Sign Recovered From Middle Ridge/Turning Mill Prefab Subdivision
Sign is being donated to the Lexington Historical Society.
A few years ago, Lexington Historical Society Director Susan Bennett decided to gather signage from Lexington's past.
Thanks to her efforts, the society now owns the neon sign that once graced the Battle Green Inn. Most of us remember the old Massachusetts Avenue motel, but a decade from now people may not. There's an ancient dairy farm marker and an old version of Lexington Garden's sign, another reminder of a business that played a large part in the town's history.
Recently, a resident donated the Peacock Farm's sign from the subdivision of the same name off Watertown Street.
Then, a few weeks ago, a company was cleaning an old barn on Robinson Road. In the mess they found a worn and weathered plywood sign. One savvy man, who wishes to remain anonymous, sensed it was important. Instead of putting in the dumpster, he brought it home. After being told the history behind the sign, it's being donated to the Historical Society.
What he found was Carl Koch's (pronounced Coke) Techbuilt sign for the Middle Ridge/Turning Mill modular prefabricated subdivision in North Lexington.
Built in a modern cluster, of houses started popping up in 1955 and were the brainchild of Koch, a famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology architect, and two of his former students: Walter Pierce and Danforth Compton. Koch made a name for himself with homes in Belmont, Concord and most notably with the subdivision at Turning Mill.
From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, a modern housing revolution occurred in Lexington. Although Germany's Bauhaus founder, Walter Gropius, was best known for starting The Architects Collaborative (TAC) and creating modern affordable subdivisions in Lexington, Koch followed with equally modern plans, most notably in Middle Ridge or Turning Mill. (It's known by both names.)
Koch, who went to Harvard University and taught at MIT, matched Gropius by taking unusable lots – tree-laden and rocky land – and fit houses into the landscape. Trees and the environment weren't destroyed, and instead the house became part of the scenery. If it didn't fit, the plan was flipped to fit the environment. That's probably why, if you're driving along Turning Mill or Demar roads, you'll notice entrances don't always meet the street and houses seem to seamlessly slide into the land.
Sally Zimmerman, a Lexington resident, member of the Historical Commission and manager of Historic Preservation Services for Historic New England, spoke about Koch's work. His first development was in Belmont, but he also built Conantum in Concord before turning to Middle Ridge with the Techbuilt houses.
Not only did these prefabricated homes fit into the landscape, they had lots of windows and were affordable. Middle Ridge, Zimmerman said, "is Lexington's biggest neighborhood of Techbuilt developments."
Zimmerman found Koch's work valuable, then and now.
"It's a good model for sustainable new development," she said.
Koch, she said, was a pioneer in prefab, an idea that's coming back around.
"They were all very sensitive to the natural landscape and took advantage of the natural features that were there," she said of Koch and Gropius. (Pierce and Compton get a lot of credit too.)
Built as simple, affordable housing that worked with the landscape the houses became so popular Better Homes and Gardens wrote about them. People were enamored with the houses, so the magazine bought and sold the plans to readers. These houses are now found throughout the United States.
John Tse, a Hammond Real Estate agent who recently sold one of the Turning Mill/Middle Ridge houses, offered even more information. Many versions of the basic plan were built, he said.
"It had the 'Kitchen of Tomorrow,'" he said.
A contest was held, and Frigidare won. People would probably scoff at the 1950s version of modern, but it worked, Tse said. Freezer drawers, innovative then are innovative now.
According to information from a historic survey, 95 homes were built there. Thirty-five are Techbuilt.
Do you know more about Koch, these homes or other historic signs in Lexington? Please tell your story in the comments section below.