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The 9 houses of Carl Weidemeyer
Casa Tutsch, 1928-1931
Casa Tutsch is located in Porto Ronco, part of Ronco sopra Ascona. The house was built in 1928 and was expanded by Weidemeyer in 1931. The house is small in comparison to the other houses he built. The liveable space contains two levels; the lower level has terraces and stairs connecting the various levels of the gardens and create an access to the lake. All walls are built from granite mined in the Tessin.
The house is now a vacation home and is in excellent condition, thanks to the extensive renovation of the present owners. The renovation was done in 1990 by the architect Paolo Gallicotti (Tenero). Some parts of the house, particularly the lower level, are true to the design. The bedroom furniture and the bathroom in Carrara Marble are authentic.
In the photo below you can see the built-in shelves of the lower rooms and the true to style bathroom, all designed by Weidemeyer.
View from the lake, 1928, from estate Weidemeyer
Internal mobiliary and bath, 1997, photo by Paolo Kaehr
Casa Fontanelle, 1928-1931
Casa Fontanelle was built directly on the shore of Lago Maggiore next to Casa Tutsch. Built in 1928, the relatively large house consisted of two separate stories and a «Porticato» – a terrace supported by columns. The landscaping was terraced in a manner similar to Casa Tutsch and extended all the way to the lake. Outside stairs connected the various levels. Granite from the local quarries was used for all the masonry work.
The house served as a vacation home and was remodeled many times during its life time. First the rooms were made into apartments, next a covered swimming pool was installed, later a lift and an inside staircase was built to replace the outside stairs, of which only a small part remained. The original house is hardly recognizable due to all the reconstruction.
View from the lake, 1931, from estate Weidemeyer
The external staircase along the facade, 1931, from estate Weidemeyer
Casa Benvenuto, 1935
Before the construction of Villa Chiara, this land was only accessible through a very steep pass which started at the local main street. The construction of the Villa Chiara made possible a new entrance from the east, the Via Collinetta. After this change, it was possible to drive a car up to the flat area of the Villa Chiara. The three story Casa Benvenuto was located at the beginning of the park, greeting its guests, from where an even footpath led to the Villa Chiara, which opened up the view of the total land parcel. The house was used as a guest house and tenant house. Casa Benvenuto was raised in 1960 to make room for a single family residence.
Regretfully, all documents of the old Casa Benvenuto are lost except for a few old photos, and the plans out of the archives of the responsible engineer Carlo Martinoni (Minusio).
Casa Benvenuto, 1936, photo by W. Oppenheimer
Casa Benvenuto, 1936, from estate Weidemeyer
Villa Chiara, 1936
Villa Chiara was built after the blasting of a rocky mountainside and the construction of an artificially terraced building site, located above Lago Maggiore. Architect Weidemeyer designed two different houses for this flattened terrain, which has a significant view: The three story house Benevenuto at the beginning of the park and Villa Chiara, an elongated bungalow style building with a terrace. The Villa today is true to the original design and is lovingly kept up and lived in by its owners. In this house one can still see some of the original materials used (the original aluminum window frames used in the first construction of this kind in the Tessin, the floor tiles, and the wooden built-in shelves). Also noteworthy are the rounded walls on the outside of the building.
The photo on the left shows the unusual location of the house directly above Lago Maggiore. Lower picture illustrates a sketch by Weidemeyer showing the architects' intention to add another floor to the main part of the house, but the covered terrace was never built.
The Villa Chiara is a family estate and the full time residents are heirs of the original owners, for whom the house was built.
Villa Chiara, 1936, from estate Weidemeyer
Villa Chiara, 1936, from estate Weidemeyer
Sketch by Weidemeyer, from estate Weidemeyer
Casa Andrea Cristoforo, 1928
This house was built for an industrial family, who along with living quarters, also wanted a place for work in the fields of arts and crafts. The lower floor was built like a studio, equipped with looms for weaving (documented by photos from this period). The upper two stories consisted of two apartments; the top story was accessible directly through a staircase, which connected the whole east side with the flat room.
At the end of the second World War, the house was sold to a foundation, and subsequently used as a sanitorium. A number of changes and additions were executed, thereby destroying the original purpose of the building. Changes included an addition to the east side of the building, where another floor was added along with a staircase to connect the new floor. Further changes were made to accommodate the needs of the sanitorium. As a result of the aforegoing, the original intent was destroyed.
The house seen from south-east, 1931, from estate Weidemeyer
The external staircase, 1931, from estate Weidemeyer
The situation before 2005, photo taken from the sanitorium's brochure
Casa Rocca Vispa, 1930
With the building of Rocca Vispa, a breakthrough for modern architecture in the Ticino was established. The building of this house caused endless discussions, to the point where the municipal of Ascona stopped the building process with the help from armed police. Supported by a clear mandate by the historical preservation commission, with the help of architect O. Maraini (Lugano) and with the decision by the national court, the construction was approved. Even though it was in conflict with the building regulations, to force all the buildings to conform to local architecture, that had just been passed. It was a clear change of attitude against the views of the new and rationalist building methods, which in those years, thanks to Le Corbusier, the Bauhaus of Gropius and the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart caught the eye of the international architectural world.
The huge building stood on a rocky elevation next to Monte Verita and was visible from all sides. Rocca Vispa was abandoned after the death of its owner and stood empty until its demolition in 1972.
At the time when confusion reigned, heated discussion took place over the new communal building loss. Complaints by neighbors, court actions and counteractions final gave way to the building industry. The house was replaced by a 26'000 square meter building in a zone where only single family houses were permitted.
Original site, 1931, from estate Weidemeyer
Original site, 1931, from estate Weidemeyer
Garage, destructed 1980, built 1931, from estate Weidemeyer
Casa Schoenenwald, 1929
After the construction of the Teatro San Materno, Weidemeyers first commission was an addition to the Schoenenwald House.
The house was demolished in 1939 to make room for a large Villa.
Amplification seen from south, 1928, from estate Weidemeyer
Amplification seen from east, 1928, from estate Weidemeyer
Casa Haas, 1928
This house was built on the side of Monte Verita and is the first family home built by Weidemeyer after the building of Teatro San Materno and the Schoenenwald addition. Its dimensions are small, the first floor consists of a terrace facing the sun. The living quarter is on the second floor. The construction of this house forced the municipal of Ascona to establish clear building guidelines, which up to this point did not exist. This house and others (Hotel Monte Verita and Teatro San Materno) were called «Nordic Importware». The reaction of the municipal was to establish building rules «for the protection of the local building style».
House Haas was remodeled twice (addition of a new tile roof), by which the internal structure was completely changed. The house is still occupied, however it is hidden by a four story building and is barely recognizable today.
Original state of the building, 1930, from Werk, 3/1930
Actual state of the building, 1997, photo by Paolo Kaehr
Teatro San Materno, 1928
The Teatro San Materno is the first and most famous building by Weidemeyer in Ascona. It was commissioned by Paul Bachrach for his daughter, the Dancer Charlotte Bara, in the hope of becoming a «cultural center» for activities such as dance presentations, concerts, lectures and a school for dancing. Some students lived in furnished rooms on the upper floors of the theater. The huge terrace was used for open air dance instructions. This multipurpose design by Weidemeyer established his reputation as an architect. Teatro San Materno was the first «Kammertheater» of the epoch in Switzerland. Charlotte Bara danced and organized events from 1928 to 1958.
The structure remained dormant until 1970 and as a result extensive deterioration occurred. A few minor repairs were undertaken in the 50's, but the buildings were already in bad condition at that time.
At the end of the 70's with the permission of the owners, the municipal of Ascona, the artist couple Michelle and Michel Poletti took over the management, which gave the old theater new life.
Dance presentations, folk music and puppet shows became the cultural attractions for the entire Ticino, but deterioration persisted on the now historically protected building and only a total renovation could save this structure.
The theater in an old time picture, 1928, from estate Weidemeyer
State of the theatre in 1997, photo by Paolo Kaehr
The theater after the end of the meticulous restoration, 2009, photo by Paolo Kaehr
The restored south facade, 2009, photo by Paolo Kaehr