Modernism on Main Street

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:
Modernism on Main Street

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In a 1937 Sky Line column, critic Lewis Mumford described the modernized storefronts and refurbished commercial exteriors that were appearing regularly on the streets of New York City for nearly a decade. As Mumford realized, by the end of the decade what was true of Fifth Avenue was also true of Main Street, and his observations would have accurately characterized virtually every commercial corridor in the United States in the later 1930s. One of the things Mumford appreciated about the new storefronts—and that was valid whether they appeared in big cities or small towns—was that they were helping to disseminate European modernist architecture in the United States. When chain and independent retailers with stores lining U.S. Main Streets embraced Mumford's “blatant” modernism as their own, they did so in conscious emulation of urban prototypes that had been among the earliest buildings in the country to reflect architectural trends emanating from Europe and stylistic trends emanating from the discipline of industrial design.

Keywords: Lewis Mumford; storefronts; Main Street; modernism; architecture; Europe; United States; industrial design; retailers

Chapter.  11382 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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