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Archive for Sunday, February 28, 1993

50S FLASHBACKS

February 28, 1993

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The 1950s seem like just yesterday to many people who lived the American dream in that booming post-World War II decade. Much of today's Lawrence took shape in the '50s, as the city exploded with GIs returning to school at Kansas University and other folks moved into the area for work.

Today, reminiscences of those times often center on family life, fancy cars ah, those '57 Chevys and local entertainments of the day, from favorite restaurants to drive-in movie theaters, but people rarely think of the architecture.

Members of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance have given the subject some thought, though, and they're planning a program to spotlight Lawrence's 1950s architecture. It will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.

Nicolette Bromberg, LPA president, said, "The idea for the program sprang from a desire to broaden the area people think of in terms of preservation it's not just pre-1900s."

BY FOCUSING on structures built in the 1950s, she said, the program should help call attention to "some really fine stuff people just don't notice a lot of the after-1900s architectural heritage that we have here."

Bromberg added that the program also was meant to provide some fun to show that "preservation isn't always conflict and fighting."

Three longtime Lawrence residents, Arden Booth, Bill Conboy and Herk Harvey, will be on hand to comment on a selection of slides picturing local '50s buildings.

Bill Conboy, a professor emeritus of communications studies at KU, grew up in Lawrence. He lived with his parents at 1301 Ky., in a house built by his mother's father, and he graduated in 1942 from Liberty Memorial High School.

Since then, except for three years in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, and a subsequent year studying at Northwestern University to earn his doctorate, Conboy has remained in Lawrence.

THE 1950S are "now only memories," he said, and many buildings constructed then or standing then no longer exist, but the changes that decade brought nevertheless affected the community.

Harvey, originally from Fort Collins, Colo., came to Lawrence in 1945 to study at Kansas University, from which he received degrees in 1948 and 1950. For many years, Harvey was a Centron Corp. filmmaker, and he also made the cult classic feature film "Carnival of Souls."

He said that when he first arrived, "I thought Lawrence was a cow town." At Ninth and Massachusetts, weeds grew up through the sidewalk cracks and there wasn't a tree in sight.

"The war boys were building like crazy in those days," Harvey recalled, noting former soldiers were settling down and needed homes for their growing families.

Caught in the housing crunch, he lived for a time at Sunflower Village, between Eudora and DeSoto, hitchhiking back and forth to the KU campus, and in temporary rooms rigged under the KU stadium and in the basement of Spooner Hall, which now houses KU's Museum of Anthropology.

Harvey said his whole concept of 1950s architecture was that Lawrence was pretty devoid of significant innovations, with the exception of some rural development efforts.

THE ORDER of the day, he said, was "to build something useful," and he described Centron's building, built in the 1950s at Ninth and Avalon and now KU's Oldfather Studios, as "very utilitarian."

Booth, who came to Lawrence from Baker University and started building his radio station, KLWN, in 1950, said he too experienced the post-war building crunch with a pregnant wife.

"We couldn't find a place to live," he recalled, "so we wound up buying a house, mostly because it had a refrigerator, range and (clothes) washer." Like housing, such appliances were in scarce supply back then, Booth explained, noting he spent money he didn't have at the time to make the needed purchase.

Architecturally speaking, Booth said, "One of the things we tend to lose sight of is that today we are building things that will have value 100 years from now. We need to think of those things."

David Benjamin, an LPA member who will speak at the program on why it is important to preserve 1950s architecture, echoed that sentiment.

"BEGINNING in the year 2000, anything built in 1950 is going to be eligible for registry on the national register," he said. "It's so `near past,' we don't think this is part of our heritage part that needs to be preserved just like a house in the 1880s."

"The whole idea of the suburbs is important," he said. "It's the American dream and family homes, but it's so close to us it's hard for people to grasp."

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