Tag Archives: Boathouse row

Towers, teapots — and boathouses

Michael Graves in his studio DSC_0043 ret, 13 inches wide, credit Jon Naar, 2011 (1)

You probably read the New York Times  “designer of towers and teapots” obituary on Michael Graves, who died yesterday (3-12-15) at 80.

You probably did not see this excellent video of Grounds for Sculpture’s Tom Moran reminiscing about Graves, taken yesterday by Times of Trenton’s Michael Mancuso. Grounds for Sculpture has a 50-year Graves retrospective running through April 5.  Everybody is talking about their Michael Graves memory.

Early in my tenure at U.S. 1, Rich Rein assigned me to write a cover story on Graves. In the early days, U.S. 1 was a monthly, then biweekly, and cover stories ran at least 5,000 words.

The only way Graves could fit me into his schedule was for me to accompany him on a 6 a.m. Amtrak train to Washington, D.C., so Rein agreed to buy my business class ticket.

Bleary eyed, notebook equipped, I met the courtly Graves on the Princeton Junction platform. Two of the things he said stay with me today. He was telling about his upbringing. “I guess your mom was proud of your drawings and put them on the refrigerator?” I asked. His answer was . . . pause, “No.”

I thought that was a poignant comment and made a mental note to visibly appreciate my own children’s talents more.  At that point in his career, though the Humana building was up, and the Disney hotels were in the works,  no significant buildings carried the Graves signature in Princeton. Just a couple of house designs. It took a long time before a major Graves postmodern design, for the Arts Council of Princeton, would make it to the streets of his home town.

In any case, it was a heady moment for me. Until I joined the staff of U.S. 1 in 1987,  I had been a dance writer. I had interviewed famous dancers, but never an architect, let alone a famous architect.

Then, as  the train pulled into Philadelphia, Graves called my attention to the boathouses along the Schuylkill River. “Each is a different style, each a gem,” said Graves, of the 19th-century designs, noting that he assigned boathouse design to his Princeton classes.

Baltimore is my home town. I  got off in Baltimore and taxied to see my mother.  I made that train trip monthly for more than  a decade. Remembering that morning, I always craned my neck to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Schuylkill boathouses.

Photo by Jon Naar, U.S. 1, January 26, 2011.
That story “Called the Architect for the ’90s, but his work is invisible here,” was published on November 29, 1989, soon after U.S. 1 Newspaper had gone from a monthly to a biweekly. The paper has published many stories on Graves since that time, searchable in the archives.