The Architecture of Consumption

in Modernizing Main Street

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2008 | ISBN: 9780226218007
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226218021 | DOI:
The Architecture of Consumption

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In 1936 the Star Electrical Supply Company hired a young New Jersey architect named Barney Gruzen to modernize its premises on Market Street in downtown Newark. Gruzen's redesign was exceptionally thorough and reflected the decade's dominant strategies of commercial modernization. The modernization of Star Electrical was emblematic of the relationship between architecture and consumer culture during the Great Depression. Like so many streamlined consumer products, the Star Electrical building was repackaged to appear new and improved, even though in essence it remained the same store it had always been. But Star Electrical's proprietors, as well as its customers, willingly accepted this repackaged image because what they were looking at was more than simply a modernized building; it was an antidote to the Depression. The Federal Housing Administration was unequivocal in acknowledging that obsolescence lay at the foundation of its modernization program. This chapter explores the modernization of storefronts along Main Street during the Depression era and looks at modernized buildings as consumer goods.

Keywords: Star Electrical Supply Company; modernization; Barney Gruzen; architecture; consumer culture; consumer goods; Great Depression; Federal Housing Administration; obsolescence. Storefronts; Main Street

Chapter.  14688 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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