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Last Chance to Save a Modernist Icon by G. Milton Small, Jr.

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The former Northwestern Mutual Insurance Building at 3515 Glenwood Avenue is living on borrowed time. The building I wrote about in 2008, G. Milton Small – My Favorite Architect, is scheduled for demolition unless a tenant steps forward to lease the space.

George Smart of North Carolina Modernist Houses is leading an effort to save this magnificent building, and will hold an open house at the site on May 7th, from 4:30-7:00 PM.

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Northwestern Mutual Insurance Building, ca. 1964. Photo by Joseph Molitor, image courtesy of and copyright NCSU Special Collections Resource Center

The building is one of the finest structures designed by G. Milton Small, Jr., an underappreciated architect from North Carolina. It’s a grand emblem of Small Jr.’s design aesthetic: tinted glass and aluminum, black iron support beams, wide overhangs, on a base of unique brick work, contrasted with bright walkways.

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Northwestern Mutual Insurance Building on the cover of 1965 New York Times

Good Design Found in ‘Small’ Buildings

His Northwestern Mutual Insurance project landed front page coverage of the New York Times, as seen in the photo above. The mid-1960s was arguably the zenith of Small’s accomplished career. During this period he was designing a number of campus buildings for NC State, as well as the campus of Mount Olive College.

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1966 Milton Small and Associates Office Building

Big Brother of a Raleigh National Landmark

3515 Glenwood is just about a year older than his own firm’s office near the corner of Brooks Avenue and Hillsborough Street. Both feature similar facades, full-height tinted glass, a raised elevation, and striking symmetry. The similarities are unmistakable.

His office on Brooks Avenue, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the structure that sparked my interest in architecture many years ago. It’s now home to New Kind.

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Design for Northwestern Mutual Insurance Building at 3515 Glenwood Avenue. Image courtesy of and copyright NCSU Special Collections Research Center

Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company hired the firm of G. Milton Small and Associates to design its eastern headquarters, which was completed in 1964.

Northwestern Mutual Building in Chicago

Design plan for Northwestern Mutual Building in Chicago. Image courtesy of and copyright NCSU Special Collections Research Center

A Long Lost Twin, Gone Forever

In going through the G. Milton Small Collection at the NCSU Special Collections Research Center, I discovered a curious fact: the building at 3515 Glenwood had an identical twin in Arlington Heights, a suburb of Chicago.

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Drawing of Northwestern Mutual Insurance Building in Arlington Heights, IL, courtesy of and copyright NCSU Special Collection Resource Center

According to G. Milton Small Jr.’s son, G. Milton Small III, Northwestern Mutual was so impressed with the design of the building in Raleigh that they hired him to design a nearly identical building for their main headquarters.

Then, upon arriving at the Arlington Heights site in April, I discovered a sad fact: the building had recently been demolished.

Dean Kamphoefner (second from left) and Milton Small (center, facing camera)

Dean Kamphoefner (second from left) and Milton Small (center, facing camera)

Small had a strong connection to Chicago. There, he studied under Mies van der Rohe and worked at Perkins + Will and later Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Small followed Henry Kamphoefner (former dean of NC State’s Design School) to Raleigh with the wave of architects and professors whose aim was to establish a new school of modernist architecture in the South.

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3515 Glenwood

An Uncertain Future

George Smart is coordinating the effort to find a tenant for this building, and explains why it faces an uncertain future:

Recently, the owners filed plans with the City of Raleigh which involve tearing it completely down and replacing it.  While there is no agreement between NCMH and the owners, who are moving forward with the redevelopment, NCMH believes that if we can find an alternate offer to lease the existing property, the owners may be willing to listen. We’ve been in dialogue with the owners since July 2013 and appreciate their willingness to listen.  The realistic window for finding a tenant before the redevelopment process goes much further is 90 days from Monday, April 22.

–George Smart, NC Modernist Houses

 

An Icon Worth Saving

This iconic building won an AIANC Honor Award in 1964, and is more than just a relic from Raleigh’s most prolific modernist architect. Situated near the Beltline and not far from Cameron Village, its location is convenient for both downtown and suburban visitors.

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As a result of an unfortunate injury several years ago I spent a lot of time here when it was home to the Raleigh Orthopedic Clinic. Much of the interior retains the original Midcentury charm, though it can easily be repurposed for its tall windows and open floor plan.

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Open House on May 7th

As part of the effort to save the building, NC Modernist Houses is hosting an open house at 3515 Glenwood from 4:30 to 7:00 PM, May 7. The aim is to show the space to prospective tenants, but it’s also an opportunity to see an architectural treasure.

G. Milton Small III will be at the event to discuss the building and answer questions about his father. G. Milton Small, III, is an architect with the firm of Small Kane Webster Conley, once known as G. Milton Small and Associates.

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Spread the Word

Unlike other recent losses such as the NC State University Bookstore and the Northwestern Mutual building in the Chicago suburbs, there is a real chance to save this building. If you know of a company looking to occupy a beautiful and iconic building, let them know about this vacancy and contact George Smart at North Carolina Modernist Houses. There is still time to find a tenant and preserve this work of art.

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