The Revitalized Walker Building in Long Beach

History is Alive at Long Beach’s Revitalized Walker Building

 

By Ted Wells

 

How do we increase density in cities without losing human scale? This is a challenge and, for urban areas throughout the country, the architecture and adaptive reuse of structures is never an easy path. As the demographic for urban growth changes, and when a project is finally approved, it is indeed possible to bring complex projects to fruition.

A good example is The Walker Building, at the corner of Pine Avenue and Fourth Street in downtown Long Beach. The building’s restoration and renovation into 39 loft condominiums and seven custom two-story penthouses along with 20,000 square feet of first floor commercial and retail space is a good model for urban revitalization. The design of the project, by Jon Glasgow of Interstices Architecture, integrated the varied original structures and adapted the interior in ways that highlight the original aesthetics and incorporates unique spatial quality and views within—and beyond—the building. The developer of the project, Bill Lindborg of Borg Long Beach Development Corporation has a long family history in the city with redevelopment, multi-family, and commercial projects.

The urban aesthetics of the development of The Walker Building project created some clear examples of what can work for changing demographics unique to southern California. “The architects’ concepts were a creative risk for having the penthouses on top of the existing building,” said Glasgow. “And the way we brought the building into a modern aesthetic, with concrete floors, exposed structure, and varied footprints, we took an even broader risk.”

Downtown Long Beach has always been one of the more varied and challenging environments for residential development for more than 100 years. Some of the latest and successful projects in the city have been the redevelopment of mid-rise office and retail buildings, transformed into housing.

“We are pleased that the community celebrates the developer’s thinking and the architects’ vision to put it all together,” said Glasgow. “The Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously supported the project.”

The building was originally designed and constructed in 1928 by the firm Meyer and Holler. When the Walker Department Store in Long Beach opened in 1933, all four floors were retail. The building had been structurally designed so that the roof could support two additional floors if the retailer chose to expand the store. Pine Avenue was the premier retail street, including department stores such as the Mercantile Company (1904), which became Buffums (1912), Woolworth (1916), The Kress Building (1923), Famous Department Store (1929), Marti’s (1929), and J.J. Newberry (1950). “The Walker Building looks like a single structure,” said Glasgow, “but it was built at two separate times: one-third of the building was built and then two bays on the north side were added at a different time.” This made it a challenge for Borg to develop the project since the company had to go through the process of successfully combining parts of the structure related to ownership. To help facilitate the complex development process, the City of Long Beach allowed an adaptive reuse ordinance that retains the important original characteristics of the building, yet allows for new architectural features that appeal to people attracted to modern urban living.

Today, the ground floor of The Walker Building houses retail spaces, along with the main lobby for access to the four floors of residences. Residential parking is underground, with private access from Fourth Street. “Adding the underground parking was a particularly challenging part of the project,” said Glasgow. The project required creating spaces for sixty-seven cars and meeting the requirements for the entry ramp from Fourth Street, simplifying access for vehicles to what was originally a very large basement. “While you can do projects in an urban setting with offsite parking, for this project the best solution was integrating the parking with direct elevator access to the residential floors.”

The second, third, and fourth floor lofts are laid out in varied open-spaced floor plans. And on the former roof of the building, which is now the fifthand sixth-floors, two-story penthouse units are set back from the façade, which maintains the historic integrity of the original building when viewed from the street. This not only creates privacy but also allows for open-space patios for the penthouses and views of the city and the ocean.

The seven penthouse units atop the original building are some of the most intriguing structures in southern California. The aesthetics are a beautiful combination of the original building along with luxury-industrial exposed structures that add a fresh atmosphere to the private upper floors. “On a national level, and even worldwide, some progressive cities have done very contemporary additions on top of historic buildings,” said Glasgow. “We started playing with the scale of the original structure details on the penthouse units. The patterns and proportions among the construction techniques for the penthouses are similar to what is on the facade on the lower floors. We made some of the living room windows smaller and some of the other windows much larger, which was the creative way of capturing the best views and balancing natural light throughout the penthouses.”

The Walker Building’s successful revitalization is a major part of the exceptional mid-rise redevelopment along Pine Avenue. “The driver behind our design is to utilize these historic buildings in ways that make sense for long-term use by residents and businesses,” said Glasgow. “The Walker Building is going to remain; it is a concrete building, with concrete columns and expanded concrete capitals — a nice, stout building, with penthouses that celebrate the origins of the structure and are just as strong.” The Blair House provided this creative couple with the peace and light they needed to do their work, as well as a setting for the social camaraderie in their full lives. And it shows Harris building confidently on the community of ideas of California design. Unlike the stripped – down minimalism that would dominate Southern California design a decade later, Harris never shies away from decorative touches. The subtlety of the brick fireplace design, the asymmetrical placement of the china cabinet door in the dining room, the repeated motif of horizontal frames on the glass wall panels — each is integral to the design. Though long forgotten, today this beautiful design restores a missing link in the evolution of Southern California Modern architecture.

“At the top of the existing structure, surrounding the penthouse courtyards and patios, we also recreated the large decorative pediment caps all around the top of the building,” said Glasgow. “That key decorative feature had been removed in the 1950s and it was important for us to restore the aesthetics in ways that celebrate the original architects’ history in southern California.” Meyer and Holler were also the architects who created the Egyptian Theater and Grauman’s Chinese Theaters. “These were architects into a very decorative style of architecture, and that is an element we wanted to have as an important part of the history of this building,” said Glasgow. The redevelopment of mid-rise construction in a city is best when, as with The Walker Building, pedestrian and vehicular movement on the sidewalks and street helps dictate the size and proportions so that the scale feels human. Creating well-proportioned “outdoor rooms” along mid-rise streets relates to street width and building height. The best is when the ratio of street width to building height is approximately 1:1 or less. By setting the two-story penthouses back from the facade, not only does this create private and communal rooftop spaces for the residents, it also creates privacy for the penthouse residents related to the street. And the view of the building from the “outdoor rooms” of the public streets along Pine and Fourth avenues, maintain the “pedestrian perception stepback,” and allows for increased density without losing its human scale.

 

John Kewell’s Schipper Residence

 

By Pierluigi Serraino

Architecture comes with a history of its use. This is especially so for a dwelling, where the events, personalities, and choices of its occupants are encrypted in its walls, cumulative scrolls of life unfolding within them. The Schipper Residence is nowhere to be found in history books, but its postwar setting bears the hallmarks of a bold legacy deemed today central in the development of modernity on American soil. It features an open plan without being a glass box; its material palette is decisively modern, yet exposed steel members are visibly absent; it promotes the outdoors sans sacrificing privacy; it is spacious because of efficiency in its layout as opposed to “bigness” in its square footage and massing.

Canadian born John Kewell, the original architect of the Schipper Residence located in Westwood, is far from being a household name. And even experts of the Southern California scene are hard-pressed to link his name to specific projects. His premature departure at age 60 in 1975 might partially explain why – although not exclusively – as he was getting bigger and bigger commissions later in his career and his visibility was on the rise. Yet his academic credentials and professional achievements already earn him entry into the crowd of designers that created the midcentury heritage. Graduated from McGill University of Montreal, Canada, in 1936, Kewell pursued his graduate studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology during the Mies van der Rohe period in 1942. His arrival to Southern California most likely coincided with the massive influx of knowledge workers that formed the military–industrial complex under the urgency of World War II. Following the end of the conflict, Kewell was hired as a chief designer at the Los Angeles branch of the Austin Company and subsequently at the noted architectural firm Stiles and Clements gaining experience in infrastructural projects and large scale schemes. It was in 1947 when he went solo professionally gaining momentum early on with the completion of a shopping center in Pasadena in 1949, barely 34 years of age.

As the workload increased he entered into a short-lived partnership as Kewell, Kocher & Benedict to then head his own company – John Kewell and Associates — by 1952. His was a generalist practice, with project types ranging from the highly publicized warehouse and office building for Chase Brass & Copper Company in Los Angeles to the Katella Park Homes subdivision in Garden Grove to schools for the Los Angeles Unified School District to a number of industrial and research facilities for clients like Hughes Aircraft, Arrowhead, and Borg-Wagner all around Southern California. To his highly successful business he added a few years of teaching as a 4th year design critic at the University of Southern California and held various appointments with the regional and state chapters of the American Institute of Architects over three decades. By all accounts, in his thirty–year career, John Kewell enjoyed meaningful press coverage and garnered numerous design awards for his work, making him a definite contributor to the mid-century modern mythology.

Single family residences were sporadic projects in Kewell’s vast portfolio. In those occasions, however, the design vocabulary remained within the range of the larger modernist vernacular rather than the dogmatic orthodoxy of flat roofs and floor-to-ceiling glass. The Schipper Residence is therefore representative in all respects of a calibrated modernism for the middle class as could be found in many shelter magazines of the post-war age. Sited into the hills of Westwood, just a few minutes from the UCLA campus, this project rests atop a site with a steep slope. Having a pad on that dramatic topography delivered significant logistical advantages to the occupants: it provided a sense of retreat from the street below; it afforded a Westside vista; it brought more natural light to the interiors than it would have gained at a lower elevation where the sidewalk is. From the street level, the residence remains inconspicuous despite its assertive horizontality. What catches the eye when looking at the long elevation facing the street at first are the two extrusions from the main vertical plane where the classic “spider legs,” that is the beam extensions connecting to the vertical posts without transverse structural elements, are prominently featured. It is the signature touch of Rudolph Schindler’s Kings Road masterpiece as well as a consistent design quotation in Case Study House architects Richard Neutra and A.Quincy Jones, all of them venerated figures in the mid-century modern folklore.

While hillside lots typically offered opportunities for structural acrobatics to maximize site use in the architecture of the period, in this case a more restrained approach was adopted. The plan diagram is quasi-classical in land use: a modernist retreat sitting on a hill like an ancient temple. The ascent to the main entry is a lyrical meandering path on a drought-tolerant landscape with minimalist railings. At the arrival landing, a mute concrete podium functioning as a retaining wall provides the new ground plane where the house sits. An open switchback stair to the left leads to the main entry where the transition from public, semipublic, semiprivate, and private is finally complete. This carefully choreographed sequence is original to the vintage design.

The house design started in 1952 and construction was completed in 1954. Despite its hovering position on the street below its character is unimposing and dignified at the same time. The board-and-batten exterior cladding and the ribbon windows are textbook references to the period. The post and beam construction with the low pitched roof, chamfered beam extensions included, seem to have come straight out of an issue of Sunset Magazine during its golden age. Architects such as Buff, Straub & Hensman and designers like Cliff May made of this imagery a standard trope in California architecture at mid-century. And yet for all its familiarity, the house retains its own distinction. It is the choice of a scheme typically found on a flat site inserted on a challenging topography that sets in motion a dynamic and uncommon relationship of the architecture to its surroundings.

The original nucleus of the house was more modest in size: a basic rectangle featuring the essentials: living dining areas with secluded sleeping quarters facing north. Its initial layout was rather conservative in arrangement as a wall separated the vestibule from the living room and the kitchen was fully enclosed. What was distinctive about the interior was the parquet made of two-by-two wood tiles, a very unusual flooring choice for Southern California, while being more frequently seen on the East Coast. Instead of an open plan, the compartmentalization of each function cost a heavy premium to the living experience: a more generous connection with the outdoors. New needs brought change early on in the life cycle of the structure and a studio on the south side was appended to the original footprint. The house acquired in scale and length. And although its perimeter became fragmented, the low continuous line of the roof overhangs extruded over the new part brought architectural unity to the intervention.

A new master bedroom and master bathroom came about in the early 2000s, together with big and small adjustments to all the other areas with the exception of the studio and a storage space, per the owners’ directives. The intent of the executed design brought to light what was only incubation in the original plan: to give brightness to the interior by creating a true open plan. Jeff Allsbrook, a SCI-Arc alumnus then in the early stages as a principal of his own firm, was the architect of the remodel. His approach was as minimalist as it was impactful. He subtracted surfaces from the existing condition to yield the spaciousness the enclosure never had, aggrandizing the architectural experience of living without losing its domesticity. The wall at the entry and that separating the kitchen from the dining area were removed to establish a more fluid circulation and deeper sightlines throughout. But it was the divider between the kitchen and the living room – changed from a vertical plane to a volume fitted to house cabinets and appliances and scaled to match the height of the opposing walls – that broke the separateness of each zone and established a spatial continuum.

Many light touches uniformly contributed to the qualitative improvement of what was there. A light well in the original main bathroom, a side window at the end of a modular built-in closet, the increase in the amount of glazing toward the back, ease of accessibility to the outdoors, wood decking over the concrete tiles on the patio, and many more micro-and-macro episodes created a build-up without recurring to a big move overwhelming the balance of the overall environment. The new master bathroom alone is a disciplined choreography of material alignments with window mullions, and modular design, with its unique fenestration and measured positioning of the vanity as it relates to the bathtub. The spareness of each move is evocative of abstracted elegance as opposed to detached mechanical determinism. It is an updated and possibly more benevolent version of “less is more.”

Most of all, it is the glow emanating from the whiteness of the walls that strikes those who step over the threshold at the entry. In that light, the maculate modularity of the parquet stands out in all its vividness. Every element in space exhibits starkness of contours, whose legibility is as logical as it is poetic. The nakedness of the walls is a subtle reinforcement of the aesthetic stillness permeating this domestic void. In this architectural canvas, every cut out – whether a window, a slider, a skylight – frames a piece of nature where the organic and the geometric merge. While landscape architect Judy Kameon redesigned the lush sustainable garden filled with agaves in the front gracing the sharp incline of the terrain, landscape architects Heather Hendrickson and Katja Perrey reorganized the outdoor areas in the back. Despite the different hands, the open spaces exhibit remarkable unity, where architecture and landscape become an inseparable entity. Through Allsbrook’s thoughtful remodeling and the re-envisioning of the gardens, the new extended and complemented the original demonstrating that a house, like a city, is a living organism, amenable to pick up the changes need to accommodate new generations of users.

For a house so inconspicuous in the legendary array of single family residences in Los Angeles, this property has gathered a unique set of three different owners, sharing a common – and indeed rare – trait: the Arts. And with the current ones, in particular, the house itself has become an inspirational tool for the development of new art. Merle Schipper was the original owner of the residence. A well-known art critic and historian for the Los Angeles Times, she covered and occasionally curated exhibits on abstract art for various magazines. Her critical work was deemed consequential enough to grant her lifework entry in the venerable Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution. Her expertise was abstract art and it is highly likely that her own house was visited by the many artists she reviewed over the years. The second owner was an architect.

But it is with the current owners, East Coast transplants, and themselves a distinguished couple steeped in the Southern California art scene, that the architecture of the house and its surrounding natural environment turned into objects of artistic expression. Jane Weinstock is a filmmaker with a long love affair for architecture. She made the house function as a gallery and as a party location for her first film Easy, issued in 2003. In that footage, both interiors and exteriors of the Schipper Residence appears prominently in a long night scene. And throughout that same movie, architecture is notably featured when the father of the protagonist is an architect heading his own office, in real life the headquarters of noted architect Frederick Fisher, and the protagonist herself plays with the model of Morphosis’ 2-4-6-8 House in Venice.

James Welling, her husband, is a well-known fine arts photographer with a teaching post at UCLA in the art department. In his art as well, architecture features significantly. His highly original visions of one of the most overrepresented buildings in the history of modern architecture, the Glass House by Philip Johnson in New Canaan, Connecticut, demonstrate the centrality that the built environment has in his seductive photographic abstractions. To him, the gardens of the Schipper Residence became a theme for an ongoing artistic exploration where foliage and flowers under the Southern California light are exacted from their surroundings bathed under different coloration erasing organic details.

In 2001, their encounter with the house was as serendipitous as it was inevitable. Deeply knowledgeable of architecture, they resonated with the space at once, despite the name of the architect lacked any recognition among their contemporaries. They bought the house from the second owner, recognized its being part of a charge heritage, and embarked on the remodeling shortly after cognizant of what they had. To have two individuals who have committed their lives to the arts and are passionate about architecture be an integral part of the design process creates a unique synergy between them and the architect. It is this double sensitivity that made the remodeling a considerable improvement of the original, a statistically rare occurrence. By undoing the missed opportunities of what they found, this ad hoc team capitalized on what was there to get to convey fully the architectural message scripted in the siting and layout of the house.

Louis Kahn famously claimed that “architecture is the thoughtful making of space.” This insight is valid whether the project is a monument or a utilitarian building. But when applied to a residence, it is the inhabitants who fully experience the benefits of its depth. In that sense, and in its current state, the Schipper Residence is qualitatively a much stronger architectural statement than it ever was.

‘Oak Ridge’ – The Barnes House

 

By Ann Scheid

Photographs by Grand Mudford

Built for Clifford Webster Barnes, a wealthy Chicago community activist, religious leader and philanthropist, Oak Ridge, as it is colloquially known, exemplifies the core tenets of the Arts and Crafts movement. Although Barnes commissioned Elmer Grey, the house was built as a residence for his parents, Joseph and Anna Barnes, and Clifford’s two maiden sisters, Ella and Grace, who moved to Pasadena in their retirement. Joseph Barnes was a Chicago merchant, whose original estate in Lake Forest became the site of his son’s 1908 mansion named “Glen Rowan,” designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw, a prominent Chicago architect. Clifford Barnes also kept a summer home in Northeast Harbor, Maine. The younger Barnes never lived in the Pasadena house, but probably visited often with his wife and daughter, Lilace, who eventually inherited the house.

Oak Ridge is located in the San Rafael Hills, one of Pasadena’s most picturesque and elegant neighborhoods. At the time of its completion in 1912, the house was set in open country on a hillside surrounded by mature oak trees overlooking orange groves and the Arroyo Seco. The Colorado Street Bridge was under construction, and when it opened a year later, San Rafael was finally linked to the town. The La Loma Bridge, built in 1914, established an even more convenient connection, and Pasadena annexed San Rafael in that year. The setting was distinctly rural, with unpaved roads, large properties, and many acres still devoted to pastureland or citrus. In the late 1910s and 1920s, a wave of building in the hills above the Arroyo brought mansions by such noted architects as Paul Williams; Reginald Johnson; Marston, Van Pelt & Maybury; Myron Hunt; Wallace Neff; and George Washington Smith. After World War II, mid-century modern architects and later twentieth-century architects had their turn. Postwar architects included such names as Richard Neutra, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Lyman Ennis, Boyd Georgi, Arthur B. Gallion, Buff & Hensman, and Smith & Williams. The neighborhood even boasts Case Study House No. 10 by Kemper Nomland (with his son Kemper Jr.), located on South San Rafael Avenue. This tradition of architectural excellence extending through the late twentieth century has produced a distinctive mixture of traditional and modernist houses, unusual in Pasadena where neighborhoods often reflect specific periods of development.

When Elmer Grey (1872-1963) arrived in California in 1902 at the age of 30, he was already an established architect who had garnered the distinction of Fellow of the AIA for his design of a country house in Wisconsin. A native of Chicago, Grey had a flourishing practice in Milwaukee for several years. Instead of enrolling in a university architecture school, Grey trained as an apprentice at a Milwaukee architectural firm, Ferry & Clas. Grey proved to be something of a prodigy, winning an architectural competition at the age of 18 for a water tower sponsored by the national publication, Engineering and Building Record.1 During his apprentice years Grey made several bicycle trips to Europe under the tutelage of Maine architect John Calvin Stevens, absorbing both the great and the vernacular architecture of the continent and also gaining practice in sketching and watercolor. Throughout his life Grey would produce accomplished sketches, beautiful watercolors and oils, even murals, resulting in his becoming known as an artist as well as an architect.

In 1898 Grey struck out on his own, founding his own architectural practice in Milwaukee. His first project was a summer home for himself in the developing resort of Fox Point, Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Michigan. As Grey relates it, he had no need for a summer home, he was as-yet unmarried and had no family, but he was so attracted to the site on the bluff above the lake that he bought it and built a rustic shingled cottage with a romantically steep gable and a wide porch facing the lake. The house attracted enough favorable publicity that Grey gained other important commissions from wealthy clients in Fox Point, launching him on his career.

Despite these early successes, Grey was not a man who enjoyed the business side of the practice of architecture nor was he someone who thrived under pressure. As a result, his career was interrupted at times by what were then called “nervous breakdowns,” which forced him to abandon his work and seek a change of scene. It was just such an episode that brought him to California, where he recovered his health by working out-of-doors as a ranch hand in Monrovia in the San Gabriel foothills east of Pasadena. During this period, Grey often rode out on horseback on Sundays from Monrovia and on one of these morning rides, he encountered Pasadena architect Myron Hunt (1868-1952), also an experienced horseman. The two architects struck up a friendship, leading Grey to join Hunt in his Pasadena practice in 1904.

In many ways, Hunt and Grey were well-matched. Hunt’s formative years in architecture had been spent in Chicago, and he had built his own house (a rather more sober design than Grey’s Fox Point cottage) in Evanston, a Chicago suburb on Lake Michigan. Neither architect had embraced the Prairie Style that was in vogue in the early twentieth century. Instead they both advocated for simplicity and directness in architecture. Both architects shared an appreciation of the landscape and always considered the garden as a necessary part of their residential designs. Hunt is quoted as saying that doing gardens was his favorite occupation,2 and the work of both architects is praised for their attention to landscaping in their residential projects.3

The firm of Hunt and Grey flourished among a group of outstanding architects in Pasadena, which was becoming the cultural center of the region. At the beginning of the twentieth century, wealth and a discriminating clientele had brought together a colony of artists, architects, musicians, educators, actors, and scientists. Pasadena experienced a quadrupling of its population between 1900 and 1920, leading to the development of new neighborhoods and annexations of new tracts to the town. As the town became a city, many new churches, schools, public buildings and residences gave architects the opportunity to express their creative ideas. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, California architects were experimenting with the Mission Style, based on California’s oldest and most distinctive buildings. The difficulty of translating the salient features of the missions into coherent residential and commercial designs soon became apparent and the style was largely abandoned. Searching for an appropriate expression for the resort residences they were designing, some Pasadena architects found inspiration in the Shingle Style popular in New England resorts and the rustic structures of Adirondack camps.

Architects such as the Greene brothers also drew on the Shingle Style, creating a new California Craftsman style, inspired by Japanese forms from across the Pacific and Alpine Swiss chalets seen as appropriate expressions in a landscape dominated by high, rugged mountains. Frederick Roehrig, who had arrived in Pasadena in the 1880s, was a formidable talent, able to adapt any style to the needs of the client; he was the master architect who created the fantasy of the Hotel Green. Pasadena-born Sylvanus Marston worked in his own version of the Craftsman style in his early years. By the 1920s, with his later partner Garrett Van Pelt, Marston joined Wallace Neff, Reginald Johnson, Roland Coate, Jr., and Gordon Kaufmann in creating original versions of the various revival styles so popular in the period. All of these Pasadena architects displayed in their work an excellence of design, originality and quality of construction and materials that put them in the first rank of architects of the period.

In the brief period of their joint practice (1904-1910), Hunt and Grey landed many important commissions, creating some of the most memorable buildings in Southern California, including the Henry E. Huntington residence; Pasadena’s Polytechnic School; the campus plan for Throop Polytechnic (now Caltech) and its main building, Throop Hall; the Wattles Estate and Garden in Hollywood; a country house for Edward D. Libbey in Ojai; and campus plans for plans for Pomona and Occidental Colleges.

In addition, the firm is credited with being the supervising architects for the James Waldron Gillespie house in Montecito, where they became associated with Bertram Goodhue, a relationship that later influenced the choice of Goodhue as Directing Architect for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Diego’s Balboa Park.4

Of all their works the Pasadena Polytechnic School was the most influential. The first “open-air school” in California and one of the first in the nation, the school was planned with every classroom opening to the out-of-doors, in keeping with the idea that daily outdoor life was essential to good health. The simple gabled wooden buildings with framed glass doors and ample windows for light and ventilation evoked California ranch buildings; the courtyard layout among existing native oaks brought the outdoors in. Pasadena Polytechnic set a precedent that influenced California school design for decades. Although the forms and materials have changed, many of the original elements, including classrooms opening directly to the outside, are still accepted practice in California school design.

While compatible in many ways, the partners still had their differences. Hunt, for instance, objected to Grey’s domed design for Throop Hall at Caltech, finding the dome superfluous, but the clients liked it, and so it was built. Hunt was a man of a more practical bent, who excelled at working out structural challenges, while Grey was the artistic side of the firm, whose sketches and renderings contributed much to its success. Grey was less willing to sacrifice all the time and effort that it took to complete the large projects that Hunt sought. Looking back on his career Grey wrote that he did not envy the architects with busy offices, jangling phones, and constant pressure; he much preferred experiencing the joy of creating that a small office afforded, and the leisure time it allowed to be outdoors in nature, whiling away hours sketching and painting.5

After leaving the partnership with Hunt, Grey nevertheless took on large projects, including the Beverly Hills Hotel (1911) and several Christian Science churches (Grey was a lifelong Christian Scientist). Following an extensive journey through Mexico, he produced an exceptional interpretation in that vernacular, the Pasadena Playhouse (1925). Home to an acting school that produced such famous actors as William Holden, Dustin Hoffman, Jean Arthur, Randolph Scott, and dancer Martha Graham, the Playhouse has been honored as the State Theater of California. Another major project was the elegant Bel-Air Bay Club (1927), set at the ocean’s edge north of Santa Monica. Late in Grey’s career he designed the Lincoln Memorial Shrine (1932) in Redlands, an elegant octagon-shaped rotunda, coincidentally the same form as his early award-winning water-tower. One of his final projects, in 1939, was another campus plan, for Mt. Wilson College, a plan that never came to fruition.

Grey and other architects of his time were seeking to develop a genuine American architecture. Hunt and Grey saw their early efforts as attempts “to naturalize [in California] the best traditions of European architecture.”6 In 1900 Grey wrote: “We are not to copy past styles, neither are we to consider them useless as modern sources of inspiration.”7 One writer noted that Grey always advocated the use of solid wooden beams and posts: “Solid beams will show knots and will check, but both of these qualities [Grey] considers virtues rather than defects because they are qualities natural to the material and testify to its integrity.” The point was always to use “proper materials idiomatically.”8

Grey defined an indigenous architecture as not a “style, as expressed in the external adornment of a building, but a vital quality resulting from the conditions of its situation, cost, material requirements and constructional means as well as its ornament.”9 Grey believed that the development of a country’s or region’s architecture was the result of a long endeavor by architects to erect buildings according with the best taste and sound judgment of a people. It would happen as “a process of growth which cannot be hastened.”10

A long, tree-lined gravel driveway ending in a circular turn-around brings the visitor to the secluded Barnes house, set amidst a collection of citrus and other fruit trees that pay homage to the region’s earlier agricultural landscape and framed by great oaks that give the place its name. Clad in pebble-dash stucco on the lower story and wood shingles on the second story, Oak Ridge’s massing and details evoke the architecture of rural England. Clipped gables and deep eave overhangs suggest a thatched roof; sturdy beams and curved brackets suggest the great timbers used to support the roofs of the manors, barns and parish churches of the English countryside. The curved apron where the second story shingled wall meets the first story stucco and the curved corners of the sleeping porches evoke Eastern Shingle Style forebears.This is Craftsman style closer in spirit to Gustav Stickley than to the Pasadena Craftsman style of Charles and Henry Greene.

Upon entering the house, the visitor is welcomed into a generously proportioned hall that forms the main axis of the plan. Facing south off the hall is the grand living room with its beamed ceiling and tiled fireplace, typical of the Craftsman focus on the hearth. South-facing windows and French doors at either end of the living room open onto large porches enhancing the connection with the outdoors, characteristic of California Craftsman houses. The central hall terminates in a cozy den on the west and a commodious dining room on the east, each also having access to the porches off the living room. Living room, den and dining room all feature fireplaces of Grueby tile. The spacious kitchen adjacent to the dining room has been thoughtfully remodeled to meet every modern need, and yet remains compatible with the existing architecture both on the interior and the exterior.

From the hall, the main staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms features an interesting slatted screen, similar to that seen in Prairie Style houses of Chicago. Upstairs, the hall repeats the established eastwest axis of the first floor. A series of well-proportioned bedrooms, some with fireplaces, are off the hall. The two corner bedrooms have adjacent sleeping porches, a necessary feature in the early twentieth century when the fear of tuberculosis led physicians to recommend outdoor living and sleeping, either to cure or prevent the often-fatal disease. Located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, Pasadena enjoyed clear dry mountain air and an abundance of warm sunny days, a climate considered ideal by the medical experts of the day. Health-seekers flocked to the town, transforming the late nineteenth century village into a prosperous winter resort and fresh-air spa.

Besides the oaks, citrus orchard and exotic fruit tree grove, the grounds surrounding the house feature a kitchen garden, a play area, an outdoor cooking area and mature trees. The current owner, an enthusiastic gardener, has created a drought-tolerant California Mediterranean garden on the terraces below the house, edged with retaining walls of local Arroyo stone. An artistic entrance gate at the sidewalk enhances the Craftsman theme.

Built at the same time as the Neustadt house in Altadena and Elmer Grey’s own residence in Pasadena, the Barnes house strikes a balance between the two. With its rolled eaves evoking a thatched roof, the Neustadt house is Craftsman in its details belied by its symmetrical massing. The Barnes House on the other hand relies on irregular rooflines and massing to achieve its effect. Elmer Grey’s own house has a striking columned circular front porch, an unusual image that points away from the Craftsman ethos and may be related to Grey’s First Church of Christ Scientist in Los Angeles of the same year.

Stepping into the Barnes House, one immediately senses the qualities for which Grey was well-known, his ability to establish “the big proportions of space and mass, solid and void, light and shadow . . . . Combining with this perception of good proportions a sense of restrained enrichment, a sympathetic use of materials and choice of colors, we may find a definition of the qualities that attract us most of all in the ensemble of Mr. Grey’s work.”11

 

62 Moriarity Drive Wilton CT 06897

Eliot Noyes & Bob Graf, Designers

The Noyes Graf House, 1966

The Noyes Graf House - Midcentury Modern

In 1966 Eliot Noyes and Bob Graf designed the iconic Mobil service stations that would come to define a sleek new modernism in America. This is Bob Graf’s own home, mid-century modern perfection restored and improved to energy efficient 21st century standards. The granite walls are stunning, the rosewood details sublime. But what you’ll remember are the expansive views from this hilltop setting on 2 manicured acres overlooking a beautiful pool to 150 acres of woods and streams.

Schindler’s Translucent Tischler House

 

By Judith Sheine

Photographs by Grand Mudford

 

The Tischler house (1949-50) is a late development of R.M. Schindler’s “space architecture” and the project in which the architect most fully explored his vision of a “translucent house.” While other architects were designing flat-roofed glass-walled houses, Schindler, having done that in his own house and studio on Kings Road in 1921-22, had moved on to increasingly radical designs that challenged the boundaries of modern architecture. The Tischler house is the result of Schindler’s experimentations in space, materials and color, in a project for an artist who could appreciate the architect’s work.

Adolph Tischler (1917-2015) was an artist and a silversmith who worked as a painter and designer of modern flatware; he later became head of the graphics department at the Aerospace Corporation. In 1949, Tischler and his wife Beatrice were looking for an architect to design a house for their family on a hillside lot in Los Angeles, just west of the University of California, Los Angeles campus. They interviewed several architects, including Richard Neutra and Craig Ellwood, along with Schindler. Tischler said that Schindler gave him a list of some houses and apartments he had designed; after he visited the Falk apartment penthouse (1939-40) in the Silver Lake neighborhood he knew that Schindler was the architect for his house.

The Falk penthouse was a complex and dramatic space, opening to a deck and a spectacular view of Los Angeles to the west and to a private garden to the east. Within the space, two bedrooms, a few steps down from the main living area, were expressed as solid volumes with clerestory windows opening to the larger space and a view of the unusual patterned plywood ceiling that wrapped down the walls to door-height. The Tischler house would have many of those spatial characteristics, but would carry Schindler’s ideas about “space” architecture even further.

How did Schindler come to design such a radical house – so radical that a neighbor started a petition (unsuccessful!) to try to stop its completion? Schindler made radical designs from the beginning of his independent career in Southern California in 1921. While clearly learning from his mentors, Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos and Frank Lloyd Wright, Schindler synthesized their influences and ideas, as well as those of other architects and vernacular traditions, to come up with his own highly original form of modern architecture.

R.M. Schindler was born in Vienna in 1887. He entered the Vienna Polytechnic University to study architecture in 1906, graduating in 1911. However, in 1910 he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts, which was then so closely associated with the architect Otto Wagner that it was known as the Wagenerschule. There, Schindler was exposed to a design education that combined architectural theory with design, a path he followed throughout his career, writing short theoretical articles while practicing. Wagner had published a book in 1896 called Modern Architecture, that called for architects to reject the use of historicist styles and, instead, to develop a language using new materials and construction methods and a design vocabulary for each building based on its purpose. Schindler was also influenced by the architect Adolf Loos’s even more radical ideas. Along with Loos’ rejection of all applied ornament, which he likened to criminal activity in his 1908 essay “Ornament and Crime,” Loos believed that architecture should focus on the design of interior space; he developed projects, starting around 1910, that exhibited changes in floor and ceiling levels to articulate complex, interlocking spaces. However, perhaps the biggest influence on Schindler’s career was the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Schindler saw Wright’s Wasmuth Portfolio (1910), which was widely influential in Europe, in 1911. While Wagner’s and Loos’s designs were among the most radical in Europe, Schindler saw in Wright’s work, an architecture of horizontal planes and flowing spaces that, as Wright described them, “broke out of the box.” Already encouraged to go to America by Loos, who had spent several years there and much admired American technology, Schindler answered an advertisement for work in Chicago by the architecture firm Ottenheimer, Stern and Reichert, and arrived in Chicago in March 1914. Schindler hoped to work for Wright, but Wright did not yet have work for him. After the outbreak of the first World War, thinking he was soon to be deported back to Austria, Schindler took a train trip out West in 1915, visiting San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, where he saw the work of Irving Gill, which had significant similarities to that of Loos in Vienna. On the way back to Chicago, he stopped in Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico and was much taken with the adobes of the Spanish Mission style buildings and the Native American pueblos, with their thick walls and exposed timber roof structures.

Schindler meant his time in America to be temporary, but after World War I, the economic outlook in Europe was not encouraging. In February 1918, Schindler finally began working for Wright, essentially running his office out of the Oak Park house and studio while Wright was in Japan working on the Imperial Hotel. Wright’s most significant American client at this time was the oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, for whom Wright was designing a house and theatre complex in Los Angeles. Barnsdall was not happy with its progress, so in December 1920, Wright sent Schindler, who was by then married to an American, Pauline Gibling, to Los Angeles to work on the Barnsdall project.

By early fall 1921, work on the Barnsdall house was nearing completion and the Schindlers decided to stay in Southern California and build their own house and studio, modeled on the ideal of integrated working and living that they had both experienced at Wright’s Taliesin. Schindler’s Kings Road house (1921-22) was even more radical than anything Wright had produced to date and was the first built example of Schindler’s own “space” architecture. While still a student in Vienna, Schindler wrote a manifesto called Modern Architecture: A Program (1912), in which he declared that due to new developments in reinforced concrete and steel construction, “The twentieth century is the first to abandon construction as a source for architectural form…” Instead, the architect should now design with “space, climate, light, mood…”

In the mild climate of Southern California, Schindler developed his “space” architecture, which emphasized the development of interior space to let in natural light from as many directions as possible and to flow seamlessly into outdoor spaces. The Kings Road house synthesized Wagner’s expression of the materials of construction, Loos’s rejection of ornament and a focus on interior space, Wright’s use of horizontal space extending into the landscape, the thick walls and exposed timbers of the adobes and pueblos and the geometric gridding and translucent screens of the Japanese architecture he had seen in the prints and books in Wright’s studios into something wholly original. This radical way of designing continued throughout Schindler’s career, with developments in his “space architecture” culminating in the translucent houses of 1948-52.

In the 1920s Schindler experimented with reinforced concrete, trying to find ways to build with it economically. Despite the development of several new techniques, with the Depression in the 1930s, Schindler found that he had to build with the least expensive construction system available: plaster or stucco over lightweight wood frame. He developed a vocabulary for this system that allowed him to manipulate the wood frame walls and ceilings to create complex spaces that let in light and opened to outdoor rooms. Schindler wrote a number of articles further elaborating the ideas expressed in his manifesto, including “Space Architecture,” published in the journal Dune Forum in 1934, in which he distinguished his work from that of the International Style architects, with their concerns about the exterior appearance of buildings, and a series of articles called “Furniture and the Modern House: A Theory of Interior Design,” published in the journal Architect and Engineer in 1935-36. In the later articles, Schindler wrote about ways in which architects would use light, rather than solid materials, to design space: “And his power will be complete when the present primitive glass wall develops into the translucent light screen. The character and color of the light issuing from it will permeate space, give it body and make it as palpably plastic as is the clay of the sculptor. Only after the space architect has mastered the translucent house will his work achieve its ripe form.” The Tischler house was the fullest realization of Schindler’s ideal of creating a translucent house, sculpted by light and color.

Schindler continued to experiment with building forms and materials throughout his career. After World War II, Schindler began to use a modified form of wood frame construction, which he called “The Schindler Frame,“ and published in an article in Architectural Record in 1947.

In a standard wood frame system load-bearing walls were built out of 8-foot-high wood studs; Schindler’s system cut all studs to door-height, or 6’-8”, which allowed him to run a structural wood plate at that height, above which he could vary ceiling heights and allow for large clerestory windows, and under which he could create large windows and glazed doors. Schindler made use of the Schindler Frame to design post-war houses with floating roofs, some flat, some sloped, that allowed light into the houses from all directions and also allowed spaces inside the houses to connect through clerestories. In the Tischler house he took advantage of these developments in a unique way.

Adolph Tischler noted that Schindler typically did not start the design of a house until he had visited the site, and that he would not take any fees from the client until they had approved the preliminary design, and Schindler felt assured that he and the client could work well together. In the Tischler house, Schindler took an unusual approach to the site. While other houses on the street sat on a flat pad cut out of the steep slope, Schindler rotated this house, so that it had a narrow three-story façade on the street, with the main house at the top level. The house is at the north side of the site, angled with respect to the street, to extend the views, to allow for an entry stair on the north side, and to open the interior to private outdoor spaces to the south. While this approach minimized excavation, the house still required more excavation than Schindler realized and the cost of construction was higher than expected. This meant that the fireplace, designed by Schindler and built by Tischler, went in a year after the main construction was finished and that the house lacked Schindler’s usual wealth of built-in furniture.

However, even without the furniture, the house exhibited many of Schindler’s characteristic features as well as some new ones. The main house was covered with a single gable roof running from the façade facing the street to the back of the house. While the preliminary design might have shown the basic concept, it did not reveal that Schindler would make the roof out of a blue translucent corrugated fiberglass material called Alsynite. In fact, the Tischlers didn’t know about this roof until it had actually been built, with Schindler, as he did typically, acting as the contractor. Schindler had previously experimented with this material for some of the walls of the Janson house (1948-49), using them to screen spaces from the road while allowing light to come in. There, he used the light blue color that came from the manufacturer. At the Tischler house, Schindler had the translucent blue roof material dyed a darker blue, to help to modulate the effect of the sun. At ground level Schindler placed a carport with a semi-circular concrete block retaining wall. Above that is a studio with a sloping glass wall facing another circular retaining wall. The studio is entered from a bridge on either side, and the main house is entered at the top level from curving stairs to the north. Typically for Schindler, the entry is a small, compressed space. It is squeezed between the kitchen and the convex curve of the pink concrete blocks at the back of the fireplace, and has a door-height textured wood ceiling. The entry allows a dramatic view of the main space with its blue roof, which can only be glimpsed from the street, and the previously hidden garden that opens off the living space.

The blue roof creates the translucent space Schindler wrote of in 1935. It covers the living and dining spaces, while a short hallway leading to the bedrooms has a dropped ceiling, making the entrances into the other rooms more dramatic. The master bedroom is the only space that reaches outside the gable, with half the space extending into the garden. The gable roof here is opaque, but a clerestory window connects it to the blue roof of the living space. The two bedrooms in the back, for the Tischlers’ two daughters, have a folding wall between them that opens to make one larger room, with a ladder up to a small play space over the master bath. The kitchen is opposite the master bedroom and opens to the blue roof directly and through a clearstory to the living space. Schindler made use of the Schindler Frame in this house, although along with wood frame and plaster, he also used pink concrete block and a couple of steel beams. Exposed steel tie rods in the main house connect the two sides of the gable roof, which rests on the door-height wood plate typical of the Schindler Frame. Schindler designed a semi-circular steel fireplace hood that reflects the blue roof and some textured wood door-height ceilings to define lower spaces within the bigger volume. In an article Schindler wrote in 1952 (unpublished in his lifetime), the architect described his techniques for the use of color, materials and textures in interior space, all of which he employed in the Tischler house.

While Schindler had been experimenting with designs in which he used geometric shifts in plan of 30, 45 and 60 degrees, later adding 15 degree shifts, the geometry of the Tischler house is relatively simple: a long bar, with the corners cut off at 45 degree angles and a circular overlay that appears in the retaining walls, the studio, the fireplace and in door-height ceilings in the house. It seems that the power of the translucent roof was enough to achieve the dramatic spatial effect Schindler wanted for this house.

The house appears even more radical when contrasted with concurrent developments in modern architecture such as Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth house (1946-51) and Philip Johnson’s Glass house (1949); both are flat-roofed steel-framed glass houses. In Southern California, the Case Study House program sponsored by John Entenza and his magazine Art and Architecture promoted flat-roofed glass houses, starting in 1945 and continuing through the mid-1960s, with designs by architects including Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig. Schindler had pioneered that form in 1921-22 in his own Kings Road house and studio and had since moved on to more complex spatial experiments. No wonder the house looked so odd to the neighbors and likely even to most modern architects and their clients. It wasn’t until Robert Venturi turned Mies van der Rohe’s famous statement “Less is more” on its head by declaring that “Less is a bore” in the mid-1960s that the architecture world began to understand and appreciate Schindler’s spatially complex and very original work. With the rise to prominence of work by Los Angeles architects including Frank Gehry, Frank Israel and Morphosis in the 1980s, with their use of complex forms and common materials combined in new ways, Schindler’s later work in particular, began to be recognized for its diversity and inventiveness.

Over the years, Tischler made a few changes to the house. Apparently due to Tischler’s work as a silversmith, Schindler made the very unusual choice to have the plaster walls painted black with silver strips. Tischler found the black walls too dark and painted them a neutral grey color. Schindler thought that when the trees grew up around the house that the blue translucent roof would be sufficiently shaded to control heat gain and Tischler hung some large circular shading screens temporarily. However, even after the trees had grown, Tischler found that the house was still too hot and covered about half of the blue Alsynite with plywood, which still allowed the blue color to permeate the house. He also added some built-in furniture and converted the studio into a guest room, installing fiberglass panels to enclose the carport for use as his studio; he also added the panels to the street façade, where the size of the original blue panels made them difficult to seal.

The Tischler house was designed towards the end of Schindler’s life. The architect completed one more house with a significant section of translucent roof, the Skolnick house (1950-52), but passed away after a long bout with cancer in 1953, so was not able to explore the idea of the translucent house much further. Fortunately, Tischler carefully preserved his house. He performed all of the maintenance on the house himself until very recently and had it listed as a Historic Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles in 1991. He worked as a docent at the Schindler House after his retirement and opened his own house to numerous visitors from around the world – to students, architects and other fans of modern architecture – and shared his experiences working with Schindler and living in the house for many years. The neighbors seem to have adjusted to the house and it is hoped that it will have a long and much appreciated life with a new owner.

1444 Poppy Peak Drive Pasadena CA 91105

David Adjaye, Architect

Silverlight

Harwell Hamilton Harris, F.A.I.A.

Moved to the Poppy Peak Historic District in 1951 by Leland Evison to avoid demolition during the construction of the 134 Freeway, Harris’s two-story, hillside design is an expression of modern architecture that incorporates minimalist aesthetics with the modern ranch. Evison’s relocation of the de Steiguer Residence to Poppy Peak further expands on Harris’s interpretation of the California hacienda or ranch. The western-facing, modest profile and low-pitched roof blend seamlessly into the hillside setting resulting an unassuming exercise of unpretentious pre-war housing. The east-facing rear side of the house is expressed through the horizontal ribboning of large windows and doors on the main level. The first floor level utilizes volume of glass walls and doors over horizontality as a means of denuding the separation between inhabitants and the built environment. The result is an articulation and seamless dialogue between indoor and outdoor living. Outdoor patios, decks, walkways, and carefully selected landscaping enhance the natural experience of Harris’s sensitivity to augmenting the physical landscape. Mills Act approved in 2010 for significant tax savings. The home has been featured on Pasadena Heritage home tours as well as the recipient of the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation’s Golden Arrow landscape award.

531 Harrow Road London UK W10 4RH

David Adjaye, Architect

Silverlight

afs-1093

On the market for the first time since its construction, Silverlight by David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates is an incredible feat of engineering in contemporary architecture. Iconic, groundbreakding and inspiring. Encompassing five floors of contemporary canal-side living, the concept for this award-winning new-build home was to respond to its urban context; located on a strip of land between the Harrow Road and the Grand Union Canal.

Grayswood – Haslemere Surrey UK

Amyas Connell, Architect

Sir Arthor Lowes Dickinson Residence, 1931-1933

Amyas Connell, Architect

Located in the pretty village of Grayswood near Haslemere, is one of the most remarkable and admired in the history of British architecture, a fact which is reflected in its rare Grade II listing.

A substantial five / six bedroom house, surrounded by approximately 12 acres of land, it was originally built for the noted accountant Sir Arthur Lowes Dickinson in 1931-33. Designed by Amyas Connell, a pioneering New Zealander who settled in London and formed, alongside Basil Ward and Colin Lucas, one of the most important British architecture practices of the 20th Century, Connell, Ward & Lucas.

The house remains remarkably true to Connell’s original scheme, a design that priorities quality of light and space. It was refurbished by the leading specialists in Modern houses, Avanti Architects, in 1993 and has always been occupied by enthusiastic and considerate owners.

Accommodation on the ground floor includes a wonderful living room that fills with light thanks to a ribbon of windows that runs along two sides. There is also a dining room, which features the original sculptural fireplace, a breakfast room and second reception room / studio. The latter space is the only part of the house that was not part of Connell’s original scheme and there is a possibility, subject to the usual permissions, that this could be replaced and used to house a larger kitchen / dining room. The current kitchen is reached via a small set of steps that also lead on to a ground floor study.
A magnificent stairway, encased in glass, leads to the first floor (and roof garden beyond). Here there is master bedroom with ensuite bathroom and similar ribbon of windows as can be found in the living room. Four further bedrooms and two bathrooms occupy the rest of the floor.

 

Read more here!

180 South San Rafael Avenue Pasadena CA 91105

Smith & Williams, Architects

Architectural Gem, 1959

Smith & Williams

First time on the market since 1968, this stunning 1959 Smith & Williams architectural gem is located on almost 2 acres on one of Pasadena’s most premier streets, overlooking the arroyo with panoramic views of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Mountains, at the end of a long gated private drive. From the famed USC School of Architecture and contemporaries of Gregory Ain, Harwell Hamilton Harris, A. Quincy Jones, John Lautner, Rafael Soriano and Thornton Abell, this iconic mid-century Smith & Williams features a perfect blend of inside and outside, high ceilings, walls of glass, expansive views from each room, original terrazzo floors and fireplace, a detached office/studio, and Japanese-inspired architectural details. Known for their keen sense of site planning and refined integration of building to landscape, this 3 bedroom 3 bath, one-of-a-kind vintage property retains many original features, including original windows, doors, and abundant architectural details. The sprawling park-like grounds feature mature trees, a pool with rustic boulders in a bucolic setting overlooking a large part of the property once used as a horse corral. Almost untouched, this is rare opportunity to restore an important architectural property.

2008 Federal Avenue Los Angeles CA 90025

Studio 0.10 Architects

The Mü/SH Residence

Studio 0.10 Architects

Studio 0.10 architects’ international prize winning residence was finished in 2008 a few blocks West of the Sawtelle ‘strip’. Neighboring a one acre nursery, its two custom-patterned zinc clad buildings are connected by a private courtyard leading into the main house’s spacious living area and kitchen. Staircases with views ascend to an integrated office/gallery space and guest suite. The top level has a generous master suite, expansive master bath and wide views of green and city. The front building houses a separate guest apartment,a 4 car garage, a generous bright art studio/loft with a bonus room and bathroom. A one of a kind property for entertaining with space to display an art collection, views in all directions and privacy. The main 3 level building is steel engineered for high earthquake safety.