Architects of Reynolda Pool

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Architects of Reynolda Pool

By Phil Archer, Director of Public Programs | @LearnReynolda

Blueprints for shooting gallery in basement. Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

As part of the larger renovation project directed by Mary Reynolds Babcock (daughter of R.J. and Katharine Reynolds) after acquiring Reynolda in 1934, the basement level of the house was re-designed to be more “modernistic,” and a guest house and indoor pool were added. Mary stayed current with modern architecture and design trends. She clipped a magazine article about Frank Lloyd Wright’s new home and studio in Arizona, but clarified in the margin that his designs were useful “to stir imagination. But not so extreme.”

The Architecture Firm of the Reynolda Pool & Renovation Project
To design the addition of the guest house, indoor pool and interior renovations, Mary Reynolds Babcock turned to the well-established and versatile Manhattan architecture firm of Johnson & Porter, which had a reputation for new apartment buildings on the Upper East Side of New York as well as restoration projects, including churches. This versatility was just what was needed for the Reynolda project, which included a two-story guest house in keeping with the Bungalow’s 1917 appearance as well as more Streamlined Modern elements in the basement and pool.

Johnson & Porter blueprints of proposed changes to sunporch. Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

Who were Johnson & Porter?
Little has been written about Carlisle Johnson, whose main claim to lasting fame was his marriage to the fashion designer Vera Maxwell, often called the “American Chanel,” who introduced Ultrasuede apparel; the wraparound jersey blouse; and the "weekend wardrobe," comprising two jackets, two skirts, and a pair of trousers. (Weekend wardrobe 2014 =  the same T-shirt two days in a row.)

Hugh Clinton Porter cut a wider historical swath, so it’s fortunate that he handled the Reynolda commission. Like Reynolda’s primary architect, Charles Barton Keen, Porter graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Before establishing Johnson & Porter, he was an associate in the office of Rouse & Goldstone, assisting with residential commissions along Park and Madison Avenues and honing the polish and diplomacy expected of an architect catering to high society. In 1924-5, Rouse & Goldstone designed a 54-room triplex penthouse at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street for Marjorie Merriweather Post Hutton of the General Foods empire; architectural historian Andrew Alpern has described it as “certainly the largest and very possibly the most luxurious apartment ever created anywhere.”

In 1930, Porter received second billing with his boss Lafayette Goldstone on a hulking $40 million apartment building on East 72nd Street, near Carl Shurz Park. The New York Sun reported that the building was part of a transformation of the Upper East Side that would displace 25,000 people from tenements and establish the area as one of New York’s most elite; the article was published a mere four months after the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

After joining with Carlisle Johnson, Porter became known for renovation and restoration projects in New York and Pennsylvania; these qualified him for the task of updating Reynolda while essentially maintaining the Bungalow’s “present appearance” (Mary’s words). While the Bungalow’s façade remained virtually unchanged (apart from removing the covered car port and pent eave to create a new front entrance), its walls concealed a small amusement park in the basement, kitchens re-surfaced in Monel metal (a forerunner of stainless steel), and an elaborate air conditioning system.

Unidentified dancing couple at 1930's party thrown by Mary Reynolds in the basement at Reynolda. Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

Enjoying the Updated Bungalow
And what evenings they had! In an undated letter following the completion of her modernistic basement, Mary wrote to her staff to plan a “hen party” for her younger sister Nancy: “Nancy and I and another girl will arrive Tuesday morning on train. Will leave Wednesday. I would like to give a party for Nancy Tuesday night... At Reynolda at 10:00 for basement fun. Have water put in pool if possible. Will need a pin boy for bowling, maid at door, man in bar...Would like some man we know to sleep at house that night. Someone from the [Reynolda] farm will be fine – not the minister.”

Note: The word “not” was twice underlined.
PRA 9.16.14

This blog is part of a series that highlights the significance of Reynolda’s indoor pool and tracks the progress of the Reynolda Pool Restoration Project. Follow #ReynoldaPool for updates.

#ReynoldaPool Project Update from Rebecca Eddins, Project Director: Click here to see the new glass being installed over the last few weeks.  Each panel was replaced one at a time with the curved glass at the lower ledge being the most difficult to put into place.  The crew from Ludy Greenhouse Company did a  great job.  We are happy with the light tinting applied to the new glass; this will help keep the temperature of the pool house cooler during summer months.  The crew will be back closer to the end of the project to do some finishing work on the panels.


Carlisle H. Johnson was born July 14, 1899 in St. Charles, Missouri, the son of a prominent physician. He graduated from the architecture school of the University of Pennsylvania. He married Vera Maxwell in about 1938.

i should add that Carlisle H. Johnson died in April, 1972 in Erwinna Pennsylvania. He lived in a beautiful stone farmhouse that he has substantially redesigned. He was known as Scotty, and was my uncle.

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