The Post-War Publicity Partnership of Julius Shulman and Gordon Drake: Gordon Drake: An Annotated and Illustrated Bibliography
I highly recommend California Houses of Gordon Drake for the most complete information to date on Gordon Converse Drake whose oeuvre is just now being rediscovered by the recent reprint from William Stout Publishers in San Francisco. With this article and bibliography I hope to add to and help spur further research into the man and his work. The blurb from Stout’s web site reads,
“In his prolific, but tragically brief career, Gordon Drake significantly influenced and inspired the direction of post-World War II residential architecture. Working almost exclusively from the West coast, he created a new architecture embraced by post-war middle class America without abandoning any of the rigor of Modernism.
Drake, who was barely 34 years old in 1952 when he was killed in a skiing accident in the Sierras, achieved a body of work enviable to much older colleagues both in quality and quantity, and with such apparent spontaneity to have virtually no rivals in the field of modern architecture.”
Gordon Drake as a hurdler at Santa Monica High School, 1935. Courtesy of Drake’s great nephew Gordon Converse Hiler Drake.
Architectural Fraternity Scarab group photo. Gordon Drake, center left. USC Yearbook El Rodeo, 1941, p. 390.
The precocious Gordon Converse Drake received his first architectural notoriety in the spring of 1940 while still a student at USC for the design of his brother Max’s house in Coronado. (See below). He designed and built the house in 1939-40, two years after enrolling in USC’s School of Architecture and Fine
Arts while under the tutelage of Carl Troedsson, first as a student and later a draftsman in his private practice. Drake won the special award for architecture in USC’s annual Art Apolliad for his “House in Coronado” which was exhibited in the Fisher Gallery on the USC Campus. (“Apolliad Art ‘Bests’ Displayed at Gallery,” Daily Trojan, April 30, p. 1 and “Creative Art Contest Winning Entries Show”, Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1940, p. I-10).
Shortly after returning from the the World War II, Drake burst onto the national architectural scene in 1946 by winning first prize in Progressive Architecture’s First Annual Awards competition with his personal residence at 10433 Oletha Lane just off of Beverly Glen. The following year his next project, the Spillman (Rucker) Residence, won second prize in House & Garden’s Awards in Architecture competition and a Mention in Progressive Architecture’s Second Annual Awards competition.
Besides Troedsson, Drake’s architecture was strongly influenced by Harwell Hamilton Harris who had been his design critic at the University of Southern California in the summer of 1940 and for whom he had also worked before and shortly after the war in Harris’s private practice. The photos below clearly show the influence Harris’s Fellowship Park House had on Drake right down to the cocoa mat floor covering. Harris’s personal residence coincidentally also won multiple awards very early in his career.
Harwell Hamilton Harris, Fellowship Park House, 1935. From Harwell Hamilton Harris by Lisa Germany, p. 63.
Drake’s time with Harris before the war couldn’t have been more timely as he had on the boards his breakout project, the Weston Havens House in Berkeley, and other important jobs such as the Birtcher House in Los Angeles and Lek House in La Jolla. In American Architects and the Mechanics of Fame, author Roxanne Kuter Williamson presents the thesis that for the achievement of fame, an architect needs to be associated with a “famous” architect at the moment he or she first receives major publicity or designs a building for which he or she will eventually be celebrated. Just as Harris had profited immensely from participating in Neutra’s groundbreaking, career-making Lovell Health House, Rush City, his second book Amerika and the seminal 1932 MOMA “International Style” Exhibition’s Los Angeles venue at Bullock’s Wilshire, Drake’s “right person – right time” impressionable beginnings came at a similar growth period in Harris’s development with his Havens House and other projects. (See my related post “California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies”).
Harris much later reminisced in an article he wrote on the awarding of the AIA Gold Medal to Neutra,”The marvelous thing was that Neutra was doing his thinking, his musing, his proposing, his adopting, his rejecting with me and Ain as ringside watchers.” (“AIA Gold Medal, First in Five Years, Awarded to Neutra,” North Carolina Architect, May-June 1977, pp. 8-11).Thus, Williamson’s genealogical chart below for the Sullivan-Wright-Neutra-Harris family tree should be modified to show the passing on of fame, albeit so briefly-lived, from Harris to Drake.
“Sullivan and Wright and their connections” from American Architects and the Mechanics of Fame by Roxanne Kuter Williamson, p. 32. (I am indebted to Pierluigi Serraino for turning me on to this book).
Harris, although already fairly well-known to the national press, used his well-learned marketing skills from the hands of the Publicity-Meister, Richard Neutra to promote the the Havens House just as Neutra had done for the Lovell Health House. When his inverted-gabled tour de force was completed in 1941, Harris began sending off photos of the house to a plethora of global publication editors.As Harris was witness to Neutra, Drake was witness to the Harris-Havens House media phenomenon. (Steppingstone to Fame). Drake also learned the importance of using the best photography to “sell” the project as Harris had used the services of first Roger Sturtevant, then artist Man Ray and finally Maynard Parker to obtain the results he and, most importantly, the magazine editor, was looking for.
Weston Havens House, Berkeley, 1941, Harwell Hamilton Harris. Man Ray photo.
Drake returned to Harris’s office directly after the war just in time to supervise the final stages of construction of his new office next door to his Fellowship Park House, thus the influence the house had on him was palpable as explained by Harris in his posthumous tribute to Drake in Doug Baylis’s California Houses of Gordon Drake. Harris wrote, “He bought a lot and during outside office hours revised the plans of a house for himself whose design he had worked on throughout the whole of the period he was in the Pacific or at Camp Pendleton. Every few months I had received a print of the latest edition. Now, with the help of a young engineer he had met in the war and some of the other young draftsmen in the office, he built the house, working nights and weekends. The house was co-winner of the Progressive Architecture Award for private residences completed during 1946 that best exemplified sound design process; despite low cost, it acheived the living amenity of a house many times its size.” The esteemed professional jury for P/A’s first annual awards consisted of William W. Wurster, Morris Ketchum, Eliel Saarinen, Fred Severud and Dr. Carleton A. Winslow.
Harwell Hamilton Harris, USC College of Architecture and Fine Arts, 1946, El Rodeo Yearbook . (From “Writing Our Own Program”: The USC Experiment In Modern Architectural Pedagogy, 1930 to 1960 by Deborah Howell-Ardila, p. 99).
Any architect worth his salt in post-war Los Angeles knew that Julius Shulman was the go-to guy for getting your work properly photographed and publicized, especially if it was awards you were after. The January, 1947 issue of Arts & Architecture for example listed the A.I.A. award winners for work done during the war years and Shulman’s photos were associated with most of the projects. (“AIA Awards”, Arts & Architecture, January, 1947, p. 33). Thus it was Drake’s prescient phone call to Julius Shulman in August, 1946 that helped cement his position in the pantheon of Southern California modernist architects.
Shulman, himself recently returned from war duty had been making great strides developing his career thanks to the pre-war contacts he had established with editors and publishers all over the world through his work for the publicity-generating dynamo and Harris mentor Richard Neutra and his proteges and colleagues such as Raphael Soriano, Gregory Ain, J. R. Davidson, R. M. Schindler, Paul Laszlo and others. The announcement in January, 1945 by John Entenza of the Case Study Program sponsored by his Arts & Architecture magazine was another bonanza of work for Shulman.
“A prime example, distressingly disregarded by those In pursuit of information on contributors to architectural progression, are the resourceful designs of Gordon Drake. Although short-lived, his career was replete with international awards and publications. His works continue to be published. The August, 1946 meeting with Gordon Drake persists as one which generated an ongoing appraisal of the potentials of a discerning thought process. Although by-passed by many later generations, those who continued to assess Drake’s abilities and achievements were capable of enhancing their own directions of objective architecture.
How rewarding was my friendship with Gordon Drake following our first meeting in August, 1946. He had completed his home on a lane in Beverly Glen Canyon in West Los Angeles. I received a call: “Would you please come out to meet me and my crew?” Most of those, calling as Drake had, did not ask “How much do you charge?” Rather, as one architect described our meeting: “To bring together kindred souls.” It was more than that with Drake, for walking into the patio of his house, I was “just in time for lunch.” I was introduced to his “crew,” composed of a group of ex-marines in the Pacific area service with Drake; some others, a secretary, his girlfriend, two or three friends and associates. Those were representative of the past war years, ages in the 20s and a few in their early 30s – Gordon was 29. All were filled with enthusiasm, possessing a fervor to perform fulfilling architecture, inspired by the spirit of Drake.
My assistant had accompanied me to the meeting. After lunch we proceeded to plan our compositions. What an innovative design existed throughout the tiny house; the living room was only 12 x 8 feet. The entire house was built for $4,500.00! Accustomed to working in unrestricted spaces, I discovered that Drake’s designs were so favorably interwoven that no matter where I looked, a revealing statement was evident. I sensed that here was one of the most ingenious design assemblies ever to confront me; the photography of which was one of the most joyous and rewarding episodes of my then ten years of association with architecture.
Drake Residence. Julius Shulman Job No. 03, 8-29-1946. Courtesy Getty Research Institute.
[Sidebar: Joseph Rosa wrote of the above photo in his Shulman biography A Constructed View: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman, "Shulman's photographs of Drake's home, taken in 1946, reveal another effect of dressing a photograph. One of the compositions constructed from the perspective of the viewer, who is presumably sitting on the couch or a chair in the living room, looking toward other people seated on the terrace. By setting up the photograph in this manner, Shulman forces the viewer to participate in the scene: the viewer occupies the photograph, acting not as a voyeur but as a presence in the room. The lower vantage point also reveals aspects of the home that would otherwise not be visible: the ceiling details and the landscape beyond the terrace."]
Shulman continues, “That year, in August of 1946, marked the announcement of Progressive Architecture magazine’s competition for “Recognition of architects attempting to improve contemporary standards.” Drake’s house was a winner, top award for his first house. So confident was I that when photographing a scene, from the living room to the patio, I placed on the table in front of the camera a copy of Progressive Architecture in which the competition was announced. (Note magazine on coffee table above). Jokingly, I phrased to Drake: “My pronouncement – you will win first prize!” Not only was my forecast correct, but he was awarded 2nd place (for the Spillman House) in the House & Garden‘s magazine award in architecture in 1947. (Richard Neutra garnered 1st place). What a stimulation to me in my first decade of architectural photography, to become so eminently associated with a man of brilliant expression, whose designs were not only functional, but adhered so favorably to his clients’ needs. In succeeding time periods his work was published throughout the world, editors and architects proclaiming his designs: ”As best to exemplify sound progress in design.”
In March, 1996, the Architectural Review of London published a revealing article: “Californian Promise” by Neil Jackson of the School of Architecture at Nottingham University. He related Drake’s understanding of post-war technology to “a lyrical understanding of the California landscape.” In retrospect, I am proud to have taken photographs which reflect and express Drake’s short-lived career.
Gordon Drake died, age 35, while skiing in the Sierras in 1952. Neil Jackson and many others associated with the profession have observed that he was on the verge of becoming one of the great names in contemporary architecture. I miss his friendship, his care for others’ lives and needs. He was a true missionary who sensed the urgency to fill the ever-widening gap in housing for neglected and disregarded minorities and so many of the minimal income populace. To the review of an indelibly impressed period of my life, I have worked with countless numbers of architects, but I recall none with the idealism and practicality of Drake.”
“The 1946 Progressive Architecture Awards”, Progressive Architecture, June, 1947, p. 53. (From my collection)
Immediately after photographing Drake’s house Shulman devised a publicity campaign with Drake which soon paid huge dividends with a total of 13 articles published in 1947 and the house winning Progressive Architecture’s first annual awards competition as Shulman had predicted. The house was previewed in the June, 1947 issue of P/A (see above) with three Julius Shulman thumbnail photos and a floor plan along with the jury report by Chairman, William Wilson Wurster, the the Dean of the School of Architecture & Planning at MIT who wrote, “”The beauty and charm of the Drake house represent a triumph of individual effort.” Eliel Saarinen felt the Drake house to be, “an architectural contribution – a real home, and he commented that he saw no reason why mass production methods could not be applied to produce architecture in the direction of this design.” Kenneth Reid commented, “…the unpretentious expression of human individuality was an important contribution to society.” Wurster continued, “We all recognized the beauty of the Drake house…and recognized the brilliance of the plan.”
Drake Residence. Progressive Architecture, July 1947, p. 45. Julius Shulman Job No. 03, 8-29-1946.
In the above Shulman photo of Drake’s living room appearing in the July, 1947 issue of P/A again announcing the award and describing the house in more detail, one can’t help but wonder if the sculpture of the nude on the shelf is by Harris who originally was studying to be a sculptor at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. (See Harris’s 1924 sculpture class photo below).
Sculpture class at Otis Art Institute, 1924. Instructor Harold Swartz in center; continuing right, Ruth Sowden (who encouraged Harris to discover Frank Lloyd Wright and commissioned his son Lloyd to design the Sowden House); Viola Kepler (model): George Stanley (future designer of the Oscar statuette); Clive Delbridge (Harris’s client for his first building, the Lowe House); and Harris. From Harwell Hamilton Harris by Lisa Germany, p. 17.
Shulman had work published in Pencil Points, Progressive Architecture’s predecessor, as far back as the July, 1937 special Neutra issue and had developed a close working relationship with editor Thomas H. Creighton and during the span of his career would have close to 300 articles published in the magazine. At the jury meeting which Drake’s house was considered, Creighton recalled, “I shall never forget the simultaneous enthusiasm of Eliel Saarinen and Fred Severud when we ‘discovered’ Drake’s first to-be-published house.” The house won first prize in private residential design for its “imaginative contribution as an architectural concept as well as for its brilliant plan. The house is a minimum home—hardly more than a single room… Yet within these modest confines, plus the nicely schemed outside living terrace, it achieves the living amenity of a house many times its size. (“Designer’s Own House, Los Angeles, California, Gordon Drake, Designer,” Progressive Architecture, July 1947, 45-52).
Gordon Drake and friend in his living room. American Home, March 1947. Cover. Julius Shulman Job No. 03, 8-29-46.
The first publication of Drake’s house was in a cover story, “2 Ex-Marines Put an Ideal to Work…and Build a $4500 House” in American Home magazine’s March, 1947 issue which included 9 Shulman photos of Drake’s house and 3 of the Spillman house which was still under construction. (see above). The 6-page cover story went into great detail regarding Drake’s wartime planning of houses for himself and fellow Marine and mechanical engineer Louis Soltanoff and their plans for future developments. Shulman had already had 10 articles published in American Home as early as 1941 with none other than Neutra’s personal residence, his VDL Research House.
Other Drake House articles were published in Architectural Forum and Interiors and foreign publications such as Revista de Arquitectura in Buenos Aires, Argentina, (see November, 1948 issue below), Architects’ Journal in England, and Domus in Italy in which Neutra originally opened all of the editorial doors for Shulman. Shulman had placed 9 photos with pre-fabrication diagrams in a dramatic 8-page article on Drake’s Presley House earlier in the February, 1948 issue of Revista de Arquitectura before the below 7-photo, 5-page article on Drake’s personal residence followed in November.
The Drake House Drake House was also anthologized in the important Reinhold book, Homes: Small, Medium Large, selected by Thomas Creighton and the editors of Progressive Architecture. Shulman was able to get the six-page spread with eight of his Drake House photos prominently placed directly after the introduction of editor Thomas Creighton who had previously published 35 articles with Shulman photos. Shulman also had five other projects included in the book.
Living Spaces edited by George Nelson, Whitney, 1952. (From my collection).
Shulman and Drake successfully included the Drake House in taste-meister George Nelson‘s Living Spaces, a compilation of articles previously appearing in Interiors under Nelson’s editorship.(see above). Nelson prominently placed a three-page spread of the house with five Shulman photos and a floor plan directly after his introduction leading with a full-page Julius Shulman frontispiece image of Drake’s entrance court and fish pond. Nelson included 12 other Shulman projects in this important anthology. Nelson was well aware of Shulman’s work from his previous editorship of Architectural Forum and his ground-breaking book Tomorrow’s House published in 1946 which included numerous Shulman assignments. Shulman had his photos published in Architectural Forum under Nelson’s editorship beginning in July, 1936 with Neutra’s Plywood Demonstration House and after Nelson moved to Interiors as early as March, 1943 with Neutra’s Channel Heights project. (See my related article “Julius Shulman’s First Published Architectural Photograph”).
Spillman House. Progressive Architecture, July 1948, p. 61. Julius Shulman Job No. 22, 4-10-47.
Shulman knew that the more awards his clients won, the higher he could justify raising his fees. His clients won no less than 6 of the 14 total 1947 House & Garden Awards in Architecture including Gordon Drake (Spillman House), Second Prize in Class I (under 1800 sq. ft.) and Honorable Mentions in Class I to J. R. Davidson and Clark & Frey. In Class II (over 1800 sq. ft.) First Prize and Honorable Mentions went to Richard Neutra and another Honorable Mention went to Lawrence Test & Woodbridge Dickinson. The East Coast jury below included from left to right, Louis Skidmore, House & Garden Architectural Editor Katherine Morrow Ford, George Howe, Vernon De Mars, Hugh Stubbins, and Cameron Clark.
“Announcing the Prize-Winning Houses”, House & Garden, April 1948, p. 171.
Shulman’s work, his stellar stable of clients and his by then close working relationship with Katherine Morrow Ford bode well for the reputation of Southern California architecture. Shulman’s first article in House & Garden was of Neutra’s Plywood Demonstration House in the April, 1937 issue and besides Drake’s two major spreads for the Spillman and Presley Houses in 1948, he would go on to have close to 300 articles in the magazine over his career.
Presley House modular parts diagram, House & Garden, February, 1948, p. 98.
The above diagrams and floor plan are examples of the detail magazine editors had their art directors use to explain the implications of Drake’s highly experimental Presley House in Los Angeles, only his third project. Multi-page layouts along with multiple Julius Shulman photos appeared in feature stories in Architectural Forum, House & Garden, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui and Revista de Arquitectura during 1947 and 1948 catapulting Drake into the forefront of the post-war discourse on modular prefabricated homes.
Presley House from L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, June-July, 1948, pp. 30-37. Julius Shulman Job No. 71, 7-14-47.
Shulman piggy-backed photos of Drake’s personal residence and the Presley House (see above) onto material Neutra sent the editors of L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui for his Kaufmann (see below) and Sinay Houses for the June-July, 1948 issue. The Drake House was Shulman’s first non-Neutra work appearing in the magazine and was probably submitted unbeknownst to Neutra further illustrating the closeness of the Shulman-Drake friendship. Drake thus became published in this prestigious foreign journal in which his mentor, Harris, never had the honor of having a project featured in. Shulman’s photos first appeared in L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui in 1937 for Neutra’s Miller House in Palm Springs, followed by the Neutra Special Issue in June, 1946 and in 1947 for Neutra’s Channel Heights war-time housing project and Nesbitt House. Shulman’s work went on to appear at least 127 times in L’Architecture d’Aoujord’hui.
House & Garden architectural editor Katherine Morrow Ford and Progressive Architecture editor Thomas H. Creighton anthologized the Presley House in The American House Today which also included 13 other Shulman assignments and American Home architectural and building research editor William J. Hennessey collected it in America’s Best Small Houses which included four additional Shulman jobs. (see below). Thus the Shulman-Drake publicity machine was truly in full swing.
America’s Best Small Houses edited by William J. Hennessey. Julius Shulman cover photo of the Chalfont Head House. (From my collection).
Drake moved to Carmel in 1948 where he envisioned building a Taliesin-like studio-office and training center complex (see model below) where he could design projects, teach young apprentices, and conduct lectures and conferences. He was likely originally attracted to the area in 1941 when after traveling north to do a site visit for Harris on the Havens House in Berkeley and likely also visited Carmel during the trip to view Harris’s Marion Clark House completed in 1938 on the beach overlooking Pt. Lobos. I speculate that an additional attraction might have been the 1948 construction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s shoreline Walker House at Carmel Point a few blocks from the house Drake rented after his move even though there is no reference to Wright in the Drake Archive. Drake, knowing of the inspiration his mentor Harris derived from Wright’s work and Wright’s Taliesin East and West design studios may have drawn similar inspiration for his dream. Like Neutra and his mentor Harris, he felt a strong desire to teach and impart his vision of Modernism for the Masses to an admiring stream of disciples. The dream was never realized. While in Carmel he did end up designing and building three projects including his design studio, the Mesa House and Kennedy Vacation House.
Model of Drake House, Studio/Training Complex, Carmel, 1948. Julius Shulman photo. From California Houses of Gordon Drake, p. 49.
One of Drake’s earliest collaborations with landscape architect Doug Baylis came on his Vacation House project. Baylis, through his wife Maggie, had by then established a close relationship with Sunset Magazine which published most of his work throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. Drake’s Mesa House with landscaping by Baylis was published on the cover of the October, 1949 issue of Sunset with an additional 9 Morley Baer photos appearing in the feature article “In Search of a Plan for the Western Home.” (see below).
“U.S. Architecture, 1900-1950″, Progressive Architecture, January, 1950, p. 49.
Progressive Architecture marked the mid-century milestone with a January, 1950 special issue on U.S. architecture between 1900 and 1950. Included on the lead page was the now iconic Julius Shulman photo of the glass-walled living room of Drake’s personal residence. Drake and Shulman must have been thrilled and extremely proud of their joint efforts to further their careers and generate income to help Shulman pay cash for his recently completed Raphael Soriano-designed home in the Hollywood Hills not far from Drake’s house.
Sunset Patio Book, Lane, 1952. (From my collection).
Drake’s Mesa House patios were anthologized in the Sunset Patio Book in 1952. (see above). His Robert Berns Beach House in Malibu, completed in 1951 shortly before his death, was published on the cover of the March, 1954 issue of Sunset. (see below). The Sunset cover story was facilitated and ghost-written by Esther McCoy who can be seen seated on the deck in the image below. Shulman’s involvement with the Sunset editors began in 1942 and would total over 200 articles during his career.
The June 1956 Progressive Architecture theme was “The New House-to-Site Transition” and also featured Shulman photos of the Berns Malibu Beach House on the cover (see above) and in an internal 4-page spread “Subtle transitions provide degrees of enclosure” side-by-side with a 5-page article “Screened patios provide the link” on Shulman’s Raphael Soriano-designed personal residence in Laurel Canyon. (See below).(See also my related article at Shulman House). The editor says of Drake in the theme introduction, “It seems to us that the late Gordon Drake (one of whose few unpublished houses is shown) admirably summed up this new approach to the indoor-outdoor desideratum. In designing the house presented in this issue, his stated wish was to achieve an easy transition “from open sky to complete enclosure”; and “to give one a choice” of degrees of enclosure.”
Julius Shulman’s screened patio in “Screened patios provide the link”, Progressive Architecture, June, 1956. (From my collection).
Unit House, Hayward, CA, 1951, Gordon Drake in “Modular structure gave Drake’s work flexibility, discipline, prefab possibilities”, House & Home, March, 1952, pp. 98-99. Julius Shulman Job No. 1017, 7-28-1951. (From my collection).
Drake’s Unit House in Hayward received it’s first major exposure in the above third issue, March 1952, of the new House & Home Magazine, an offshoot of Architectural Forum focused on the merchant builder market in which Shulman would eventually have almost 300 articles published. Editor Douglas Haskell included Drake’s obituary and a 10-page profile of his most recent work while referencing Harris’s strong influence on his design ethic. Katherine Morrow Ford and Thomas H. Creighton, married by 1954, pooled their considerable talents to publish Quality Budget Houses which anthologized Drake’s Unit House with three Shulman photos and a floor plan and numerous other Shulman assignments. (see below).
Quality Budget Houses, Katherine Morrow Ford and Thomas H. Creighton, Reinhold, 1954. (From my collection).
It seems odd to me, in light of all the publicity and awards the Shulman-Drake combo produced and Shulman’s status as Entenza’s staff photographer, that the only appearance of Drake in the pages of Arts & Architecture is in the aboveApril, 1950 Douglas Fir Plywood ad featuring 3 Shulman photos of the prize-winning Spillman (Rucker) House. The reason might have been that Drake boycotted A&A out of sympathy with his mentor who broke ties with Entenza due to the perceived underhanded way in which he gained control of California Arts & Architecture from the Harrises dear friend, editor and publisher Jere Johnson in May, 1940. Drake was studying under Harris at USC and working in his office on the same floor as Arts & Architecture’s office in 1940 when the Entenza “coup” took place and remained very close to him over the years.(Steppingstone to Fame)
Below is Harris’s last appearancein California Arts & Architecture during Entenza’s second month as caretaker temporary editor before he wrested control of the magazine from Johnson a few months later. Johnson obviously sensed the import of Harris’s tour de force Havens House and had it in the publishing queue when turning the editorial reins over to Entenza while she went on maternity leave. Entenza also recognized the uniqueness of the house by featuring it on the cover of the magazine for the March, 1940 issue.
Another plausible reason could have been that after Entenza got established, the East Coast editors did not publish projects after they appeared first in Arts & Architecture, especially after Entenza dropped “California” from the masthead, started the Case Study Program and became a more direct competitor. (I wrote about the East Coast press picking up all of Harris’s (and Shulman’s) work “after” it appeared first in California Arts & Architecture in my “Steppingstone to Fame” article). That is why Harris thought Entenza made a mistake in dropping California. (see his oral history Organic View of Design). I think Shulman could have advised Drake accordingly.
Shulman was a master of maximizing income from his projects and knew how to compose for “product placement.” Douglas Fir was a regular advertiser in A&A and Shulman was also on the A&A masthead as staff photographer. Since Entenza didn’t pay Shulman anything he had to make up for it by selling photos to the advertisers and other magazine editors. The Douglas Fir Plywood ad could very well have been Shulman’s shrewd way of killing two birds with one stone. He would generate some income for himself by selling the photos to Douglas Fir knowing that they would buy an ad in A&A and thus getting his friend Drake into the magazine through the back door so to speak without jeopardizing his chances for publicity (and Shulman’s source of income) from the East Coast and International journals.
It is fun to speculate whether Drake would have been included in Entenza’s Case Study House Program once it matured past his emphasis on steel and had he stayed within the sphere of influence of Shulman and A&A editorial advisory board member Esther McCoy and not moved to Northern California in 1948. The aforementioned schism between his mentor Harris and Entenza could have come into play as Harris had been invited to participate in the program by Entenza in 1945 but refused due to the underhanded way Entenza wrested away control of the magazine from his and wife Jean Murray Bangs’ dear friend, Jere Johnson. Harris’s refusal to take part prompted Entenza to drop the by then globally recognized Harris from the editorial advisory board masthead. (See Steppingstone to Fame and Selected Publications of Esther McCoy).
Drake’s untimely death in January, 1952 cut short his extremely promising career, but thanks to Shulman, Doug Baylis and others his work continues to be published to this day. His tragic circumstances have created for him a mythical Jimi Hendrix-like persona which keeps us wondering what might have been. The first edition of Drake’s monograph, a labor of love by the Baylis’s published upon the completion of the Drake-designed remodel of their personal residence on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco in 1956, is now extremely scarce. (See the Baylis House on the cover above). Consequently, William Stout Publishers in San Francisco will soon be releasing a new second edition with some added material and an introduction by architect and historian Pierluigi Serraino. Pierluigi was a great source of encouragement for me as I embarked on my adventure to compile a book collecting all of the covers Shulman’s photos have appeared on (800 to date). Following is an excerpt from Serraino’s extremely insightful introduction:
GORDON DRAKE: A CALIFORNIA MODERNIST OF INTENT
“Few architects have been as prolific and innovative as Gordon Drake (American 1917-1952) in the remarkably short time he lived. Certainly the architectural history of the twentieth century holds its share of celebrated protagonists whose lives were cut short at the peak of their creativity. For instance Italian rationalist Giuseppe Terragni died at 39, Polish American Matthew Nowicki at 40, Finnish master Eero Saarinen and Bauhaus guru Laszlo Moholy Nagy at 51, San Francisco architect Timothy Pflueger at 54, and Swedish master Erik Gunnar Asplund at 55. But with Drake, who was barely 34 years old when he died in a ski accident at a Sierra resort in Northern California on January 15, 1952, the tragedy of his death stands out as intensely as the exceptional depth of his work.
During his compressed professional trajectory, Drake achieved a body of work enviable to much older colleagues both in quality and quantity. Furthermore, the apparent spontaneity of Drake’s output finds virtually no rivals in the annals of modern architecture. His designs were magnets of media attention: they were generously published in the national and international press, and they earned Drake a deluge of awards in the course of his meteoric seven-year career. Although most of his work is in California – with the exception of projects in Hawaii executed during his United States Marine Corps service; the unbuilt Noble house in Ann Arbor, Michigan; prototypical designs such as the “expandable house” for the Woman’s Home Companion and demonstration projects in Sunset magazine – Drake’s standing was broadcast nationally during his lifetime. His design legacy was a critical inspirational reference in the early work of contemporary masters, including Pritzker prize winners Glenn Murcutt and Frank Gehry. And yet, too few practitioners, historians, and design aficionados know of Drake. It is worthwhile, then, to reconsider the merits of his architecture nearly sixty years after his demise.
Drake created a new architecture that was embraced by postwar middle-class America and did not abandon the rigor of modernism. He revamped the ailing homegrown design vocabulary of wood architecture amidst the growing paradigm of steel and glass construction for residential design. With its distinctive spatiality and strong regional tone, Drake’s architectural imagery provided a third alternative to the irreconcilable division in postwar American architecture between its grassroots heritage — exemplified by the Gregory farmhouse in Santa Cruz, Northern California, designed in 1926-7 by William Wilson Wurster — and the ideological celebration of industrial technology hailed by the European masters transplanted on American soil — most notably Walter Gropius and Mies Van der Rohe and epitomized by the Case Study House #9 in Pacific Palisades, Southern California, designed in 1945-9 by Charles Eames.
Drake merged the regionalist pledge to anchor architecture to its site with the modernist assertion that design disengaged from the industrial processes of mass production was a proposition with neither relevance nor a future in avant-garde design discourse. Instead of exploring the expressive potential of structural steel, as did many early modernist designers, Drake retained plywood as his primary building material, though he did use modern prefabricated methods. Plywood’s exceptional performance for military products in wartime and the great abundance of Douglas Fir growing in Northern California, made it the perfect bridge material for resolving the design conflicts between regionalist militants and dogmatic modernists. It appealed to both those attached to traditional building materials and values and the growing catalog of young modern voices in postwar American architecture. The strength, lightness, and adaptability of plywood in the service of residential design for the masses distinguished Drake’s work and earned him attention on the stage of the domestic press.”
If the above into excerpt doesn’t whet your whistle for the new edition nothing will. By all means pre-order a copy of the new Drake edition at California Houses of Gordon Drake.
Serraino’s Modernism Rediscovered is a well-researched compendium on Shulman’s life’s work and is the source of hundreds of the entries in my 8,000 item Shulman bibliography which was the inspiration and starting point for the Drake Bibliography linked below. He also placed Drake’s personal residence as the lead project, of hundreds in the book, directly after his insightful introduction to Shulman and his oeuvre. The book includes many photos of four of Drake’s houses and is also becoming quite scarce and collectible. Get a copy before the prices go through the roof. Copies signed by both Shulman and Pierluigi are very rare indeed. His NorCalMod, also an example of in-depth scholarship, is a must for any modernist’s library. Bill Stout, also a source of encouragement for my Shulman project, is known for keeping the flames of California Modernism alive evidenced by his reprint of David Gebhard’s Schindler and many other noteworthy titles you might want to pick up by browsing his backlist.
Gordon Drake Resources
Gordon Drake Photo Album. (Courtesy of Drake’s great nephew Gordon Converse Hiler Drake)
Julius Shulman Assignments for Gordon Drake
Job No. 03. Gordon Drake Residence, 10433 Oletha Lane just off of Beverly Glen, 8-29-46
Job No. 22. Spillman (Rucker) House, 4-10-47
Job No. 71. Presley House, 2115 Fargo St., Silver Lake, 7-14-47
Job No. unknown. Drake Studio-Office Model, Carmel circa 1948.
Job No. 749. Dammann Residence, 6-2-50 and 7-4-50
Job No. 1017. Unit (Scribner) House, Hayward, 7-28-51
Job No. 1475. Berns Beach Home, Broad Beach Rd., Malibu, 3-20-53 (for Sunset Magazine)