. Carl Freund. Photograph by Erin Connelly. 2009. From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries

 

 

In its original form, the 1948 Oak Ridge Lodge in Mount Airy Forest Park resembled a Usonian house by Wright. Its asymmetrical composition; massive stone chimney and walls; low hipped and flat cantilevered roofs; and surrounding terraces, indicate that Freund had carefully studied Wright’s domestic architecture of the 1940s.

 

Entry view of the Oak Ridge Lodge, Mount Airy Forest Park, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1948, R. Carl Freund, 1948.  Photographs by E. Meyer, 2018.  From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries.
 

The lodge combines multiple functions, including a large assembly room with sets of folding doors that open it to the outside terraces, an open shelter space, and indoor and outdoor cooking fireplaces within the massive chimney. The lodge is perched on the edge of a hillside with panoramic views of the distant landscape.  It has undergone changes in design and materials that dilute its original character.  

 

Rear view of the Oak Ridge Lodge, Mount Airy Forest Park, Cincinnati, Ohio, R. Carl Freund, 1948.  Photographs by E. Meyer, 2018.  From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries.

 

Outdoor fireplace, Oak Ridge Lodge, Mount Airy Forest Park, Cincinnati, OH, 1948, R. Carl Freund, 1948.  Photograph by E. Meyer, 2018.   From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries.


 

In 1955, Freund designed and built the Park Board Administration Building in Eden Park.  Sited on a hillside near the park’s main entrance at Eden Park Drive near Gilbert Avenue, the building's principal entry is on the southern, uphill side with services at the lower level, on the northern, downhill side.

 

Park Board Administration Building, Eden Park, Cincinnati, OH, by  R. Carl Freund, 1955.  Photograph by Erin Connelly. 2009.   From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries


 

The building is of brick and stone with a cruciform plan. The shallow, gable roofs have canted ends with deep, overhanging eaves that create covered, canopy-like spaces at the extremities of the building. The roof has sculpted, wooden fascias and the main entry, in the short arm of the cruciform, is through a canted, chimney-like pylon.  The building shows Freund's increasingly creative interpretation of Wright’s organic design principles and is beautifully integrated into its park setting.

Administration Building, Eden Park, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1955.  Photograph by Erin Connelly. 2009. From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries
 

 

Also built in 1955, and one of Freund’s last park commissions, the Bellevue Hill Park Pavilion is perhaps his best building.  It occupies the site of the famed, 19th-century Bellevue House and incline (demolished). The pavilion perches on the edge of a precipice and frames spectacular views of the Cincinnati basin and the Ohio River Valley to the south.

 

Pavilion, Bellevue Hill Park, Clifton Heights, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1955.  Photographed by E. Meyer, 2018


 

Built when outdoor dancing was popular, this free-form stone building contains a circular, concrete-domed core, containing both a raised stage for a band and a concession stand.  To one side are restrooms with cantilevered roofs and a continuous clerestory filled with metal grille-work.

 

Pavilion, Bellevue Hill Park, Clifton Heights, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1955.   Photograph by P. Snadon, 2009.   From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries
 

 

Adjoining this are mushroom-shaped pergolas intended for dancing.  They have cantilevered, reinforced concrete roofs reminiscent of Wright’s famous “lily pad” columns at the Johnson’s Wax Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin.

 

Pavilion, Bellevue Hill Park, Clifton Heights, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1955.  Photograph by E. Meyer 2018.  From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries


 

Freund’s miniature canopies rest on clustered, canted concrete posts and open to the sky through radiating-pattern apertures that allow light and water into raised planting beds below. The siting, daring structure, and bold geometric forms of this whimsical pavilion make it the equal of Frank Lloyd Wright’s best small buildings.  

 

Left:  Pavillion, Bellevue Hill Park, Clifton Heights, Cincinnati, OH, by R. Carl Freund, 1955.  Right:  Johnson's Wax Corporate Headquarters, Racine, WI, by Frank Lloyd Wright.  From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC Libraries

 

 

Both Carl Freund and Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959; Wright was 92 years old while Freund was only 57.  Freund's numerous park buildings, always open to the public and serving thousands of Cincinnati natives and visitors each year, are the most popular expression of Wrightian-Organic Modernism in the city.

 

 

Partial List of Freund buildings in Cincinnati Parks:

 

 

•  1930, Seasongood Square Park Comfort Station (a stucco-faced, circular building with conical roof, containing men’s and women’s toilets) 

 

•  1936, Alms Park Comfort Station (a cylindrical stone structure with conical roof, set into a hillside with women’s toilets above and men’s below)  

 

•  1936, Burnet Woods Open Shelter pavilion (in a valley-like setting; a long, low, hipped roof is supported on stone piers, with open truss work inside) (discussed and illustrated above)

 

•  1936, Fernbank Park Comfort Station (a stone and wood-shingle roofed building in Arts and Crafts cottage style, with a symmetrical, cruciform plan, containing toilets)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

•  1936, Mount Airy Forest Park, Pine Ridge Lodge (a renovation of an 1869 farmhouse into an Arts and Crafts-style lodge; it is of two stories with stone walls and steep, gabled roofs of slate)

 

•  1937, Eden Park, Twin Lakes Comfort Station (a small, stone structure with shingled roofs, in an Arts and Crafts cottage style, containing toilets) 

 

•  1937, Eden Park, Concession Stand (a small, square stone building with a hipped roof and an open, concession window in front) 

 

•  1937, Kennedy Heights Park Shelter (a one story brick building in a rustic, cottage style with a cruciform plan and hipped roof; one end of the cruciform is an open loggia with triple, square timber posts)

 

•  1939, Ault Park, Comfort Station (a small, symmetrical, cruciform building of limestone with a wood-shingled hipped roof, containing toilets)

 

•  1939, Burnet Woods, Trailside Nature Museum (original flat roof replaced with pitched roof in 1975; fieldstone, limestone and wood; log pergola at entrance; Art Deco / Wrightian features) (discussed and illustrated above)

 

•  1939, Mount Airy Forest Park, Ponderosa Comfort Station (small, symmetrical, cruciform, hipped roof, stone, cottage-like building, containing toilets)

 

•  1940, Mount Echo Park, Open Shelter (sited on the brow of Mount Echo with dramatic views of the Ohio River valley, this pavilion has a low, hipped roof that is anchored by and cantilevers from two, massive stone chimneys; Wrightian in its low-slung silhouette, its fireplaces, and its openness, this structure nonetheless has hints of the Arts and Crafts and Tudor Revival movements in its spiraling brick chimneys.  Wright strove to eliminate all possible walls in his buildings and allow the roofs to suggest enclosure; this pavilion carries those goals to their extreme limits)  (discussed and illustrated above)

 

1941, Fernbank Park, Pavilion (sited on the bank of the Ohio River, it contains an open loggia, rest rooms and other services, flat roofs and heavily rusticated masonry courses, and a boldly horizontal composition)  (discussed and illustrated above)

 

•  1941, Inwood Park, Comfort Station (a stone “cottage” with steep, gabled roofs and an inset porch; containing toilets)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 •  1947, Fernbank Park Concession Stand (a partially open pavilion with rusticated stone piers and walls, with a cantilevered concrete roof) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

•  1948, Mount Airy Forest Park, Oak Ridge Lodge (perched on the edge of a steep hill, this lodge combines multiple functions in a large, asymmetrical building, including a long assembly room with sets of double doors that open it into the surrounding landscape; a massive stone chimney containing outdoor and indoor fireplaces; an open shelter; and a circular seating area)  (discussed and illustrated above)

 

•  1949, Mount Airy Forest Park, Colerain Avenue Waiting / Comfort Station (a small building with an open loggia and rustic stone columns and walls that provides restrooms and a sheltered waiting area for park visitors arriving or departing by bus; it is covered by low, hipped roofs)

 

 

 

 

 

 

•  1949, Mount Airy Forest Park, Lodge Road Comfort Station (a small, symmetrical, stone cottage-like structure with low, hipped roofs; contains restrooms)

 

•  1950, Mount Airy Forest Park, Stone Steps Shelter (a low, symmetrical stone building with an enclosed center and open, loggia-like ends, its hipped roof supported on heavy stone piers)

 

 

 

 

 

•  1953, Mount Airy Forest Park, Arboretum (a one-story brick building with low, cantilevered roofs and wooden loggias spreading into the surrounding gardens) 

 

•  1954, French Park, Shelter (a building with a V-shaped plan, each end containing open loggias supporting low, overhanging, hipped roofs on heavy stone piers; one wing contains a heavy stone chimney with fireplace)

 

•  1955, Eden Park, Park Board Administration Building (a long, low structure of brick and stone built into a hillside site, it contains offices and meeting rooms for the Parks administration as well as storage for park vehicles and equipment; it has two levels, a cruciform plan, and low, gabled roofs with dramatic overhangs)  (discussed and illustrated above)

 

•  1955, Bellevue Hill Park Pavilion (a whimsical structure dramatically sited at the edge of a precipice on the former site of the famed Bellevue House and incline, this free-form stone building has a circular, domed core containing rest rooms, a concession window, and a small stage for bands; attached to it are flowing, concrete canopies with open, cut-out patterns supported on clustered columns above planting beds; the canopies created spaces for dancing and enframe dramatic views of the Cincinnati skyline)  (discussed and illustrated above)

 

Other architects followed Freund’s lead in using Wrightian-organic forms and materials for park structures; see, for example:

 

•  1937 Burnet Woods Pavilion by architect Arthur J. Kelsey

•  1949 McEvoy Park Pavilion by architect Joseph E. Stith (a one-time partner of Freund)

•  1956 Mount Airy Forest Maple Ridge Lodge by architects Felsberg and Gillespie

•  1965 Daniel Drake Park Shelter by architects Arend and Arend

 

 

 

 

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