Landscape of constant change

Times Staff Writer

The architectural history of the Southern California home is far too rich, innovative and colorful a narrative to fit neatly onto one newspaper page, but the following timeline gathers a variety of important milestones — beginning with the establishment of the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1781 and continuing through the current-day designs of Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne — into a quick retelling of a fascinating tale.

Architecture timeline —A timeline in the Home section on Thursday of the architectural history of Los Angeles implied that Michael Rotondi and Thom Mayne were the sole founders of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, or SCI-Arc. In fact, the school was founded by Ray Kappe along with a small number of students, including Rotondi, and instructors, including Mayne.

1781: Pueblo of Los Angeles is established.

1840-60s: Latinos and whites discard the popular one- and two-story adobe style and turn to wood construction, masonry, and to styles from the East Coast and Midwest such as Classical Revival and the Shingle, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles.

1880s: L.A. experiences a population boom fueled by land availability, cheap transportation by newly arrived railroads, and extensive promotion. People arrive in droves from the East Coast and Midwest, bringing their architectural styles with them.

1880s: Mission style, a symbolic attack on California’s materialism rooted in Spanish architecture, dominates.


1891: Mission Revival or Mission style becomes symbolic of the region. The first great ode to the Mission is the California Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, but the style quickly spreads across California. A.B. Benton and others design the Mission Inn in Riverside. Residential architects Lester S. Moore and Sumner Hunt are key.

1894: Charles Lummis and other celebrants of Spanish-Mexican culture establish the California Landmarks Club to preserve and restore Catholic mission churches.

1900-15: Rise of the American Craftsman movement in Southern California (alongside Berkeley and Oak Park). Popular in the Arroyo Seco at Pasadena, where it was championed by the intellectual and artistic elite. Even when Charles and Henry Greene and others elevate the Craftsman style to a high art (Gamble House in Pasadena, 1908), it remains a conscious appreciation of the carpenter. The movement emphasizes honesty of materials, hand craftsmanship, and the relationship between house and garden (Blacker House, 1907).

1900-36: Peak years of Irving Gill, an architect associated with the Spanish and Craftsman styles and considered by many to be an early homegrown Modernist. Gill often utilizes the indoor-outdoor space of the pergola. His Dodge House (1916), considered by many to be the first truly modern home in L.A., is demolished in 1970. The Horatio West Court in Santa Monica (1921), four units arranged as a group, still stands.

1905, into the 1920s: Rise of the bungalow and bungalow court, a one- or one-and-a-half-story, single-family home set in a garden. The original idea was to have all activity on first floor, but Southland architects cheated and added kids’ space upstairs. In 1911, architect Sylvanus Marston unveils California’s first bungalow court in Pasadena, and Lewis B. Easton becomes well known for his bungalow designs.

1907 and on: Beaux Arts movement. East Coast designers such as Stiles Clements, trained in the Parisian-derived Beaux Arts model, are drawn to the Southland’s architectural landscape and population boom.

1909: L.A. is first in the U.S. to adopt a comprehensive zoning ordinance.

1909: Frank Lloyd Wright begins his California work by designing George C. Stewart’s Montecito house. Wright becomes part of the pre-Columbian Revival (1920s) that happens alongside the Pueblo Revival.

1917-22: Wright’s Barnsdall House (Hollyhock House). A variation on his earlier Prairie style into which he inserted Mayan and Zapotec detail, patios and pergolas — Wright’s attempt to forge a whole new style known as “California Romanza.”

1920: Planning Commission established for the L.A. area. Some outlying communities create architectural and landscape architectural reviewing agencies; Palos Verdes, for instance, becomes a domain of Spanish Colonial Revivalism. Other popular styles of the decade: Norman French Provincial, English Tudor, Colonial Revival, and later: Monterey Revival, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne.

1920s: Spanish Colonial Revival (more broadly: Mediterranean Revival) reflected romance of California, offered a respite from the horrors of war and the accelerated pace of modern life. Morgan, Walls and Clements was one of several firms to introduce Spanish, Mexican, Churrigueresque and Plateresque forms. Architects most associated with Spanish Colonial Revivalism: George Washington Smith of Montecito, Wallace Neff and Roland Coate.

1920s: Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas draw R.M. Schindler and Richard J. Neutra to L.A. Both work for Wright before beginning their own projects.

1922: Schindler’s house built on Kings Road in West Hollywood. The orientation of his complex spaces to nature indicates his effort to create architecture that is uniquely Southern Californian.

1922-26: Schindler builds Lovell Beach House in Newport Beach, one of the celebrated relics of 20th century modern architecture.

1923-24: Wright continued using pre-Columbian stylings in his concrete block houses, ranging from the Millard House ('23) in Pasadena to the Ennis House ('24).

1926: Sowden House by Lloyd Wright (son of Frank). Lloyd begins as a landscape designer before expanding into architecture.

1920s: Population boom imbues L.A. with fashionable architectural and artistic styles. Next to New York, L.A. to this day exhibits more Art Deco than other parts of the U.S.

1920s-70: Neutra is perhaps the most influential modern architect in L.A. See his steel-framed Lovell House in the Hollywood Hills (1929). Perkins House in Pasadena (1955) brings the garden indoors.

1930s: Depression. Architecture curtailed; notable exception: Classical (PWA) Moderne buildings — mostly government buildings and theaters, and some houses along Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile. After the initial shock, the well-to-do resume building houses now emphasizing the Colonial and the Regency over Spanish and Mediterranean Revival modes. Architects Wallace Neff, Paul Williams, Roland E. Coate, John Byers, Edla Muir and H. Roy Kelly develop open interior spaces, then garb them in forms conjuring the past. Hollywood directors and stars continue to favor the Modernists. Neutra builds the Von Sternberg house in Northridge (1936; demolished in 1971) and a house for Anna Sten in the Santa Monica canyon (1934).

End of the 1930s: Cliff May and others develop the California Ranch house, a combination of traditionalist and Modernist modes that would dominate not only Southern California but America after World War II.

1930s: Modernism flourishes. Schindler, Neutra and Lloyd Wright lead the charge, joined by the European expatriates Kem Weber, J.R. Davidson, and Paul Laszlo. By the mid-'30s, a younger contingent emerges: Harwell H. Harris, Gregory Ain, Raphael S. Soriano, Whitney R. Smith, Wayne Williams, A. Quincy Jones, Richard Lind and John Lautner.

1939-45: By end of ’42, L.A. has 12 public housing projects, uniquely low-density, in styles ranging from California Ranch house to the International Style Modern. See Neutra’s Channel Heights Project (1942).

1941: Wallace Neff continues to work on issues of low-cost housing, designing his igloo-shaped, reinforced concrete Bubble House.

1945-on: Postwar economy and influx of returning veterans stimulates a building boom, mostly of tract housing, in the San Fernando Valley and east toward San Bernardino.

1945-60, on: Smith, Williams, Harris and Jones steer the International Style Modern in a mellow, woodsy direction, sometimes referred to as “soft” or “organic” Modernism.

1945-60: John Entenza and his magazine California Arts and Architecture bring the Modernist aesthetic to the masses. Is the general population interested in the glass-and-steel designs á la Neutra, Soriano, Ain, Davidson, Craig Ellwood, Pierre Koenig and Charles and Ray Eames (who used more prefab materials)? The first six Case Study houses receive 368,554 visitors.

1950s-60s: Crushed by taxes and disinterest, important works by prominent architects are bought by developers, the houses destroyed and the land subdivided, including the Cord estate by Williams and the Otto English estate by Carleton Winslow.

1960s and on: Large developers build “residential communities” on vast, open land holdings utilizing revivalist motifs grafted onto the modest California Ranch house.

1960: Esther McCoy’s “Five California Architects” puts Southern California architecture on the map. Profiles: Bernard Maybeck, Gill, Greene and Greene, and Schindler.

1962-today: Frank O. Gehry uses commonplace materials such as exposed wood studs. See his Santa Monica home with its corrugated steel frame and storied use of chain-link fencing on the second floor.

1965: First edition of David Gebhard and Robert Winter’s “A Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles and Southern California.” Becomes bible of Southland architecture.

1970: Paige Rense takes over as editor-in-chief of L.A.-based Architectural Digest. The magazine grows from a supermarket giveaway (circulation 50,000) to the leading interior design and architecture magazine (circulation 820,000).

1970s: Architect Charles Moore expands consideration of the stucco box traditions in Los Angeles through his projects and teachings at UCLA.

1972: Southern California Institute of Architecture (Sci-Arc) founded by Michael Rotondi and Thom Mayne.

Mid-1970s: Booming population, traffic, smog and water shortages inspire a surge in city planning. Historic preservation of everything from Victorian architecture of the late 19th century to ‘30s Streamline Moderne becomes a cause celebre.

1978: Los Angeles Conservancy born from attempts to save the Los Angeles Central Library. Today, it’s the largest membership-based historic preservation group in the country.

1970s, on: California Ranch style begins to revert to its Spanish-Mexican roots. Acres of single-story, slant-roofed tract houses spread across the Valley and are joined by similar apartments, condominiums and row houses.

1970s: Before Cesar Pelli leaves L.A. for Yale at the end of the ‘70s, he produced a variety of buildings that encouraged a specific L.A. brand of high-tech imagery, International Post Modernism and-or deconstructionism.

1970s-90s: A new generation of architects addresses both Modernist and post-Modernist issues in residential projects, including Frederick Fisher (Caplin House, 1978), Mayne, Eric Owen Moss (708 House, 1982), Hodgetts + Fung, and Frank Israel (Goldberg/Bean House 1991).

2004, on: Interplay of Hollywood and L.A. architecture continues: Brad Pitt completes an informal internship with friend and mentor Gehry and signs on to participate in upcoming Gehry projects. In 2005, actor Hayden Christensen tells Britain’s Sun newspaper, “I don’t find Hollywood interesting, so I’m thinking about studying architecture instead.”

2005: Mayne awarded the Pritzker Prize for lifetime achievement in architecture. He is the second L.A. architect to win the highest honor awarded to a living architect (after Gehry in 1989).


Sources: Sam Watters, instructor in the USC School of Architecture who is writing a book on Los Angeles houses for Acanthus Press.. Robert Winter, coauthor of “Los Angeles: An Architectural Guide.” Thomas Hines, professor of cultural, urban and architectural history in the UCLA department of Architecture and Urban Design. The Los Angeles Conservancy.