Monday, May 2, 2016

Building a "Commencement House"

In May 1958, a beautiful new home opened in Greensboro's Irving Park area at 2207 North Elm Street. The tri-level structure, constructed of cypress and previously-used brick - contained approximately 2350 square feet of enclosed living space plus a 484 square foot double carport, a 248 square foot storage and heating room, a balcony, and a terrace. But this wasn't just any new home ... it was the 1958 Commencement House. It was the product of a unique collaboration at Woman's College (now UNCG) that brought practicing architects, builders, and other professionals into the classroom to work with WC students on this yearlong project.

Students at groundbreaking for the 1958 Commencement House
Twenty-three Woman's College students participated in the Commencement House project. Twenty were undergraduates majoring in either art/residential design or home economics. The remaining three participants were graduate students in home economics. Their work was supervised by local architect and Woman’s College part-time Art Department instructor, Edward Loewenstein. Loewenstein was a well known and well respected architect whose firm Loewenstein, Atkins, and Associates designed Coleman Gymnasium on the WC campus in the early 1950s.

During the construction project, each student in the class was responsible for one phase of the design process and one phase of the specifications and construction supervision process. These phases included building design, utilities, furniture selection and arrangement, and more. Eugene Gulledge, president of Superior Construction Corporation in Greensboro, served as the contractor for the home and acted as the client.

Ribbon cutting ceremony for the Commencement House
Students were asked to plan the home to have a sales price "in the $30,000 range" (approximately $250,000 today). The house was required to include an entrance foyer, a formal living room, a family room, a separate dining room, a kitchen, three bedrooms, at least two baths, and a garage. Additionally, students were told that "while the house should contain new and pioneering ideas of layout and design, it should not be so radical as to make it unmarketable."

The grand opening and dedication of the Commencement House on May 29, 1958, was an event that received local and national attention. It was covered by WUNC-TV and local newspapers. Mrs. Martha Blakeney Hodges (Class of 1918 and wife of North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges) formally opened the home during the dedication ceremony. During the opening event, the home was also certified by the Duke Power Company for a Gold Medallion, the nation's highest award for electrical excellence.

Photo of the Commencement House from McCall's magazine, November 1958
Additional open house events to allow the public to see inside the home were held during the weekends of June 7-8 and June-14-15. The Commencement House received national attention when it was featured in the November 1958 issue of McCall's magazine.

A second Commencement House was constructed by a new class of students in 1959. This home was located at 3307 Rowan Road in the Sedgefield community, southwest of downtown Greensboro. Sadly neither home remains standing today.

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