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James Johnson Survey and Book Receive Modernism in America Award

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This article originally appeared in a Greece Historical Society press release.

The Architecture of James H. Johnson, a historic resource survey and book about the life and work of Rochester architect James H. Johnson (1932-2016) was recognized with a Docomomo US 2021 Modernism in America Award last month in New York City.

Sponsored by the Greece Historical Society, the Johnson project received an Inventory/Survey Citation of Merit at the Docomomo US awards ceremony on November 11. Project team members Christopher Brandt and Katie Eggers Comeau from Bero Architecture PLLC, and Gina DiBella, independent preservation consultant, accepted the award.

Spurred by the loss of one of his key buildings, Our Lady of Mercy Rectory (Greece) in 2013, The Architecture of James H. Johnson is the first in-depth study and documentation of Johnson, whose well-known projects include Rochester’s Liberty Pole, the Mushroom House (Perinton), St. John the Evangelist Church (Greece), and Temple Sinai (Brighton).

The project team organized and inventoried Johnson’s files, which were located in a working office rather than an archive; developed a language for describing and classifying Johnson’s unique buildings; developed a priority list based on determination of significance; and conducted interviews with colleagues, property owners, and family members. This work enabled the New York State Historic Preservation Office to issue official determinations of eligibility for 16 of Johnson’s buildings, with 11 additional buildings deserving of further study once they are closer to 50 years old.

“The assortment of documentation methods is commendable and provides an interesting story of Johnson’s regional and distinct practice,” noted Docomomo US jury chair Marcel Quimby.

Docomomo US is a national organization dedicated to the preservation of modern architecture, landscape, and design. The Modernism in America Awards is the only national program that celebrates the people and projects working to preserve, restore, and rehabilitate our modern heritage sensitively and productively. The program seeks to advance those preservation efforts, to increase appreciation for the period, and to raise awareness of the ongoing threats against modern architecture and design.

“We are proud of our project and especially pleased to be able to bring more attention to the work of James Johnson,” said Katie Eggers Comeau, project architectural historian. “As unusual as his buildings are, he did not receive a lot of attention during his lifetime. He was a modest man, not one to seek the spotlight.”

Christopher Brandt, project architect, was first introduced to Johnson while working as a summer intern at Bero Architecture in 2010. “From that summer until his death, Jim Johnson became a friend and mentor to me. I hope that our team’s efforts to ensure that his work is celebrated and known far beyond Rochester can in some small way repay the immense debt of gratitude I have for him.”

After the loss of the Mercy rectory, Gina DiBella, project research assistant and grant writer, was determined to find a way to recognize Johnson and his work. “I’m grateful to the Greece Historical Society for sponsoring this project and to Docomomo US for bringing awareness of the work of Mr. Johnson to the national level.

The Johnson survey was funded by grants from the Preservation League of New York State/New York Council on the Arts, The Landmark Society of Western New York, and the Johnson Family. Printing of the book was funded by the Rochester Area Community Foundation.

The Modernism in America Award is the third award for The Architecture of James H. Johnson survey. In 2019, it received the New York State Historic Preservation Award for Excellence in Historic Documentation from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and a Special Citation Preservation Award from The Landmark Society of Western New York.

A limited number of copies of The Architecture of James H. Johnson are available at the Greece Historical Society and Museum Gift Shop or online at: https://greecehistoricalsociety.org/category/shop/books/