[Editor’s Note: The following has been prepared in advance of the “Forum on Public Buildings,” to be held 6:30 to 9 p.m. on April 26 at Town Hall (questions for panelists can be submitted here). Most of the information in the bullet points below is drawn from the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee report.]
Built: 1960 (architect Landis Gores)
- Square footage: 1000 s.f.
- Current uses: Art and architecture gallery, operated by New Canaan Historical Society
- Committee recommendations: Renovation and maintenance remain the responsibility of the Historical Society, as per 2007 agreement.
Written by Nancy Geary:
The building is listed on the CT Register of Historic Places and is itself a museum. Volunteers and staff from the New Canaan Historical Society serve as docents and it is open from May-November, Friday-Sunday 11 am-3 pm or by appointment. Hundreds of visitors come every year. It also has two exhibit spaces which can be used as display areas for educational and cultural purposes related to modern architecture and design.
Landis Gores, AIA, one of the Harvard Five architects who had been Philip Johnson’s associate on The Glass House, designed the Pavilion as a winter lodge and a summer pool house for John Irwin and Jane Watson. It was dedicated in 1960 at a grand surprise party arranged by Philip Johnson in honor of Gores.
The Gores Pavilion is an architectural jewel. It has an enormous hinged glass façade and dramatic cantilevers. The façade columns draw their inspiration from Mies van de Rohe’s Barcelona pavilion. The horizontal redwood boarding provides a heavy shadow pattern prevalent in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses, and a Prairie-style fireplace runs floor to ceiling. The galley kitchen looks out over what are now the walking trails of Irwin Park. The furniture was designed by legendary designer Jens Risom.
When the Irwin heirs sold the Irwin estate to the Town of New Canaan, the pool was filled in and the Town planned to demolish the structure. A small group of New Canaan residents formed the Friends of the Gores Pavilion. It was listed on the CT Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Architect William Earls worked closely with Janet Lindstrom, then Director of the Historical Society, to restore it with private funds matched by a grant from the CT Department of Culture & Tourism. In 2007, the Historical Society entered into an agreement with the Town under which the Society runs the Pavilion as a museum and covers operating expenses.
Under the terms of the Historical Society’s Agreement with the Town (¶3b), the Park and Recreation Commission “shall request through the Board of Selectman funds in the Town Budget for any major repairs of the Gores Pavilion. Major repairs paid for by the Town shall include repairs to floors, exterior walls, roofs and gutters, furnace/oil burner, piping, exterior doors and windows” (emphasis added). The Historical Society pays for insurance, heat, utilities, and the alarm systems. Since its restoration, however, no major repairs have been done, and what work has been required has been funded by the Historical Society.
Currently, a leak has caused damage to the exterior walls, one of the large windows has fogged, and the roof and gutters are in need of major repairs. An initial estimate for these repairs is $175,000.
Written by Nancy Geary, Executive Director of the New Canaan Historical Society