Esther McCoy is acknowledged by most fans of our rich Southern California architectural heritage as the true pioneer in keeping the flame of recognition alive for numerous Southland architects, from former Louis Sullivan apprentice Irving Gill to the Case Study House Program participants. She will also forever be remembered as a forerunner in the preservationist movement for those architects’ now iconic structures. Her papers are now safely housed and well-cataloged at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C. I highly recommend spending an afternoon or two browsing her finding aid and on-line images. Also must reading is her oral history conducted in 1987 by Joseph Giovannini two years before her passing to get a sense of her fascinating life and letters which led to her highly successful career as a revered chronicler of Southern California’s modernist architectural history. (A synopsis of McCoy’s life can be read at Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century by Susan Ware, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, 2004. See also Being There: Esther McCoy, the Accidental Architectural Historian by Susan Morgan for a preview of her biography in progress.).
Born in Horatio, Arkansas, Esther McCoy was raised in Kansas. She attended the Central College for Women, a preparatory school in Lexington, Missouri, prior to a college career which took her from Baker University, to the University of Arkansas, then to Washington University, and finally the University of Michigan. She left the University of Michigan in 1925, and by 1926 was living in New York City and embarking on a writing career. In 1932 McCoy was diagnosed with pneumonia and headed West for Los Angeles to recover. She purchased in a bungalow in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica in the late 1930s, where she lived for the remainder of her life, although she traveled widely. During World War II, McCoy worked as a draftsman for R.M. Schindler after being discouraged from applying to USC‘s architecture school due to her age and sex. After a long and varied writing and teaching career, she died in December 1989. (Excerpted from Wikipedia).
Following is a more or less chronological ramble through the highlights of her illustrious career in which she brought alive the maturation of modernism California-style to Southern Californians and the rest of the world.
Esther McCoy ca. 1924 from “Theodore Dreiser: Letters to Women, New Letters: Volume II” edited by Thomas Riggio, University of Illinois Press, 2009, p. 308.
While she was still in school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, McCoy sent the above photo to her idol Theodore Dreiser a few years after he had returned from a three-year sojourn in Los Angeles. (For more on Dreiser and his future wife Helen Richardson’s time in Los Angeles see my “Edward Weston, R. M. Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright, Reginald Pole and Their Dramatic Circles.”). McCoy would soon thereafter move to New York where she first made ends meet by proofreading manuscripts for publishers, writing book reviews and performing research for Dreiser. McCoy reminisced fondly of her early days in New York in her “Patchin Place: A Memoir” which was published by Ben Sonnenberg in the Fall 1985 issue of his highly respected literary Journal Grand Street. In the article McCoy relates that her first work for Dreiser was researching a piece he was doing on Emma Goldman. She also spoke fondly of her neighbors which included John Cowper Powys and his long time companion Phyllis Playter and E. E. Cummings. (For much more on Goldman and Powys see my “The Schindlers and the Westons and the Walt Whitman School“).
Dreiser and Helen Richardson would later become neighbors to the Schindlers on Kings Road (see above and below) from 1941 until his December 1945 passing. McCoy would become a draftsman for Schindler from 1944 until 1947 through a tip from his wife Pauline which directly led to her illustrious career as an architectural historian. A year before her death McCoy would pen the poignant “The Death of Dreiser” which was also published in Grand Street (see two below).
Helen Richardson and Theodore Dreiser, 1015 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, ca. 1944. Courtesy Theodore Dreiser Papers, Penn Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Esther McCoy, Helen Dreiser and Berkeley Tobey, Santa Monica Pier, September 5, 1949, a few years after the death of McCoy lifelong friend, mentor and Schindler neighbor, Theodore Dreiser, she so touchingly wrote about in the above issue of Grand Street. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Theodore Dreiser Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.
McCoy’s background as a fiction writer (The New Yorker (see below), Harper’s Bazaar, and quarterly literary journals such as the above California Quarterly and Grand Street), world traveler, involvement with novelist and journalist Theodore Dreiser and employment as a draftsman for R. M. Schindler evolved her uniqueness in turning an architectural phrase in a way that deeply engages the layperson. In re-evaluating the uniqueness and importance of McCoy’s work in an essay written shortly before her death, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown opined, “In Five California Architects in 1961 and in The Second Generation in 1984, Esther McCoy established what might be considered a new genre, relating social history and architectural criticism and linking them to a novelist’s observation about character: she produced architectural criticism with a human face.” (“Re-Evaluation: Esther McCoy and the Second Generation,” Progressive Architecture, February 1990, pp. 118-9).
Her frequent articles in the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, Mademoiselle’s Living (see below, later Living for Young Home Makers), Sunset and many other mass market publications illustrated and defined the work of modernist architects and architecture for a broad audience. Her collaboration with the best architectural photographers Los Angeles had to offer in Julius Shulman, Marvin Rand and others guaranteed her work’s immortality.
Esther McCoy posing in the George P. Turner Residence, Flintridge, 1947 in one of her earliest architecture articles “Plans for Young Houses: The Turners’ own five-year plan,” Mademoiselle’s Living, Winter 1948. Maynard Parker Job No. 2412-18 from the Parker Archive, Huntington Library.
McCoy was also respected in the academic community for her work as a contributing editor for Arts & Architecture, Progressive Architecture, Zodiac, Lotus, Global Architecture, Domus, Perspecta, Journal of Architectural Historians, and many others. Following is a chronological walk down memory lane with a selection of some of her better known architectural exhibition catalogs and monographs.
McCoy, Esther, “Schindler, Space Architect,”, Direction, Vol. 8, No. 1, Fall, 1945. Cover design by Paul Rand. From Paul Rand by Steven Haller, Phaidon, 1999, p. 31. (From my collection).
McCoy began her career as an architectural historian with a piece on her employer titled “Schindler, Space Architect” which was published in the Fall 1945 issue of Direction (see above), ”a cultural magazine with a left-wing slant and anti-fascist bias” published by Marguerite Tjader Harris, the daughter of a wealthy munitions manufacturer. (Haller, p. 26). From 1937 until 1945 Mrs. Harris edited Direction, the left-wing journal of the arts she founded with the support of Dreiser. In 1944 Harris (see below), who had also carried on a long-time intimate relationship with architect Le Corbusier, and her son moved to Los Angeles where she became, like McCoy, one in a long succession of Dreiser editorial assistants.
Theodore Dreiser, Helen Richardson, Marguerite Tjader Haris and son at the Dreiser’s Kings Road home, 1944. Photographer unknown (Esther McCoy?). Courtesy Theodore Dreiser Papers, Penn Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Strongly attracted to Dreiser as was McCoy, Harris had an off and on intimate relationship with Dreiser from the time of their 1928 meeting until 1944 when he finally married Helen Patges Richardson, his companion of almost 30 years. In addition to typing and editing drafts of his work she acted as a sort of ‘spiritual advisor’ to Dreiser while he completed his penultimate novel The Bulwark, published posthumously in 1946. Harris is also likely the model for the title character of ‘Lucia’, one of the fictional sketches in Dreiser’s A Gallery of Women, published in 1929. (For much more on the Richardson-Dreiser relationship and his Gallery of Women see my “Edward Weston, R. M. Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright, Reginald Pole and Their Dramatic Circles“). Interestingly, McCoy’s Direction piece on her employer and Dreiser’s Kings Road neighbor Schindler, coincided with the last of Paul Rand‘s 23 distinctive covers for the prestigious publication over a seven-year period. (Haller, pp. 26-31).
McCoy, Esther, “The Important House”, The New Yorker, April 17, 1948, pp. 60-64.) (From my collection).
McCoy was just beginning her architectural writings when she penned “The Important House” for the April 17, 1948 issue of The New Yorker. It is a humorous, fictional account of a Shulmanesque architectural photographer staging a modern house for an important photo shoot. McCoy had begun collaborating with Julius Shulman for the first time a few months earlier for the article, “A Servantless House Meets Three Needs” on R. M. Schindler’s Presburger House for the November 23, 1947 issue of the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine.
The New Yorker article is important as it is a fine early example of McCoy’s ability to harness her considerable literary talents to her new-found profession as an architectural critic and soon-to-be historian and must have been a big confidence booster for her. The L.A. Times article is also significant because it initiated a 40-year collaboration between the two Southern California modernist icons which resulted in close to 200 McCoy articles with Shulman photos appearing in a global array of publications, not to mention Shulman’s lion’s share of the images in the books discussed below. My related article, A Case Study in the Mechanics of Fame: Buff, Straub & Hensman, Julius Shulman, Esther McCoy and Case Study House No. 20, is a good illustration of the fame-making capability of this dynamic duo. Every architect worth their salt in the 1950s and 60s knew that McCoy’s and Shulman’s skills and close association with Arts & Architectureeditor John Entenza could open many doors for them. Their joint work for Harwell Hamilton Harris disciple Gordon Drake has similarly kept his legend alive. (See also The Post-War Publicity Partnership of Julius Shulman and Gordon Drake: Gordon Drake: An Annotated & Illustrated Bibliography).
McCoy, Esther, “The Cape,” in The Best American Short Stories 1950 edited by Martha Foley, Houghton-Mifflin. From Royal Books.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, while still transitioning into her architectural historian career, McCoy continued to write prize-winning fiction evidenced by her short story, “The Cape” being published in the October 1949 issue of Harper’s Bazaar and then anthologized in Martha Foley‘s highly prestigious The Best American Short Stories 1950 (see above). To be anointed with publicatio in either the annual O.Henry Prize Stories anthology or The Best American Short Stories anthology, started in 1915 under Edward O’Brien and continued by Foley from 1941 through 1977, was a major highlight of any writer’s career and must have given McCoy’s ego a huge boost.
McCoy, Esther, “The Pepper Tree,” California Quarterly, Autumn 1953, pp. 3-30. Cover illustration and illustrations in McCoy’s “The Pepper Tree” by Morton Dimondstein. From my collection.
The California Quarterly, a relatively short-lived early 1950s literary review, hoped “to encourage writing that faces up to its time – writers who recognize their responsibility to deal with reality in communicable terms.” McCoy’s moving novella in the Autumn 1953 issue (see above) took a poignant look at a second generation Japanese American family in California during World War II who lost their family business, heritage and dignity and were forced to relocate to an internment camp. The contributor’s notes highlighted her rapidly growing resume
“Esther McCoy has published fiction in The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, and a number of university publications. One of her stories was included in [Martha Foley's] Best [American] Short Stories of 1950. She is on the editorial advisory board of Arts & Architecture, and recently wrote two issues for them on Mexican architecture. She is at present working on a series of studies on California indigenous architecture and the work of the early moderns; some of these have been published this year in Arts & Architecture.” (p. 2).
McCoy, Esther, “The California House,” Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, July 19, 1953, pp. 12-18, 37.
Presaging her 1956 “Roots of California Contemporary Architecture” exhibition and 1960 book Five California Architects (see later below) in a July 1953 Los Angeles Times Home Magazine issue featuring the evolution of the California House (see above), McCoy illustrated Greene & Green’s Culbertson House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Freeman House, R. M. Schindler’s Kings Road House and Richard Neutra’s Lovell Health House, all with photos by Julius Shulman. This was the first article in which she contemplated a chronology of the beginnings of California modernist architecture. McCoy’s inspiration possibly came from Lewis Mumford’s Roots of Contemporary American Architecture (see below) which referenced the work of Greene & Greene, Bernard Maybeck, Irving Gill, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Richard Neutra. There is also correspondence between McCoy and Mumford beginning in 1953 in her papers at the Archives of American Art.
Roots of Contemporary American Architecture by Lewis Mumford, Reinhold, 1952.
Another likely source of inspiration for McCoy’s 1956 ”Roots of California Contemporary Architecture” exhibition and 1960 book Five California Architects (discussed in detail later below) was the 1951 “A Guide to Contemporary Architecture” (See below) compiled by USC School of Architecture graduate students Frank Harris and Weston Bonenberger under the direction of Dean Arthur B. Gallion. The guidebook was a seminal publication as it was the first to focus solely on modern architecture, much of which was being produced by USC School of Architecture graduates. Likely to have served as a resource for McCoy’s initial exposure to most of the architects she later featured in her work, the guide’s introduction paid homage to the “roots” of California modernism with discussion of Bernard Maybeck, Greene & Greene, Irving Gill, Frank Lloyd Wright, R. M. Schindler, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Gregory Ain, Raphael Soriano and the Case Study House Program. All photographs in the guide were provided by longtime McCoy collaborator Julius Shulman. The Alvin Lustig cover design also presaged McCoy’s 1984 highly ambitious Guide to U.S. Architecture: 1940-1980 designed by graphic designer Joe Molloy. (See much later below).
A Guide to Contemporary Architecture in Southern California edited by Frank Harris and Weston Bonenberger, Watling & Company, Los Angeles, 1951. Cover design by Alvin Lustig and all images by Julius Shulman.
Shortly after the death of her former employer, R. M. Schindler, McCoy and architect friend John Reed curated the May-June 1954 Schindler Memorial Exhibition at Reed’s brother Orell’s Felix Landau Gallery. Although a period article in the L.A. Times stated that Reed prepared the display, Arts & Architecture ran an article under McCoy’s byline featuring numerous Shulman photos in the May issue which could easily have doubled as the exhibition catalog (see above). (Millier, Arthur, “Tribute Paid Pioneer Architect,” Los Angeles Times, May 23, 1954, p. V-7). Below is a photo of McCoy and other former Schindler draftsmen at the May 24th exhibition opening viewing a copy of the catalog.
Sixty Years of Living Architecture: The Work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Los Angeles Municipal Art Commission, Barnsdall Park, 1954, exhibition catalogue, back cover. From my collection.
Sixty Years of Living Architecture: The Work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Los Angeles Municipal Art Commission, Barsdall Park, 1954, exhibition catalogue, front cover. From my collection.
Having referenced Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sixty Years of Living Architecture exhibition at Barnsdall Park (see above) in early March in a story featuring his Storer, Sturges and Obeler Houses, McCoy must have taken great pains to ensure that her mentor’s exhibition opened before Wright’s blockbuster global traveling show which received much hype in the local press leading up to its June 1st opening. (McCoy, Esther, “Frank Lloyd Wright: 60 Years of Living Architecture,” Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, March 7, 1954, pp. 10-11, 41). She undoubtedly hoped that Wright would view her memorial tribute to Schindler since the new exhibition pavilion he designed for his show was on the same site that brought him and Schindler to Los Angeles in the first place, i.e., Aline Barnsdall’s Olive Hill. I have not been able to determine if Wright viewed his erstwhile disciple’s exhibition or met McCoy, but it seems likely that his later apprentice Richard Neutra would have informed him about it as he and Dione also attended the Wright opening (see below).
Richard and Dione Neutra at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sixty Years of Living Architecture: The Work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Los Angeles Municipal Art Commission, Barsdall Park, 1954. From the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.
On the heels of her Schindler exhibition in May and June, McCoy reviewed the AIA Southern California Chapter’s 60th Anniversary Exhibition which followed the Wright Expo in August 1954 in the pavilion he designed to house his show. Each of 500 local architects submitted their favorite projects for the exhibition which also included a survey of the work of L.A.’s early architects and historical buildings. Illustrated by numerous Julius Shulman photos of local national award-winning work, McCoy summed up the success of Southland architects in the national AIA Awards program also featured as part of the show thusly, “…and the fact that out of 66 awards given nationally 32 have been in California, and 19 of the 32 in Southern California, indicates the high quality of the work.” (McCoy, Esther, “Prize-Winning Work, AIA: Sixty Years of Architectural Progress,” Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, August 29, 1954, pp. 12-15).
Roots of California Contemporary Architecture, 1956 exhibition catalog, text by Esther McCoy, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park. (From my collection).
McCoy’s next significant publication, the 1956 The Roots of California Contemporary Architecture (discussed earlier above) was published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name which opened at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park. The catalog tied together and resurrected the work of our state’s earliest modernists, Irving Gill, Bernard Maybeck, Greene & Greene, Frank Lloyd Wright, R. M. Schindler, and Richard Neutra. Listed contributors of material for the show were Henry Eggers, Jean Murray Bangs (wife of Harwell Hamilton Harris whom McCoy featured in her 1984 book The Second Generation), Professor Kenneth Cardwell, Mark Schindler, Louis Gill, Sr. and Richard Neutra.
Bangs, Harris and Eggers were instrumental in rescuing the drawings of the Greenes and commissioning Maynard Parker and others to photograph their still-existing houses in the 1940s. Bangs was also instrumental in the rediscovery of Maybeck around the same time and obtained a grant to gather source materials and photograph his work. This highly popular exhibition traveled to the University of California Berkeley later in 1956 followed by a circuit through the Western Association of Museums. (See “News and Views on Art,” Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1956, p. IV-6 on the exhibits popularity and itinerary, Greene & Greene Collection: Writings and Lectures of Jean Murray Bangs, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University and Jean Murray Bangs Collection on Bernard Maybeck, 1904-1976, Bancroft Library, UC-Berkeley).
McCoy, Esther, “Yucatan”, Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, April 29, 1956. Julius Shulman cover photo. (From my collection).
McCoy and Shulman collaborated on close to 100 articles for the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine including at least ten cover stories. The above April 29, 1956 issue of the highly popular weekly is an example of an entire number comprised of their collaborative work. The pair were commissioned to spend two glorious weeks traveling across Mexico pooling their considerable talents to bring to the Times readers an exciting eight-article travel adventure of architecture, crafts and history and they delivered in spades. McCoy recalled in her oral history, “Then Shulman asked me to do things for the Times, because so many of the architects… There were two places the house architects wanted to appear in, Home Magazine and Sunset.” A great example of a McCoy-Shulman collaboration for Sunset was the below cover story on Gordon Drake’s Berns Beach House in Malibu in the March 1954 issue. Architects also knew that being blessed by McCoy and Shulman greatly enhanced their chances for awards recognition. (See for example my A Case Study in the Mechanics of Fame: Buff, Straub & Hensman, Julius Shulman, Esther McCoy and Case Study House No. 20 and The Post-War Publicity Partnership of Julius Shulman and Gordon Drake).
Gordon Drake, Berns Beach House, Malibu, 1951. Sunset, March 1954. Julius Shulman cover photo. Esther McCoy seated on deck. (From my collection).
McCoy, Esther, “What I Believe…A Statement of Architectural Principles (by A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons)”, Los Angeles Times, February 19, 1956. From ProQuest.
McCoy’s “What I Believe…” column was a regular fixture in the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine from 1954 through 1956 in which she featured a different firm each month, mostly from Shulman’s client list and including Shulman photos. (See example above on A. Quincy Jones & Frederick E. Emmons).
McCoy spent a year in Mexico in 1951 and collected source material for her second exhibition on noted architect and structural engineer, Felix Candela and considerable future body of work on Mexican art and architecture. (See my Esther McCoy’s Mexico for a listing). The exhibition, “Felix Candela: Shell Forms” (see catalog covers above and below) was held at Harris Hall on the USC campus. Photographs and drawings of 22 buildings and projects of shell forms in thin concrete were on display from May 12 through June 12 and was under the joint sponsorship of University of Southern California’s Department of Fine Arts and School of Architecture, the Architectural Panel and the Southern California Chapter of the AIA. (Author’s note: The entire catalog and other Candela articles by McCoy can be viewed at the above link. Note in particular the luminaries on the host committee and sponsors of the exhibition on the back cover below. For more on the context of this exhibition within the USC School of Architecture activities see my The Architecture of Bernard Judge: Living Lightly on the Land).
In an announcement for the show McCoy wrote,
“Engineers have for centuries envied nature’s ability to construct shells of great delicacy and strength whose double curvature produces a surface which at no point is more vulnerable than another. But it was not until the development of reinforced concrete that this became possible for man. The first shell in architecture was the Zeiss factory in Germany and since that time this form has caught the imagination of designers in all countries.
The perfection of methods whereby nature’s principles could be applied to architecture reached a milestone in 1950 with the design of Candela’s Cosmic Ray Pavilion in Mexico’s University City. A roof thin enough to admit cosmic rays was required and Candela designed and built a shell 5/8-inch thick, the thinnest ever to be poured.
In 1954 Candela was able, for the first time, to combine his talents as engineer and architect in the Church of Our Miraculous Lady. As in nature, the surfaces do not depend upon their thickness for their strength but upon the tension integrity of the material. In this new engineers’ architecture is seen the mysterious connection between the laws of physics and our aesthetic sensibility.” (McCoy, Esther, Interpretation of Nature,” Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, May 12, 1957, p. 34).
Felix Candela: Shell Forms exhibition catalog back cover, text by Esther McCoy, 1957. From Archives of American Art, Esther McCoy Papers.
McCoy, Esther, “Felix Candela: Shells in Architecture,” Evergreen Review, Winter 1959, pp. 127-33.
McCoy was in great literary and artistic company with her followup article on Candela in the prestigious literary journal Evergreen Review. Also featured in the same issue were none other than poet Octavio Paz, author Elena Poniatkowska, novelist Carlos Fuentes, muralist Jose Luis Cuevas and numerous others.
Juan O’Gorman at Watts Towers, ca. November 1958. Photo by Esther McCoy from Archives of American Art, Esther McCoy Papers.
The following year McCoy helped organize an exhibition for another noted Mexican architect, Juan O’Gorman, which was on display at the Long Beach Museum of Art in November and December and then traveled to the American Crayon Company Gallery designed by Richard Neutra the following January. (McCoy, Esther, “O’Gorman Exhibit,” Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, November 30, 1958, p. 24). McCoy was also involved with an O’Gorman exhibition at Valley State College (now Cal-State Northridge) in 1964. (“Architect Will Speak at College, Los Angeles Times, February 12, 1964, p. VII-9).
Irving Gill, 1870-1936, exhibition catalogue, 1958, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (From my collection).
Irving Gill, photographer unknown. From Archinform.
McCoy, noted architectural photographer Marvin Rand, and architect and Schindler Kings Road House tenant at the time and long-time Gill historian, John Reed collaborated on the above Irving Gill catalog for the 1958 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. McCoy acknowledged Reed, “whose knowledge and appreciation of Gill first led me to attempt research on the subject,” and Entenza for “publishing some of my early writings on the Greenes, Gill and Schindler, from which this book grew.” LACMA assistant curator James H. Elliott, arranged the exhibition and commissioned the catalog. This and the previous catalog, the 1956 The Roots of California Contemporary Architecture, laid the groundwork for her first full-scale book, Five California Architects (see below) which was the first significant work published on R. M. Schindler and Irving Gill and which also expanded upon Jean Murray Bangs’ earlier published work on Greene & Greene and Bernard Maybeck listed in the following note. (Note: Bangs, Jean Murray, On Greene & Greene: ”A new appreciation of ”Greene and Greene’,”Architectural Record,v.103(May 1948), p.138-140; ”Greene and Greene,”Architectural Forum,v.89(Oct. 1948), p.80-89; ”America has always been a great place for the prophet without honor,”House Beautiful,v.92(May 1950), p.138-139, 178-179; Article was reprinted in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, v.18 (July 1952), p. 11-16, under the title “Prophet without Honor; A parting salute to the fathers of the California style,” House & Home, v. 12(Aug. 1957), p. 84-85. (For the most definitive and complete review yet on Bangs’ rediscovery of Greene & Greene and Maybeck and her work with Elizabeth Gordon at House Beautiful, all of which McCoy is eerily silent, on see Ted Bosley’s “Jean Murray Bangs and the Rebirth of Greene & Greene” in his chapter “Looking Both Ways: Modernizing the Past to Shape the Future” in Maynard L. Parker: Modern Photography and the American Dream edited by Jennifer A. Watts, Yale University Press, 2012, pp. 92-129). On Maybeck: ”Bernard Ralph Maybeck, Architect, Comes Into His Own,” Architectural Record, (January 1948, pp. 72-79: and “Maybeck – Medallist,” Architectural Forum, (May, 1951), pp. 160-162). (For more on Bangs’ work on Greene & Greene and Maybeck and as an architectural historian in general see “The Pace Setter Houses: Livable Modern in postwar America” by Monica Michelle Penick, University of Texas School of Architecture).
Five California Architects, Reinhold, 1960. Julius Shulman cover photo. (From my collection).
McCoy entrusted the chapter on Green & Greene to Randell L. Makinson, then a recent graduate of USC’s School of Architecture and in her acknowledgments credits him with studying the work of the Greenes on an AIA Rehmann Fellowship. Puzzlingly, nowhere in her acknowledgments or her and/or Makinson’s text is Bangs’ earlier published work on the Greenes and Maybeck or Bangs’ collaboration on the previously-mentioned Roots of California Contemporary Architecture exhibition credited. This and the fact that McCoy provided no bibliography and/or endnotes in either the first edition or the 1975 Praeger reprint resulted in the creation of the myth that she was the first to rediscover the Greenes and Maybeck. John Entenza’s introduction to his longtime friend and Arts & Architecture Editorial Advisory Board member’s book is also silent on Bangs’ (and Makinson’s) contributions. Of McCoy he wrote,
“Of those who knew them [the five California architects] intimately or through painstaking studies unearthed their beginnings, Esther McCoy has brought to this book a careful and perceptive judgment, a loving recognition, and a sound critical eye.”
Greene & Greene at the James Residence, Carmel Highlands, 1947. (Boyhood summer home of Dan James, one of Dreiser’s pall-bearers in the photo near the beginning of this piece). Photo by Cole Weston commissioned by Jean Murray Bangs for the exhibition on the brothers work at the Biltmore Hotel in March 1948. From USC Digital Library. (Author’s note: McCoy used this exact same Bangs-commissioned Cole Weston photo to illustrate her July 19, 1953 article “In architecture, who starts a style?” Los Angeles Times Home Magazine indicating her awareness of Bangs’ earlier work).
I can’t help but wonder if Bangs and Harris’s, and Pauline Schindler’s father, Edmund Gibling’s falling out with McCoy’s friend and benefactor John Entenza over the underhanded way he gained ownership of California Arts & Architecture from their dear friend Jere Johnson in 1940 had anything to do with McCoy’s silence on Bangs. It was likely through Bangs’ friendship with CA&A’s editor Jere Johnson that Pauline’s father was able to find his job as an ad salesman with the publication. Pauline and Bangs had been quite close since they bonded over labor issues and social causes she and her then garment workers union labor organizer husband Abe Plotkin were involved with in early 1920s Los Angles. Pauline was keenly interested in Plotkin’s work for the ILGWU since she was arrested for picketing for the same union in Chicago in 1915. (See my WWS). By this time, Entenza is likely to have shared his side of the story with his confidant McCoy. (For much more on Entenza’s hostile takeover of CA&A see my discussion below on McCoy’s Modern California Houses: Case Study Houses 1945-1962 and California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies).
Jean Murray Bangs, 1937, the year she married Harwell Hamilton Harris. From Harwell Hamilton Harris by Lisa Germany, p. 53.
Erven Jourdan letter to Charles Sumner Greene, typed letter signed, July 1, 1950. From USC Digital Library.
McCoy’s silence is deafening in light of the traveling exhibition on the Greene’s organized by Bangs which opened at the Biltmore Hotel in March 1948 and the trouble she and film maker Erven Jourdan had with Bangs over the exclusion of the work of Greene & Greene from their 1950 film collaboration titled “Architecture West.” (See above for example). Pauline Schindler assisted McCoy’s efforts on the film by accompanying her on a location scouting trip to Carmel, introducing her to Edward Weston and Charles Sumner Greene and giving her tours of Greene’s Studio and iconic James Residence in Carmel Highlands, a short walk from Weston’s Wildcat Hill studio, and Bernard Maybeck‘s Harrison Memorial Library. (Pauline Schindler and Esther McCoy signatures in Edward Weston’s guest book, Wildcat Hill, November 4, 1949).
Bangs’ Greene & Greene exhibition reached New York’s Architectural League by the time her 1951 issue of the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine also dedicated to the Greenes (see below) admonished Angelenos to resurrect and take pride in the brothers’ seminal work. McCoy, in her formative years as an architectural historian, most likely attended the exhibition and read Bangs’ Home Magazine issue and her other numerous articles on the pair, thus her oversight can only be construed as intentional. (Author’s note: McCoy’s first work on the Greenes was not published until 1953).
Bangs, Jean Murray, “Los Angeles.. Know Thyself!” Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, October 14, 1951, cover, entire issue devoted to Greene & Greene. From Los Angeles Public Library-ProQuest.
The below article inset reads,
“Material on the work of Greene & Greene in this issue is from the forthcoming book by Jean Murray Bangs, a resident of Pasadena and Los Angeles since 1909. Miss Bangs is the wife of Harwell Hamilton Harris, director, the School of Architecture, University of Texas. An exhibition of Greene & Greene work opens coming week at the New York Architectural League.”
Bangs, Jean Murray, “Los Angeles.. Know Thyself!” Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, October 14, 1951, cover, entire issue devoted to Greene & Greene. From Los Angeles Public Library-ProQuest.
Special Award of Merit to the Greene Brothers, Southern California Chapter, AIA, March 9, 1948. From A Greene & Greene Guide by Janann Strand, Castle Press, 1974, p. 35.
Bangs and Harris’s 1948 rescue of the Greene’s drawings left behind in Henry’s damp, rat-infested garage when he moved in with his daughter is one of the most fortunate events in the lore of Southern California architectural history. (For more details on the rescue see “Sheer Dumb Luck,” by David Matthias and The Organic View of Design, Harwell Hamilton Harris Oral History Project, 1985). They organized the drawings and with the help of friend Henry Eggers, commissioned Maynard Parker and others to photograph the still existing buildings. The attention brought on by Bangs’ lovingly-created exhibition and articles resulted in the bothers’ long overdue recognition by the local and national AIA in 1948 and 1952. (See above and below). Ironically, Bangs’ rediscovery and promotion of the Greene’s undoubtedly laid the groundwork for Makinson’s AIA Rehmann Fellowship, thus deeming her lack of acknowledgment all the more puzzling.
National AIA Special Award to the Greene Brothers, 1952. From A Greene & Greene Guide by Janann Strand, Castle Press, 1974, p. 35.
I also wonder if there might have been some professional jealousy of Bangs’ notable East Coast, Bay Area and local editorial connections and earlier work as a pioneering female architectural historian. Like Pauline Schindler’s and Jere Johnson’s championing of her husband’s work in the mid to late 1930s, Bangs must have taken great pleasure in reintroducing the Greene’s and Maybeck’s importance to the evolution of a modernist architectural medium in California. Tensions almost certainly must have existed as McCoy was also glaringly mum on Bangs in her husband’s chapter in The Second Generation discussed later herein. (For much more on Entenza’s hostile takeover of CA&A see my discussion below on McCoy’s Modern California Houses: Case Study Houses 1945-1962 and California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies).
Bernard Maybeck, ca. 1948, not long after Jean Murray Bangs “rediscovered” him. Photo by Esther Born.
By comparison, Kenneth H. Cardwell, a Maybeck scholar who lived in a Maybeck house in Berkeley, who compiled the well-researched and documented Bernard Maybeck: Artisan, Architect, Artist published in 1977, acknowledges Bangs in his introduction, ”through her early efforts in gathering materials on Maybeck and recording his work with the photographic firms of Stone Stecatti and Minor White, enriched the collection of documents given to the university.” He also credits her for initiating the preparation of the important earliest list of the executed works of the firm of Maybeck and White and lists her two Maybeck articles in his rather extensive selected bibliography. (For other later books citing Bangs’s Maybeck work see Bangs-Maybeck. See also Bangs-OAC).
In his extensive list of acknowledgments in the introduction of his 65-page, softcover A Guide to the Work of Greene & Greene published in 1974 by Peregrine-Smith, Makinson is also remarkably silent on Bangs’ work despite obviously having been aware of it as he listed her four articles on the Greenes in the bibliography of his “Greene and Greene: The Gamble House” in the Fourth Quarter, 1968 issue of The Prairie School Review. Like McCoy’s Five California Architects, his “guide” has no endnotes or bibliography. Although he mentions “…Janann Strand and Francene Thomas of the Greene and Green Library and members of the Docent Council of the Gamble House,” he is mum on Strand’s much more comprehensive and exhaustively researched A Greene & Greene Guide. (See later below).
Makinson’s guide is also remarkably silent on the first full-scale book to be published on the Greenes, the highly recommended Greene & Greene: Architects in the Residential Style with text by Karen Current and all photography by William R. Current. The Current’s book was also published in 1974 by the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in Fort Worth in conjunction with the first large-scale retrospective on the Greenes. Despite the fact that William Current photographed hundreds of the plans rescued by Bangs and Harris for use in the book and exhibition, there is no acknowledgment of Bangs, and like McCoy, no endnotes or bibliography. Ironically, there is also no mention of Makinson’s Greene & Greene chapter in McCoy’s book in the Current’s acknowledgments. Coincidentally, the book’s stellar editorial preparation and design was completed by Willard and Barbara Morgan’s Morgan & Morgan Press. (For much on the Morgans see my Foundations of Los Angeles Modernism).
The exhibition and the Current’s book, like many of McCoy’s, were funded by grants from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts which was headed by McCoy crony, John Entenza, until his 1971 retirement. Wisely, the Trustees of the Amon Carter Museum named him to the board and soon received a major Graham Foundation grant for the Current’s book and exhibition. Thus the implication is finally becoming clear that there indeed was much bad blood between Entenza and Bangs and Harris. Apparently, any Green & Greene project funded through Entenza’s largesse would include no mention of Jean Murray Bangs or Harwell Hamilton Harris. In her 1987 oral history McCoy leaves us a clue regarding the tensions between Harris and Bangs and Entenza (and her by association?) with the comment, “I was writing to Harwell Harris yesterday, telling him this, because he had said some nasty things about John Entenza to Carter Manny [Entenza's hand-picked successor at the Graham Foundation], and Manny had told me, and was hurt by them,…” (An interview of Esther McCoy conducted 1987 June 7-Nov. 14 by Joseph Giovannini, for the Archives of Anerican Art, p. 60).
Janann Strand, first docent president of the Gamble House, in her above-mentioned more comprehensive [than Makinson's] 113-page, hardcover, A Greene & Greene Guide, also published in 1974 by the Castle Press, cites and quotes Bangs’ previous work in her well-researched text, endnotes and extensive bibliography and in her Acknowledgments wrote,
“Some of the liveliest prose in behalf of the Greenes is that of writer Jean Murray Bangs, wife of the architect Harwell Hamilton Harris, who gathered a great deal of source material in preparation of a book (not published) in the 1940s and 1950s. She also helped arrange an exhibit of their work at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles in 1948, when the Greenes were awarded a special certificate of Merit by the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The source material, which Mrs. Harris sent to the Avery Architectural Library, Columbia University, in 1960 and 1961, has been available to all who are seriously interested in plans and construction details. This is to express gratitude for the use of these resources.” (Strand, Acknowledgments, p.viii).
Makinson finally acknowledges Bangs in his highly recommended 1977 classic Greene & Greene: Architecture as Fine Art thusly, “…to those gifted writers of the late 1940s and early 1950s whose articles re-introduced and inspired a new appreciation of Greene and Greene – L. Morgan Yost and Jean Murray Bangs” and lists her five articles on the pair and one by her and her husband’s friend, Yost in his extensive bibliography. (For more on Bangs, Harris and Yost see L. Morgan Yost Oral History). He does not acknowledge the considerable work of the Currents in their 1974 Amon Carter exhibition catalog.
In his eloquent and insightful introduction to Makinson’s book, Reyner Banham also gives Bangs a nod with, “Rare is the writer like Jean Murray Bangs who could still discuss the work of the Greenes with illuminating clarity even from afar.” He continued, “More common…is someone like Randell Makinson who for most of his active professional life has devoted himself to the study of the work of Greene and Greene- for the last decade literally from within!” Oddly, Banham is silent on the Currents as well. (For other later books citing Bangs’s Greene & Greene work see Bangs-G&G).
In his review of the 1975 Praeger reprint seen later below, New York Times architectural critic Paul Goldberger abetted the creation of the myth (and expanded it by not even mentioning Makinson’s Greene & Greene chapter finally acknowledged with a cover line), by writing,
“It was she, almost single-handedly, who awakened serious scholars to the extraordinary richness of California architecture. There, in the early 20th century, many of the crucial developments of the modern movement that were occurring elsewhere were being duplicated – from Irving Gill’s attempt to discover a reduced, purist style, so similar to the work of Adolf Loos in Vienna, to Greene and Greene’s superbly crafted wooden houses, recalling Japanese influences and the Prairie Style. Today, given the shift in architectural interest away from orthodox modernism since “Five California Architects” was first published, it may be Bernard Maybeck’s innocent, gracious eclecticism that brings the most pleasure. But Mrs. McCoy treats all her subjects with an even, knowing hand.” (“Coast Architecture Revisited,” New York Times, April 19, 1975).
Goldberger again extolled the book in a McCoy tribute shortly after her passing,
“[McCoy] was largely responsible for rescuing the five almost-forgotten architects – Bernard Maybeck, Irving Gill, R. M. Schindler and Charles and Henry Greene – from obscurity. When she wrote ”Five California Architects,” it was with a sense of mission. And the mission succeeded beyond anyone’s dreams. Not only did her writing serve as the first introduction to California architecture for an entire generation of scholars and critics, it also did much to create the climate that permitted California’s remarkable architecture of the 1970′s and 1980′s to flower.” (Goldberger, Paul, “Learning to Take California Seriously,” New York Times, January 14, 1990).
The author of the above first edition’s dust jacket blurb errs in stating McCoy was born in Santa Monica and continues with, “she personally interviewed Maybeck at two points in his career, knew Gill’s nephew (also an architect) and over the years gathered a wealth of material on the Greene brothers.” (This material more than likely included Jean Murray Bangs’ previously-published articles listed above).
Reyner Banham‘s glowing blurb on the flaps of the 1975 Praeger second edition reads, “Five California Architects is now recognized as the true beginning of the study of modern architecture in California – and also as one of the most readable books of architecture ever written.” Additional blurbs from the likes of Robert Venturi, Ada Louise Huxtable, Lewis Mumford, and William H. Jordy evidenced McCoy’s growing stature among the architectural historian community. Jordy wrote from an academic’s perspective, “The best introduction to the subject…admirable, lucid and sympathetic.”
Jordy included most of the same architects in his 1972 American Buildings and Their Architects: Progressive Ideals at the Turn of the Twentieth Century in which he acknowledged McCoy for reading his chapter on Gill and in the “Gill: Dodge House” chapter endnotes he leads with, ”The best introduction to Gill’s work are Esther McCoy, Five California Architects, New York, Reinhold, 1959, pp. 58-101, and her Irving Gill, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which includes some photographs, a chronology, and a [13 article] bibliography omitted from the later work.” (See Jordy, “Notes: “5. Gill: Dodge House,” p. 389).
In his “Greene & Greene: Gamble House” chapter endnotes, Jordy credits Randell Makinson’s chapter on the brothers in Five California Architects as an ”introduction to the whole of the Greene’s career” and his later writings. He also lists “Articles of importance on the Greenes during the decade and a half following their “rediscovery” in the mid-1940s by Jean Murray Bangs” including Bangs’ previously mentioned four articles and McCoy’s first article on the pair in the July 1953 issue of Arts & Architecture, “Notes on Greene and Greene,” a brief piece on the Culbertson House illustrated by five Julius Shulman photos. (See Jordy, “Notes: 4. Greene & Greene: Gamble House,” p. 387).
Jordy’s Maybeck chapter endnotes list McCoy’s Five California Architects and the two earlier mentioned Bangs articles published subsequent to her 1940s “rediscovery” of him and his work. (See Jordy, “Notes: 6. Maybeck: Palace of Fine Arts; Christian Science Church” p. 391). Bangs, therefore, should have similarly been acknowledged in Five California Architects as the first to “rediscover” the work of Maybeck and the Greenes during McCoy’s formative years as an architectural historian in the mid to late 1940s.
In exposing the myth that McCoy was the first to rediscover the Greene brothers and Maybeck, Lisa Germany details Bangs’ extensive Greene & Greene research and writings in her excellent Harris biography and writes of the inevitable influence it had on his design of the Wyle House. Germany wrote, ”She documented the lives of these forgotten men, put their ideas in the context of trends in American thought, and analysed their rise and fall with a perspcacity that has left all subsequent chronicers in her debt.” (Germany, Lisa, “Harwell Hamilton Harris,” University of Texas Press, 1991, pp. 109-110).
Of Bangs’ Maybeck research, Germany described how Harris client Gerald Loeb provided a grant for her work which he originally thought should be administered by the Museum of Modern Art. Due to Jean’s strong objections because of her opinion that the sympathies of the museum were completely out of character with Maybeck’s work, she convinced Loeb to instead donate the money to UC-Berkeley. She did not want MoMA to get credit for her rediscovery of the long-neglected Maybeck. (Germany, Lisa, “Harwell Hamilton Harris,” University of Texas Press, 1991, pp. 115-116).
“Although Jean could never complete her book on Maybeck or, for that matter, the one she planned on Greene and Greene, she did write a series of articles for Architectural Forum, Architectural Record, House & Home, the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, and House Beautiful. As a result of this publicity, Maybeck’s work enjoyed the scrutiny of a younger generation. He was subsequently awarded the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects [in 1951]. (See below). Jean kept the photographs and drawings Maybeck had given her for years, actually until her death in 1985, when Harris donated them to the Bancroft Library at Berkeley.” (See Germany, p. 117 for this and more on Harris’s subsequent exhibitions of and writings on Maybeck’s work based as a result of Bang’s research. See also Sargeant, Winthrop, “Bernard Maybeck: He is a sage, a dreamer, an eccentric and California’s greatest architect,” Life, May 17, 1948, which references Bangs’ planned Maybeck book and undoubtedly brought Maybeck to the forefront of McCoy’s attention).
Citation of Gold Medal Award, American Institute of Architects, 1951. From Cardwell, p. 235.
McCoy’s silence on Bangs’ efforts in Five California Architects is puzzling since she asked Harris to write the introduction to her 1977 Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys and also featured him in her 1984 The Second Generation. (Both discussed later below). She undoubtedly knew about Bang’s unpublished manuscript on Maybeck and his work resulting from the above-mentioned survey funded by Loeb and administered by the University of California, Berkeley. Her penchant to not include bibliographies and/or clarifying endnotes in her writings makes this oversight easier to go undiscovered, thus allowing the myth to become established that she was the one who first rediscovered Greene & Greene and Maybeck.
Disappointing from a historian’s point of view, as mentioned earlier, there are no endnotes and/or bibliography to aid further research. Fellow historian Ada Louise Huxtable’s November 23, 1969 New York Times review of Vincent Scully’s American Architecture and Urbanism highlights this oversight on McCoy’s part. She at once both highly praises Scully’s bibliography and bemoans its lack of footnotes on McCoy’s Gill writings which, in Scully’s defense, were likely due to the fact that McCoy provided none for same in Five California Architects.
“It is lack of information – as if it really didn’t matter – that is the most frustrating element of this extraordinarily uneven book. Environmental assessment – its avowed objective – relies as much on information as on instinct. It is not enough, to cite one example, in a discussion of Irving Gill’s California work at the beginning of the century to mention that something has been described by Esther McCoy, without a footnote or reference that one can track down short of a bibliographical treasure hunt. Mrs. McCoy has done sorne of the best documented writing on American architecture of this period and one wants, after the book’s teasing sample, to rush to the bibliography - where it is almost impossible to find specific sources. … It is a remarkable bibliography, written as an essay; a kind of combined source list and confessional; a beautiful, running-stream-of-architectural-consciousness that weaves philosophy and criticism into an informal litany of definitive references, easily as good a trick as turning a recital of the telephone book into high drama. The bibliography is truly a dazzling performance, often telling, or implying, more about American architecture and urbanism than the book itself.”
Five California Architects, Praeger, 1975. Brett Weston cover photo of Schindler’s Wolfe House on Catalina Island, 1929. (From my collection).
McCoy’s work on California’s five pioneering modernists proved to be so popular that the above second edition was published by New York’s Praeger Publishers in 1975. Likewise, the ensuing scarcity of this edition prompted Hennessey & Ingalls to come out with yet a third edition with the same cover artwork which continues to steadily sell to this day.
Richard Neutra by Esther McCoy, Braziller, 1960. Julius Shulman cover photo. (From my collection).
Masters of World Architecture : Five Volumes : Water Gropius : Richard Neutra : Louis Sullivan : Oscar Niemeyer : Eric Mendelsohn
McCoy next tackled the Richard Neutra monograph published by Braziller in 1960. (See above). The richly illustrated essay length bio of Neutra was included as part of Braziller’s second boxed set (see above) in the Masters of World Architecture series, fittingly alongside his early mentor Eric Mendelsohn, taproot of Los Angeles modernism Louis Sullivan whom Neutra spent some poignant moments with in 1924 just before his death, and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, undoubtedly another strong influence on Neutra’s early development. (For more on Neutra and Sullivan see my “R. M. Schindler, Richard Neutra and Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats“). McCoy’s Smithsonian Archives of American Art oral history contains some very revealing anecdotes regarding her troubles working with Neutra to get the book published. As an example, she was extremely frustrated and almost had a major falling out with him while working on the book.
“Well, he wanted–now, for another thing, he wanted me to put the date of the Lovell house in 1927, and I said, “That isn’t true.” I told him I’d had a check through the records at City Hall and got the date of when the drawings were filed and when the building permit was issued, and this was 1929. And then, finally, he said, “Yes, but I like 1927, that was the year that the Barcelona pavilion…” And then a couple of other things, too. He wanted it to be that yea.” (McCoy Oral History, Archives of American Art).
McCoy expands on this in her Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys. (See later below). One can’t help but wonder if these difficulties shaded her opinion of Neutra in her later work. New York Times critic Allan Temko said of Neutra and McCoy in his period review,
“And what shall one say of Neutra? Here, obviously, the editor faced a difficult problem. Neutra is one of the most sensitive designers in the world, and very early, when there was little modern architecture anywhere, he produced buildings such as ”Health House” and projects such as bis circular school that belong with the best work of the entire movement. Yet he ranks clearly below the great masters with whom he is placed in this series, and it is interesting to note that Esther McCoy, the very competent architectural writer responsible for this essay, has litte to say of their work in the Twenties and Thirties which far overshadowed Neutra’s. Furthermore, as another critic has remarked, Neutra’s “plateau” in recent years has showed signs of becoming a “plain.” Yet It remains a lofty plain dotted with handsorne buildings, and it is to this level now, at the very least, that our new architects must aspire with modesty but unshakable confidence.” (Temko, A., “Five Men Who Built on a Lofty Plain, New York Times, January 1, 1961).
McCoy, Esther, “Pierre Koenig,” Zodiac 5, 1960, pp.58-63.
McCoy’s first of many appearances in the Italian architectural journal Zodiac took place in 1959 through the largess of the publication’s American Editor and by then her very close friend and soon-to-be lifelong Graham Foundation benefactor, John Entenza. The article was an 11-page feature on one of Entenza’s favorite Case Study House architects, Pierre Koenig, which included 22 now iconic Julius Shulman photos of Case Study House No. 21 (Bailey House), the Lamel House and Pierre Koenig House I. The one-two punch of McCoy’s prose and Shulman’s photos which previously appeared in Entenza’s Arts & Architecture the previous year catapulted Koenig onto the world architectural stage.
The well-traveled McCoy’s contacts made during previous trips to Italy as the guest of the Italian government opened the editorial doors to this prestigious international journal edited by Bruno Alfieri, a close friend of John Entenza’s pet, Craig Ellwood (see later discussion), and published by the renowned Ulrico Hoepli. McCoy was keeping heady company indeed as this issue featured an article on Frank Lloyd Wright with an introduction by none other than Le Corbusier, an article by the highly respected Ulrich Conrads on “Fantastic Architecture” and much more. This publication must have been a huge confidence booster as she had truly arrived on the world stage of architectural discourse.
Modern California Houses, Case Study Houses 1945-1962, Reinhold, 1962. Julius Shulman cover photo of Case Study House No. 22 by Pierre Koenig. (From my collection) .
McCoy will always be best remembered for her masterpiece, the above Modern California Houses, Case Study Houses 1945-1962, her going away gift to her long-time friend and editor, John Entenza (see below), who was leaving Los Angeles permanently to head Chicago’s Graham Foundation to which he was named director two years earlier. This book, financed largely by grants from said Foundation, combines her insightful prose with Julius Shulman’s images to bring to us the essence of Southern California architecture and lifestyle. The book is in it’s third edition and remains a steady seller in current publisher Hennessey & Ingalls back catalog. The first Reinhold edition seen above with the Shulman image of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House No. 22 is highly prized by collectors and extremely hard to find in collectible condition. The book was widely reviewed in both the popular press and architectural journals.
John Entenza ca. 1940, about the time of his hostile takeover of California Arts & Architecture. From The Story of Eames Furniture by Marilyn and John Neuhart, p. 89. Esther McCoy credited as the source of the image.
Robert Kirsch stated in a period Los Angeles Times review, “Miss McCoy’s forte as a reporter and commentator on architecture lies in her ability to integrate the intent of [the] architect (and architects are among the more articulate of the arts), illustrations of design, and a knowledgeable vocabulary of construction.” He presciently continues in the next paragraph, “The result is a work which will remain important as a source of materials for a history of 20th century architecture. For those seeking an understanding of the growth of California architecture, this volume is indispensable.” He closes with, “Perhaps in her next work she may take a stance which is more critical than journalistic.” (“History of California’s New Architecture”, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 1963, p. VI-6).
In his Progressive Architecture of review McCoy’s book, noted architect, teacher and critic Charles W. Moore posed some important questions he thought McCoy should have attempted to answer in her book. He wrote,
“It is fair to wonder, when a book subtitled Case Study Houses 1945-1962 appears, what effect that seventeen-year lapse of time will have on the book’s writer – are houses of 1945 still an integral part of the present, are they far enough past to be charged with historical meaning, or are they merely passe, without point, like the contemporary pages of my high school annual? Miss McCoy plays it cool, she juxtaposes houses of immense importance, already a part of our history with houses not especially distinguishable from the tract houses they preceded, with houses of the most foppish and evanescent preciousness. What is more, she has selected photographs (most exceedingly handsome ones by Julius Shulman) that render it very difficult to tell one level of accomplishment from another.
There is reason to be grateful for documentation of this remarkable set of twenty-three houses and eight projects but it would have been fun to see their juxtaposition animated by a clear point of view. … it would have been interesting to learn why, after 1950, the program regarded steel as morally essential for the short horizontal spans required in houses, in spite of the extra expense that are extensively described … When is a prototype not a stereotype? And why do these houses on their way from the particular to the general keep getting bigger” Is it in response to some social shift?” (Moore, C., Review of Modern California Houses Case Study Houses 1945-1962, Progressive Architecture, June 1964, pp. 238, 244, 246).
L. A. Times columnist Art Siedenbaum’s thoughtful 1978 review upon release of the second edition by Hennessey & Ingalls (see image below) opens,
“A new old book of the once-shiniest houses in Southern California is a haunting reminder of what modern architecture used to be in the otherwise borrowed Spanish, English, Italian, Hawaiian, Colonial and Vulgarian neighborhoods.” Speaking on the continued popularity of the book, “Esther McCoy’s anthology of glassy, steely, woody homes drawn from the Southern California avant-garde for the post-war years enjoyed a peculiar if parochial life of its own. Within the design world, it has become a kind of international classic, out of print, but in demand. When Shelly Kappe tried to buy one for the Southern California Institute of Architecture library the going price for an available version had grown to $90.”
Siedenbaum unwittingly perpetuates McCoy’s innaccuracy of the date of Entenza’s takeover of CA&A. (See following discusssion). He closes with, “The new old book is vintage McCoy, three dozen cases of it, with special toasts from the rest of us owed Esther, John Entenza, Hennessey and Ingalls.” (“Case Study of Vintage McCoy”, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 1978, p. V-1).
A notable innacuracy in McCoy’s otherwise seemingly stellar research pertained to a statement in her introduction. Entenza had named McCoy to A&A‘s Editorial Advisory Board in 1952 where she remained until the magazine folded in 1967. McCoy wrote, “Beginning with [Entenza's] editorship in 1938…” Entenza’s “substitute” editorship actually began in February 1940 and he became publisher under questionable circumstances a few months later. (See my related post, California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies, for an in-depth analysis surrounding the circumstances of the editorial and publisher regime change at California Arts & Architecture in 1940).
McCoy’s first architectural position in her highly impressionable formative years between 1944 and 1947 under mentor R. M. Schindler directly coincided with her friend Entenza’s announcement and roll-out of the CSH Program, thus she must have been privy to Schindler’s feelings about Entenza and his tour de force. Also, after becoming a regular contributor to, and being named to the editorial advisory board of, Arts & Architecture by 1952, McCoy was also very likely privy to Entenza’s CSH architect selection thought process. Therefore, I find it hard to understand why she chose not to provide any analysis herein regarding the glaring non-participation in the program of Schindler or his and Neutra’s apprentices Gregory Ain and Harwell Hamilton Harris and a few other likely candidates such as Harris disciple Gordon Drake. (See my The Post-War Publicity Partnership of Julius Shulman and Gordon Drake for more analysis. See also my related post, California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies, for an in-depth analysis surrounding the circumstances of the editorial and publisher regime change at California Arts & Architecture in 1940).
McCoy does not cite where her use of 1938 came from so one is left to speculate that the source was hearsay from her friend, editor and grant benefactor, Entenza
McCoy perpetuated her inaccuracy through various versions in subsequent writings and collaborations which resulted in the creation of the myth that most people, including numerous reputable scholars and historians, have been led to believe and continue to publish, relying on McCoy’s writings, i.e., that in 1938 Entenza bought and began editing a bankrupt magazine whose pages had yet to be touched by modernism. For example, in both her 1977 second edition of Case Study Houses 1945-1962 (see above) and her essay, “Arts & Architecture: Case Study Houses” in the 1989 MOCA exhibition catalog Blueprints for Modern Living (see later below) McCoy states “The following year  Entenza bought the magazine California Arts & Architecture. It was two years, however, before he assumed the full task of editing. At that point he threw out the eclectic work and dropped the regional bias along with the word California from the title.” McCoy by now had the correct year of editorship but was still inaccurately portraying the year Entenza bought the magazine and dropped “California” from the masthead. (Steppingstone).
Case Study Houses, 1945-1962 by Esther McCoy, Hennessey + Ingalls, 1977. Julius Shulman cover photo.
Having had the benefit of clarifying correspondence from Harwell Hamilton Harris, an eye-witness to the CA&A regime change, while researching her groundbreaking The Second Generation of 1984 (see later below) McCoy states in same,
“By 1937, when Harris was designing the Entenza House, George Oyer had turned the unprofitable California Arts & Architecture over to his associate Jere Johnson, who asked Entenza to be guest editor when she took a leave of absence to have a child. (Subsequently, Entenza bought the magazine and soon dropped California from the title.)” (The Second Generation, p. 48).
There is actually nothing factually wrong with the above statement other than “California” wasn’t dropped from the masthead until 1944 but it disingenuously implies that Entenza became editorially involved with the magazine as early as 1937 and ignores Harris’s and Bangs’ recommendation of Entenza to Johnson for the substitute editorial position. I again refer you to “Steppingstone to Fame” for my analysis including Harris’s intimate involvement with CA&A, his role in Entenza being named editor, his unique knowledge of the details of when and how the magazine changed hands and subsequent refusal to participate in Entenza’s Case Study House Program.
In Contributing Editor McCoy’s 1984 “John Entenza” obituary in the Volume 3, No. 3 issue of Editor Barbara Goldstein’s Arts + Architecture, McCoy makes the doubly erroneous statement, “…the first thing [Entenza] did when he bought Arts & Architecture in 1938 was to remove the name, California from the title.” McCoy thus modifies her above statement in The Second Generation released the same year. Entenza gained ownership of California Arts & Architecture from Jere Johnson in May or June of 1940 and finally dropped “California” in February 1944. (Steppingstone). By comparison, Entenza’s New York Times obituary correctly dated his CA&A debut but erred on his departure date,
“John D. Entenza, editor and publisher of Arts and Architecture magazine from 1940 to 1960, died of cancer in La Jolla, Calif., on April 27. He was 78 years old. Mr. Entenza, who was born in Calumet, Mich., had been director of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in Chicago, from 1960 until his retirement in 1971. He received a Distinguished Service citation from the American Institute of Architects. He is survived by a son, Kenneth, of Los Angeles.” (“John D. Entenza”, NY Times, May 5, 1984).
For supplemental reading I recommend the omnibus Case Study Houses: The Complete CSH Program 1945-1966 with introductory essay by Elizabeth A. T. Smith. I especially point out Julius Shulman’s insightful epilogue in which he critiques the shortcomings of the CSH Program, soundly chastises Entenza’s exclusion of Ain for what Shulman percieved to be political reasons and explains his thought process for turning down Entenza’s invitation to include his Raphael Soriano-designed home in the Program. (Epilogue in Case Study Houses, p. 436). Shulman told me in a 2007 interview that he had to threaten to withold permission for the use of his photographs for this book unless his epilogue was included. Also note that Smith’s essay mentions the exclusion of Schindler, Ain, Harris and his precocious disciple Gordon Drake from the program as being “solely the personal decision of John Entenza,” likely hearsay relayed by McCoy while they were collaborating on the 1989 “Blueprints for Modern Living” Exhibition discussed later below.
As mentioned above, I have not been able to find any McCoy writings citing her analysis as to why Schindler and any of the others Smith mentions in her essay were not included in the program. In Harris’s and Shulman’s cases at least, (and possibly Ain’s per Denzer) the invitations proffered by Entenza were turned down for reasons stated elsewhere herein. (See Smith, Elizabeth A. T., “Icons of Mid-Century Modernism: the Case Study Houses,” in Case Study Houses, Taschen, p. 9 and Gregory Ain: The Modern Home as Social Commentary by Anthony Denzer, p. 170). I also hypothesize that Drake, an obvious candidate for the program because of his wide national awards exposure and international publication beginning in 1947, either was not invited or turned down the invitation due to his witnessing firsthand the 1940 Harris-Entenza falling out while in Harris’s employ. The evidence is compelling that Drake likely joined Harris’s boycott of Entenza’s Arts & Architecture despite the prestigious publicity he knew he would be forgoing. (See my analysis in The Post-War Publicity Partnership of Julius Shulman and Gordon Drake).
10 Italian Architects, exhibition catalog, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1967. (From my collection).
In addition to her California work, McCoy wrote extensively on Italian architecture for the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine and many prestigious architectural journals. She made several extended trips there during the 1950s and 1960s. She was curator of and wrote the essay for the exhibition entitled 10 Italian Architects (see catalog front cover above) which was on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from February 15 to April 2, 1967. The catalog includes work by Carlo Scarpa, Vittoriano Vigano, Gino Valle, Angelo Mangiarotti, Alberto Rosselli, Giancarlo de Carlo, Leonardo Ricci, Fiori and Conte, Albini and Helg, and Beldio, Peressutti and Rogers. In recognition of her research and writing on Italian architecture, crafts and design the Italian government in 1960 awarded her the Star of the Order of Solidarity.
The above 1967 catalog for An Exhibition of the Architecture of R. M. Schindler was a continuation of the fruitful collaboration between McCoy and David Gebhard which began with Gebhard and Richard Winter’s 1965 A Guide to Architecture in Southern California and would continue until her death. The exhibition built upon McCoy’s 1954 memorial exhibition at the Landau Gallery. Her introduction shed additional light Schindler’s career beyond her initial writings in Five California Architects. Her seminal work on Schindler thus keeping his flame alive was duly honored by Gebhard in his Acknowledement and introductory essay. The exhibition paved the way for acquisition of the Schindler Archive by U.C. Santa Barbara Art Galleries under Gebhard’s direction and was also a symbolic passing of the baton from McCoy to Gebhard for future Schindler research.
Gebhard came out with the first full-scale study on Schindler in 1971 which appropriately included a preface by Henry-Russell Hitchcock, who professed a lack of understanding of Schindler’s work in a 1940 article and who, along with sidekick Philip Johnson, chose not to include Schindler with Neutra in the seminal 1932 Museum of Modern Art’s Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, dooming Schindler to play second fiddle to Neutra for the rest of his career.Hitchcock closing sentence in the foreword reads, “I am glad that this Foreword gives me an opportunity to make some redress for the narrow-minded approach to Schindler, and indeed to modern architecture in California more generally, of a generation ago.” (“An Eastern Critic Looks at Western Architecture”, California Arts & Architecture, December 1940, pp. 21-23, 40).
Esther McCoy (w/ 20 Julius Shulman photos), Neutra issue, Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, February 11, 1968.
McCoy and Shulman collaborated on over 130 articles altogether of which at least 60 included Richard Neutra’s work. This dynamic triumvirate of Los Angeles Modernism did more to establish Los Angeles as a Mecca for architects around the world than any other force in the region’s rich history. The above issue of the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine is a good case in point. McCoy discussed Neutra’s influence on the Southland’s architecture and his VDL Research Houses in Silverlake, The Lovell Health House, the Rados Residence in San Pedro, the Tremaine House in Montecito, the 1936 Plywood Exhibition House, the Hall of Records in downtown Los Angeles, the Miramar Chapel in La Jolla, the Corona Avenue School in Bell, the Josef von Sternberg Residence in the San Fernando Valley, the Hinds House, and the Moore House in Ojai and included 20 of Julius Shulman’s by then iconic photos.
Craig Ellwood by Esther McCoy, Walker, New York and Alfieri, Venezia, 1968. Cover collage by Michael Gould. (From my collection).
Craig Ellwood, (see above) mythically assumed by most to be the work of McCoy, was originally published in hard cover by the earlier-mentioned Bruno Alfieri and Walker & Co. in 1968 is very hard to find but is also still in print in soft cover through Hennessey & Ingalls and remains a steady seller. The book was commissioned by Ellwood himself to be published in Italy by his friend and fellow Ferrari owner, Bruno Alfieri, who was also the biographer of Enzo Ferrari. As mentioned earlier, Alfieri was the editor of Zodiac in which McCoy was first published in 1960 in Zodiac 5, either through Ellwood’s connection or, more likely, through her benefactor John Entenza whom Alfieri named the American editor. A few years later Alfieri also became the publisher of the highly respected Lotus International (see below), in which he continued to feature Ellwood’s and McCoy’s work.
Much of the material for the above book was first featured by Alfieri in Zodiac 4 which included excerpts from Ellwood lectures delivered at the University of Houston, Tulane University, University of Southern California and University of California between 1955 and 1957 and featured his South Bay Bank, Hale House, Courtyard Apartments Hollywood, Case Study Houses 16, 17 and 18, the Hunt House, Church Santa Monica and plans for an LA factory all accompanied by a Peter Blake essay. Blake, by then a close personal friend of Ellwood’s, authored a lengthy blurb on the front flap and the foreword for the above McCoy-introduced Alfieri publication of what was basically an Ellwood marketing book.
McCoy, Esther, “Buildings in the United States, 1966-1967″ Lotus 4, 1968, Alfieri Edizioni d’Arte, pp. 15-123. From William Stout Books.
McCoy’s first Lotus article for Alfieri was the lengthy feature, “Buildings in the United States, 1966-1967″ which included Ellwood’s Scientific Data Systems Building in El Segundo and work by Rapahael Soriano, Stanley Tigerman, Gunnar Birkerts, Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo and Associates, James Stewart Polshek, Jeffrey Lindsay (with Bernard Judge), Louis Kahn, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, DMJM, Charles Deaton, Venturi & Rauch, Edward Larrabee Barnes and others. This article was extremely important to her career development as it provided her national exposure and an entree into the most respected architectural firms of the day. The very next issue included McCoy’s a six-page piece, “Furniture Designed by Craig Ellwood” and the 13-page spread on her erstwhile employer, “R. M. Schindler.”
Ellwood, aware of the growing importance of Arts & Architecture magazine in the late 1940s through his employment as a draftsman/cost estimator with Case Study House builders Lamport Cofer and Salzman, shrewdly ingratiated himself with Entenza (and later McCoy) and quickly became one of his favorites when he struck out on his own. In his excellent California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood, Neil Jackson captured the nature of the relationship best,
“Had it not been for John Entenza and his magazine Arts & Architecture, Craig Ellwood would have probably remained just another small designer/builder working on the West Coast. During the eleven years preceding August 1960, when he was featured in the ‘Personalities’ column of Progressive Architecture, Arts & Architecture published Ellwood’s work on more than fifty occasions. As Erin Ellwood observed, ‘John Entenza really discovered him – and John was gay and my dad was cute.’ … There is nothing to suggest that their relationship was other than platonic. ‘I think my father just loved being adored’, Erin Ellwood later said, ‘whether it was by men or women.’” (California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood by Neil Jackson, MIT Press, 2002, p. 96).
Craig Ellwood’s Ferrari Dino at Art Center. Photo by Anita Eubank. From California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood by Neil Jackson, Princeton Architectural Press, 2002, p. 176.
Meredith L. Clausen writes of Ellwood’s similar enthrallment over McCoy in her excellent “The Pasadena Art Center and the Curious Case of “Craig Ellwood,”
“The Ellwood image was further formed by Esther McCoy, an architect-turned-historian and Ellwood’s close friend. Her book, commissioned and paid for by him, was based on conversations, - his past, his beginnings in architecture (by sheer talent, not formal training), early work, office projects. It was straight from him and only on him, with no mention of others in the office. No questions about or discussions of who did the drawings, who was responsible for design, who signed the drawings, who was responsible for construction, who in fact ran the ship, it was all simply the result of Craig Ellwood. An instrument, albeit finely tuned, in his hands, McCoy sang the Great Man’s tunes.” (Casabella, No. 664, February 1999, pp. 69-74). (I would like to thank Spanish architect and architectural historian Jose Parra for bringing this article to my attention. He recently completed the translation of Beatriz Colomina’s foreword for the Spanish edition of her essential Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media).
In a period book review, Los Angeles Times staffer Lucy Dorcival wrote,
“In her handsome, extensively illustrated book, Miss McCoy comes perilously close to widening the breach between the potential client and Ellwood. The book’s appearance is misleading. The text becomes discouragingly technical, particulary as it applies to the illustrations. Ellwood’s own philosophical and clearly logical statement of his structural goals would have been better used as an introduction rather than an addendum. It could have served as a frame of reference for the lay reader.” (Dorcival, Lucy, “Architect as Innovator,” Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1969, p. S42).
Dorcival’s above comment regarding the “discouragingly technical” text for the individual project descriptions raises the valid question as to how much of the material beyond McCoy’s introductory essay was actually written by her. An anecdote regarding Ellwood’s unsuccessful all-out attempt to finally obtain his architectural license in 1971 supports the hypothesis that the material could very well have been written by Ellwood. In an interview with Neil Jackson discussing Ellwood’s requests of his friends, including McCoy, to write letters of support or testimonials to the State Board, Jim Tyler recalled,
“I kind of remember that time because he was making an all-out effort to try and see if he could get his license…And now that you mention it, I remember them doing it – prominent architects, I think had written on his behalf. He was very good about it, very tricky. As a matter of fact he would always tell people what to write.” (Italics mine). (Jackson, p. 161).
Jackson then states that,
“The letters [by McCoy, Peter Blake, Philip Johnson, et al] are retained at CSU Pomona and, curiously, they appear to all have been typed on the same typewriter using the same unheaded paper. They present as these abstracts show, an extraordinary series of endorsements, not only in what they say, but also in their apparent authorship. Even so, there were architects who would not have been part of this collusion.” (Jackson, p. 161).
Finally, the most compelling evidence that McCoy’s only involvement in this publication was authorship of the 4-page, 3500 word introductory essay comes from a 1967 list of publications to date McCoy provided to Ed Killingsworth which he used in his successful nomination of McCoy for the AIA California Chapter Public Information Award. The list references, “In Preparation: Foreword: Book on work of Craig Ellwood, Alfieri, Venice.” Interestingly, McCoy also included in her 11-page bio an impressive and extensive list of grants and fellowships but interestingly chose not to include any mention of her considerable Graham Foundation largess, possibly out of chagrin related to the sizable amount and frequency of this Entenza-facilitated patronship, but more likely out of agreement with Entenza to keep it quiet. (Courtesy UC Santa Barbara Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collection, Killingsworth Papers, Killingsworth-McCoy correspondence).
Killingsworth, like Ellwood an Entenza favorite, made frequent appearances in Arts & Architecture and the Case Study House Program. His correspondence with McCoy and Entenza and their intimates is extremely revealing regarding the elaborate “good old boys” network of cronyism surrounding Entenza and the way he managed the Graham Foundation purse strings. The dozens of letters back and forth paint a very illuminating picture indeed on how the mechanics of fame operated vis-a-vis the gateway to Entenza’s pantheon.
For example, in a letter to David Travers, Entenza’s successor at Arts & Architecture, seeking names to support his nomination of Entenza for an honorary A.I.A. life membership, Killingsworth asked, “Could you find out from someone near (emphasis mine) Esther who those are with “name power” that we may call on for support?” (Killingsworth to Travers, 09-13-1966, courtesy UC Santa Barbara Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collection, Killingsworth Papers). There is also an undated hand-written note from Travers to Killingsworth attached to a laudatory blurb on McCoy which reads, “Dear Ed- / How about this as / a starter for Esther’s / Hon. A.I.A.? / Best – / David.” (Travers to Killingsworth, undated, courtesy UC Santa Barbara Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collection, Killingsworth Papers).
Ellwood used his considerable Neutra-like self-promotional skills to leverage the publicity garnered by his early Case Study Houses exposure in Arts & Architecture to become published globally in Zodiac, Domus, Architectural Review, Bauen + Wohnen and many other respected publications to rapidly catapult himself to fame. His ever-growing stature resulted in numerous college lecture and guest teaching enagagements including one at Yale in 1959 where he met Philip Johnson. Ever the power-broker, Johnson took the opportunity to ask Ellwood what he thought of the idea of Entenza taking the reins of the Graham Foundation. Ellwood’s glowing recommendation obviously reinforced the choice of Entenza who ran the Foundation from his base in Los Angeles beginning in 1960 until he sold Arts & Architecture to David Travers in 1962 and permanently moved to his new Chicago sinecure where he reigned until his 1971 retirement.
Portrait of Craig Ellwood by Sylvia Shap, ca. 1974. From Sylvia Shap Portraits.
Ellwood’s prescient recommendation paid dividends in 1977 when, by then learning how to feed from the Graham Foundation’s bountiful trough from McCoy, he applied for a $20,000 post-retirement grant to jump-start a new career in painting. Entenza’s replacement, Carter Manny, was hesitant to grant funds for a venture so unrelated to architecture, but after an Ellwood-prompted call from Entenza, he relented with a $10,000 check. (Jackson, p. 183). (For more on how rather loosely the Graham Foundation was run under Entenza and Manny I highly recommend the fascinating, “Oral History of Carter Manny” interviewed by Mies van der Rohe biographer Franz Schulze. Stanley Tigerman, whose work was similarly championed by Entenza after his move to Chicago, provides some fascinating insight into Entenza’s character and his and McCoy’s early publication of his work in the “Oral History of Stanley Tigerman.”). (I wish to architectural historian Jose Parra for bringing these oral histories to my attention).
Raphael Soriano, whom McCoy would include in her 1984 book The Second Generation, (see later below) sheds light on the mutual back-scratching quid pro quo way in which Entenza ran the Graham foundation in his oral history,
“As I told you, even John Entenza…when he became the [president of the] Graham Foundation, Because of that, already, naturally, money and all this publicity, became the chief of Graham Foundation. When I apply for, to get a grant to write books, he says, “Oh, Soriano’s too old.” And yet in the same year, he gave to Philip Johnson and, I think, Peter Blake or something, to do a grant to study the theater in Germany. If you please, which had nothing to do with it. This is true. This is facts I’m telling you. And this is how much he was promoting architecture. It was a big farce, I’ll tell you.” (“Substance and Function in Architecture,” Raphael Soriano; interviewed by Marlene L. Laskey, , UCLA Oral History Program).
Ellwood’s genius in commissioning McCoy’s introduction led to the implication that she wrote the entire book which undoubtedly influenced noted British architectural critic Reyner Banham’s significant references to Ellwood’s Miesian work in his now classic Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies published just three years later. Banham echoed David Gebhard and Robert Winter’s characterization of McCoy in their seminal 1965 guidebook Architecture in Southern California as being on “a ’one-woman crusade’ to get Southern California’s modern architectural history recorded and its monuments appreciated.” (Banham, p. 21). This major endorsement of McCoy and Ellwood from a highly respected critic from the other side of the Atlantic helped elevate both into the pantheon of Southern California architectural history. (See also Soriano’s Oral History for his outspoken comments on his former assistant Ellwood, his mythical Miesian influences, and his own friendship and influences upon van der Rohe).
The major flaw in McCoy’s Ellwood paean is that there is no mention of the crucial lead design role played by Jerry Lomax in the office’s formative, fame-making years nor of the significant roles played by Philo Jacobson, Jim Tyler and others in the later years. This could be due to Ellwood likely keeping the inner workings of his office a secret from McCoy as he did his meetings with McCoy and Entenza from his staff. (11-18-2010 e-mail message from Lomax to the author).
In an interview with Neil Jackson Lomax related,
“He sort of kept me away from John Entenza. He introduced me to him and then just took him out of the room. And important clients. I think he was just not wanting them to know I was involved in the design. So he always kept me away from them. And when I started telling him that I think I should be involved with them since I was heavily involved with the design, he said No, that he doesn’t, and he’s built up his reputation and he wants them to continue thinking that he was the designer.” (Lomax interview, Jackson, p. 128).
Elwood’s insecurity with sharing credit and promoting his staff is one of the more egregious examples among local lore right up there with Charles Eames’ failure to acknowledge the crucial contributions of Gregory Ain, Harry Bertoia, Herbert Matter and others on his pioneering molded plywood explorations during World War II and similarly resulted in a mass exodus of his staff. (See Denzer, pp. 104-5 for example and also my Herbert & Mercedes Matter: The California Years).
Unfortunately, the book also has no index, and as in almost all of her books, no bibliography or other helpful back matter. Whether intentionally or unwittingly, McCoy, by essentually ghost-writing Ellwood’s self-serving monograph-cum-marketing book, added her well-respected imprimatur to the effort, thus creating, or at the very least perpetuating, the “Ellwood Myth.” The myth remained relatively unchallenged until Clausen’s 1999 Casabella article and the 2002 publication of Neil Jackson’s thoroughly researched and highly recommended California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood. Oddly, likely out of respect for McCoy, Jackson was silent on her role in creating/perpetuating the myth. I also recommend Craig Ellwood: In the Spirit of Time by Alfonso Perez-Mendez which properly credits all designs done by Jerry Lomax, Philo Jacobson and Jim Tyler.
Zoltan Pali of Studio Pali Fekete, Architects honored his mentor Lomax with the exhibition “Jerrold Lomax, FAIA: The First 80 Years” at the SPF:a Gallery in the firm’s mixed-use office complex on Washington Blvd. in Culver City in 2007. The 70-page exhibition catalog below is already a collector’s item. Pali and Lomax are currently collaborating on two residences in Malibu next door to Lomax’s iconic Hunt House at 24514 Malibu Beach Road (see below) completed in 1955 while in Ellwood’s employ.
Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys by Esther McCoy, Arts + Architecture Press, 1979. Lovell Beach House photo by Edward Weston, 1927. Lovell Health House photo by Willard D. Morgan, 1929. Book design by Joe Molloy. (From my collection).
McCoy’s employment with Schindler and writings on him and Neutra sparked the laborious research it took to produce the extremely enlightening Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys which was her personal favorite of all her publications. The book was published both in hard cover and paperback with the hard cover edition being extremely difficult to locate. The perfect bound soft cover edition suffers from detached-page syndrome with any kind of heavy use, which is inevitable with such a fascinating piece of work. The connections of McCoy’s erstwhile Arts & Architecture editor, John Entenza, played a crucial role in the book’s publication through facilitation of two grants from Chicago’s Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts which he directed from 1960-1971. The book was published by Arts + Architecture Press which was owned by John Entenza’s Arts & Architecture successor, David Travers.
In his fascinating 10-page introduction, Harwell Hamilton Harris sets the stage with anecdotes from his formative years at the Otis Art Institute, the forces that led to his choice of architecture as a career, his first meeting with Neutra and Schindler, later employment with Neutra and insights into the personalities of the tenants and social gatherings at the Schindler’s Kings Road House in the 1920s. Since Harris’s first visit to Kings Road was in 1928, much of the introduction is filtered through the lens of his wife, Jean Murray Bangs, who was a close friend of Pauline Schindler’s since her 1921 return to Los Angeles from New York and a habitue at Kings Road since its 1922 completion. (As mentioned earlier, Bangs’ rediscovery and publication of the work of Charles and Henry Greene and Bernard Maybeck in the late 1940s went totally unacknowledged by McCoy in her 1950s writings and “Five California Architects” and Bangs was all but ignored in McCoy’s Harris chapter in “The Second Generation.”
Despite significant flaws with many of the dates, including ironically shaving almost two years off of the Neutras’ actual tenure as tenants at the Schindler’s Kings Road House, incorrectly crediting the Lovell Beach House photo on the cover to W. P. Woodcock instead of Edward Weston, being off by three years on the traveling exhibition for the League of Nations Building competition entries (1930 vs. the actual 1927, see pp. 62-63), and some understandable Schindler biases in relation to Neutra and the Lovell Health House commission (see below), this remains one of my personal favorites of her publications. The book sheds much light on Schindler’s and Neutra’s paths to Los Angeles, their failed attempts to find a publisher for Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats, the avant-garde gatherings at Kings Road, both Pauline and R.M. Schindler’s relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright, Aline Barnsdall, the Schindler and Neutra Lovell commissions and controversy surrounding same, and much, much more. (See my R. M. Schindler, Richard Neutra and Louis Sullivan’s “Kindergarten Chats for more details.)
In her 1979 review of Two Journeys, Architectural historian Kathryn Smith discusses at length McCoy’s “unique qualifications to write about what happened to cause the [Schindler-Neutra] schism and who was at fault.” She ends with, “We have not heard the end of this story – for yet to appear are Thomas S. Hines’ biography of Neutra, due next year, and Dione Neutra’s memories and collection of letters between her husband and herself.” Despite writing, “I will leave it to the reader to unravel the mystery for himself by reading the book” she leaves no doubt as to who’s version she sides with. (Book Review: Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys, Letters Between R. M. Schindler and Richard Neutra, Letters of Louis Sullivan to R. M. Schindler, L.A. Architect, September, 1979, p. 3).
One only needs to read McCoy’s 1987 oral history edited by McCoy biographer Susan Morgan in 2009 to verify this as McCoy reminisces with the interviewer, noted architectural critic for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and later for the New York Times, Joseph Giovannini,
“In the meantime, after the death of Pauline Schindler, Kathryn Smith asked if I would abet her in removing Pauline’s papers to her place for safekeeping, as she expected to start a book on Pauline as soon as the one on the Barnsdall house was on the press. She especially wanted to keep them away from Tom Hines, for she considered that he would weight his sympathies to Neutra and away from Pauline. Kathryn still has the Pauline Schindler papers, which include material on Wright and also an unpublished novel, the protagonist of which is Schindler. Any [writer of a] study on Schindler as well as Wright should be aware of this material.”
The reader is directed to Architecture of the Sun: Los Angeles Modernism, 1900-1970 by Thomas S. Hines and R. M. Schindler by Judith Sheine to compare the latest findings on the controversy from Neutra and Schindler scholars’ perspectives. President of the Friends of the Schindler House, Robert Sweeney‘s version in his delightful 12-page pamphlet, “The Lovell Houses” created in conjunction with a 2003 MAK Center tour of same reads,
“Lovell’s failure to continue with Schindler is likely to remain an enigma, though all parties attempted some form of explanation. Neutra recalled in his autobiography that there had been “some earlier unfortunate misunderstandings” between Schindler and Lovell and that “Both men steadfastly rejected even the idea of collaboration.” Dione Neutra tried to correct the record in her husband’s favor in her 1986 anthology of letters, but her scenario seems incomplete. Lovell himself was equivocal in explaining the circumstances. Leah Lovell, writing in 1958 to Esther McCoy, stated: “I could tell you things about the early days of Neurtra [sic] and Schindler as I knew them, but perhaps that would be better left unsaid.” Schindler interpreted Neutra’s actions as a matter of survival.” (Sweeney, Robert, “The Lovell Houses,” MAK Center, 2003, p. 5).
All the above, and numerous other scenarios, ring hollow to me in some manner as if the authors were beating around the bush to avoid offending living relatives. My personal choice for the version of the story that makes the most sense is put forth by Gary Marmorstein in his “Steel and Slurry: Dr. Philip M. Lovell, Architectural Patron” in which he theorizes that Leah Lovell, like her sister Harriet Freeman, was having an affair with Schindler during his preliminary design for the Lovell’s town house. Mamorstein wrote,
“The “whole story” remained a mystery to students of architecture for years, but its central crisis was, in fact, all too human. “Schindler had a habit of having the wives of clients fall in love with him,” Dione Neutra recalled in 1978, describing a not uncommon dynamic between builder and client. Leah Lovell fell hard for Schindler. Their affair dated back to the days when the Lovells were routinely at King’s Road and may have simply reached boiling temperature while discussions about the Los Feliz house were underway.
Whatever its genesis, the affair seemed to be just another conquest for Schindler and something far more painful for Leah Lovell. Compared with Dr. Lovell, who was usually the largest physical presence in the room, Schindler must have appeared small and arty. It doesn’t take an ounce of admiration for The Fountainhead, however, to acknowledge that an architect can be a powerful, highly sexual figure as he designs structures that make everyone and everything else appear tiny.
Dr. Lovell had no elixir, drugless or otherwise, for having been cuckolded. All he could do was turn his back on the preening Schindler and turn instead to Richard Neutra to build his house in Los Feliz. Neutra demurred-it was a thankless position to find himself in-and played diplomat as he persuaded the two factions to come together to talk. Grudgingly, Lovell was willing to accept Schindler again as principal architect, provided Neutra run interference.
That arrangement didn’t last long. Schindler, declaring he didn’t want the work but probably just fed up with the intensifying scandal, bowed out. He told Neutra, “If you don’t take the job, Lovell will give it to somebody else.” Vacillating, Neutra was finally talked into accepting the commission by the Austrian emigree Galka Scheyer, whose impressive art collection – Klee, Kandinsky, etc. – inspired a wide circle of Los Angeles architects. (According to Dione Neutra, Mrs. Scheyer subsequently became another Schindler mistress.)” (Mamorstein, Southern California Quarterly, Fall/Winter 2002, p. 254).
This is also the version that longtime Schindler and Neutra friend Conrad Buff would have believed as he reminisced in his oral history,
“Schindler had built a house on Kings Road. Schlndler, besides being a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, was a very handsome fellow. He was quite a ladles’ man, and part of his business was to make love to all the ladles he could. He had a very interesting wife, but that didn’t bother him. There was quite a group of people that used to meet down at Schlndler’s house.” (Buff, p. 123). (For more on the relationship between the Buffs, Neutras and Schindlers see my “Richard Neutra and the California Art Club“).
Marmorstein’s version also coincides with my hypothesis that Pauline Schindler’s angry departure with the couple’s son Mark the same month all of the above drama was taking place was likely related to her witnessing, or finding out about a scenario such as this. She and Leah had met at Olive Hill where RMS was working on Aline Barnsdall’s Hollyhock House and had started and ran a school together in the early 1920s. Likely already aware of her husband’s dalliances with Leah’s sister, and by then also an RMS client, Harriet Freeman, this could likely have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back. (Two Journeys, p. 39. See also my Pauline Gibling Schindler, Vagabond Agent for Modernism for more details).
Likely based on McCoy’s lengthy analysis of Neutra’s winning of the Lovell town house commission in Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys, renowned Neutra scholar Thomas S. Hines and noted Schindler scholar Judith Scheine agreed that Schindler would not have worked on the Lovell Health House design under Neutra’s lead under any circumstances despite reading Neutra’s August 24, 1927 letter to wife Dione, an excerpt of which read,
“…Now let me tell you a few facts about myself. I had a good talk with Lovell and proposed quite successfully an agreement with which he has, however, not yet signed. He wants to retype it with a few changes. He gave me in any case an adequate down payment. I have brought him now so far that he feels no personal grudge against Schindler and has nothing against it that he participates in the design. To be sure, he apparently wants me to be responsible for everything.” (See Richard Neutra: Promise and Fulfillment, 1919-1932, Selections from the Letters and Diaries of Richard and Dione Neutra Compiled and Translated by Dione Neutra, p. 168. See also cited in Hines, pp. 76-77 and Scheine, pp. 66-67).
Letter from R. M. Schindler, June 15, 1931 regarding settling of accounts from their partnership including Schindler’s significant work on the Lovell Health House. Courtesy UC Santa Barbara Art Museum Architecture and Design Museum Schindler Collection.
The above letter from Schindler to Neutra regarding the settling of accounts from their partnership days before Neutra’s departure on his world tour seems to clearly indicate that Schindler did indeed perform a significant amount of design work on Lovell’s town house. Schindler acknowledges receiving an $800 check from Neutra for partial payment of his design work on the project. The letter further strongly suggests that this commission was not the cause of the Schindler-Neutra schism. I contend that the real breaking point came out of Schindler not being included in the seminal 1932 “Modern Architecture: International Exhibition” curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and then having to witness all the publicity surrounding the show when it traveled to Los Angeles in conjunction with the 1932 Olympic Games. (See for example my Richard Neutra and the California Art Club for much on Schindler’s and Neutra’s 1931 joint classes at Chouinard and publicity surrounding the MOMA exhibition). Obviously influenced by her closeness to both Schindlers*, McCoy either overlooked this very important letter while editing Schindler’s correspondence for this book or purposely did not mention it because it spoiled what she possibly believed was a better story, likely the former. Thus another McCoy myth was born. (*Author’s note: McCoy’s friendship with Pauline is further evidenced by their joint visitation to close Schindler family friend Edward Weston’s Wildcat Hill on November 4, 1949.)
McCoy’s narrative, selected illustrations and selected letters bring to daylight the struggles of these early Austrian emigres to gain a foothold in Los Angeles and their failed friendship and efforts to lay a foundation for the rich modernist heritage that we enjoy today. The Harwell Hamilton Harris introduction alone is worth the price of the book if you can find a copy. I cited from it heavily in my article Pauline Gibling Schindler: Vagabond Agent for Modernism, 1927-1936.
A. Quincy Jones: A Tribute exhibition catalog, Cal-State Dominguez Hills, 1980. (From my collection).
McCoy wrote many lengthy pieces on A. Quincy Jones prior to his death in 1979 and was the logical choice to write the text for this 1980 tribute catalog for the exhibition at Cal-State Dominguez Hills where Jones designed many of the campus buildings and was overseer of the campus master planning.
Guide to U.S. Architecture: 1940-1980, Esther McCoy & Barbara Goldstein, Arts + Architecture Press, 1982. Book design by Joe Molloy. (From my collection).
The above Guide to U.S. Architecture: 1940-1980 co-edited with Barbara Goldstein was the first of its kind to take a national look at modern architecture. The book was also published by Travers’ Arts + Architecture Press. The selections are divided by region and accompanied by images from professional photographers including Julius Shulman, Ezra Stoller, Hedrich Blessing, Morley Baer, Marvin Rand, and others. McCoy concurrently was on the masthead of editor Goldstein’s Arts + Architecture as Contributing Editor after Goldstein brought the magazine back to life between 1981 and 1985 and also contributed an essay to Goldstein’s Arts & Architecture: The Entenza Years (See later below). Goldstein’s editorial offices happened to be in the Schindler Kings Road House(see below) where McCoy also worked as a draftsman for Schindler between 1944 and 1947. (See opening photo).
Dreyfuss, John. “Slick restart for Arts & Architecture” Los Angeles Times, October 12, 1981, p. VI-1. From ProQuest.
The Second Generation by Esther McCoy, Peregrine, 1984. Julius Shulman cover photo. (From my collection).
McCoy’s The Second Generation is my personal favorite of her books. This effort, begun with a grant from Entenza’s Graham Foundation and was completed while on a Guggenheim Fellowship, chronicles the evolution of California’s preeminence in residential design. (McCoy Oral History). McCoy biographically brings to life here for the first time the work of J. R. Davidson and the passing of the baton from Schindler and Neutra to their former apprentices Harwell Hamilton Harris, and Raphael Soriano and further develops David Gebhard’s pioneering work on Gregory Ain. The added treat of this book is in the images of Julius Shulman.
Raphael Soriano objected to being included with Ain, Harris and Davidson as he thought his work to be nothing like theirs and outspokenly critiqued the work of each in turn in his oral history. McCoy had led him to believe she was doing a book on him and Konrad Wachsmann, more of a kindred design spirit in his opinion. (Soriano Oral History).
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s previously mentioned 1990 essay critiqued her writing ability thusly,
“McCoy’s genius lies in pointing out the significant in the familiar. Her analysis of the programs, forms, thechniques, economics, culture, and ethos of architecture is brilliant and easy – in the overall and the details. Her description of the personalities and the backgrounds of the individuals makes gripping reading. Herein lies the essence of the genre established by McCoy. The journalistic cattiness, one-upsmanship and pretentious obscurity that pervade architectural writing today are not present in her book.“ (“Re-Evaluation: Esther McCoy and The Second Generation,” Progressive Architecture, February 1990, pp. 118-9).
Likely in response to criticism on her previous books, McCoy for the first time provides back matter listings of “Important Buildings and Projects by the Architects” (helpfully most with addresses), a “General Bibliography” and a bibliography of “Periodical and Journal Writings about the Architects” (not as helpfully only listing the month and page number of each article sorted by journal without listing the author, titles and content of the articles, thus obfuscating the identity of others’ earlier research).
In the Harris chapter, in addition to the innacuracies surrounding Entenza’s acquisition of CA&A mentioned earlier, McCoy, chose to remain silent on the important role Harris and his wife Jean Murray Bangs played in providing the entree for Entenza’s temporary editorship of CA&A in February 1940. She also does not discuss their subsequent falling out with Entenza regarding his hostile takeover of the magazine from their dear friend Jere Johnson the following May which precipitated Harris’s post-war refusal to participate in the Case Study House program. Obviously knowing of Entenza’s rift with Bangs and Harris, one can’t help but wonder if McCoy held off publication of this book until after Entenza’s 1984 death out of loyalty or whether it was purely coincidental.
Again, McCoy’s virtual silence on the outspoken Bangs and her considerable influence on her husband’s career in this chapter is deafening. Similarly, despite having obvious insight into Entenza’s reasoning, McCoy chooses also not to discuss Ain’s overt omission from the Case Study House Program.
For further reading and research on the book’s subjects I recommend The Architecture of Gregory Ain
by David Gebhard, Harriette Von Bretton and Lauren Weiss, Harwell Hamilton Harris
by Lisa Germany, Gregory Ain: The Modern Home as Social Commentary
by Anthony Denzer and Raphael Soriano
by Wolfgang Wagener. Germany must be credited with first shining light on Harris’s and Bangs’ facilitation of Entenza’s temporary CA&A
editorship and Harris’s subsequent refusal to paricipate in his CSH Program. She also uncovered much new material on Bangs’ role in rediscovering the work of Greene & Greene and Bernard Maybeck. Denzer provides the most insightful analysis of Ain’s non-involvement in same. Denzer also tactfully seconds Germany’s findings on Harris’s refusal to participate in the program ”because of personal differences with Entenza’s business practices.” (Denzer, p. 169-170).
McCoy, Esther, “1945-1960, The Rationalist Period,” in High Styles: Twentieth-Century American Design, Whitney Museum, 1985.
Due to her ever-increasing stature as a chronicler of West Coast modern design, the following year McCoy was honored with a request to include an essay for a major East Coast exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York, High Styles, Twentieth-Century American Design. McCoy’s chapter, “1945-1960, The Rationalist Period,” featured the work of her by then longtime friends, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Sarinen, R. M. Schindler, Isamu Noguchi, George Nelson, Case Study Houses from the pages of John Entenza’s Arts & Architecture, and much more.
McCoy’s last major piece was the essay “Arts & Architecture Case Study Houses” commissioned for the above catalog for the renowned Blueprints for Modern Living exhibition on the Case Study Houses which was mounted by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art with financial support from McCoy’s longtime benefactor, the Graham Foundation , the National Endowment for the Arts, and others. This exhibition catalog was published in both hard and soft cover editions with the hard cover now being extremely scarce and is absolutely essential to any Southern California architectural history fan. It is a compilation of essays by McCoy, Thomas S. Hines, Helen Searing, Kevin Starr, Elizabeth A. T. Smith, Thomas Hine, Reyner Banham, and Dolores Hayden published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name presented at the Frank Gehry-designed Temporary Contemporary of the Museum of Contemporary Art, October 17, 1989 – February 18, 1990. McCoy died in Santa Monica in December, 1989, just weeks after the exhibition opened.
See my comments above and article ”Steppingstone to Fame” for an analysis of McCoy’s perpetuation of the 1938 Entenza CA&A takeover myth in her otherwise excellent catalog essay “Arts & Architecture Case Study Houses” and catalog editor and exhibition organizer Elizabeth A. T. Smith’s similar collaborative errors regarding same in her also otherwise insightful piece, “Arts & Architecture: The Los Angeles Vanguard.” At the time of her death McCoy was widely beloved and recognized as the doyenne of Southern California architectural historians and her efforts continue to bring international recognition to California’s architectural legacy to this day. McCoy was recognized by the AIA for efforts on the behalf of architects with an Honorary Membership and received a Distinguished Service citation by the AIA’s California Council.
Arts & Architecture: The Entenza Years edited by Barbara Goldstein, Essay by Esther McCoy, MIT Press, 1990. (From my collection).
Barbara Goldstein’s 1990 tribute to John Entenza, Arts & Architecture: The Entenza Years was also in a sense a tribute to her friend, collaborator and mentor McCoy and was also financed in part by a grant from the Graham Foundation, likely through McCoy’s connections with Carter Manny. (Also see Steppingstone for more Entenza Myth analysis). Goldstein honors McCoy with a cover byline for her paean “Remembering John Entenza” and writes the following on her in the Ackowledgments, “I spent many enjoyable hours with Esther McCoy discussing, among other subjects, Arts & Architecture and John Entenza. She acted as my conscience and energy-source throughout the project until her death late last year.” This book was originally released in hard cover by the MIT Press and like almost all of McCoy’s work is still in print in soft cover with the same cover art work through Hennessey & Ingalls.
After reading the above, one might ask, “Why the obsession with the myths discussed herein, i.e., the date and circumstances surrounding Entenza’s takeover of California Arts & Architecture and Harwell Hamilton Harris’s non-participation in his Case Study House Program; that McCoy was the first to rediscover the work of Greene & Greene and Bernard Maybeck; the Ellwood Myth; and the Lovell Health House Commission Myth?”
Personally I have become increasingly dismayed with the fact that massive new magnum opuses are still unwittingly being published with much erroneous information, but mostly about the misstatements surrounding Entenza’s 1940 CA&A palace coup. I am hoping with this piece to spark discourse which will drive a stake through the myths’ heart and finally turn the tide towards accuracy in future publications referencing Entenza’s canonization and the circumstances surrounding his acquisition of California Arts & Architecture. The knowledge that Harwell Hamilton Harris’s (and his wife Jean Murray Bangs’) intimate involvement with CA&A and his witness to and unique insight of the details surrounding how and when the magazine changed hands and his subsequent refusal to participate in Entenza’s Case Study House Program is beginning to make a toehold in the historical lexicon thanks to Lisa Germany and Anthony Denzer but more work needs to be done to further elucidate and gain a wider exposure for the actual facts.
The above publications are all collector’s items and appear in any self-respecting Southern California architect’s library. Since most of McCoy’s work was indeed pioneering, her biases towards Entenza, Schindler and Ellwood and against Neutra in particular should be contextually cited and forgiven as she started the ball rolling on the historiography of Southern California modernist architecture and laid most of the foundation for others to build upon. I am currently compiling an annotated and illustrated bibliography of the published work of Esther McCoy of which the above work is just a tiny sampling which I hope to post in the not too distant future, so stay tuned. I have located over 800 articles to date.
Perhaps Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown sum up the essence of McCoy’s work best with,
“Gratuitous polemics, sensational substitutes for serious analysis that promote the writer’s cleverness over the subject’s talents, play no role in McCoy’s critical approach. Her architect-subjects have found a recorder and analyst who, despite her presence as a participant in their history, does not intrude on their story. By trusting the intentions of her subjects and becoming the servant of her art, she shows herself to be a profound critic and an exquisite artist. But perhaps the most significant contribution of her work here is its timeliness – and therby in the end, its timelessnesss.“ (“Re-Evaluation: Esther McCoy and The Second Generation,” Progressive Architecture, February 1990, pp. 118-9).
Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader edited and with an essay by Susan Morgan, East of Borneo Books, 2012.
There is good news forthcoming for Esther McCoy fans as author Susan Morgan is hard at work on, Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader (see above) which will collect much of her literary fiction and non-fiction in addition to her architectural criticism and will be released in November. She is also laboring away on a separate biography which I’m certain will be a best-seller and further enlighten us on McCoy’s simply fascinating legacy. The extremely busy Morgan co-curated with Schindler House Director Kimberli Meyer the Esther McCoy exhibition Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture and Design (see catalog below) which debuted at the Schindler House September 27, 2011 as part of the Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 festivities sponsored by the Getty.
Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture and Design by Kimberli Meyer and Susan Morgan, MAK Center for Art and Architecture, 2011.
The exhibition devotes an entire room chronicling McCoy’s important efforts to save Irving Gill’s Dodge House. The excellently written and researched catalog contains a 28-page supplemental insert in a back pocket titled “The Demise of the Dodge House: A Story in Documents and Clippings.” In conjunction with the exhibition, on October 22nd the film “The Dodge House, 1916″ (1965), written by Esther McCoy and directed by Robert Snyder will be screened along with ”Architecture West” (1950), written by Esther McCoy and directed by Erven Jourdan. The films were rediscovered by Morgan in McCoy’s papers at the Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C. The resourceful Morgan was also very instrumental in their restoration through a grant from the Women’s Film Preservation Fund. It is through efforts such as this that future preservation efforts can be modeled.
Morgan illustrates with personal photos, newspaper clippings, book and magazine covers and an exhaustive chronology some surprising, enlightening and insightful findings in the catalog, especially pertaining to McCoy’s ”radical” years during the 1930s of which little was known until her stellar research in the McCoy papers uncovered it. The catalog unfortunately perpetuates McCoy’s Entenza Myth I talked so much about earlier by reprinting McCoy’s 1984 Entenza tribute/obituary on pp. 73-75 which asserted that “the first thing he [Entenza] did when he bought Arts & Architecture in 1938 was to remove “California” from the title.” The photo caption on p. 72 incorrectly corroborates the wrong date (the mythological 1938 versus the factual 1940) in McCoy’s Entenza tribute. (Esther McCoy, “John Entenza,” Arts + Architecture, vol. 3, no. 3, Winter 1984, pp. 29-31).
Morgan also reiterates the myth that McCoy was named to Entenza’s editorial advisory board in 1950 when in actuality the nomination came in November 1951. L
earning from her mentor and benefactor that fudging dates was acceptable (Entenza apparently desperately wanted the date of his A&A
ownership to go down in history as 1938 per my earlier discussion above), McCoy wanted to be remembered as having been the great man’s advisor as early as 1950. Her first appearance in Arts & Architecture
however, was not until August 1951, a couple months before she was named to the masthead. Ironically, McCoy makes a huge deal in her Oral History
about Neutra wanting the date of his Lovell Health House to be remembered as 1927 versus the actual 1929. Coincidentally, like many of McCoy’s book projects, some of the funding for this exhibition came from Entenza’s erstwhile sinecure, i.e., the Graham Foundation.
Despite these forgivable inaccuracies, which will likely be corrected in Morgan’s upcoming McCoy biography, the catalog is an essential work to be included in the library of any serious fan of Southern California’s rich architectural legacy.
For a sample of Morgan’s well-researched, insightful and extremely well-written work on McCoy to whet your appetite, read her “Being There: Esther McCoy, the Accidental Architectural Historian”
which originally appeared in the Archives of American Art Journal
, no. 48, Spring 2009, pp. 18-27. From a literary background as was McCoy, Morgan has the similar ability to breathe life into biography. She has been researching McCoy’s papers at the Smithsonian for years, helping to organize, digitize and transcribe much of the voluminous material. She was also the source of some fascinating letters from Harris to McCoy which I cited heavily from in “California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies
,” and “Pauline Gibling Schindler: Vagabond Agent for Modernism 1927-1936.”
Most would have to agree with renowned Los Angeles architect and former dean of the Yale School of Architecture Cesar Pelli’s assessment of McCoy in a 1984 New York Times interview that she was ”the pre-eminent writer of California architecture. Our knowledge of Southern California architecture has been primarily formed by her research, her first-hand knowledge and her writing, which is so precise and passionate.” (“Esther McCoy is Dead; Architecture Critic, 85″, New York Times, December 31, 1989).
Esther McCoy Resources
Esther McCoy Papers, Archives of American Art
Esther McCoy Oral History (research hint, download to Microsoft Word to facilitate searching and/or create a searchable pdf if you don’t have time to read the entire document).
Blueprints for Modern Living Exhibition
Being There: Esther McCoy, the Accidental Architectural Historian
Esther McCoy New York Times Obituary
Esther McCoy Tribute by Paul Goldberger
Hennessey & Ingalls
A Case Study in the Mechanics of Fame: Buff, Straub & Hensman, Julius Shulman, Esther McCoy and Case Study House No. 20 for a look at the fame-making capability of the dynamic duo of McCoy and Shulman.
California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies for an in-depth analysis of the “Entenza Myth.”
Pauline Gibling Schindler: Vagabond Agent for Modernism, 1927-1936 (for the role Pauline played in McCoy’s career launch).
Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture and Design
The Dodge House, 1916 written by Esther McCoy and directed by Robert Snyder.
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