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Modern Creators Building Gives Shoppers a Glimpse of the Past

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Aaron Betsky teaches and writes about architecture

When you go to a store, you don’t expect architecture. Shop owners want to sell things, so they usually want as little as possible to distract you from their wares. Fancy forms and beautiful light might make customers think about things other than buying.

But an exception to this rule is (or was, because a second generation of shop owners has fallen back on old ideas) the Modern Creators building at Holloway Drive and Palm Avenue in West Hollywood.

This row of shops was designed by Rudolf Schindler in 1936 for the enlightened developer William Lingenbrink. Lingenbrink also had this very modern architect design a row of stores for him on Ventura Boulevard, and obviously thought that a store could be more than just retail space.

In the Modern Creators building, Schindler gave the developer a geometric clamshell proffering its wares to Sunset Boulevard. Modern lamps and furnishings were sold here; maybe this building escaped the usual retail cliches because it advertised its contents.

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The sloped and multifaceted gesture is in reality a mezzanine to the main corner store. It originally was a crystalline form filled with glass that glimmered with the afternoon sun and washed the selling floor below with light. Morning sun came in through another set of clerestory windows in the back.

Walk into the store, which now sells balloons, and you can still feel as if the old world is dissolving through a network of stretched diagonals, intersecting lines and sloped forms into planes of white and glass.

The store floats on its steeply sloped site, held up by an L-shaped stucco sill or underline that was a device Schindler often used to transform his flat facades into Cubist compositions. A vertical plane sticking up over the facade on Holloway grounds this geometric flourish and acts as a counterpoint to another set of horizontal lines that become lintels for the rest of the storefronts. The active glass boxes of the stores push up and out to display their wares, decomposing the simple stucco forms above them. It makes you feel as if the building is a gift box whose wares are exploding out from the bottom.

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As too often happens, the history of the Modern Creators store has not been a happy one. Schindler finished the development in stages between 1937 and 1946, creating a row of four connected buildings whose lintels, storefronts and eaves interlocked into a commercial block of stunning beauty and complexity.

Since then, much of the glass has been filled in, fake brick has replaced stucco in places, and new coats of paint have trivialized Schindler’s genius with geometry into a play of pinkish and bluish hues. An office building just across Palm puts the structure in shadow with its massive, dumb form, and today the building is as much a relic as it is a shining example of the marriage between art and commerce.

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At least this building survived. Such Schindler-designed landmarks as Sardi’s restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard have long since disappeared.

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Even if you have nothing you want to buy, it is worth a trip to see this little fragment of modernism. Look carefully at the Modern Creators store and you will see the new world of abstract forms, machined materials and open spaces deconstructing the closed boxes of tradition, dissolving them into a network of possibilities that you once could buy here in the form of lamps and furnishings, and that is only a memory contained in this little monument to our most progressive aspirations.

Modern Creators building: 8758-8766 Holloway Drive, West Hollywood

Architect: Rudolf Schindler


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