Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cultured Traveler

Julius Shulman photographed Fire Station No. 28,
644 Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles,
(which I did not see but drove past heading for the freeway)
for the Historic American Buildings Survey, or HABS.

Back home, I am catching up on some newspapers published while Melvin and I were in Los Angeles.  The "Cultured Traveler" column in the April 22 New York Times was written by Sam Lubell, one of the authors of Julius Shulman Los Angeles: The Birth of a Modern Metropolis, published a year ago.  Several of Shulman's architectural photographs are iconic and he helped popularize mid-century modernism, especially residences in Southern California.

Lubell highlights four L.A. structures Shulman (1910-2009) photographed that contemporary travelers can visit.  I didn't tour the interiors of any of them, but I saw three of the four (more or less), and a good deal more architecture on our recent trip.

The four structures on Lubell's list are Hollyhock House, Watts Towers, the Eames House and Case Study House 22.

I wrote earlier that I saw Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House (1919-1921), built for the oil heiress Aline Barnsdall. Tours of the home, located in a City of Los Angeles park with municipal cultural facilities, are limited while it undergoes renovation.

Barnsdall Art Park is also home to the Wright-designed "Residence 'A'." The building suffered damage during the Northridge earthquake but that doesn't keep it from being a good place to celebrate the high life.

On our second to last day, Melvin and I visited Watts Towers, a sculpture (if you will) built by Simon Rodia over a 30-year period ending in 1955. The structure is the subject of a documentary film, by the way, available for $24.95.

Despite being relatively close on Monday, we didn't head over to the Eames House (1949), the Pacific Palisades home of designers Charles and Ray Eames. I did, however, see a reproduction of their living room, installed in California Design, 1930-1965: "Living in a Modern Way," at LACMA. Interestingly, the installation was the one part of the exhibit where photography was prohibited.

The Eames may be best known for their chairs
such as DCW (dining chair wood), from 1946-1949,
which was included the LACMA exhibit.

Case Study House 22 (1960), also known as the Stahl House, wasn't even on our radar but at $60 for the two of us, I don't know if we would have taken a tour anyway.

This Shulman photograph of the interior of Case Study
House 22 was included in the LACMA exhibition.

I make that statement knowing Melvin and I decided not to join "Arroyo's Edge," an $85 tour of six Greene & Greene-designed homes in Pasadena. It was a rare opportunity but it would have taken all day and we had other stops to make.  (Lamb barbacoa, baby!)

Duncan-Irwin house, 1906-08, on tour day

So, that is Lubell's quartet, plus tangentially three other buildings.  But that is only a fraction of the architectural tourism included in our Southern California trip last month, so I will start at the beginning and proceed in chronological order.

Randy's Donuts (1953) is close to the airport and I went there first after picking up the rental car on Saturday.  Four other people stopped to take pictures in the time it took me to eat a very fresh, very tasty apple fritter.

Samitaur Tower (2008-2010) is one of several building and structures designed by Eric Owen Moss I saw in an industrial section of Culver City.  I tended to prefer the simpler interventions and thought it often only took some thoughtful landscape architecture to transform the commercial buildings.  However, I did like this structure signalling the entrance to the redeveloped area.

I went on both the architecture and "garden" tours on Sunday at the Getty Center, the 1997 museum by Richard Meier.  Among other statements made by the docents, I was told Meier designed the buildings to not look like a hulking mass on top of the ridge.  However, from Interstate 405, or "the 405" in local parlance, that is exactly what it looks like.  Not that there aren't moments of grace.

I thought the landscape design by the late modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley and later Laurie Olin, also a master of plant material, was far more visually interesting than the buildings.

On the way back from the Getty, I saw Pedro E. Guerrero: Photographs of Modern Life, a show of architectural photography mounted by the Julius Shulman Institute—remember him?—at Woodbury University.  The exhibit included a shot of Eero Saarinen's 1961 building for IBM where my father worked for many years.

Thomas J. Watson Research Center
Yorktown Heights, New York

Since this is Baseball Byways, I should point out this Pedro Guerrero (1917- ) should not be confused with the all-star Dodgers and Cardinals infielder (and unwitting drug dealer) of the same name.

I started Monday at the Barnsdall Art Park (above), then continued on to another Frank Lloyd Wright building, the Ennis House.  The 1924 residence is the largest of Wright's textile block buildings and you really have to see it to appreciate how large it is.

Always structurally fragile, this building was also damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.  After a particularly rainy season ten years later, it was named in 2005 to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "11 Most Endangered Historic Places."

From there I drove to LACMA, parking on the street outside the 160-acre Park La Brea garden and tower apartment complex—the largest development west of the Mississippi—designed by Gordon Kaufman and J.E. Stanton.  I found the early-40s mid-rises very handsome, although others find the complex socially staid.

Rushed for time, I didn't spend a lot of time exploring the architecture on the LACMA campus (1968-2008) but what I saw left me unimpressed.  Inside, however, I enjoyed Chris Burden's Metropolis II (2010), a sculpture about cities.

Or, if you prefer video, here is one from Supermarché:

The preceding was all in the three days I spent on my own in L.A., before Melvin and I hit the road.  As Melvin wrote, in Fresno we visited the Fulton Mall and Baldassare Forestiere's underground garden and home, constructed between 1906 and 1946.  Granted, it is narrow, but how could his betrothed forsake his bed?

We also saw four under-utilized theaters in Fresno's so-called cultural district. Designed in 1928 by prolific theater architect B. Marcus Priteca for the Pantages theater chain, the Warnors Theater is the most ornate of the four.

After spending most of Wednesday in Fresno, we stopped in Hanford to see China Alley, a late-19th century Chinese community named in 2011 one of the "11 Most Endangered Historic Places" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future." Master Po.

We didn't see any architecture of note on Thursday's day-trip to Tehachapi and vicinity, although the Tehachapi Loop and nearby wind farms are feats of engineering.  I probably have written enough already about Rubel Castle, the Desert Bottle Ranch, Chan Nguyen Buddhist Temple and Mavericks Stadium, our destinations on Friday.  Here's an additional detail from Rubelia:

Dick and Mac McDonald's first McDonald's Restaurant, in San Bernardino, lacked any charm.  As Melvin has written, the City of Riverside exposed us to a second pedestrian mall, civic architecture spanning the 20th-century, and the Mission Inn (1902-1935).  I liked the Moorish-, Spanish Colonial-, Renaissance-, and Mediterranean-Revival building more than Melvin.

Photograph by Josh LeClair
used through Creative Commons license.

Pasadena, the next day, provided another mall, some attractive early-20th century commercial buildings, and the Greene & Greene-designed homes mentioned above.  Continuing on to Los Angeles, we toured the oldest operating McDonalds, which retained most of its 1953 character.

Photograph by Bryan Hong used through Creative Commons license.

We also visited Watts Towers (see above) on Sunday.  On Monday we made a number of stops in downtown L.A., including Isamu Noguchi's JACCC Plaza (1983), which was about to be transformed into a temporary Zen garden —

— the Death Star that is Thom Mayne's Caltrans District 7 Headquarters (2004) —

— the Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry in 2003 —

— and the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites (1974-76), which is some incredibly dehumanizing and still very cool architecture by John C. Portman, Jr.  The building made me think of Dr. Heywood Floyd's daughter, Stanley Kubrick's daughter in real life, telling her father what she wanted for her birthday.

We ended Monday at Dodgers Stadium, where the team is celebrating the ballpark's 50th anniversary.  It's not Wrigley or Fenway but it has a pleasing, simple, period charm.  For the record, we saw half of the game against the Braves.  The home team was up 5-1 when we left and the game ended with a score of 7-2.  "Jair Straits," read my imaginary headline.

I think I have written this before, but when Melvin and I talked about starting this blog, we considered calling it "Baseball, Buildings and Beer."  (Watson came up with the far superior name.)  As that title conveys, architecture has always been part of our touring, but only one part.

Detail of the former freight depot that is the SCI-arc, or
Southern California Institute of Architecture, campus

There is so much incredible architecture in Los Angeles and Southern California and a real architectural tourist would probably have been more selective about what they saw, and perhaps observed it more closely.  That's fine, but not what we try to do.  Looking back on this eclectic assortment of sites leaves me feeling pretty satisfied.

No comments:

Post a Comment