Carl Kemm Loven Noted for Charming Norman Designs
GLEN ROCK, N.J. – It wasn’t quite the same as inspecting the Dead Sea Scrolls, but for amateur historians Nancy Atkins Peck and Xiomara C. Paredes, AIA, the level of excitement was no less great.
What they were inspecting was a cache of the plans of architect Carl Kemm Loven that had been stored in a barn in the town of Apalachin, N.Y., near Binghamton, and recently moved to the Glen Rock Historical and Preservation Society.
Loven was a Glen Rock architect who designed homes from the 1930s through his death in 1965 that are beloved by local residents and are known for their fairytale Norman Revival style complete with turrets, dovecotes, leaded glass windows and hand-forged hardware.
Peck had long been entranced with Loven’s homes, and, when she realized that few residents of the area were familiar with him, decided to bring his work to the public’s attention with the publication of a pamphlet, “Carl Kemm Loven: Designer of Dreams.” She was recently honored for her work by the Architects League of Northern New Jersey, a section of the New Jersey chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA-NJ).
Paredes, a principal of Glen Rock-based Paredes-Grube Architecture, is familiar with Loven as a result of her restoration work on approximately 20 Loven-designed homes in the area, including the architect’s own home, located at 119 Rock Road in Glen Rock.
Both Peck and Paredes are members of the Glen Rock Historical and Preservation Society (Peck is the borough historian), where the Loven documents are being stored. Paredes and a summer intern in her office, Faulizbeth Vallejo of Ridgewood, are restoring and logging the documents, using cotton socks as “mittens” to clean the plans of dust and mildew, as well as occasional mouse droppings.
The publicity stemming from the award granted to Peck by the Architects League, as well as a subsequent Architects League-sponsored tour of Loven homes in Bergen County, has led to the identification of dozens of Loven-designed homes in the area, and also contributed to the discovery of the plans, which were donated by Loven’s daughter, Mimi Loven Mathey, and a Loven family friend, Marjorie Korteweg.
“The Architects League and AIA-NJ are extremely proud of our role in calling public attention to Loven’s work,” said Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, AIA, president of AIA-NJ and a member of the Architects League. “Loven’s architectural legacy deserves wider recognition. His ideas shaped the landscape of Bergen County and were a strong influence on residential architecture throughout the state and region.”
Loven was also an active member of the New Jersey State Board of Architects, as well as a past president of the Architects League, she noted.
The donated documents included nearly 400 signed Loven plans and plot maps. Also donated were Loven’s drafting desk, the carved wooden “shingle” for his business, which he ran out of his Glen Rock home, and various other business documents, which will eventually be displayed in a “vignette” at the Glen Rock Historical and Preservation Society, located in the old train station on Rock Road, Peck said.
The national AIA organization is also contributing flat files in which the plans will eventually be stored.
“We are so grateful for the donation of this wonderful store of Loven materials, as well as to AIA-NJ for all that they have done,” Peck said. “This incredible trove of documents will help fill in our knowledge of Loven’s commissions not only in Bergen County, but throughout the country and even beyond our shores. We have just discovered the Loven plans for a hotel and casino that was built in the Bahamas.”
By identifying structures that were designed by Loven, Peck and Paredes hope to inspire others to seek out Loven’s commissions, to assess their current state and to encourage their preservation. A number of Loven’s houses have been torn down in recent years to be replaced by larger homes or other buildings, and others have been stripped of their most intriguing features in the name of modernization.
”We are racing against the clock,” said Peck, noting that a stunning Tudor house that Loven is thought to have worked on in Paramus was recently slated for demolition. “Unless we raise awareness of the importance of Loven’s work, other Loven houses may unfortunately meet the same fate. We need to document these houses before more Loven houses are torn down and before more people’s memories are lost.”
Loven created more than 500 designs, mostly for buildings in Bergen County, but only a fraction are known. Called by her husband the “Sherlock of homes,” Peck is not above knocking on doors to inquire if the owners know the name of the architect who designed their home. In addition, Loven also designed hotels, country clubs, hunting lodges, churches, schools, banks, gas stations, warehouses, office buildings and libraries.
“Loven designed in many styles, but he often put a special stamp on his houses that identify them as being designed by him,” she said. “His houses seem to capture your attention. They have an appealing warmth. If a Norman house has a charm and a special feeling, I suspect it may be one of his and that’s when I go up and knock on the door. Often a dovecote is the giveaway!”
That special warmth is apparent in the recently donated plans, which were drawn by hand in incredible detail. In addition to Loven’s signature dovecotes, they include such features as “cocktail rooms,” and “dance terraces.” The plans even include details such as built-in dressers and kitchen cabinets — including hooks to hang the pots — that are no longer a part of modern residential plans.
For Vallejo, a student at the New Jersey School of Architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, working with the plans has been a revelation. Accustomed to today’s CAD (computer aided design) technology, she was amazed by the plans’ level of detail. Her work has convinced her to pursue a career in residential architecture creating designs with a similar level of warmth and detail.
As for Paredes, although she was familiar with many of Loven’s high-end residential designs, she was surprised by the number of designs he produced for modest homes that were built as part of suburban subdivisions. But no matter how modest the home, the architect still managed to incorporate a few of the signature details that made his homes more livable than comparable homes of the era.
“I’m so familiar with his work that these plans are emotional for me,” Paredes said recently while working with the plans at the historical society. “I love seeing how his mind worked. I love seeing how he dealt with a problem. I can’t keep my hands off them. I want to see all of them right now.”
Although she had to leave for another appointment, Paredes couldn’t resist opening just one more set of plans before she left. Her anticipation — as well as that of Peck and Vallejo — was evident as they carefully unrolled the documents, not knowing what treasure would be revealed. The plans were for a home on Greenway Road in Ridgewood that had recently been featured on the Architects’ League tour.
“Look! This is a house on the tour we just did,” exclaimed Paredes, pointing to the turreted entryway and half-timbered façade. “This is so exciting!”
Peck’s pamphlet on Loven was financed in part through the Bergen County Department of Parks, the New Jersey Historical Commission and the Glen Rock Historical and Preservation Society. It is available at the Glen Rock, Ridgewood, Midland Park and Ho-Ho-Kus public libraries and can be downloaded from www.glenrockhistory.org.