Los Angeles and architecture are intertwined. The city and the discipline come together as the manifestation of various cultures, thoughts, and responses to nature and climate, the most accessible and straightforward fruits of our city’s influence on its inhabitants. Los Angeles has attracted various architects and born many architectural greats, minds like Ray and Charles Eames and Frank Lloyd Wright leaving many prints on the face of the city. There’s a lot of character in our architecture that range from tiny, quaint Spanish carriage homes to slim, long, clean modernist glass homes. Richard Neutra placed his modern signature in various corners of Southern California, his work popping up in Malibu, Pasadena, Palm Springs, Santa Monica, and more. There is even a hidden-in-plain-sight home he designed in Silver Lake right on the reservoir–and it’s where he and his family lived for many years.
The home is the Neutra VDL studio and residences, an architectural wonder with a deep history. It was once a den for artists and culturemakers to gather, relax, and work. It was built on three times since 1933, the first two times by Neutra himself and then with his son, Dion Neutra. The house served as a working artists’ compound, housing Neutra’s family and many friends, apprentices, and persons visiting town. The house eventually fell into a state of disrepair and was subject to unfortunate circumstances to the point that demolition seemed inevitable. From much neglect, the house began to decay until Sarah Lorenzen–the house’s current director–and husband David Hartwell of Plasmatic Concepts took the house on to rehab. With the help of Cal Poly Pomona, they are restoring the home to the cultural center it once was.
A big part of Lorenzen and Cal Poly Pomona’s work is getting people into the house and learning about it. They give guided tours, are open Thursdays through Sundays to the public, and are putting on programming to help celebrate the house. Their most recent effort is Architectones, a collision of sculpture meant to engage the house while representing its history.
To get an idea of the show, you first need to have an idea of the VDL. The house is a tiered, glass structure that gazes over the Silver Lake Reservoir. It is a tool to connect people with the area surrounding them, constructed with affordability and accessibility in mind. The house can be viewed in layers of overlapping of rectangular and square shapes. It is extremely linear and appears to always be open, from the various patios and rooftop decks to the glass entry of the house.
Dr. Raymond Neutra, Richard’s son, was present for the show and spoke about having lived there and the restoration process that Lorenzen and Hartwell undertook (which involved them literally rebuilding it by hand). “It was not a commune,” Raymond said of his former childhood home. “This place has twelve exits to the outside: it’s like a pinwheel. You can be in this place together without treading over each others’ toes. It was a different kind of way to grow up.” The house was much like a “fraternity,” he described, noting that the doors were always welcome to scholars and artists.
To illustrate this, Raymond detailed about a journal his mother kept on visitors to VDL. She–a cellist and pianist–made note of all dinner guests, what their conversation was about, and what she sang to them. She kept these notations from 1939 to 1963 and, thanks to a history student’s work at Cal Poly Pomona, Mrs. Neutra counted seven hundred guests, including Fernand Léger, Man Ray, Isamu Noguchi, Stravinsky, Tolstoy, and more. The house was a salon, an intellectual and artistic home for thought and action.
Now, the house is returning to this past. Architectones brings the work of Xavier Veilhan to the house by way of various structures and sculptures specific to the site. Under the guidance of curator, architect, and friend Francois Perrin, the show engages the house and tells tales of the city and the family responsible for it. Veilhan’s work lingers throughout the space, at times tracing history and at others allowing for the viewer to lay their own interpretation upon it. A silhouette of Mrs. Neutra playing the cello sits on a rooftop as the shape of California floats off a wall. A mobile of silver spheres act like spirits of design in a room full of mid-century modern furniture and amenities. From the street, a giant shadow of Neutra’s head stands before VDL. From the rooftop, a tall black carbon flag towers in the sky, marking the place as a landmark (and is also a lighthearted reference Los Angeles punk band Black Flag, per the artist). Veilhan’s work in VDL engages the house and its surroundings: it’s a subtle artistic call to Los Angeles to remember, celebrate, and engage Neutra’s VDL.
The show and the house work very well together. VDL is a masterpiece but, at points, does inspire a small amount of stress as you must climb up and down steep, steep staircases to travel from floor to floor. The details of the house are finely accented by Veilhan, as he positions his works on rooftops and near the many pools of water in the house. His work and the house appear to be having an ongoing dialogue with Los Angeles. Please note that the house is still in progress and, at points, seems very raw: it is still in the process of being restored.
Shows like Architectones are important because it celebrates and calls attention to Los Angeles’ rich design past and, through art, enriches and keeps it contemporary. The space is classic and will very soon be completely renewed physically and mentally through the hard work of Lorenzen, local supporters, and Cal Poly Pomona, whose Architectural, Environmental Design, and Landscape Architecture departments are ensuring the continued preservation of the house.
The house is located on 2300 Silver Lake Boulevard and is open Thursday and Friday 3PM to 8PM and Saturdays and Sundays from 11AM to 4PM. Donations are asked for entry ($10 is the suggestion) except for Saturdays when admission is $10 and includes docent-led architecture tours by Cal Poly Pomona students. There are many events happening surrounding the show, including a panel discussion tomorrow, a piano performance August 24, and a film screening September 7. Architectones will be up through September 16. You can get more information on it here. There is also an iPad app on the house and you can–and should–make a donation here.