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Three Interviews

Dion Neutra (photo by Scott Holleran)

Nestled in the hills of Los Angeles is a uniquely compact and inviting home where I first met Dion Neutra. I had spoken ariwith and interviewed the noted architect, who studied and worked with his father, the late Richard Neutra, a few times for articles about modern architecture. The prospect of an extensive interview had previously been discussed though it hadn’t been conducted. This time, when Dion Neutra suggested that we meet for an interview, it was promptly scheduled. I drove to LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood, parked and climbed the steep stairs. I soon met the man who made with his father some of America’s most distinctive and iconic homes and buildings. We sat in a dining room and talked for over an hour. Days later, we would toast to his 90th birthday and, later, talk again about a campaign to restore one of his father’s signature buildings, the Eagle Rock Clubhouse. During our exchange, we managed to cover a lifetime of memories, thoughts and details of his father, meeting Ayn Rand, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Kun house, World Trade Center, Neutra’s Gettysburg Cyclorama and his childhood trauma in Silver Lake. I knew from previous talks that Neutra’s son and heir could be both eccentric and exhausting. This conversation is no exception. Read my exclusive interview with Dion Neutra.

Jim Brown, Ayn Rand Institute CEO

Another inheritance-themed opportunity for an exclusive talk recently presented itself when the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) named a new CEO. His name is Jim Brown and his background is in business, financial analysis and military leadership. Qualifications alone merited my interest and I immediately welcomed him to the ARI and asked for an interview, which he kindly granted at his Irvine office. Though days into the job, he discussed plans, management philosophy and his favorite Leonard Peikoff works. As an Objectivist who first visited the ARI as a teen when I took the bus to its office on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles, who has worked and studied with the ARI, I want my readers to read the interview and consider supporting the ARI under Jim’s new management. An edited transcript of my conversation with the center for Objectivism’s chief executive officer—Jim Brown’s first interview as ARI’s chief executive officer—appears on Capitalism Magazine (postscript: read a shorter version in the Los Angeles Times here).

And I am delighted that my favorite filmmaker—director Lasse Hallström—granted to me his only interview about his successful motion picture, A Dog’s Purpose, before returning to making Disney’s adaptation of the beloved Christmas ballet The Nutcracker. I am often enchanted by Mr. Hallström’s work. I always anticipate whatever he chooses to make. And I am privileged to have interviewed Lasse Hallström before. This time was particularly rewarding.

Lasse Hallström

Lightness in his pictures is perhaps the most indelible quality. Think of the French village in Chocolat or Venetian escapades in Casanova. The way he guides an ensemble cast to perfect union for an exalted or higher cinematic goal—around foodmaking in The Hundred-Foot Journey, liberation in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, serenity in An Unfinished Life, healing in The Shipping News, and the power of a dog to align man to what’s here and now in A Dog’s Purpose—should also be known. All of his movies, which began with his film about ABBA, are wonderfully musical including A Dog’s Purpose. But what, besides unity, love and lightness, is more pressing and relevant now than the seriousness with which he films his stories? This unique blend by a Swede who lives in America is often mistaken strictly as sweetness, which one should expect in a circus culture of cynics, celebrities and smears. The interview with Lasse Hallström, the artist who to me best expresses in today’s movies the American sense of life, is one I know I’ve earned and deserve.

I did not plan the pieces as a thematic trifecta, though it occurs to me that these three interviews explore man’s mastery of living in accordance with nature, man’s mastery of advancing the ideal and man’s mastery of recreating both in movies. Read, think and enjoy.

Winter Writing

A movie about exceptionalism overcoming racism at an agency of the government, an effort to restore a building and a forthcoming book about accounting for an entire arts genre give me fuel this winter.

Top U.S. film

America’s top movie at the box office is Hidden Figures, which centers upon three individuals of ability in the Jim Crow-era South, when racist laws infected even an aeronautics U.S. agency charged with launching an American into outer space. It’s a wonderful film, really, which doesn’t surprise me because it’s written and directed by the same individual who wrote and directed 2014’s St. Vincent, which is also very good. His name is Theodore Melfi and he recently talked with me about writing and directing the talented cast, which includes Empire‘s Cookie, Taraji P. Henson, his thoughts on racism, storytelling and what he’d do differently and having his movie screened at the White House. Read my exclusive interview with Melfi about the nation’s number one motion picture here.

Eagle Rock Clubhouse by Neutra

Speaking of exclusive interviews, I’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing architect Dion Neutra at his home and office designed by his father, the late modern architect Richard Neutra, whose legacy I explore in an article about a campaign to restore one of Neutra’s signature buildings (read the story on LATimes.com here). I’ve been covering this effort by an architect and a realtor who say they want to restore the Los Angeles clubhouse to its original splendor, and finally met and interviewed them at Neutra’s building for a detailed restoration tour. The building, a parks and recreational center in northeast Los Angeles, opened in the 1950s with a stage that plays to both interior and exterior audiences, a kitchen with a window for selling concessions, an athletic court, reflecting pool and sloping landscapes—all in glass, brick and Neutra’s favored metal, steel—with a director’s office overlooking gymnastics, trails, pine trees, playgrounds, tennis courts and with retractable walls to let the air and spectators or audiences inside. The two gents are in talks with Dion Neutra as I write this.

New book this March

A forthcoming book features new and interesting data about the words and works by William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Stephen King, Agatha Christie and Ayn Rand among other literary greats. It’s titled Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve (Simon & Schuster, March 14, 2017) and the author covers detailed statistical analyses of these and other writers in a solid narrative. Among the newly mined data are authors’ ‘favorite’ words, how sexes write differently—Rand rates as “masculine”—and use of adverbs, exclamation points and novels’ opening lines. Mine is the book’s first non-trade review. Read my article here.

The newest Writing Boot Camp starts up next month (seats are still left in the 10-week course, so register here), moving to Tuesday nights, the day after my all-new course on social media (register here). These courses evolved from career camp workshops I was asked to teach several years ago. I subsequently taught a series of nine media and production workshops for Mood U, online, economic development, expo and public library presentations and developed the writing and media classes into full courses a few years ago for adult education in LA. They’re works in progress yet past students give positive and constructive feedback, so I’ve created Facebook groups for past students. Stand by for details and more on the upcoming courses.

Meanwhile, thank you for your readership, support and trade. I read every piece of correspondence, though I’m sometimes slow to respond, sent through the site and social media. This year, I plan to remake my website and I am working on other projects, from stories in manuscripts and screenplays to my cultural fellowship, new partnerships and a new media enterprise. For now, I want you to read, share and gain value from these articles about inspecting works of art and making, or mining, something good.

Architecture: Richard Neutra’s Eagle Rock Clubhouse

A recreational city park in northeastern Los Angeles has the distinction of featuring one of the signature buildings by architect Richard J. Neutra (1892-1970). The sleek design for the Eagle Rock Clubhouse, as it was originally known, includes a kitchen, director’s office, athletics court, recreational room and a stage connected to an outdoor amphitheater on a sloping hillside.

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Eagle Rock Clubhouse, photo by Scott Holleran

The primary feature, however, are the athletic court’s walls, which retract to the open air of the surrounding park. Hills, pine trees, shaded walkways, baseball diamonds, picnic areas, a workout and gymnastics area, children’s center, outdoor playground and tennis courts fill out the area, which is just off a freeway between the Los Angeles basin and the San Gabriel Valley in a section of LA known as Eagle Rock. Unfortunately, a reflecting pool was paved over and columns were added by city officials.

Though the clubhouse is badly in need of repair and renovation, and the park, too, needs an upgrade, the wonders of the property come through. Walking on curved, tree-lined paths amid vistas and sounds of a baseball game gives Eagle Rock Recreation Center an old-fashioned air. Toddlers waddled around their parents’ picnics, bachelors played fetch with their dogs and couples played tennis while musclemen worked out on the gymnastics bars, runners jogged and a team of girls played volleyball inside the building. Neither freeway noise nor poor building maintenance completely diminishes the presence of this impressive building, which retains an inviting functionality. Despite the need for landscaping, rebuilding and restoration, one can imagine the calls and cheers of past weddings, proms, games, scout troop meetings, play dates and playhouse productions. Conjuring an outdoor audience attending a play, dance recital or piano concert is easy.

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Eagle Rock Clubhouse, photo by Julius Shulman

When Eagle Rock officially opened the park 62 years ago this fall during the peak of Hollywood’s Golden Age, William Holden (Stalag 17, Picnic, Golden Boy, Sunset Boulevard, Executive Suite, Network) was reportedly on the guest list. Among those in attendance was the young architect Dion Neutra, Richard Neutra’s son, who worked on the project with his father, an icon of modern architecture and 20th century culture. He remembered that day during a recent interview with me for an article about the city’s proposed changes to the recreation center, which he told me he found lacking (read my interview and view recent pictures of Neutra’s clubhouse on the Los Angeles Times‘ website here).

Interviewing Dion Neutra, who turns 90 years old this week, led to a meeting at his home in Silver Lake, where we conducted a more extensive interview about his late father, architecture and career. We talked about the house his father created for director Josef von Sternberg (Shanghai Express) in 1936, which Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead) later lived in during her Southern California years, and his thoughts on Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Look for the interview soon. In the meantime, I’m told that there may be an effort underway to restore Richard and Dion Neutra’s Eagle Rock clubhouse to its original condition. For Dion Neutra, who told me that he named his father’s clubhouse in his will as a possible memorial site for after he dies, the prospect of total, pure restoration makes the perfect birthday gift in a city of America’s greatest modern arts enriched by Neutra architecture.

Capitalism on Chicagoland’s North Shore

Spending my youth in the suburbs north of Chicago often made me curious about its origins. There were exotic American Indian names, mysterious trails, woods and tales of corruption, scandal and murder amid the lush, green bluffs and flat, fertile soil, not to mention the lakefront, the railroad and the industry. I know I’m scratching the surface, but I’m enjoying writing about the towns, villages and enclaves north of Chicago in a newspaper history series I conceived and developed with my editor, David Sweet, earlier this year.

The theme is capitalism—the entrepreneurial spirit—on Chicagoland’s North Shore.

Glencoe, Illinois waiting station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

Talking with local and regional historians, curators and scholars, my research yields new takes on local myths and legends, facts about iconic names, dates and places and, above all, clarity about the men who forged new paths, pioneered Northern Illinois, fought for the Union during the Civil War and settled some of the nation’s most creative, productive and wealthiest towns. These men were largely men of vision and reason and they were farmers, frontiersmen, traders, industrialists and, mostly, individualists. Telling their stories, including notorious facts in the history of these towns, is more rewarding than I had thought possible when I first offered to write the articles.

These front page and cover story articles, which include bits on America’s first recorded serial killer, the only bridge ever designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright and the invention of Christmas bubble lights, Girl Scout cookies and Frenchmens’, Indians’ and religionists’ plans for the area near and along Lake Michigan north of Chicago, are currently available online for free. Read about Glenview, Wilmette and Glencoe. Know that there are more stories to come.


Related

Murder in Kenilworth

Feature: Teen Depression and Suicide on Chicago’s North Shore

Sheridan Road: My First Intellectual Activism

Sheridan Road: Former State Senator Roger Keats

Sheridan Road: Interview with Kathryn Cameron Porter

TV: Rebuilding the World Trade Center (History)

RTWTC (copyright owned by and courtesy of Marcus Robinson)Premiering on the History Channel at 6 pm ET on September 11, Rebuilding the World Trade Center is a 2-hour premiere by Belfast, Northern Ireland, artist and photographer Marcus Robinson as he films, draws and paints the rebuilding using 13 cameras in time lapse photography. Interspersed with on-camera interviews with several construction workers, the cumulative effect is sparse, haunting and, at its best, elegiac.

However, there is no mention of what necessitates a rebuilding: an act of war by those moved by Islam. There is no explanation of the four buildings which will comprise the new World Trade Center, no recap of history of the previous, fallen World Trade Center (1973-2001), which was attacked by Moslem terrorists in 1993 and destroyed by Moslem terrorists in 2001 murdering 3,000 innocents who were mostly American. Rebuilding the World Trade Center also omits any detailed tutorial in the architecture, design, construction, politics and process. The program, which airs in color with eerie music, time lapse filming of the construction and individual straight-on camera interviews with workers, assumes a great deal of foreknowledge about the project.

A concrete carpenter is the only worker to imply a reference to the act of evil which permeates this appropriately melancholy telefilm, referring to “planes hitting the Twin Towers” which could be construed as an accident if you don’t know what happened 13 years ago. Most of the workers tell their tales in affecting, occasionally powerful, segments about the challenging work of building new towers high above Manhattan. One man speaks of losing a loved one on 9/11. One worker talks about becoming an iron worker after 9/11 in order to rebuild. One talks about a relative who worked on building the original towers. The net effect is a salty slice of New York City life, complete with thick accents, attitudes and that unmistakable sense that Manhattan represents the best of everything.

For example, another concrete carpenter, Estelle St. Clair, talks about the “danger and seriousness” of her work and how what she calls the “pure joy” of seeing and shaping New York’s skyline is her highest reward. This is the best aspect of Rebuilding the World Trade Center. The paintings by Robinson punctuate the program amid what amount to exhibitions of workers’ unions’ cronyism and nepotism – the film skips an entire year – as the workers talk about the pressure of the project without any reference to dates of completion (rebuilding starts in 2006) and the cause of delays or whether the project is successful in terms of design.

As the spire is assembled, for instance, there’s no mention of its purpose. Answers are absent on why the rebuilding is taking so long, whether there have been any accidents, injuries or deaths or what New Yorkers think of the newly emerging center if they think of it at all. Sadness hangs over every piece of metal, especially for those who think America’s the greatest country ever to exist on earth and that the Twin Towers should have been rebuilt better and taller. But the variety of workers – ethnically diverse New York-area Indians, blacks, Jews and women – are a melting pot of proud, outspoken individualists and this moody if incomplete telefilm gives a glimpse of Americans who embody the best of what the enemy hates about the West and its infidels. Final scenes include shots moving and looking skyward up the building like the last scene from The Fountainhead (1949) and, when a worker speaks with awe of being able to almost see the curvature of the earth, it is impossible not to think of three thousand ghosts and their last day on earth.