Neutra clubhouse in line for improvements
Today, northeast Los Angeles residents play, jog and compete at Eagle Rock’s mid-20th century modern clubhouse, conceived and designed by Richard Neutra.
Back in its heyday, there were proms, meetings, sports and community theater playhouse productions, earning the 1953 Eagle Rock Recreation Center a top award. “This minimalist pavilion in a large public park, winner of a national AIA award, is both intellectually rewarding as architecture and a superb community facility,” Taschen wrote in its massive 2000 publication, “Neutra: Complete Works.”
Eagle Rock’s Neighborhood Council passed a motion earlier this month supporting certain improvements to the park and Neutra’s masterpiece.
If plans proceed, changes may include repainting the playground and replacing safety rails. A dog park is being considered, too.
However, if it were up to the architect’s son, Silver Lake resident Dion Neutra, who turns 90 next month, the clubhouse his father designed would be fully restored.
“I would try to get some of it back toward the original design,” Neutra said in an interview about the historic property, which opened in 1954.
Dion Neutra ought to know; he was an architect with his dad in the 1950s when the city commissioned the famous modern architect, who studied with Frank Lloyd Wright and became a top Southern California modern architect, to design and build the clubhouse with funds provided under a 1947 recreational facilities bond measure.
“About five or six years ago, the city asked me to help with another architect but there were [certain] conditions,” Neutra explained when asked about restoration efforts. “We did redo the roof and put a white coating on and that’s what you see as you drive by on the freeway looking down on it. But it was limited in scope and none of it was very important.”
As a correction, Neutra cited the recreation center’s response to graffiti. Instead of treating the affected bricks, he said, and restoring the original barn-red color, the whole area was painted.
Neutra cited other ill-advised changes, including replacing clear glass with colored glass, adding exterior electrical conduits, paving over the reflecting pool, confining the park director’s office — obscuring a broad view of the playground — and, assuming without evidence that Richard Neutra’s cantilever would fail, clumsily adding columns which pose a potential collision hazard to children, a danger the original design avoided.
Neutra said he considers the clubhouse a good site for his memorial service, and he partakes in Richard Neutra-related events at the park at 1100 Eagle Vista Drive.
“It’s obviously used by the neighborhood,” he said.
The park’s recreation director, Michelle Gross De La Hoya, attested to that fact, naming sports as the most popular recreational activity.
“We offer programs for baseball, football, soccer, girls’ volleyball, basketball, gymnastics and a kids’ summer camp,” she said. “There’s the playground and dog walking, too. Local schools use the gym. Picnic areas are booked almost every weekend — people have baby showers and company picnics.”
De La Hoya, who came to Eagle Rock after working for 10 years at Winnetka’s recreational center, said she loves Neutra’s design and what she calls the clubhouse’s “uniqueness.”
“The walls retract, so parents can stand there with trees and fresh air and watch their kids play basketball on a wood floor with a scoreboard,” she said. “It’s different. You can bring your blanket and lunch and walk through the park and it’s pleasing to the eyes.”
Scenic landscaping by Garrett Eckbo, who worked with Richard Neutra, immerses the visitor in what De La Hoya describes as “rolling hills, walkways and pine trees.”
That sense of peace takes Dion Neutra back to Eagle Rock’s clubhouse dedication 62 years ago this month. He remembers a clear day when the walls of the clubhouse that he and his father conceived went up.
As he reflects upon the legacy of one of Richard Neutra’s signature buildings, he said he knows that restoration is an expenditure of money and effort.
“I know it’s not cheap to pay for scaffolding and painting those beams in a sharp contrasting color, sandblasting the brick to get back to the natural brown brick and cutting supports at the top, shoring it up and re-welding it,” he said. But, he added: “I love the building and it really needs some TLC.”
Holleran is a contributor to Times Community News.