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Metal-frame houses of the Modern Movement in Los Angeles: Part I: Developing a regional tradition 1

  • Neil Jackson
Extract

Modern Movement metal-frame houses can be found across the United States of America from Connecticut to Hawaii. The most well known of these date from the late 1940s and 1950s, and they are often regarded as icons of twentieth-century architecture. On the whole they represented no cohesive effort or common goal, for they were usually one-off designs which neither drew from their context nor offered much towards the development of an industrial building process which the metal frame would suggest: in many ways they were ‘art objects’ and perhaps they should be appreciated for being just that. The few exceptions to this rule are to be found in Los Angeles, California.

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1

The second half of this two-part article, to be subtitled ‘The Style that Nearly . . .’, will discuss the metal-frame house from 1950 onwards and will also contain a list of the principal works in this genre. This subtitle is borrowed from the book which opened Los Angeles to many Britons, Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (London, 1971) p. 223. It is in memory of Peter Reyner Banham (1922-88) that this article is written.

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Notes

2 Southern California generally refers to the heavily populated coastal area between Santa Barbara and San Diego and runs as far inland as Riverside. In this context it is taken to mean, more specifically, the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernadino and Ventura.

3 See The Uniform Building Code, 1988, chap. 23. Framed buildings are usually of balloon, platform or post- and beam-frame construction.

4 This statement can be attributed to Neutra’s biographer Hines, Thomas, writing in Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture (New York and Oxford, 1982), p. 81 .

5 David Gebhard, in a letter to Neil Jackson dated 9 January 1989, advises that the first all steel-frame house in America was built at the turn of the century near New York and that the first one in California was built near San F-ancisco in the ‘teens.

6 Lovell, Philip, ‘Care of the Body’, Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, 15 December 1929, p. 26 .

7 Ibid.

8 Dione Neutra, interviewed by Neil Jackson, 11 July 1988, Los Angeles, California.

9 For contemporary opinion on the Lovell House and for further biographical discussion of the events surrounding its building, see I. Hines, Richard Neutra, pp. 75-91 and Appendix A; Johnson, Philip and Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, The International Style (New York, 1932); Neutra, Richard Amerika: Die Stilbildung des Neuen Bauens in der Vereinigten Staaten (Vienna, 1930); Neutra, Richard, Life and Shape (New York, 1962); McCoy, Esther, Two Journeys: Vienna to Los Angeles (Santa Monica, 1979).

10 This point is made in Hines, Richard Neutra, p. 84. The majority of Neutra’s drawings are retained, uncatalogued, in the Richard J. Neutra Archive, Special Collections in the University Research Library at the University of California, Los Angeles.

11 Neutra, Dione, Richard Neutra, Promise and Fulfillment, 1919-1932 Selections from the Letters and Diaries of Richard and Dione Neutra (Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1985), p. 178 . This letter is also quoted in Hines, Richard Neutra, p. 81.

12 Richard Neutra, Life and Shape, p. 224.

13 Dione Neutra, interviewed by Neil Jackson, 11 July 1988, Los Angeles, California.

14 Dione Neutra, Promise and Fulfillment, p. 179. An almost identical statement appears in Richard Neutra, Lifeand Shape, p. 222, written over thirty years later, but here the second sentence refers to ‘the general scene of 1927’

15 These figures are from Hines, Richard Neutra, pp. 86 and 114.

16 Dione Neutra, interviewed by Neil Jackson, 11 July 1988, Los Angeles, California.

17 Architectural Forum, October 1935, pp. 236-37.

18 Hines, Richard Neutra, p. 183.

19 Richard Neutra, Life and Shape, pp. 259-61; see also Hines, Richard Neutra, p. 99.

20 Architectural Forum, April 1935, p. 303.

21 McCoy, Vienna to Los Angeles, p. 8. Sweet’s Catalogue is a catalogue of building components.

22 Architectural Forum, April 193 5, p. 399; Hines, Richard Neutra, p. 120, draws this quotation from: ‘Los Angeles Architect Wins Awards on Three Homes in Competition’, Southwest Builder and Contractor, 7 June 1935, p. 1r.

23 Full coverage was given to these three houses in Architectural Forum, April 1935: The Beard House, pp. 400-03, The Koblick House, pp. 404-05, The Mosk House, pp. 406-07.

24 For a summary of their work, see McCoy, Esther, The Second Generation (Salt Lake City, 1984). The fourth architect included in this book is J. R. Davidson, a friend but never a pupil, of Neutra.

25 Raphael Soriano, interviewed by Marlene Laskey, 19 July 1985, Tiburon, California. Soriano, Raphael, Substance and Function in Architecture (Los Angeles, 1988), p. 77 . Laskey’s interviews were completed and published under the auspices of the Oral History Program, Department of Special Collections, University Research Library, University of California Los Angeles.

26 Raphael Soriano, interviewed by Neil Jackson, 11 July 1988, Claremont, California.

27 Raphael Soriano, interviewed by Marlene Laskey, 19 July 1985, Tiburon, California. Soriano, Substance, pp. 107-08.

28 See Soriano, Substance, pp. 133-34.

29 Raphael Soriano, interviewed by Marlene Laskey, 20 July 1985, Tiburon, California. Soriano, Substance, p. 144.

30 See Soriano, Substance, pp. 128-30.

31 See Soriano, Substance, pp. 152-53.

32 Raphael Soriano, interviewed by Marlene Laskey, 20 July 1985, Tiburon, California. Soriano, Substance, p. 153.

33 McCoy, Second Generation, p. 155.

34 For John Entenza and California Arts and Architecture, see McCoy, Esther, Case Study Houses, 1945-62, 2nd edn (Los Angeles, 1977) p. 3 .

35 Saarinen, Lily, ‘Who am I?’, Arts and Architecture, December 1945, pp. 3637 .

36 In McCoy, Case Study Houses, p. 4, the author states that ‘during the war Eames formed a company with John Entenza to produce molded plywood furniture and airplane parts’.

37 These names first appeared on the Editorial Advisory Board in: Harris — October 1939 (last appears April 1946); Wurster — September 1940; Ain — March 1941; Neutra — February 1942; Saarinen — December 1945; Soriano — January 1947. Julius Shulman, whose camera captured so many of these early buildings, first appeared as one of three Staff Photographers in December 1942. His photographs accompany this article.

38 Corbett, Mario, ‘Note for Tomorrow’, Arts and Architecture, November 1942, pp. 30-21.

39 Smith, Witney R., ‘Plyluminium House’, Arts and Architecture, December 1942, pp. 2829 .

40 Ibid., p. 28.

41 Ibid., p. 28.

42 Neutra, Richard, ‘Planning Postwar Fabrication’, Arts and Architecture, May 1943, pp. 2325 .

43 The Beckstrand House is dated as 1940 in Hines, Richard Neutra, p. 311.

44 Arts and Architecture, August 1943, p. 23 f.

45 Arts and Architecture, January 1944, pp. 32-33.

46 Arts and Architecture, June 1944, pp. 22-23.

47 Arts and Architecture, July 1944, p. 29.

48 Ibid., p. 33.

49 Ibid., p. 32.

50 Arts and Architecture, October 1944, p. 33. Title III provided for loans for the purchase of residential property or for the construction of a dwelling to be offered as a home.

51 Arts and Architecture, January 1945, p. 37.

52 Arts and Architecture, January 1945, p. 38.

53 Ray Eames, interviewed by Neil Jackson, 25 June 1988, Santa Monica, California.

54 Raphael Soriano, interviewed by Marlene Laskey, 20 July 1985, Tiburon, California. Soriano, Substance, p. 205.

55 Raphael Soriano, interviewed by Neil Jackson, 11 July 1988, Claremont, California.

56 Arts and Architecture, January 1946, pp. 46-47.

57 Arts and Architecture, October 1947, pp. 37-42. Although first designed by Whitney Smith, the built version of Case Study House 10 was by Kemper Nomland. This possibly accounts for the change of materials.

58 Arts and Architecture, August 1945, pp. 30-34 and September 1945, pp. 33-37. Photographs of a model in the September issue do suggest steel pipe-columns.

59 Arts and Architecture, October 1945, pp. 33-39 and 49-50.

60 Arts and Architecture, June 1945, pp. 26-30 and 39-40 and July 1945, pp. 35-38.

61 Arts and Architecture, March 1949, p. 44.

62 With the opening of Case Study House 11, the first one to be built, Arts and Architecture had announced that ‘The choice of houses going into construction will necessarily be made on the basis of the material lists and price factors involved’, Arts and Architecture, July 1946, p. 44.

63 Raphael Soriano, interviewed by Marlene Laskey, 20 July 1985, Tiburon, California. Soriano, Substance, p. 207.

64 Ray Eames, interviewed by Neil Jackson, 25 June 1988, Santa Monica, California.

65 Arts and Architecture, December 1945, pp. 43-51.

66 Ibid., p. 43.

67 Ibid., p. 51.

68 Arts and Architecture, March 1948, pp. 39-41 for Case Study Houses 8 and 9; pp. 30-31 for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Competition.

69 Arts and Architecture, January 1949, p. 33.

70 Arts and Architecture, March 1949, p. 30.

71 Ibid.

72 Arts and Architecture, April 1949, p. 40.

73 Soriano, as has been noted, built the Case Study House for 1950. Craig Ellwood built Case Study Houses 16 (1951), 17 (1955) and 18 (1957) and Pierre Koenig built Case Study Houses 21 (1958) and 22 (1959). These houses will be discussed in the second part of this article.

74 Ray Eames, interviewed by Neil Jackson, 25 June 1988, Santa Monica, California.

75 Arts and Architecture, April 1949, p. 40

76 Arts and Architecture, December 1949, p. 29.

77 ‘The Office of Charles and Ray Eames get Royal Gold Medal’, RIBA Journal, April 1979, p. 143.

78 Arts and Architecture, December 1949, p. 27.

79 Banham, Los Angeles, p. 225.

80 The extent to which Mies’s contemporary work was known to the Californians will be discussed in the second part of this article.

81 ‘Prefabricated Units for the Home’, Architectural Forum, December 1935, pp. 544-76.

1 The second half of this two-part article, to be subtitled ‘The Style that Nearly . . .’, will discuss the metal-frame house from 1950 onwards and will also contain a list of the principal works in this genre. This subtitle is borrowed from the book which opened Los Angeles to many Britons, Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (London, 1971) p. 223. It is in memory of Peter Reyner Banham (1922-88) that this article is written.

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Architectural History
  • ISSN: 0066-622X
  • EISSN: 2059-5670
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