Foundations of Los Angeles Modernism: Richard Neutra’s Mod Squad
The population of Los Angeles doubled during the 1920s fueled by a balmy climate, relentless boosterism and an economy based on the oil, movie and real estate development industries. Waves of immigrants descended upon Los Angeles from all over the country as well as overseas. Among the newcomers were also much of the artistic community seeking a clean slate and inspiration from a brand new city to break away from the hidebound styles in existence at the time such as the Beaux Arts and revivalist idioms in architecture and industrial design, to pictorialism in photography and representationalism in art.
The iconic photo above of Richard Neutra and his 12 disciples in his Academy of Modern Art class “A Practical Course in Modern Building Art” at his Lovell Health House construction site has always symbolized to me an avant-garde group of artists, architects and designers who were struggling to gain a foothold for their beliefs in the context of the rapidly metropolizing Los Angeles of the 1920s. Neutra pointing to the woof and weft of rebar and conduit in the floor slab of the Lovell Health House to me portrays the intertwined lives of the students in this class as they began to weave the very foundations of modernism in Los Angeles. This article is intended a be a cross-section of the of the beginnings of L.A.’s evolution as a modernist mecca using as a locus Neutra’s course and students. I will explore related events leading up to the advent of Neutra’s course and then follow selected student’s activities as they advanced the cause of modernism, L.A. Style.
“Schindler and Neutra came to Los Angeles to work with Frank Lloyd Wright, and I was privileged to know them right away within the first year after they came here. It seems the architects, designers, painters, sculptors got together. The city was so much smaller. … We met in a Frank Lloyd Wright house — that is, the Freeman House in Hollywood. It was tremendous to have this get-together with people who were creating. And that’s how I got interested [in modern architecture]. (Delano, p. 237).
Beginning in 1928, R. M. Schindler replaced Wright as the Freeman “family architect” as he had done in 1924 for Aline Barnsdall. Over the next 25 years the Freemans would commission Schindler to design two guest apartments and over 35 pieces of furniture. (See 1953 Julius Shulman photo below with much of the Schindler-designed furniture and Chusid, Jeffrey M., “Freeman House, 1928-1953″ in The Furniture of R. M. Schindler edited by Marla C. Berns, p. 101).
Noted art collectors and salonists, the Freeman’s frequent parties gathered many of the same habitues as the Schindlers’ Sunday evening salon/events who also cross-pollinated with attendees of regular get togethers at art patrons Walter and Louise Arensberg‘s house and book dealer and gallerist Jake Zeitlin‘s bookstore to name a few Los Angeles avant-garde venues. (For an in-depth look at the Schindler Kings Road salon circle see my related article “Pauline Gibling Schindler: Vagabond Agent for Modernism, 1927-1936″ (PGS)). Harriet Freeman was the sister of Leah Lovell who along with husband Philip commissioned Neutra to design what was to become his career-making masterpiece, the Lovell Health House. Edward Weston wrote in his Daybook entry for January 19, 1928,
“…to supper and an evening of dancing and reminiscing at the Freeman home. (The house is by Frank Lloyd Wright: a fine conception except for the insistent pattern on cement blocks which weakens by over-ornamentation.) … Harriet dances well: if she were smaller – in bulk – she would be ideal for me. We danced many times to exquisite Spanish tangos.” Blue Four representative Galka Scheyer would also briefly live here in the guest apartment in 1931.
Franz K. Ferenz, (far left in the opening photo) founded the Academy of Modern Art shortly after moving to Los Angeles from New York in 1927. Ferenz, like Schindler and Neutra, was a Viennese emigre who came to the U.S. in 1914. A citizen since 1919, Ferenz had been a successful book dealer and gallery owner at 425 Madison Avenue (at 49th St.) in New York from where he sold Viennese arts & crafts, books on fine and industrial art and etchings and prints. (Bulletin of the Art Center, New York, June, 1923, p. 242). Ferenz first opened his Academy in the brand new Fine Arts Building at 811 West 7th Street designed by Walker & Eisen (see below) in 1928. Ferenz later opened another Academy branch at the Plaza Art Center at 53 Olvera St. in 1931. Ironically, Neutra’s course in “moden building art” featuring his hard-edged, ornament-free “International Style” Lovell Health House would be taught in a classic Beaux-Arts building with Spanish Renaissance and Romanesque elements faced with ornate Gladding, McBean terra cotta and Batchelder-tiled art exhibition bays in the two-story atrium entrance lobby.
Ferenz likely quickly befriended fellow Viennese emigres Neutra and Schindler shortly after moving to Los Angeles as he, along with Richard and Dione Neutra and Gregory Ain, was listed as an attendee at an October 16, 1928 Salon of Ultra Modern Art event at 1121 El Centro Ave. hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Frank C. Wamsley in honor of R. M. Schindler. (Levy, Juana Neal, “Affairs of the Week: Delightful Affair,” Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1928, p. III-3). Ferenz and Schindler were also listed as patrons of the Salon in a January 1929 article. (Nye, Myra, “New Art Salon Gains in Favor; Project of Sculptor’s Wife,” Los Angeles Times, January 25, 1929, p. I-8).
Ferenz hired Neutra to conduct series of lectures at his Academy of Modern Art in the fall of 1928 which were religiously attended by Harwell Harris and Gregory Ain (second from right and far right in the opening photo). At Ain’s and Harris’s urging, Ferenz hired Neutra to teach “A Practical Course in Modern Building Art” (see class announcement above) which began on January 29 and continued through May 29, 1929. (See The Organic View of Design by Harwell Hamilton Harris, p. 55 (Harris) and “Neutra to Lecture,” Los Angeles Times, February 3, 1929, p. III-14). Ferenz, Ain and Harris were joined for the class photo at Neutra’s Lovell Health House by Annita Delano, Barbara Morgan and her husband and class photographer and previous Neutra collaborator, Willard D. Morgan, David Giffen and Ragenhilde Liljedahl (Mrs. Giffen), E. Merrill Owens and three unidentified students. (See opening photo).
Earleir the same month and shortly after the groundbreaking for Neutra’s Lovell Health House, L.A. Times art critic Arthur Millier published the above article in the Mid-Winter number equating the work of Neutra, Schindler and Lloyd Wright to a “new art” breaking away from the eclectic revivalism then in vogue around Southern California.
Neutra had each student choose an individual design problem and conducted the class as a working studio. Harris selected for his project a single family residence and Ain designed a prefabricated penitentiary. (Harris and Gregory Ain: The Modern House as Social Commentary by Anthony Denzer, p.31). As can be seen from Harris’s above design sketch for a home for a boyhood friend that he was strongly influenced by Neutra’s Lovell Health House, Jardinette Apartments and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. No evidence remains of the class projects by Ain or the other students.
After the class ended, Harris, Ain, David Giffen and wife Ragenhilde Liljedahl (see credits in caption below) continued to work at night in vacant Academy of Modern Art classrooms on the various elements of Neutra’s theoretical Rush City Reformed. This extracurricular exercise in essence provided the fortunate apprentices an extremely intense three-year course in architecture and city planning squeezed into one. (McCoy, Esther, ”Gregory Ain” in The Second Generation, p. 87 and Organic View of Design, p. 69).
While preparing the various elements of Rush City including the air terminal above, Neutra and his apprentices entered the Lehigh Portland Cement Airport Competition along with fellow Los Angeles architects, A. C. Zimmerman & William H. Harrison (first prize winners), H. Roy Kelley (honorable mention), Lloyd Wright, Charles A. Stone & Ulysses Floyd Rible, Clarence L. Jay, Arthur B. Gallion (future Dean of the USC School of Architecture), H. L. Gogerty and others. The above drawing and below model illustrate how the Rush City airport arrivals and departures would integrate with the other transportation infrastructucture elements of a bustling metropolis.
Note the integration of the above Ring Plan School within the context of Rush City below with appropriate green buffer zone between the school (No. 6 at the lower left in the below photo) and adjacent row housing and low, medium and high-rise apartment buildings.
In 1929, Neutra, always thinking many steps ahead and shrewdly making use of his impressionable and devoted disciples, formed an American Chapter of the Congres Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) with Harris and Ain as officers. (See my California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies for more discussion on this). CIAM’s third international congress, with City Planning as the theme, was being held in Brussels in 1930. Armed with the design fees for, and plans and numerous complete sets of Willard D. Morgan construction and staged post-completion photos of the Lovell Health House, as well as and the multi-sheet sets of drawings for a finally completed Rush City, Neutra would set sail for Europe by way of Japan in May 1930 in a monumental effort to make a name for himself.
Neutra wrote ahead of time to architects and editors in the cities he planned to visit along the way to arrange speaking engagements and publication of articles. All this exhaustive planning was being done while completing his second book Amerika: Die Stilbildung des Neuen Bauens in den Vereinigten Staaten (see below) which was also published during 1930. Ain and Harris, witnessing this whirlwind of activity first hand, were thus provided with the most invaluable experience in how to launch and market their own fledgling careers as they could ever have imagined. (See my The Post-War Publicity Partnership of Julius Shulman and Gordon Drake for a similar analysis of how Harris passed these lessons along to his disciple Gordon Drake in the 1940s).
Annita Delano is a much under recognized figure in the advancement of Los Angeles Modernism as she was one of the more aggressive and successful avant-gardist cross-pollinators along with Neutra, Pauline Schindler and Blue Four representative Galka Scheyer seen below. Annita graduated from Porterville Union High School in 1914 and was her class valedictorian. She then moved to Los Angeles to attend State Normal School on Vermont near Melrose. Upon graduation, Delano began teaching there in 1918. In 1919, the Normal School became the University of California, Southern Branch.
Delano and Scheyer most likely met at an event at either Kings Road or the Freeman House possibly as early as the summer of 1925 when Scheyer arrived from New York on June 8 with Gela Archipenko for a 10-day stay before continuing on to San Francisco to begin her West Coast efforts to market a group of expressionist artists she coined “The Blue Four,” which included Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Alexej Jawlensky.
Scheyer was likely introduced to Schindler and future personal architect Neutra through a meeting arranged in advance by Lyonel Feininger. During her short stay Scheyer also met Pauline and R. M. Schindler friend from Chicago (and possibly even Vienna), collaborator and soon-to-be client, Herman Sachs (see below) who helped her make contacts with people in the Hollywood film industry. (Houstian, Christina, “Minister, Kindermadchen, Little Friend: Galka Scheyer and The Blue Four” in The Blue Four: Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky, and Klee in the New World, p. 42). Like Pauline Schindler and Richard Neutra, Sachs had taught at Jane Addams‘ Hull-House in 1921 and was the American representative of the artist George Grosz, thus likely had much of interest to share with Scheyer regarding marketing European art in America.
Catalog cover design for the second exhibition of the Modern Art Workers at the Los Angeles Museum of Art, March 1926 designed by R. M. Schindler. Courtesy of the Schindler Archive, UC-Santa Barbara Art and Design Collection, University Art Museum.
About this same time, Delano and fellow U.C. Southern Branch art teacher, Barbara Morgan, nee Johnson, were exhibiting under the banner of the short-lived Modern Art Workers group at the Hollywood Library, the Hollywood Writer’s Club and Los Angeles Museum (See catalog above). R. M. Schindler, a close friend of both Delano and Morgan and many of the other “Workers” was called upon to design the catalog cover for their second exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum. They exhibited along with other members from their salon circles such as group spokesperson and manifesto author Stanton MacDonald-Wright, fellow Delano art teachers at Otis Art Institute Harold Swartz (see below), Edouard Vysekal and Frederick Monhoff (also briefly considered by Philip Lovell for the Health House commission), (see Fred Monhoff Papers), former Harwell Hamilton Harris (see below) Otis sculpture classmate under Swartz and soon-to-be Oscar statuette sculptor George Stanley (see below), Gjura Stojana, Morgan Russell, Conrad Buff, Helena Dunlap, Henri De Kruif, Mabel Alvarez, Thomas Hart Benton, and others. (See “Modernists Show: Hollywood Library,” L.A. Times, October 11, 1925; “Modernists’ Show at Los Angeles Museum,” L.A. Times, March 14, 1926, p. III-19; and California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies).
Sculpture class at Otis Art Institute, 1924: Instructor Harold Swartz in center; continuing right: Ruth Sowden, who encouraged Harris to discover Frank Lloyd Wright and commissioned son Lloyd Wright to design the Sowden House seen in the Millier “A New Art” article above; Viola Kepler (model); George Stanley (future designer of the “Oscar” statuette); Clive Delbridge (Harris’s client for his first building, the Lowe house); and Harwell Hamilton Harris. (From Otis Collections Online).
Neutra classmates Delano and Barbara and Willard Morgan collaborated with Scheyer on two Blue Four exhibitions in Los Angeles in 1926 at the Los Angeles Museum in October (see exhibition catalogue below) and Delano’s University of California, Southern Branch campus in December. In her October review of the Los Angeles Museum exhibition Delano wrote,
“These artists have used all the decorative and structural elements in creating new forms. You will find color and light, perspective and modeling used in the modern sense. Some are built of successive planes moving into deep space all related to form a composition, while others are built of rhythmic color units which do not penetrate so deeply into space, but which present a harmonious ensemble through extreme simplicity of expressive line and subtle color gradations.” (Delano, Annita, “The Blue Four,” in Dark and Light, October 1926, p. 2).
Of the exhibition at the University of California, Southern Branch in December, Delano fondly recalled in her oral history,
“I remember putting up an exhibit for Galka Scheyer. She came with some other friends; a man helped her with these priceless paintings. We had no insurance or any guarantee that anything would be done if anything happened to them. We had Paul Klees; I put them all over the classrooms and up in that third floor — most of the classrooms were up on the second floor — and we had these originals all over the galleries, and the students could look at them directly.” (Delano, p. 114).
Scheyer wrote of the University of California, Southern Branch exhibition in an unpublished manuscript “America’s Youth and Modern Art,”
“The southern branch of the University of California is located in Los Angeles. The art department is very progressively minded and there I found the greatest amount of enthusiasm and the greatest appreciation. The Blue Four had already been showing in the Los Angeles Musemll for six weeks when the university [Annita Delano and Barbara Morgan] came to me with the request that they be allowed to take over the exhibition for four more weeks for their students. An exhibition hall was made available, which however was not large enough and so paintings were also placed in the adjoining classrooms. The students had an opportunity to live with the pictures, rather than only being able to view them at certain times. The result was fantastic. The university newspapers had published reviews both for and against the exhibition even before I had given my lectures. …
One student came enthusiastically to me after a lecture and asked whether I wanted to live in her house. I turned down her offer, since was only in L.A. for a few days. She looked at me very sadly and said: “But its a Frank Lloyd Wright [Freeman] house! Treat it as if it were your own.” I accepted, moved later that night after a party into the F.L.W. house, where I [was given] the most beautiful room, with glass walls and doors that led to grass lawns, and a scintillating view of Hollywood, the oil wells sparkling like Jacob’s ladders. It. was a dream filled with the perfume of flowers, light, and nightlife.” (Galka E. Scheyer and the Blue Four Correspondence, 1924-1945 edited by isabel Wunche, p. 348).
Delano also curated numerous exhibitions for her Kings Road-Freeman House salon friends including Edward Weston, Peter Krasnow, Richard Neutra, R. M. Schindler and others at the same venue and later at the Westwood campus after the school moved in 1929 and changed its name to UCLA.
The campus exhibition apparently caused quite a stir as Scheyer wrote to Delano on Oakland Art Gallery letterhead as their “European Representative,”
“…I would also like very much to get a copy of the controversy in the University newspaper. … I can only assure you that I had a very wonderful experience with your Art Department, and it was very much due to the “idealistic teachers”, of whom you are one. My most sincere compliments to you and your friend Mrs. Barbara [Morgan]. Will you ask her if her friend the photographer [husband Willard] has taken photos of the pictures? I am very anxious to have copies. Thank you so much for your trouble, and please give my kind regards to your students.” (Letter from Galka Scheyer to Annita Delano, December 13, 1926, from Archives of American Art, Annita Delano Papers, 1909-1975, microfilm roll 3000).
Scheyer visted Los Angeles regulary during 1927 and is mentioned in Edward Weston’s Daybooks as having provided him a female costume and makeup job for a party at artist friend Peter Krasnow’s house. (The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Volume II: California, p. 3). Scheyer also spent three months at Kings Road during the summer of 1927 studying with R. M. Schindler the aspects of modern architecture she could apply to her art lectures while also scouting out the Los Angeles scene for potential clients and a possible change of venue. During this period she undoubtedly regularly crossed paths with Delano and the Morgans.
On July 21, 1927 Edward Weston recorded in his Daybooks,
Madam Scheyer – clever, vivacious, – with a nice line of talk for club women and art students: she has climbed all over the culture hungry! However, I don’t dislike her as some of my friends do. She amuses for awhile and can be simple when she knows the futility of pose. … but I did buy a Kandinsky lithograph, – how could I resist it at $3? Kandinsky seems to me one of the few moderns whose work will live: he has something very personal, genuine, – he has both intellectual and emotional ecstacy. This print will bring me much joy.” (Daybooks, pp. 29-30).
“Freedom in Creative Art Applied by Children,” San Francisco Examiner, February 5, 1928. Courtesy of Getty Research Institute, Peg Weiss Papers.
Blue Four sales never quite materialized to the point of self-support for Scheyer so she had to resort to teaching art at the Anna Head School for Girls in Berkeley beginning in 1926 and continuing until 1931. She was a talented and inspired teacher evidenced by her student’s work being the subject of numerous exhibitions organized for the Oakland Art Gallery and elsewhere. With Director William H. Clapp’s backing, Scheyer was selected as the American Representative of the Oakland Art Gallery to the Sixth Annual Congress for Art Education to be held in Prague in the summer of 1928 where she would speak on the success of her students at the Head School. (see above article). Delano was also chosen to represent the University of California, Southern Branch at the conference. An exhibition of student work was sent, and Annita represented the Art Department for the University.
Delano and Scheyer left for Europe in early June. Weston’s June 7th Daybooks entry reads,
“Karl Howenstein gave a farewell party to Annita Delano, going to Europe. … A Great bonfire followed supper, in which was burned a papier-mache figurine of ghastly form and mien, pillaged, as the story goes, from the Pot Boiler’s theatre at that hour when life ebbs low.” (Daybooks, pp. 60-61). (Note, Karl Howenstein and wife Edith were tenants in the Kings Road guest studio in 1922-23 after moving to Los Angeles from Chicago. Howenstein, soon became Director of the Otis Art Institute and hired Delano to teach on her off days at UCLA.)
Harris reminisced about Howenstein’s introducing him to the work of Irving Gill and Frank Lloyd Wright mentor Louis Sullivan,
“I had never heard of Sullivan, although I’m sure I had seen something of his, because it looked familiar to me when I did see his work later. It was not until, as a student at Otis, [I] went into the office of the director on some matter or other, that Karl Howenstein shoved over a typewritten sheet for me to read. It was something he had written for a magazine, and the occasion for the writing was the death of Louis Sullivan. I read it and didn’t forget it, and, less than a year afterward, [Sullivan's] The Autobiography of an Idea was published. Howenstein spoke in his piece about the influence of Sullivan. He had worked for a short time for Sullivan, but in Sullivan’s much later years. He talked, I remember, in this piece for publication about the influence that Sullivan had on draftsmen in various offices. … I did read The Autobiography of an Idea, in 1926 I guess. I was very much taken with it and became a great admirer of Sullivan.” (Organic View of Design, p. 89. Note, Howenstein’s Sullivan tribute was written about the time Neutra met Wright at Sullivan’s funeral and shortly thereafter moving to Taliesin to work for Wright).
Delano and Scheyer traveled together throughout Europe during the time Richard Neutra was toiling away on the Lovell Health House plans. Delano, armed with letters of introduction from Neutra and others and many snapshots of the architectural work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Neutra and Schindler, made quite an impression at numerous informal gatherings on the West Bank in Paris, the Bauhaus, Prague, Dresden, Switzerland and elsewhere. (Delano, p. 141). Delano met Sonia Delaunay, Marc Chagall, Albert Gleizes and others in Paris.
Delano reported on the trip in a series of letters to her hometown newspaper. She wrote in Letter 13 from Prague,
“We are having a full program night and day with the International Art Congress. There are 960 Americans here for the Congress from all over the U.S.A. There are at least 24 from California.” (“A Trip to Europe as Told in Series of Letters from Annita Delano, a Porterville Girl,” Porterville Evening Recorder, November 23, 1928, p. 2.)
During the time Delano was attending Neutra’s Academy of Modern Art class, Scheyer arranged for an exhibition of her work at the Oakland Art League in March 1929 which received front page coverage in the Los Angeles Evening Herald. (see below).
Upon her return from Europe in the fall of 1928, Delano lectured widely to various educational and artist groups on her experiences at the conference and the latest trends in modern European art education. Eleanor Lemaire, hired in 1926 by Bullock’s P. G. Winnett to modernize the downtown store and select for sale modern objects designed by local craftsmen, heard one of Delano’s lectures and introduced herself. About this time Winnett had also commissioned Lemaire to coordinate the interior design for the new flagship store Bullock’s Wilshire. Delano recalled,
“And they knew about a woman named Eleanor Lemaire because Mr. [Percy G.] Winnett, who was president of Bullock’s, had traveled to New York and gotten Miss Lemaire to come out and do a job for Bullock’s before 1929. That was to do with modern objects that might be sold in the store. I was hired in my off-time to help Miss Lemaire find things in Southern California because Bullock’s had a policy of trying to utilize local talent. I spent all my extra days going about, taking Miss Lemaire in my car to visit modern architects and designers, and some of my own students included, who were doing things, to help them on the store. … I found people for Miss Lemaire, like John Weber, who helped her do many of the rooms, [Jock] Peters for the entrance hall or lobby — whatever they called it there in the entrance. It’s still good today. New carpets were designed, new draperies that went together, and new ideas where you could look through the store and look out through the windows. I really collaborated with Miss LeMaire for over a year in this work and really was a friend until she died [in 1975].”
Delano introduced Lemaire to Jock Peters, John Weber, Kem Weber, Herman Sachs, Gjura Stojana, George Stanley, Eugene Maier-Krieg, and former student and talented furniture designer Paul Williams (not the architect). Lemaire hired them all (except Kem Weber, who was busy designing the interiors for the Sommer and Kaufmann Shoe Store in San Francisco) and immediately put them to work on various phases of the interior design work for Bullock’s Wilshire discussed later below.
Bullock’s Wilshire broke ground in November 1928, the same month as Neutra’s Lovell Health House. (see below). The foundation work was taking place concurrently with the Lovell foundation in the opening January 1929 photo of Neutra’s class.
P. G. Winnett’s original motivation for hiring Lemaire, besides modernizing Bullock’s downtown store, was likely to keep up with the trends toward modern merchandising being set by Macy’s and others in New York and nearby local competitor Barker Brothers.
Within a year after beginning at Barker Brothers, Weber became Art Director, where he remained until l927. He designed modern furniture and established the store’s Modes and Manners shop in 1926 (see below) where Angelenos could purchase the latest in Art Deco and Moderne objects from Europe and the East Coast influenced by the trend-setting 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne in Paris which Weber attended during a European buying trip. Weber befriended the Schindler’s in 1921, shortly after moving to Los Angeles and going to work at Barker Brothers. He and his wife Erika were also warmly welcomed by friends from their Kings Road inner circle such as Annita Delano, Edward Weston, Henrietta Shore, Peter Krasnow, Richard Neutra, J. R. Davidson, Lloyd Wright and Paul Frankl.
Edward Weston wrote in his Daybook on May 28, 1928,
“Peter and Rose Krasnow, Henry Shore and I joined Erika Weber in meeting Kem, returning from New York where he furnished and decorated a three room apartment at Macy’s International Exposition of Art in Industry. Peter, Henry and I were each represented in his rooms.” (See piece by Henrietta Shore above the bed below).
Weber’s work was extremely well-recieved in New York as reported by Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier who also quoted from favorable reviews by New York critics including the New York Evening Post,
“A three-room apartment designed by Kem Weber of Los Angeles and intended to serve the purposes of six rooms is the best American contribution to an exhibition of decorative art that it has been my lot to behold.”
and the executuve vice president of Macy’s in a letter to Weber which read,
“I am greatly pleased that your work, above all others, has been the most admired in the exposition.” (Millier, “Californian’s Furniture Wins New York Public,” L.A. Times, June 10, 1928).
Kem Weber’s success in New York in 1928 resulted in his inclusion as a charter member of the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen headquartered in that city. (see above). Weber proposed the formation of a Pacific Coast Chapter to the group when he traveled to New York in July to become the first non-businessman to address a meeting of the National Retail Dry Goods Association on “The Value of Artistic Effort in Merchandizing.” (“Designers Unite,” L.A. Times, July 29, 1928, p. III-20). Franz Ferenz also hired Weber to lecture at his Academy of Modern Art during 1928. (“Modern Art Talks,” L.A. Times, July 29, 1928, P. III-20).
P. G. Winnett had hired the architectural firm of John Parkinson & Donald B. Parkinson in 1925 to design Bullock’s new flagship store, Bullock’s Wilshire, in an elegant style within a traditional framework. The plans were well along when Winnett and Donald Parkinson visited the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne in Paris. When Winnett and Parkinson returned from Paris they decided to scrap their original vision for a much more prominent Art Deco expression inspired by Los Angeles’s passion for the automobile manifested in the design and decoration of the dramatic and elegant porte cochere at the rear of the store. (See Bullock’s Wilshire by Margaret Leslie Davis, pp. 38-39).
Concurrent with the groundbreaking and initial phases of Bullock’s Wilshire construction, Lemaire and Delano collaborated on a related exhibition “Decorative and Fine Arts of Today” (see announcement and catalog below) at the downtown store (see above) to help boost Christmas sales, promote the new store then under construction and keep up with Macy’s and Barker Brothers “modern” marketing efforts. Delano collected and curated the work of the local artists and designers included in the show including, besides herself, Kem Weber (see earlier above), Peter Krasnow, Henrietta Shore, Edward Weston, Edouard Vysekal, George Stanley, Jock Peters, Richard Neutra, R. M. Schindler and Frederick Monhoff, many of whom were also working on Bullock’s Wilshire interiors. Of the trend towards modernism in design L. A. Times art critic Arthur Millier wrote,
“Following the lead of similar exhibitions in New York and other large cities, this is in the nature of an experiment in which the local public’s pulse will be felt. … [including] fine art, craft work and architectural exhibits from those artists of Southern California who are working in the modern spirit of simple, sensitive design.” (Millier, Arthur, “Decorative Art of Today,” L.A. Times, December 9, 1928, p. III-13).
Delano included in the exhibition: 15 Edward Weston photographs, paintings, drawings and sculpture from Peter Krasnow, two or her own watercolors, eight lithographs and paintings from Henrietta Shore, Kem Weber designs for an entrance hall, dining room, bedroom and bathroom (likely the same drawings and/or photos used in the earlier-discussed Macy’s exhibition), sculpture by George Stanley, R. M. Schindler’s Wolfe House on Catalina Island, Lovell Beach House in Newport Beach (likely with photos by Edward Weston), and 3 other projects, five interiors designed by Jock Peters, drawings and watercolors by Edouard Vysekal, architectural designs by Fred Monhoff, Richard Neutra’s Rush City railroad terminal, office and store building and Metropolitan Business District and more by others.
An Exposition of Decorative Arts of Today exhibition catalogue, Bullock’s, December 1928. Catalogue design by Jock Peters. Courtesy of the UC-Santa Barbara, University Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collections, Jock Peters Collection.
Jock Peters portrait by Brett Weston, likely commissioned by Pauline Schindler circa 1930. Courtesy of the UC-Santa Barbara, University Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collections, Jock Peters Collection. (Image discovered by archivist Melinda Gandara to whom I am indebted for sharing with me.)
Jock Peters, like Kem Weber, was a German emigre who apprenticed with Peter Behrens for two years prior to World War I. He moved to Los Angeles in 1923 and found work as an architect and art director with with the Famous Players/Lasky Corporation (Paramount Pictures) between 1924 and 1927. He started his own firm with his brother called Peter Brothers Modern American Design in 1927 and the next year won a pair of first prizes in national furniture and rug design competitions. Peters’ offices were located in the Fine Arts Building one floor above F. K. Ferenz’s Academy of Modern Art classrooms. Later that year Lemaire commissioned Peters to design most of the first two signature floors of Bullock’s Wilshire.
Sonia Delaunay, befriended by Delano during her European trip with Galka Scheyer in the summer of 1928, was commissioned to design carpets for Jock Peter’s Perfume Hall seen below.
Gjura Stojana, 1922, Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston, 1921. From
Gjura Stojana (see above), an oft-mentioned friend in Edward Weston’s Daybooks and long-time friend of Delano’s, was hired by Lemaire to create “The Spirit of Sports,” a forty-foot mural for the Sportswear Department. (see below). Delano recalled,
“Miss Lemaire wanted a mural somewhere, and I had introduced her to Gjura Stojana. He was a Gypsy from Rumania that I knew, or from one of those Balkan states, and a very creative person. I took Miss Lemaire to see what he was doing at the time. She hired hint to do a mural in the sports section on the first floor of Bullock’s Wilshire, and it’s there today and untouched, and it’s just beautiful. The colors are soft and yet rich enough and contrasting enough. He had inlay, he has little glass and different kinds of metals put in, and wood; and it’ a beautiful accessory to that part of the store.” (Delano, p. 180).
Herman Sachs, yet another German emigre mentioned earlier, moved to Los Angeles in 1923 from Dayton, Ohio where he was Director of the Dayton Museum of Arts and before that, Director of the Chicago Industrial Art School and teacher of industrial art at Jane Addams‘ Hull-House. He immediately made a splash at an August 1923 meeting of the American Institute of Architects where he was invited to speak on “Color in Relation to Life in Architecture.” Sachs stated,
“In the rapidly changing styles in dress, home decoration, and in nearly all the details of modern life, there appears to be an underlying desire for beauty that finds expression in color. Yet in our architecture the life-giving quality of color is conspicuously absent. Whatever strides are made – and great advance has been made in technical construction, we cannot honestly dispute the beauty of the architecture of the ancient days when color was as dominant a factor as form.” (Anderson, Anthony, “Our Architecture Declared Moribund,” L.A. Times, August 26, 1923, p. III-22).
Sachs had previously done interiors and art work in other Parkinson & Parkinson buildings such as the Los Angeles Gas Company Building, the Los Angeles City Hall and the Title Insurance and Trust Company Building. By the time Lemaire commissioned him for work on Bullock’s Wilshire he was already living in his Schindler-designed apartment building in Silverlake.
Sculptor Eugene Maier-Krieg, another German emigre, was hired by Lemaire to create plaster reliefs such as the hurdlers, polo players and a child riding on a comet’s tail for the Saddle Shop seen below and other various locations. Maier-Krieg studied with Karl Deibele and continued at the Stuttgart Art Academy where he later became an assistant professor. He came to the U.S. in 1924 and after a short period in New York moved to Hollywood where he worked for various movie studios. He was also commissioned by Kem Weber about the same time to do similar work on the Sommer and Kaufman Shoe Store in San Francisco. (“Some New Work in California by Kem Weber,” The Architectural Record, July 1930, pp. 49-59).
Art patron and impresario Merle Armitage would soon champion the work of Maier-Krieg as seen in the the below 1932 article in California Arts & Architecture shortly before he was named to the magazine’s editorial advisory board, and publication in the same year of a monograph of Maier-Krieg’s work. (see further below). Note the busts of Armitage, Herman Sachs, and Mrs. Donald B. Parkinson in the article. (See my related The Sands of Time: The Oceano Dunes and the Westons). Maier-Krieg also created a bas relief sculpture for Parkinson & Parkinson’s Title Gaurantee Building in 1930.
The Stanley wedding, from left, George Stanley, Kathleen Cotton, unknown and Harwell Hamilton Harris October 16, 1926. From Otis Collections Online.
Otis Art Institute graduate and later sculpture instructor George Stanley (seen in the earlier 1924 Otis sculpture class photo and above) was commissioned by Lemaire to create the terra cotta bas relief panel above the Wilshire Blvd. entrance seen below. His “Oscar” statuette, also commissioned the same year by Cedric Gibbons for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, was first presented at the inaugural annual Academy Awards banquet held at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood on May 16, 1929. Stanley was asked to stand for applause at the ceremony in recognition of his contribution. (Anniversary and Awards Bulletin, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Bulletin No. 22, June 3, 1929, p. 4).
Inaugural Academy Awards ceremony, Blossom Room, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, May 16, 1929. From Academy website.
The Oscar was described in the Academy Bulletin No. 19 as,
“The prize or trophy to be presented to the winners of the fifteen First Awards has been pronounced by all competent artists who have seen it, a work of artistic merit, that any winner will be proud to cherish. It is a statuette in bronze and gold designed by George Stanley, sculptor, with the approval and selection of Cedric Gibbons, chief art director of M.-G.-M. The statuette is about twelve inches high with a Belgium marble base. It consists of an idealized male figure standing on a representation of a reel of motion picture film.” (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Bulletin No. 19, February 23, 1929, p. 2).
Delano was a lifelong friend of architect John Weber, a Swiss emigre and later to become a longtime employee of Lemaire and Associates headquartered in New York and designer of the Swiss Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, who was commissioned to design the public spaces on the fifth floor including the below Tea Room and Beauty Parlor.
John Weber’s client, Dr. H. F. Rey, commissioned Delano to create the below mural for his new house in Oxnard, CA.
Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier commented on the integration of the arts into architecture then happening around the city,
“All the arts connected with building in Los Angeles are experiencing a new thrill of mutual activity. As important new buildings are planned architects are turning more and more to the sculptor and mural painter for fitting decoration.” He singled out the work under way by Gjura Stojana, George Stanley, Jock Peters and John Weber at John & Donald B. Parkinson’s Bullock’s Wilshire. (Millier, Arthur, “Arts Working Together,” L.A. Times, June 2, 1929, p. 18).
New York and Macy’s seemed to have about a year’s head start on Bullock’s, Barker Brothers and Los Angeles in terms of marketing Art Deco, Moderne and Modernist objects for interior design. (See much on Macy’s and other New York stores’ efforts in Friedman). With the completion of Bullock’s Wilshire, however, Los Angeles captured the lead in terms of the latest in department store and modern merchandising design. Bullock’s Wilshire and the design team created by Delano and Lemaire had clearly raised the bar in the design of modern commercial interiors.
In recognition for the artist’s role in creating the modern interiors for Bullock’s Wilshire, the Art Teachers’ Association of Southern California and the Arthur Wesley Dow Association (see announcement below), in which Delano was active, organized a breakfast in the building’s John Weber-designed Tea Room seen earlier above. The L.A. Times reported,
“Miss Annita Delano introduced the guests of honor, Miss Eleanor Lemaire, directing artist for Bullock’s, Jock Peters, [Gjura] Stojana, John Weber, David Collins, Herman Sachs, George De Winter, George Stanley, [Eugene] Maier-Krieg, and Paul Williams.” (“Artists Honored,” L.A. Times, November 17, 1929, p. 16).
West Coast designers were certainly making a huge splash in the New York-based design and architectural journals such as Architectural Record and Creative Art as well as the New York Times in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Between 1928 and 1932, work by Neutra, Schindler, J. R. Davidson, Kem Weber, Jock Peters, Lloyd Wright, John Weber and Eleanor Lemaire were featured in over 25 articles in the above publications illustrated mostly by the photos of Morgan, but also Edward and Brett Weston and others. This was likely a coordinated combination of submittals by Weber, Neutra, the Schindlers and the Morgan’s who quickly established a life-long friendship with upstairs building neighbor, Douglas Haskell, assistant editor at both Creative Art beginning in 1927 and Architectural Record under A. Lawrence Kocher beginning in 1929, after their move to New York in the summer of 1930. The resultant publicity led to the inclusion of members of this group into numerous seminal exhibitions in the Big Apple mentioned elsewhere herein. (See also PGS and Richard Neutra and the California Art Club for more related context).
An excerpt from Haskell’s heart-felt tribute to Willard “Herc” Morgan after his death reads,
Excerpt from “A Friend’s Remembrance” by Douglas Haskell in “Willard D. Morgan, May 30, 1900 – September 18, 1967.” I am deeply indebted to Willard and Barbara Morgan’s granddaughter Lael Morgan, trustee of the Morgan Archive for this excerpt.
Upon completion of Bullock’s Wilshire, Lemaire, John Weber and Jock Peters instantly landed plumb design contracts in New York for the L. P. Hollander Company Store. (See below). Coincidentally, Annita Delano, in New York to visit Barbara Morgan and view the Hollander’s store while on her way to her stint at the Barnes Foundation, was commissioned on the spot along with Morgan to paint a mural for Hollander’s after running into a harried John Weber in the hallway. Delano and Morgan worked throughout the night to complete the mural before the next day’s opening. (See left below). (See also Delano, p. 250 and Richard Neutra and the California Art Club for more details).
Kem Weber was working in San Francisco on the Sommer & Kaufmann Shoe Store the same time Bullock’s Wilshire was under construction. Weber was already well-respected on the East Coast through his participation in the Macy’s Exposition and his active membership in the American Union of Decorative Arts and Craftsmen (AUDAC) His work also prominently featured in the 1931 AUDAC exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum which was published in the Annual of American Design 1931 (see below) along with that of fellow Angelenos J. R. Davidson, Jock Peters, Lloyd Wright and Will Connell. Work by these same particiapants had also just been shown in the Architectural League of New York’s 50th anniversary exhibition at the Grand Central Palace the previous month. (See also my Richard Neutra and the California Art Club).
Bullock’s Wilshire and Neutra’s Lovell Health House were completed about the same time in late 1929. (See below). Both made quite a splash both in the local press and nationally and internationally and in their own way put Los Angeles on the map as a world class city, especially in light of the City’s upcoming hosting of the 1932 Summer Olympic Games during which these two architectural icons were mentioned as must see stops for visiting tourists.
Neutra’s promotion of the Lovell House during his world tour and in his second book Amerika successfully captured the attention of Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson resulting in his inclusion in their seminal, inaugural architecture exhibition, Modern Architecture: An International Exhibition, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art which defined the International Style for several generations. (For much on Neutra’s intorduction to Hitchcock and Johnson while in New York during his world tour see my Richard Neutra and the California Art Club). Neutra, through his apprentice Harwell Hamilton Harris was able to convince John Bullock to host the travelling exhibition in conjunction with the Olympic Games in the summer of 1932 in the most appropriate venue in Los Angeles, i.e., his flagship Bullock’s Wilshire store. (See my California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies for more details.)
“Bullock’s Wilshire is a significant contribution to the culture of our generation. It will affect a revolutionary development in taste in Southern California, which will eventually penetrate to our more conservative north, and will strongly modify the development of architecture. It constitutes an unmistakable advance in the movement of contemporary design. Much of its effect is due to color and light; and it must actually be seen for its artistic significance to be realized. Not one or two, but a number of different persons worked together in creating this extended and complicated series of compositions, which constitutes a small village of specialty shops.” (“A Significant Contribution to Culture: The Interior of a Great California Store as an Interpretation of Modern Life,” California Arts & Architecture, January 1930. See also “Pauline Gibling Schindler: Vagabond Agent for Modernism, 1927-1936″).
Lovell Health House, Richard Neutra, 1929. “Care of the Body: The House Built for Health,” L.A. Times, December 15, 1929, pp. VI-26-27. Willard D. Morgan photos. From ProQuest.
Willard and Barbara Morgan (see above) were also prominent members in the Schindler, Weston, Neutra, Delano, and Freeman circles. Barbara, as mentioned earlier, was close friends with fellow art teacher Delano. Barbara Brooks Johnson married Willard D. Morgan in 1925, the year she joined the faculty at UCLA where she taught design, landscape, puppetry, and woodcut. (See above). Barbara’s work exhibited widely in group shows with Delano and other modernists in Los Angeles in the late 1920s. She served as writer, managing editor, and editor for Dark and Light Magazine published by UCLA’s Arthur Wesley Dow Association. She painted and photographed in the Southwest with Willard and Delano in the summers. (See below).
Barbara met Edward Weston through the Schindler Kings Road circle and co-curated an exhibition of his work at UCLA with Delano in 1927. Greatly influenced by his work she began experimenting in photography in 1930, just before she and Willard left Los Angeles for New York. (“Faces of Modern Dance: Barbara Morgan Photography, p. 5). In a 1926 article Morgan wrote, “Modern art, when it is at its liveliest, is a movement of discovery of the new beauties and new poignancies of our own age and of all ages as the quick, not the dead, we owe ourselves the creator’s thrill of leaping into this search.” (Morgan, Barbara, “Modern Art,” Los Angeles Sun Times, June 13, 1926, Part III, p. 31).
Arthur Millier, in a review of the 1927 annual California Water Color Society exhibit which included work by both Delano and Morgan wrote, ”Even Paris is with us for Annita Delano has done a Marc Chagall in her “Green Tables.” Elsewhere she and Barbara Morgan toy rhythmically with the Freudian symbols in “Red Horses” and “Black Cows.” (Millier, Arthur, “Water -Color Society at Public Library,” L.A. Times, May 1, 1927, p. 36).
Millier reviewed a 1929 exhibition of the Los Angeles Print Group which included positive words for and an illustration of work by previously-mentioned Frederick Monhoff and Morgan of whom he stated,
“One of the finest sets of prints in the show is that by Barbara Morgan, and these chance also to be the most abstract works here. … Miss Morgan serves it with an esthetic sauce that is not produced in a casual kitchen. So abstract has she become that we see her taking hints from Kandinsky, arch abstractionist of them all.”
He then goes on to mention her “Eroded Lava” seen below. (Millier, Arthur, “Painters and Printfolk,” L.A. Times, December 1, 1929, p. 21).
Barbara Morgan became renowned for her dance photography of the late 1930s and 1940s, especially her work with Martha Graham seen on the cover above. She later moved into photomontage and gravitated back into drawings and water colors late in her career. A major retrospective of her career was held at the Patrick & Beatrice Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University in 1988. (see below).
Barbara’s husband, Willard D. Morgan, had been collaborating with Richard Neutra at least since 1927 when he photographed Neutra’s Jardinette Apartments, the Lovell Physical Health Center and a small project for the entrance for artist Conrad Buff’s studio. Neutra published these projects and the Lovell Health House widely in Europe and the U.S. and included them in his 1930 book Amerika (seen earlier herein) along with many Morgan photos of work by Frank Lloyd Wright, Irving Gill and others and photos by Brett and Edward Weston. Morgan also had published under his own byline many articles featuring photos of and references to Neutra’s work including a series on Neutra’s conceptual drive-in markets. Below is an example of a typical query card Morgan sent to editors to solicit their interest in articles pertaining to Neutra’s projects and further below an example of an article with Morgan’s byline on Neutra’s Lovell Health House. From 1927 until the fall of 1930 when the Morgans moved to New York, the pair collaborated on over 50 articles under both of their bylines.
Besides Willard’s complete documentaion of the construction of the Lovell Health House during Neutra’s “Practical Course in Modern Building Art,” the duo tried unsuccessfully to find a publisher for a book on the design and construction of the house. The below postcards from Neutra, in New York on his way back to Los Angeles during his world tour, to Morgan, in Chicago on a promotional trip for Leica cameras, indicate his frustration with the difficulties of finding a publisher for the project. Neutra wrote,
“As anticipated, Scribner’s has not accepted the proposal for Lovell Book. Could you tell me with who I could speak now in New York? I tried everything in the world to get for you and possibly even for me some return for this work. It doesn’t seem possible. Sad indeed. Please let me have your opinions as I stay only a short time in New York. If everything goes wrong, would you agree to let Architecture Vivant of Paris have a collection of pictures without compensation (which they refuse to pay) and bring out a special issue of their magazine? I now have spent months on this matter always getting complimentary letters but nothing more. Now I will try with the other New York publishers, whose names you might give me. The slump is world-wide, still all sorts of nonsense is published. (See for your collection the work of Schmidt, Gordon and Martin, for instance the Bundt Factory). Yours, Richard. The Record published Gill without quoting us.” (See below right).
In 1928, Willard Morgan was one of the first Americans to use the Leica 35mm camera (seen earlier above) and left Los Angeles with wife Barbara for New York to work for Leica in the fall of 1930. He was also one of the first photographic editors for Life Magazine, beginning in 1936 as freelance contributions editor. This experience in the editorial world resulted in the creation, with his friend Henry M. Lester, the firm Morgan and Lester, and later, Morgan and Morgan, publishers of great importance in the photographic world. Besides, Morgan published a great number of books dedicated exclusively to photography, including the Leica Manual and Graphic Graflex Photography (seen below), Correct Exposure for Photography, 1001 Ways to improve your Photographs and Famous Photographs and many others.
Morgan also edited or co-edited numerous periodicals such as The Complete Photographer and U.S. Camera. (See below).
U.S. Camera, Vol. 1, No. 6, October 1939, edited by Willard D. Morgan and others. “Adolf, the Warlord” cover by Hi Williams.
The Complete Photographer, Issue No. 7, August 20, 1945, edited by Willard D. Morgan.
In 1943 Morgan was named the first director of the Department of Photography of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The above photo of Willard roughhousing with MOMA photography curator Beaumont Newhall and their mutual friend Ansel Adams taken in Barbara’s Scarsdale home studio not only presages his MOMA appointment but also his publication of a series of highly regarded how-to books by Ansel Adams. While at MOMA Morgan conceived the idea to publish a work of large dimensions, The Complete Photographer, carried out shortly after by the National Alliance, that would eventually become The Encyclopedia of Photography that is still being used to this day. (Steensma, Jennifer, “Willard Morgan at MOMA,” in The Willard D. Morgan Archive, Rochester Institute of Technology, School of Photographic Arts & Sciences, 1992).
Barbara eventually joined Willard in the publishing business replacing Henry Lester around 1950. Although Neutra and Morgan were never to find a publisher for thei book on the Lovell Health House, Morgan & Morgan finally published a book on Neutra’s architecture in 1951, the now classic Richard Neutra on Building: Mystery & Realities of the Site. (see below).
Richard Neutra’s class at F. K. Ferenz’s Academy of Modern Art “A Practical Course in Modern Building Art” seen again below symbolized a crossroads in the history of modernism in Los Angeles. Most of the class participants went on to very distinguished careers and used what they learned from Neutra and their classmates to cross-pollinate all aspects of modern art, architecture and design across their avant-garde circles in Los Angeles. Through their completed work, travels, lectures, exhibitions, teaching and publications they spread Modernism across Los Angeles, the U.S. and the world.
Neutra went on to receive the AIA Gold Medal after publishing (over 5,000 articles) and lecturing around the globe. His disciples, Gregory Ain and Harwell Hamilton Harris had distinguished architectural careers of their own built upon the foundations of Neutra’s seminal teachings.
Annita Delano taught art and industrial design to two generations of students at UCLA while continuing to exhibit her work. Delano corresponded with and frequently visited her friends the Morgans, John and Alice Weber, and Eleanor Lemaire after their moves to New York.
Eleanor Lemaire and lead designer John Weber had a prolific and well regarded corporate interior design practice headquartered in New York for three decades after their move from Los Angeles in 1930. John Weber also designed the Swiss Pavilion at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair and modern houses for himself and wife Alice in 1940 and the Morgans next door at 120 High Point Rd. in Scarsdale in 1941 which appeared in House Beautiful Magazine. The Neutras also visited the Morgans whenever they were in New York.
Barbara Morgan compiled a very productive career as a teacher, artist, photographer and publisher. Willard Morgan was extremely prolific in the fields of photography marketing, writing, editing, curating and publishing. F. K. Ferenz went on to gain notoriety as a Nazi sympathizer during the mid-1930s and 1940s. Little is known of the rest of the students but this Academy of Modern Art “Class of 1929″ will long be remembered for its cumulative impact on the modernization of Los Angeles.