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Norman F. Carver Jr. Houses

Midcentury Modern Meets Japanese Simplicity

One of Kalamazoo’s most important artistic residents in the post-World War II era was Norman F. Carver Jr. (1928-2018). Carver was born in Kalamazoo to an artistic family. His father and mother, Norman F. Carver Sr. and Louise were influential figures in Kalamazoo’s theater community, helping to establish the Civic Players in 1929. Carver later designed the Carver Center and Suzanne D. Parish Theatre. Carver designed over 130 homes and buildings nation-wide, with approximately 100 or so in Michigan. In addition to his work as an architect, Carver regularly lectured at prominent universities, and taught at the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts.

By the age of 15, Carver had decided to pursue a life of the arts, specifically architecture and photography. A graduate of Yale University in 1953, he set his sights on traveling and photographing the world and studying the architecture of Japan (among other cultures). He is the author of several books about architectural forms and styles throughout the world, including Iberian Villages, Italian Hilltowns, Silent Cities of Mexico and the Maya, and Form & Space in Japanese Architecture. In later years, Carver ran an art gallery on the Kalamazoo Mall, and continued to publish books detailing his colorful travels and showcasing his photography.

Photo by Colleen Woolpert

Winchell Neighborhood/Parkwyn Village

The Winchell Neighborhood was home to Carver and his wife Joan after returning from their time living in Japan. Their modular, Japanese-inspired home (3201 Lorraine Avenue) was built in 1956. It instantly stood out among most of the homes in Kalamazoo, and later garnered the attention of the New York Times, which ran a piece about the home in 1958. Carver later added three of his own designed homes to the Parkwyn Village portion of the neighborhood in the late 1950’s. They include: The Spradling House, The Gill House and The Thorne House. Along with the Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian Homes, this portion of the city possesses many ‘contemporary’ and ‘modernist’ homes that evoke the influence of both architects.

The first approach was “organic” in nature reflecting the nearby houses of Frank Lloyd Wright. This “Wrightian” theme is evident in the siding, the materials, and in the forms. The low flat roofs with deep facias tie together interlocking volumes of multi-level space. The plans are developed to provide a variety of spaces, vistas, lighting, and relations to the natural setting.”–Excerpt from Kalamazoo Yesterday and Today Tour Guide

Other notable homes in the neighborhood include: The Probasco House (2525 Sheffield Ave.), The Bach House (2115 Fredrick Ave.), The Berry House (2217 Aberdeen Dr.) and The Horton House (2223 Rambling Road).


Memory Lane

Located at the end of a cul-de-sac in the northeastern portion of the Arcadia neighborhood, Carver worked with three different clients, all of whom were WMU faculty members, to design and construct homes on contiguous lots. All three homes were built at the same time by Harry L. Jepkema in 1959, and reflect the influence of Japanese architectural elements and principles. Three more homes were built along the winding road in 1963.

“We bought the land, built the road, then went to Japan”–Norman F. Carver Jr.

Twelve Oaks

In the late 1960’s Carver sought to create a larger subdivision than Memory Lane, one that would position homes within a rustic setting, mindful of preserving the surrounding natural beauty. At approximately 80 acres, the Twelve Oaks subdivision lies off of ‘N’ Avenue, just east of 9th Street in Oshtemo Township. This location was personal for Carver, having once ridden horses in the area as a young boy. The inaugural home for the new subdivision was for Harry Greaver, the director of the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts, and finished in 1968. Carver’s final project, The Dykhouse House, was completed in 2018. In total, there are 20 Carver houses as part of the subdivision.

Photo by Colleen Woolpert

Western Michigan University Married Housing

Carver said of the married housing complex (Stadium Drive Apartments) that he designed for Western Michigan University in 1966, “It’s one unit that we could flip: built it this way and flip it, so we could get this ‘in and out’ effect…I was trying to create a village. The problem was, I just did the design, (the builders) did the engineering and drawings – and they screwed up. They did stuff where the roofs leaked – but of course we got blamed.” Carver was tapped to design the apartment units for married students after expressing his distaste for the university’s campus architecture, saying, “there are few buildings on the WMU campus with strong, positive character and most of the present structures merely provide shelter and plumbing.” The land for the complex was located at the corner of Stadium Drive and Howard Street, stretching eastward. Influenced by his travels to European cities, Carver’s vision for the project was centered around the concept of connecting the rectangular apartment units to a town square, a place where individuals could gather to share experiences and engage with ideas. In this sense, the individual and their family would retain their privacy while still interacting with the larger community of the village. 40 units were built in 1968 with more coming later. Overtime, the buildings were demolished when the university began to focus primarily on undergraduate housing projects.

Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, December 2021. Last updated 19 April 2022.

Sources
Articles

“Town Square Housing Concept for Married Students at WMU”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 March 1969, page 7, column 1

“Local Architect an International Treasure”

Kalamazoo Gazette, August 24, 2003

“Kalamazoo Architect, Photographer Dies”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 November 2018, page A4, column 1

Books

Norman F. Carver, Jr.: Architect of Form and Space, Tim Hills (H 720.92 C3317H)

Kalamazoo Yesterday and Today Tour Guide (H 977.418 K143.1)

Local History Room Files

Name File: Carver, Norman F. Jr.

Name File: Jepkema, Harry L.

Subject File: Houses-Kalamazoo-Lorraine, 3201

Online Resources

Fly Through a House Designed by Norman Carver on Gull Lake, MI

Parkwyn Village History

West Michigan Modern

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