The process of preserving one of New Canaan's unique structural treasures has not only been completed, but awarded. Last month the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation gave a Merit Award for Physical Preservation to the consortium that saw what is now known as the Gores Pavilion for the Arts in Irwin Park achieve its former grace.

New Canaan Friends of the Gores Pavilion, the New Canaan Historical Society, the town of New Canaan, and architect William D. Earls of Wilton were jointly recognized for their contributions in revamping a former poolhouse on the former Irwin estate designed by Landis Gores, which many thought had already been destroyed.

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Gores was one of the famous Harvard Five architects, which included Marcel Breuer, John Johansen, Philip Johnson and Eliot Noyes. The group, which designed houses throughout the region in the 1950s and 60s, according to the trust, "helped make New Canaan a nationally-known laboratory of Modernist architecture in the mid-20th century."

"Probably the most important historic thing in New Canaan, other than the fact that we were a shoe manufacturing community early on, is the fact that we had a Modern movement," said Janet Lindstrom, director of the historical society.

A number of examples of this movement are still standing, but in private hands. "This is the only other Modern house of that period that would be open to the public," Lindstrom said.

"People come from all over the world actually to see New Canaan Moderns, because they're quite famous," she said. "It's always been a very big draw for New Canaan."

According to Lindstrom, the society obtained a matching $75,000 grant for the project through the Connecticut Culture and Tourism Commission. Total cost for the three-year project was close to $170,000. Since taking over care of the structure in a lease arrangement from the town, the society and friends group has successfully had the building placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

"It and the Glass House are really the only Modernist residential buildings available from that area that are open to the public," said Christopher Wigren, deputy director of the trust.

"We're looking for great examples of historic preservation work, which can be a lot of different kinds of things," he said, when considering their annual awards. "In this case I think we were motivated by the significance of the building itself, and I think the fact that it was endangered and rescued."

"It's a rare survivor of his work," he said of the Gores structure, which was among 20 projects submitted to the trust for consideration, "and it was threatened with demolition."

Earls, who authored a book on the Harvard Five, said Gores was stricken with polio.

"His career was cut short," he said. "He designed this building and oversaw construction of it while he was in a wheelchair."

Earls called the pavilion "a very localized interpretation of Modernism," which features some unique design elements, including its symmetrical "temple-like quality."

"The modern stuff tended to be more asymmetrical," he said.

"But if you study the New Canaan Moderns, there is a tipping point," he said, in about the mid-1950s, when that began to change.

"Landis was unique in the group," Earls said, "in that he was more the type who followed Frank Lloyd Wright, and the others were kind of more straight-forward Modernists."

Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer