Tag Archives | architecture

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.

Travel: Taliesin West

Having finally visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park, Illinois houses last winter, the Hollyhock and Ennis houses in Los Angeles and Taliesin in Wisconsin last year, I recently took one more fresh tour, the Insights tour, through his ingenious Taliesin West. Wright’s winter camp is located in Scottsdale, Arizona, though the docent pointed out that he probably wouldn’t have put it there today had he known what the local government would do.

What they did was mar the landscape he had worked so diligently to study, examine, research, consider, develop and integrate into his unique vision for the art of living he called modern architecture.

exterior at Taliesin West photo by Scott HolleranWhere Wright and his fellowship of apprentices had built a home, lab and place in sloping stone walls, redwood beams and sand to align with the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, the government has since made several changes including above-ground utility poles and other decisions he would have considered transgressions against art, nature and man. But then the docent on my recent tour, a student whose father is an architect who studied with Wright, pointed out that Wright thought traffic lights were also against man’s nature, too.

Wright created great American treasures from the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin, and an iconic Rodeo Drive building in Beverly Hills to New York’s Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater in western Pennsylvania. He had discovered Arizona in 1927, when he was contracted to design the Arizona Biltmore. Wright moved to the Grand Canyon State, staying each winter season, until he died in 1959.

He wrote about his design for Taliesin West:

I was struck by the beauty of the desert, by the dry, clear sun-drenched, air, by the stark geometry of the mountains, the entire region was an inspiration in strong contrast to the lush, pastoral landscape of my native Wisconsin. And out of that experience, a revelation is what I guess you might call it, came the design for these buildings. The design sprang out of itself, with no precedent and nothing following it.”

FLW TW CabaretPools, terraces, icicles, dragons, towers, gardens, theaters and living quarters – where I spotted his copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell – are masterfully forged into an angled camp that adheres to his philosophy that buildings be bathed in warm, natural light. Refusing to make it on a strict north-south axis, he once explained to an archivist that tilting the design off the direct compass points sunlight and shade throughout Taliesin West’s rooms and views all year long. Looking toward the Camelback Mountains and over Paradise Valley, he found in this land the wonders of what was once an ocean floor, accentuating unusual Cholla and Staghorn cactus for their resemblance to strange corals.

As Wright wrote in 1937:

We must believe architecture to be the living spirit

that made these buildings what they were.

It is a spirit by and for man,

a spirit of time and place.

And we must perceive architecture,

if we are to understand it at all,

to be a spirit of the spirit of man

that will live as long as man lives…

 

These buildings were wrested

by his tireless energy from the earth

and erected in the eye of the sun.

It was originally the conscious creation,

out of man himself, of a higher self.

His building, in order to be architecture,

was the true spirit of himself made manifest…

Taliesin West photo by Scott HolleranEach place at Taliesin West, from the sculpture garden to the cabaret, dining room – even the parking lot – bears the mark of Frank Lloyd Wright and must be seen to be fully experienced and appreciated. My pictures are just that. Some photography is forbidden due to copyright issues. There is much to enjoy and explore at Taliesin West. This was my second visit. Each time, I gain something of value. I plan to visit again. Like almost everything in the desert and the American West, it offers strange beauty, grand vistas of earth and sky and it brings out the best in man.

Tours currently range in time from 90 minutes to three hours, and from $24 to $75, with some requiring reservations in advance and most available for booking on site. Tour availability, hours, seasonal and adult/child/handicapped access issues are all addressed on the Web site: FrankLloydWright.org

Accredited architectural undergraduate and master’s degrees are also available through studies at Taliesin West. Tuition is $30,000 for each program. Competition for admission is strong, though applicants with advanced critical thinking and graphic arts skills are encouraged to apply for admission. The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, divided into two season sessions at Taliesin West (October through May) and Taliesin (May through October), is a 12-month calendared, year-round program which requires residency on the campus. For more information, call the director of admissions at (480) 627-5345 or visit Taliesin.edu.

Travel: John Hancock Tower

20130721-120931.jpgJohn Hancock Tower on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile in Chicago is a grand achievement. It moves with the wind. I’ve been up on top at the bar, observatory or restaurant many times and this summer’s visit—I was staying across the street at the Westin Michigan Avenue—was as exciting an experience as when I first visited the top of what was once Chicago’s tallest skyscraper shortly after it opened for business in 1970.

It’s a building that rises high above one of the few surviving structures from the 19th century’s Great Chicago Fire, the city’s water tower, made of Joliet limestone and symbolizing a contrast that captures the best of Chicago’s spirit: strong, solid, sharp, hardworking, defiant. Also at ground level around the Hancock tower is another commercial building, Water Tower Place, which fits the Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile model of unabashed capitalism. In fact, the skyscraper was built and owned by a big business: the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company.

Like that enterprise, Michigan Avenue’s stores, companies and hotels are great, American symbols of freedom, capitalism, innovation, industry and wealth: Bloomingdales, Chicago Tribune Tower, Walgreens, The Drake Hotel and the tall, black, cross-beamed tower that represents big business and an American founding father at once. Never mind that the Hancock tower’s anchored by a generic Best Buy now in a city ruled by a Clinton-Obama crony in a city known more for nightly mayhem and murder—with this once-magnificent mile itself assaulted by roaming thugs—than for the freedom to create, assess for risk, insure, build and make money. Chicago, where Ayn Rand once lived on the city’s south side and was enthusiastically received by her largest audience in 1963 for a speech on America’s persecuted minority—big business—has been transformed into a thick, government-run cartel by Big Government types empowered by a former church and community activist who became president named Barack Obama.

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John Hancock Tower 2013. Photo by Scott Holleran (c) Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

The tower still stands. From the skyscraper’s Web site:

  • The distinctive, stacked x-cross bracing allows the building to sway only 5 to 8 inches in a 60-mph wind
  • Enough steel to manufacture 33,000 cars was used to make the frame and weighs 46,000 tons
  • The 2,500,000 pounds of aluminum could be used to create a skating rink covering all of Lake Michigan
  • The complete development took five million man-hours
  • 1,250 miles of wiring carries enough power to supply a city of  30,000 people

Construction started on May 5, 1965 and was completed on May 6, 1968. The architectural firm is Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and the building is designed by architect and design partner Bruce Graham with Chief Structural Engineer Fazlur Kahn. The building contains 897,000 square feet of office space, 172,000 square feet of retail space, 17,371 square feet (on the 94th floor) for the observatory (admission costs $18; $12 for kids, children under 3 are admitted for free) and it comes with a 34,307 square-foot facility for broadcasting. There are 49 floors of residential condominiums. The John Hancock Building cost $100 million at the time of construction and took approximately 36 months to build.

The observatory is open from 9 am to 11 pm every day, 365 days a year (last ticket sold at 10:30 pm) and I recommend if you have time for only one that you head for the skyscraper’s bar, The Signature Lounge, instead to save money – drinks are expensive but you can sit, have a beverage or some food and enjoy the view of up to four states, lots of flat land and Lake Michigan for miles and miles. Ask for Virginia if she’s working; she’s the best skyscraper waitress in town as I recently discovered. There’s a fine dining restaurant, too, which I’ve patronized in the past and it was just OK. I prefer dining at the top of the Standard Oil Building (now named Aon Center) on Randolph but that’s another skyscraper. I have been to the top of the Sears Tower (now named Willis Tower) in the winter but it’s not my favorite building.

Hancock’s proximity to so many other area treasures—Lake Shore Drive, Oak Street Beach, The Drake Hotel, shops along Michigan Avenue, scads of businesses, companies, burger joints, Billy Goat Tavern, the Chicago River, Grand Luxe Cafe, Tribune Tower, Chicago River and its Marina Towers and Wacker Drive—make it an excellent choice for touring while visiting the Windy City.

Photo by Scott Holleran. Copyright (c) Scott Holleran 20130 All rights reserved.

Photo by Scott Holleran. Copyright (c) Scott Holleran 2013. All rights reserved.

I grew up in and near Chicago, taking residence at various homes on School Street, Eddy Street, on Chicago Avenue in Evanston and in Wilmette. I used to take the El—the Skokie Swift, the Evanston Express, every train on the city’s downtown and northward—to work near Old Orchard, the Apparel Center across from the Merchandise Mart, a building on Jackson near Sears Tower and I’ve danced on stage at Park West, the Vic, Cabaret Metro and Neo and nearly frozen my tail off waiting at all hours at every El platform hitting those useless heating buttons in years gone by. I wrote my first articles on assignment in Chicago. Went to my first sports games there, getting crushed on opening day at Wrigley Field and putting up with drunks in the bleachers and getting my wallet stolen at Comiskey Park when I went to see the White Sox. I’ve been lucky to have lived in Chicago and I still love it. The city I’ve loved is on its way out (same as the country) but intelligent, friendly, decent, hardworking people—and great buildings—do exist. They’re in Chicago to look up to. The more reason one has to look down, the more reason to seize the moment and look up. And, here, for now, is Chicago’s John Hancock Tower.

Travel: Taliesin

A summer trip to Wisconsin included a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. 20130722-220547.jpgEmbarking on the estate tour, which suitably requires a lot of walking across Wright’s estate, the knowledgeable guide fully explained each aspect of the property, which includes many buildings conceived, designed, created and constructed by the world-famous architect and his teams early and at various later points in his career. Among the designs are a school where his Welsh, Unitarian aunts taught, a windmill named Romeo & Juliet, a barn, smaller homes and structures throughout the Spring Green, Wisconsin, estate and, of course, his home – which was burned down and later reconstructed – including his library, office, bedroom, dining room and the birdwalk he made for his companion. At left is the tour bus, which is comfortable. (All photographs copyright (c) 2013 Scott Holleran. All rights reserved. May not be used without express written permission).

Below is a snapshot of the home, which is located on a small hill, the terrace in the distance, where the tour group paused for a short refreshment. The picture shows the architect’s use of contrast on the house and Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic approach to design for living.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. Spring Green, Wisconsin. Photo by Scott Holleran Copyright (c) Scott Holleran 2013 All rights reserved.

Below is a view of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home at Taliesin. My personal tour highlight was being in the dining room where guides confirmed that writer Ayn Rand had dined with her husband Frank O’Connor at the table as a guest in Wright’s home. I also learned that a small bust of Thomas Jefferson was a gift from Gutzon Borglum, the man who made Mount Rushmore. The bust looked to me like it was Jefferson’s likeness at the Black Hills, South Dakota, national monument. To go from room to room in the home where the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged dined with the man who made Fallingwater, the Guggenheim Museum and the Johnson Wax Building and see and inhabit the spaces, angles, shades and views created by the master artist was an exalted experience. I can’t recommend it more than that. I encourage visitors and tourists to ask the tour guide and interior attendants questions; they often have answers. It takes about 15 minutes to drive to Taliesin from the nearest resort. The estate tour takes about four hours – other tours are three hours and there’s a visitor’s center with gift shop and information – and, for more on this blog about Frank Lloyd Wright, please see my posts about homes in Oak Park, Illinois and the Hollyhock house in Los Angeles, California. [6/8/14: I’ve also visited Taliesin West].

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. Spring Green, Wisconsin. Photo by Scott Holleran Copyright (c) Scott Holleran 2013 All rights reserved.

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The barn; the creamery tower’s top is not a cross; the guide explained that it is intended to symbolize a cow’s udder. Copyright (c) Scott Holleran 2013 All rights reserved.

 

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the wooden windmill Wisconsin native Wright was told would never work (it did, defying experts) named Romeo & Juliet for its distinctively, mutually supportive two-part design. Copyright (c) Scott Holleran 2013 All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Taliesin windmill by Frank Lloyd Wright. Copyright (c) Scott Holleran 2013 All rights reserved.

 

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Taliesin windmill by Frank Lloyd Wright. Copyright (c) Scott Holleran 2013 All rights reserved.

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the school Wright built for his aunts. Copyright (c) Scott Holleran 2013 All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Lloyd Wright in Illinois

Having toured the Ennis and Hollyhock houses in Los Angeles and Taliesin West in Scottsdale, I finally crossed an item off my bucket list when I toured some works by Frank Lloyd Wright in Illinois. It was around Christmastime, and the winter in northern Illinois was unseasonably kind, so I was able to embark on the audio walking tour in Oak Park.

The reasonably priced tour comes with an audio electronic device similar to an iPod, which was explained in a tutorial, a map in brochure and a set of headphones. They were all sufficient, though the device didn’t always work as intended and the headphones are one size fits all, so constant adjustments were necessary. The autonomy of walking through Oak Park’s wide, tree-lined neighborhoods is worth the hassle and the package includes a guided tour of Wright’s 1889-1898 home at 951 Chicago Avenue. Here, he raised six children with his first wife and added a studio, where he created a new American architecture, the Prairie style, and designed 125 structures, including such famous buildings as the Robie House, the Larkin Building and Unity Temple. The restored site is presented as it appeared in 1909, the last year that Wright lived in the home and worked in the studio. The house and studio are simple, clearly and thoughtfully planned and everything I’d always imagined they would be. My favorite parts of the home and studio tour were the children’s playroom and the studio workspace, best described as a place designed for man at his best. Standing at the drafting tables is an exalted experience. The whole experience stirs the senses and makes you want to get to work and create.

From there, the audio walking tour, which does require coordination and syncing the pedestrian with the technology, cycles to ten Wright houses and the Unity Temple, which remains an active religious facility that offers a separate tour for a fee. Individually, each is striking in its own way, and I’ve included a snapshot here as a sample. The audio provides a strictly architecture-oriented lesson, not an historical or biographical narration, and I found myself wanting to know more about how the commission was developed and for whom and how Wright regarded each finished work. The tour loops along Forest Avenue to Austin Gardens and up Kenilworth Avenue back to Wright’s home and studio past several other interesting houses designed by various architects. Overall, this is the largest concentration of Wright-designed structures in existence. All the houses are privately owned and occupied by residents and visible from Oak Park’s public sidewalks.