To paraphrase the French director Jean Renoir—everybody has their reasons for moving to Shreveport. My wife Molly and I had our reason.We moved here for the architecture.
“Shreveport went through a huge period of growth just after the Second World War and through the late ‘60s,” according to Shreveport native and Moonbot Studios co-founder William Joyce. “There was an established tradition of civic and residential architecture that became a major component of that growth. There are hundreds of extremely fine mid-century modern homes all over the Shreveport area. Jewel after jewel in nearly every part of town. Grand show places to modest ranch starter homes with stunning workmanship and clean, beautiful designs.”
Around these parts when you hear somebody mention a “Wiener House” they are not talking about a place that serves chilidogs. “Wiener House” is the specifically Caddo-centric catchall phrase used to describe Shreveport’s many modern residences. And there are a lot of those residences.
The Wiener brothers—Samuel G. and William B.—are Shreveport’s most famous and prolific modern architects, responsible for many public and private commissions from the 1920s through the 1960s. Their careers and reputations took off after visits to Europe in 1927 and 1931. “We had to go,” Sam’s widow Marion remembered. “We couldn’t see modern architecture here in America and they weren’t teaching it in the architecture schools.” When they returned, the brothers brought the International Style to Caddo Parish.
International Style buildings are plentiful here, but you have to know what to look for—or rather what “not” to look for. No decorative detailing on or around doors or windows is allowed. Wall surfaces must be smooth and unornamented. Façades must be asymmetric. Roofs are either flat or designed to appear flat. Windows, usually metal casements, should be plentiful and set flush with outer walls.
In 1910, Viennese architect Adolf Loos railed against the “crime of ornament,” and the subsequent lack of decoration reflected the early Modernists’ desire to break with the false historicism of the past. No faux Grecian or Doric columns for the International Stylists. If they built a porch that needed structural support they specified a simple unadorned steel column for the heavy lifting. The form of the column matched its function within the buildings’ composition.
“These houses are one of Shreveport’s most underappreciated treasures,” according to Joyce. “In bigger cities these houses are extremely sought after and they are a great selling point for people relocating to Shreveport.”
William Joyce is right about that—we found our Dream House here.
STARTING FROM ZERO
Prior to moving to Louisiana, we spent a lot of time and mental energy constructing our imaginary Dream House while slowly outgrowing an 800-square-foot duplex near Zilker Park in Austin, Texas. We dreamed of a home big enough to house our home office, with an open floor plan perfect for entertaining, which flowed from the indoors to outside. It would be a home sturdily built on a single level—with maybe a sunkenconversation pit in the living room—surrounded by mature shade trees, a fully functional kitchen with lots of cabinets and elbow room, multiple bathrooms, a guest room, and windows—lots of windows. A house that could nurture our dreams and help turn them into realities. The great French architect Le Corbusier said it best when he said “the home should be the treasure chest of living.”
But our treasure chest wasn’t going to be uncovered in Austin. Our dreams were foiled by the harsh realities of the overheated Central Texas housing market. By the time we started hunting for our Dream House, we had been priced out of town.
A working knowledge of the Shreveport housing market, gleaned from semi-annual visits to Molly’s family, made us believe we could find our Dream House in Caddo Parish. Years ago I marveled at the Broadmoor Big Chain Supermarket on Youree Drive. At the time it was a mattress warehouse, but the heroic styling of the curvaceous brick facade fired up my imagination. Then I discovered the Samuel G. Wiener house on Longleaf and realized that this is the stuff dreams are made of.
“Houses this cool cost three or four, even ten times as much in Austin, Dallas or Los Angeles.” according to Joyce.
I had toured the Walter Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts and the Ray and Charles Eames House in Santa Monica, both radical expressions of personality manifested through the latest and greatest building arts of the day. It was clear that Modernism had blossomed along the coastlines of America—so what were these International Style buildings and residences doing in Shreveport? I pondered this question on an empty block of Fairfield Avenue, in the shadows of the shuttered Fairfield Building—a beautifully proportioned, and vacant, International Style office building.
Looking up at the bands of ribbon windows I thought I could make out Shreveport’s high water mark faintly staining the white façade. To me, this was the point when Joyce’s “established tradition of civic and residential architecture” crested and then slowly receded as Interstate 20 cut through downtown, and Youree Drive replaced Fairfield as the main commercial artery.
My inquiries into Shreveport’s Modern tradition led me directly to the early writing of Dr. Karen Kingsley, a Professor of Architecture at Tulane University, who organized the 1984 traveling exhibition “Modernism in Louisiana, A Decade of Progress, 1930 to 1940.” Kingsley’s academic footwork brought the names of Samuel G. and William B. Wiener to my attention. I read about their pioneering efforts to bring the International Style to Shreveport through their Cross Lake weekend house and the Municipal Incinerator—both demolished—and an assortment of residential structures, many of which exist in fairly unaltered states to this day.
Today the Wieners are remembered primarily for their trinity of International Style residences built between 1934 and 1937, all of which are currently ensconced on the National Register of Historic Places. The three white stucco masterpieces—the Wile House , the Flesh House  and the Samuel Wiener House —are located in Shreveport’s South Highlands neighborhood. The Flesh and Wiener houses have been well maintained and retain much of their original glory.
By 1937 the elder brother, Samuel G. Wiener was prepared to build his masterpiece, a residence for his own family. One of the purest examples of the International Style in the United States, this house was the centerpiece of the Wiener brothers’ Pine Park Subdivision. Wiener served as both client and architect for his own house, reflecting his own aesthetic sensibilities and his mastery of new building materials and technologies. The house was well publicized domestically and abroad and remains essentially unaltered. The Sam Wiener house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, and epitomizes the Modern movement in Shreveport.
Other Wiener structures in the area have survived with varying degrees of alteration and renovation. The Flesh house has been wonderfully restored after decades of passive aggressive remodeling. The Preston House has been purchased and is undergoing an archival restoration to return it to its original state. The Wile house was updated over the last several years to reflect a more contemporary vision of what modern life should look like.
These multi-story Wiener residences are locally famous to the point where any house built after 1945 without a gabled roof is often simply called a “Wiener House.”
FROM BAUHAUS TO MY HOUSE
The German Architect and Bauhaus Founder, Walter Gropius believed “Society needs a good image of itself. That is the job of the architect.” The Wiener brothers took that idea to heart. The Wieners parlayed the early successes of their residential commissions into a lucrative practice that became the de-facto face of Shreveport after World War II. They designed and built International Style High Schools in Bossier City and Haughton, as well as the new Shreveport Airport Terminal completed in 1952. The original terminal included airline ticket counters, a restaurant, offices and viewing deck and can still be seen at the edge of the airport, now repurposed as the TAC Air Office.
Building materials—closely rationed during the War years—were once again readily available by 1946, and this surplus led to the great postwar building boon across the country. New subdivisions sprang up across the region, and returning soldiers joined a burgeoning middle class ready to embrace the optimistic future. In 1946, Ray and Charles Eames’ revolutionary line of molded plywood furniture finally erased the line that separated the Modern elite from people who simply wanted to furnish their new homes with stylish and affordable new furniture.
The Wiener brothers hired a pair of those returning soldiers, Jesse Morgan and P. Murff O’Neal, to help meet local demands for housing for living in the modern way. These houses dot the South Highlands and Pierremont Acres neighborhoods, along with fine examples by Lester Haas, B. J. Massey, William and Jonathan Evans, Julian Sokoloski, Theodore Flaxman, and Seymour Van Os. Each of these houses contributed new aesthetic visions and building styles to match the spirit of the age.
In 1955 local businessman James Muslow hired the Wieners to design his family residence in an area “slightly rolling, wooded, strewn with azaleas and other flowering shrubbery. Curved streets have little heavy traffic and are lined with newish houses, broad lawns. The town’s way of life mixes Louisiana traditions with a goodly leavening of some of the bustle of nearby Texas.”
Of the resulting house, the editors of Architectural Record stated “now and then, one happens on a house that seems all-of-a-piece. All things about it seem to fit into a complete, unified whole -grounds, landscaping, furnishings, accessories, and the structure itself. This rarely happens unless there is a close sympathy of understanding between those responsible for the execution of each part.”
The Muslow house still burns with a bright, unaltered brilliance. The Architectural Record 1956 Record House has stayed in the Muslow family for the last 61 years as an obviously beloved structure that has been meticulously cared for over the years. This house and its stylistically related neighbors provide an entrance point to the rich architectural heritage of Shreveport, Louisiana, allowing a new generation access to clean, well-lit spaces in which to pursue the dreams and directions of the 21st century.
We found our Dream House and relocated to Shreveport in the Fall of 2009. The house we found here checked off every one of the boxes from our Austin wish list—minus the conversation pit —and even added a double-sized lot and a swimming pool as lagniappe.
“These homes are becoming historic—they are super hip now—and they are almost hilariously underpriced here,” Joyce notes. “I don’t think the real estate agents in town quite understand the potential of this trend. To call it a trend is even an understatement. These houses have become gold and gold never goes out of style.”
THE DECADE OF PROGRESS: 1930-40
The two most famous International structures in Shreveport now exist only in our collective memory. The Municipal Incinerator, built with PWA funds in 1935, was hailed by historian and critic Lewis Mumford, who stated “This is one of the best examples of the rational use of the ribbon window and the overhanging building…that I have come across—an excellent design, with no vulgar attempts at prettifying a form that needs no additions.” High praise indeed for a building designed to address “a serious menace to health and falling property values caused by the rapidly growing city of Shreveport …” The Incinerator was decommissioned and demolished in 1974.
Grocer Ed Wile brought the first true supermarket to Shreveport in 1941 with his Big Chain Supermarket in the Broadmoor Shopping Center. It was the first air-conditioned market in Shreveport, and its expansive interior featured progressive amenities such as a lunch counter, a newsstand, a kosher deli, a bakery, butcher shop and cases for refrigerated and frozen foods. “There is nothing of its type to surpass it anywhere else in the United States, probably nothing in the South to equal it,” enthused the Shreveport Times in April 1941.
The Big Chain lived up to its name, spawning stores on Jewella Road, Hollywood Avenue, Southfield Road, Line Avenue and a location in Bossier City, all designed by the Wiener brothers. The much loved icon whose construction facilitated the widening of Youree Drive was destroyed by fire in March 2003.