Cultural historian and co-author of the seminal, “An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles,” Robert Winter has died at the age of 94. His passing has left many in this vast, complicated city saddened.
Paddy Calistro, publisher of Angel City Press, which just released the book’s latest edition last year says to Curbed LA, Winter “was the last of a group who lived and breathed the built world of Los Angeles, the people who experienced the development of mid-century modern architecture before there was a term for it.”
Watch Winter recount how "An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles" began and his partnership with David Gebhard.
“The Bible,” as it has come to be known to professionals has been the compass by which many new Angelenos have oriented themselves. Since its first publication in 1965, it has given readers a more nuanced view of Los Angeles architecture — not just focusing on the stellar starchitect homes that dot the city such as those designed by Wright, Neutra or Schindler — but shining the light on the merits of gas stations, subway stations and fast food restaurants. The book has so gained traction in the community that “inclusion has saved more than one building from demolition,” writes historian and “Lost LA” executive producer Nathan Masters in his foreword to the sixth (and latest) edition of the guidebook.
But, Winter wasn’t just an author and architectural historian, he was also an advocate for preservation and a lover of Arroyo Culture, a term he coined for the creative zeitgeist that formed around the Arroyo Seco fueled by Southern California architects and artists in residence. The author himself lived in the Batchelder House, the bungalow home of the great tilemaker Ernest Batchelder, whose work graces the fireplace and fountain of Pasadena Playhouse, the Fine Arts Building in Downtown Los Angeles, and even the subways of New York City and Greenwich Village apartments. He also inspired a love of architecture in his students at Occidental College. Unafraid to use humor and candor, Winter has donned a gorilla suit just to get his students into the discussion at hand, writes Curbed LA. At one National Arts and Crafts Conference, Winter memorably sang the “Bungalow Song,” which became his signature closing at subsequent conferences.
Despite being a stalwart backer of Los Angeles, Winter recalls that wasn’t the case when he first stepped onto the Land of Sunshine. It was one of his common traits with his then co-author David Gebhard (who passed away in 1996). He tells KCET “We were both Midwesterners. We both came out to the West thinking that California was going to be trash. We found of course that the cradle of the modern movement in the United States.”
Winter’s voice will be sorely missed in the community, but his decades of advocacy, writing and teaching have left a cadre of Angelenos who have gained an appreciation for the mutability of Los Angeles and are willing to advocate for its future. "He was a quirky, wonderful visionary who saw what Los Angeles meant on so many levels," says Calistro, "You can get a perspective about his personality in his books — all of them. But more importantly, when you are around his former students, like Robert Inman who collaborated with him on his most recent book, you see the impact of one person and you begin see his incredible imprint on another and another and another."