The Rio Grande Valley of the post-World War II era was still new and open for possibilities.
The four-county region as it is known today was less than 50 years old in its collective identity. Two young architects – Alan Taniguchi and John York — came to the Valley in that era, the late 1940s to early 1950s. They would then leave their imprint on the region over the next decade with mid-century modern homes and buildings that endure to this day.
Finding new ground
Mid-century modernism is a style of architecture that today is finding favor with Millennials seeking a retro feel. Taniguchi and York were two of its leading purveyors. The two would go on to become the deans of the schools of architecture at the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma, respectively. It was in the Valley of the mid-20th century where they got their professional footing.
“It was their training ground,” said Nydia Tapia Gonzales, the publisher of RGVMod, an advocacy organization that promotes and educates local residents about mid-century modernism. “The Valley of that era was very open for design.”
York moved to Harlingen in 1948 after serving in the Air Force. Taniguchi came to the Valley in 1952, also living in Harlingen, to be closer to his parents. They were farmers and came to the area after being released from an internment camp for Japanese-American families in Crystal City. York would lay out Laurel Park, which lays in the heart of Harlingen along the Arroyo Colorado. It is also where Gonzales and her husband Lupe live today in a York-designed home.
“These homes bring the outside inside,” Lupe Gonzales said.
Mid-century modernism in Laurel Park
Mid-century modern homes were built before the advent of air conditioning and are plotted into the landscape. They are elongated homes with an elegant simplicity and were often designed with large windows. When opened, the windows let in a prevailing breeze. In the case of the Gonzales home, they offer an expansive view of the native brush lining the arroyo.
A drive into Laurel Park shows a neighborhood still going strong seven decades after Young laid it out. Large trees adorn front yards. The homes nestle in abundant vegetation.
“They didn’t knock down all of the trees and clear the land as developers do today,” Nydia Gonzales said.
Taniguchi’s practice in Harlingen thrived for a decade. He also won design awards from the Texas Society of Architects for four years during that time. His style of mid-century modernism is all across the Valley in homes, businesses and churches.
“People don’t see these homes as being historic, but they are,” Gonzales said.
Changing that perception if one of the goals of RGVMod and its sister site HarlingenMod. Both sites feature histories, biographies and information relating to the advent of mid-century modernism in the Valley. The organization provides tours for high school and college students studying design.
“We’re creating a momentum in raising awareness about mid-century modernism,’’ Gonzales said, “and for more people to realize that preservation is economic development.”