“Architects of a Golden Age: Highlights from the Huntington’s Southern California Architecture Collection” debuted this weekend at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. The small exhibition is on view in the West Hall of the Library through January 21, 2019.
Documenting what curators rightly call “one of the most creative and influential periods in Southern California architecture”, the Huntington presents 21 original plans and drawings depicting various distinctive buildings designed or built between 1920 and 1940, coinciding with LA’s growth and the arrival of individuals of ability from across the U.S.
“Architects of a Golden Age” features renderings of Downtown LA’s Union Station, Los Angeles Stock Exchange and buildings in Chinatown, which was reshaped when city government seized control of private property in the early 1930s through eminent domain law.
In press materials, the Huntington suggests that the private research and educational institution founded in 1919 by businessman and industrialist Henry Huntington (1850-1927) began to focus on collecting architectural documentation in the late 1970s, when building conservation and the preservationism movement took root.
“For curators at the Huntington, that was the time to actively seek out and salvage as much of the architectural record as possible, as dozens of significant buildings fell to the wrecking ball and the downtown skyline was forever changed,” said Erin Chase, assistant curator of architecture and photography. “This show is an opportunity to showcase our collection, which has become invaluable in the study of the history of the region’s built environment.”
The Huntington says that its collection has grown to thousands of plans, sketches, photographs and records. “Architects of a Golden Age” includes a charcoal drawing of the façade of LA’s Union Station, designed by Edward Warren Hoak (1901-1978), illustrating his blend of Spanish, Mission Revival, Southwest and Art Deco styles. Also, look for a detailed sketch of the Mayan Theater on Hill Street mapping the ornate 1927 building’s façade, with its stylized pre-Columbian reliefs by Mexican sculptor Francisco Cornejo (1892-1963).
The 12-story granite Los Angeles Stock Exchange building by Samuel Lunden (1897-1995) is captured in two gouache renderings by Roger Hayward; one of the building’s exterior, the other of the cavernous trading floor. Completed in 1931, its edifice was designed to instill a sense of financial stability. The LA Stock Exchange, which opened eight days before the crash of 1929, was designed with a goal by the exchange’s board of directors to advance three hallmarks of capitalism: finance, production and research and discovery.
Today, the space is used as a nightclub. Architect Lunden’s papers were left to the Huntington, which points out that he left a mark across Los Angeles with, besides the Stock Exchange building, USC’s Doheny Library and the 1928 wing of the Biltmore Hotel.
Featured collections include architect Wallace Neff’s (1895-1982) papers, which include an elevation drawing (graphite on tracing paper) for Neff’s 1923 horse stables for glass tycoon Edward Libbey, original owner of the Ojai Valley Inn, along with renderings for an Airform house, Neff’s solution to the mass-housing shortage during and after World War 2.
Roger Hayward (1899–1979), Los Angeles Stock Exchange, interior of trading room floor © Courtesy of Dr. James and Mrs. Miriam Kramer, 2018.
One of the greatest assets of this new exhibit is its representation of our remarkably enterprising history of businessmen, industrialists and capitalists in Southern California. Besides the place’s namesake Huntington and Edward Libbey, works include elaborate residential plans for English immigrant Arthur Letts, who took a bankrupt store in downtown Los Angeles and remade it into The Broadway department store and, later, Bullock’s.
The rendering of Mr. Letts’ magnificent Holmby Park estate, constructed in 1908, must be seen up close to be fully appreciated. Arthur Letts bought 60 acres in the city’s northeastern section now known as Los Feliz, where Letts built a Tudor mansion. He hired William Adolph Peschelt (1853-1919) to landscape it with a unique selection of trees, succulents and other plants. The botanical specimens eventually were dispersed and sold to nurseries and private collectors, including Huntington founder Henry Huntington. The drawing of this private property includes a simple home on top of a small hill overlooking an entirely private estate with greenery and walking paths amid a few fluttering birds and the early LA backdrop of surrounding foothills near what is now Griffith Park.
A recently acquired archive of landscape architects Florence Yoch and Lucile Council includes a 30 x 36 inch ink drawing on tracing paper for movie director George Cukor’s 1936 garden at his home in West Hollywood. Yoch and Council, who apparently were quite skilled in botany, horticulture and design, worked on a range of projects, from the Vroman’s Bookstore courtyard in Pasadena to prominent estates. The pair survived the Depression by designing sets for movies such as Gone with the Wind (1939).
An opaque watercolor on board from 1925 by another artist, Elmer Grey (1871-1962), architect of the Pasadena Playhouse and Henry Huntington’s residence in San Marino, shows the first conception of a community playhouse in Pasadena, the city of roses. The curator notes that Grey’s architectural philosophy was peculiar to Southern California’s climate; he regarded its Mediterranean-like climate as ideal for informality in design with a new type of Spanish-influenced architecture, which he simply referred as Californian.
The Huntington’s new, one-room exhibition includes a rendering of a luxurious, post-World War 2 era living room designed by architect A. Quincy Jones and interior designer William Haines (1900-1973) in 1952 for Sidney and Frances Brody’s home in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. Curator Chase calls this mid-century modern depiction of the Southern California lifestyle “the pinnacle of what can be achieved with California innovation…It beautifully brings the pre-war history of architecture in the region to an uplifting sendoff.”
Be sure to pick up the exhibit’s official brochure, which provides in colorful detail with reprints a numbered guide to the collections’ documents. Also included in the fold-out supplement are exhibit, architectural, cooking and downtown LA bus tour information and a fun, music playlist which ties into the Huntington exhibit with songs such as “West Coast” by Lana Del Rey, “Skyscrapers” by OK Go and “Downtown” by Petula Clark.
“Architects of a Golden Age: Highlights from the Huntington’s Southern California Architecture Collection” is made possible by the Robert F. Erburu Exhibition Endowment and the Tracy S. and Kenneth S. McCormick Endowment for the Study of Architecture and Design.
The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road in the San Gabriel Vallley’s tiny San Marino, 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles near Pasadena. The place is open to the public Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For details about membership, parking and admission, call (626) 405-2100 or visit Huntington.org