Alan Hess, architect and historian, reminded us the other day of John Lautner, who would have been 100 this month. Lautner was one of several architects at mid-century working with (and sometimes in reaction to) the city's favored building blocks: light, air, space, and movement.
Other Los Angeles architects - Schindler, Neutra, Koenig - were sober masters of high modernism. Lautner's designs were playful, often libidinous. He designed the iconic Googie's coffee shop that once stood at the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards and the circular Chemosphere house, a Space Age fantasy above Mulholland Drive.
Just as modern, but more domesticated, were mid-century homes designed by Harwell Hamilton Harris, Richard Dorman, A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons (for developer Joseph Eichler), Cliff May, and many others less well known.
Beginning at least as early as the Greene brother's Gamble house (1908-1909) through Irving Gill's Dodge house (1914-1916, since demolished) to Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis house (1924) to the high European modernism of Schindler (1922-1950s) and Neutra (1928-1960s) to Frank Gehry's "deconstructionist" residential projects (1970s) and continuing still, Los Angeles architects have been making and remaking an idea of home in Los Angeles.
In this city, a fierce argument about what constitutes a fit place in which to live has shaped what we are. And unlike equally fierce arguments over what constitutes art, the proofs offered by every side of the architectural debate are not in some museum but in every neighborhood. We have our messy lives in the architecture that resulted from a hundred years of "isms" and "revivals." And our lives (and city) are better for it.
This year and next, the Getty Foundation and the Getty Research Institute will aid more than 70 museums and arts organizations in a project called Pacific Standard Time to present, from as many points as possible, the art of Los Angeles from 1945 to 1980. Architecture will be included in this grand survey, although perhaps not as centrally as I think it should be.
I've come to think of the houses of Los Angeles as this city's greatest art.
D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
The image on this page is adapted from public domain sources.