Archive for the ‘Richard Neutra’ Category

Neutra’s son helps raise money for VDL compound

February 16, 2010

Got a spare $2,500 lying around? You can buy a very cool black and white photograph of architect Richard Neutra taken by legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman, at Neutra’s then-radical home in Los Angeles in 1966. 

Richard Neutra at VDL House, 1966 by Julius Shulman, courtesy Raymond Neutra

The photo depicts Neutra, sitting on the terrace of his VDL Research Site, the home where Neutra and his family lived and where he worked for three decades. He moved to California in the late 1920s. The native of Vienna came to the U.S. via New York and then Chicago, where he worked briefly for Frank Lloyd Wright, before joining his friend Rudolf Schindler in Los Angeles. 

The main wing of VDL, sometimes referred to as VDL II, was re-built in 1966 after a fire destroyed much of the original home built in 1932. Neutra named the home the VDL Research Site after the Dutch industrialist, Cornelius H. Van der Leeuw, who gave the architect a a no-interest loan of $3,000 to build his own home. 

The VDL Research Site, located at 2300 Silver Lake Boulevard in Los Angeles, is regarded as a beacon for the mid century modernist movement in California for its affordable, spare design, innovative use of materials and its indoor-outdoor continuity, a concept not typically embraced by most architects of the International School in Europe.  The home was also a cultural and political salon, attracting other architects and thinkers. 

VDL was built in three waves and is now owned by Cal Poly Pomona College of Environmental Design per a bequest by Neutra’s wife. It is in need of repairs and restoration. For example, an estimated $120,000 is needed to repair the cooling water roof, added in the 1966 version of VDL, and depicted in the photo. 

The money raised by selling these 16″ x 20″ prints, all signed by Shulman and twice the size of the original 8″ x 10″ print, will go toward ongoing and urgently needed work to restore the building and provide maintenance. A total of 35 limited edition prints were made. Because of the value of the prints, the purchase is not a tax deductible donation. More information can be found on the Neutra VDL compound’s Web site. 

The story of VDL was told by Neutra’s youngest son Raymond, who grew up in the house. Neutra gave a talk last week at a duplex designed by his father, at 2056-2058 Jefferson Street.

Neutra duplex on Jefferson Street

This modern, sleek glass and steel box in the heart of San Francisco’s Marina District, stands as a stark iconoclast on a block of mostly Spanish Colonial revival homes of the 1920s. The lecture was sponsored by the San Francisco Chapter of the American Institute of Architects

“It’s a personal perspective of the place I grew up,” Neutra said of the VDL compound. 

Raymond Neutra went into the field of public health. In 2007, he retired as chief of the division of Environmental and Occupational Disease Control in the California Department of Public Health. Even though he did not become an architect, he was immersed in that world since childhood and has a great knowledge and appreciation of architecture and design.

His brother, Dion carried on the architectural torch and worked on VDL II with his father.

Interior staircase of Neutra-designed duplex on Jefferson Street

The evening’s co-host was San Francisco architect Chad Overway of Overway + Partners, the current owner of the duplex. Overway gave a brief description of some of his work on the building, designed by Neutra in 1938. 

Overway bought the building from original owner Ilse Schiff in 1993 and has been slowly restoring it, eliminating things added over the years, such as wall-to-wall carpeting and paint that covered the original steel window frames, now painstakingly restored.

Earlier this year, Overway and his wife put the two-unit home up for sale, with an asking price of $3.95 million but the timing was poor for a high-end property with three levels, a garden, four-car garage and rooftop terrace with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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It’s a two-fer: Modernism lectures and a Neutra

January 11, 2010

I recently stumbled upon a great lecture series on modernism in architecture, called “The Legacy of Modern” at the Los Altos Community Foundation. Not only are the lectures educational for anyone interested in archtecture and design, but the cost goes toward restoring a rare Richard Neutra house in the South Bay.

Neutra House in Los Altos at twilight

I missed last month’s lecture by Alan Hess, architect, author and architectural critic of my alma mater, the San Jose Mercury News.

But I managed to get there Thursday night to hear journalist Dave Weinstein and author of Signature Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Weinstein spoke about the architects of some of the much-loved mid-century Eichler built homes in the Bay Area. The audience was loaded with Eichler home owners. Weinstein shared funny anecdotes about local architectural legends who designed many Eichlers, such as Bob Anshen of Anshen + Allen, and showed some excellent photos.

If you arrive early enough, you can go through the restored Neutra House, which was once one of a small cluster of three affordable modern homes designed by the legendary Neutra. Though Neutra was born in Austria in 1892 (the same year as Timothy Pflueger), he became a leader of California mid-century modernism after he moved to the Los Angeles area in the 1920s.

A community-led  effort helped preserve the last remaining of those three small Neutra houses. The cluster of simple, flat-roofed redwood clad homes, completed in 1939, was a writers commune on Marvin Avenue near a prune orchard. Two poets, Clayton Stafford and Jacqueline Johnson, had hired Neutra to design their respectives homes and a third smaller guest house on a half acre lot at 180-184 Martin Avenue.

The project to save Johnson’s house started in 2005.  The city of Los Altos was given the house and moved it to its current site on Hillview Avenue. King Lear (yes that really is his name), who was on the Los Altos City Council,  helped spearhead the project.

The project included cutting the house in half to move it three blocks from its original location to the City Community Center on Hillview. The house was seated on a new foundation. Structural components damaged by dry rot or infestation were replaced. Green paint was stripped from the redwood and original siding was sanded and treated. A new covered entry was built to shelter the front door, replacing the original carport.

All the work on the house, including modifying the interior to be used as a small conference center, was completed in 2008. Large airy windows, which once faced the prune orchard, now face a patio (see above photo) which can be used for outdoor functions. You can read more about the project here and if you visit for another one of the upcoming lectures, you can watch videos about Neutra and his work.

The next upcoming lecture will be by San Francisco architect Jonathan Pearlman who will talk about the evolution of the modern house from mid-19th century England to 20th century America, on February 11. Save the date!

UPDATE: Another Neutra house will be on view February 9, with a lecture by his youngest son, Dr. Raymond Richard Neutra, sponsored by the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects.  Attendees will see Neutra’s house in the Marina district, at 2058 Jefferson Street, near Baker.  That house was put on the market in early January, for nearly $4 million. A series of photos and more about the house itself can be found here at CurbedSF.


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