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Part 2: Happy 100th birthday to Martinez City Hall!

A Sept. 1, 1917 article on the opening of the Martinez Grammar School, which is now Martinez City Hall. (DAILY GAZETTE / On File)
A Sept. 1, 1917 article on the opening of the Martinez Grammar School, which is now Martinez City Hall. (DAILY GAZETTE / On File)

By KRISTIN HENDERSON
Special to the Tribune

NOTE: The following is Part 2 of several installments on Martinez City Hall.

Architecture is the one art form the public cannot escape. Frank Lloyd Wright stated: “Architecture is life, or at least it is life itself taking form and therefore it is the truest record of life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived.”

The way we see Martinez City Hall now is not exactly the way it first looked. See last week’s installment for the 1917 rendering as well as the newspaper photo below. City Hall was built in the “Prairie School” architectural style that originated in Chicago as a result of the building opportunities the great Chicago Fire provided.

Frank Lloyd Wright is considered the father of Prairie School architecture. The “School” in “Prairie School” does not mean school buildings, it means a school of people who studied and created the first Midwestern architecture independent of historical and revivalist influences. From Chicago and the Midwest, Prairie School spread east and west and to Northern Europe and Australia. Prairie School is considered an authentic American architecture celebrating the open spaces unique to this country.

Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in 1908 that “The prairie has a beauty of its own, and we should recognize and accentuate this natural beauty, its quiet level. Hence, gently sloping roofs, low proportions, quiet skylines, suppressed heavyset chimneys and sheltering overhangs, low terraces and outreaching walls sequestering private gardens.” Previously, most public buildings were in the Ancient Classical Greek Revival styles, such as our own Finance Building/Court House with its columns, pediments, and raking cornices. Martinez’s previous City Hall was also a Classical Revival style.

You will note that the 1917 building had deep overhangs, a character defining feature of Prairie School. The 2017 City Hall no longer retains these “sheltering overhangs.” However, City Hall does retain its low slung flat roofs, long horizontal lines, windows assembled in horizontal bands, solid construction, terracing, doors that are integrated into the facades, and the employ of restrained arts and crafts (the decorative terra-cotta).

For a nice image assembly of Prairie School Architecture see:  http://www.prairiestyles.com/new.htm and particularly: http://www.prairiestyles.com/wright_comm.htm. Prairie School Style would influence future styles such as the Foursquare American Classic (aka Prairie Box) and the Ranch style.

Next week, we meet our own Prairie School Architects: the prolific firm of Stone and Wright.

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