Remarks to the Rotary Pasadena

If you’d like to see the visuals for this presentation you can download a PDF of the slides

How long has Rotary International been around?

The Neutra Practice celebrates 91 years of service to the world community this October, 2017.  Like Rotary, we’ve always seen ourselves as instruments of service. Founded in 1926 by my father Richard Neutra, I’ve presided over things since 1970, when he passed from us at the peak of his carrier at 78.

I’ve been in position now for nearly 50 years; longer now than he was, during his life.

In the late 40s the Housing Authority of Los Angeles announced a Federally funded new program for the construction of 10,000 units of public housing.  Armed with the experience he’d garnered with work on public housing in Texas and San Pedro, Dad was in a position to be selected for the major plum of that program; Elysian Park Heights; a 3300-unit project to be sited in Elysian Park.

Because of the politics it became clear that he’d have to join forces with someone of like experience to be successful. He made a deal with architect Robert Alexander, who’d designed Baldwin Hills Village. Together they presented and prevailed. As the 40s wound down, they set up shop in the garage of the VDL addition facing Edgewater Terrace.

In that space were brought people like Si Eisner, planner, and a few personnel to begin the site analysis and preliminary planning.  As that progressed, it became apparent that it would be ideal if a larger space could be obtained in which to collect more people and expertise to execute this very large and complex project.

Dad undertook to find a site and design a building. A spot a few blocks away was found and the design of what would first be called the ‘Planning Professions Building’ ; later the Neutra Office Building  proceeded apace. By early 1950 it was ready for construction, which was completed by our favorite contractor, Red Marsh, within the span of just a few months.

In short order, we populated this building with staff, now augmented to about 10 to 12 people for Neutra and Alexander, in a rear drafting room, and associated engineers in the front part of the building.  My first wife and I occupied the upstairs apartment during this first 18 months. Our first-born son Greg spent the first six months of his life there.

Because of politics the entire public housing program was aborted by the City of LA. just as our project was being made ready to go to bid. The plug was pulled and we lost the whole thing.  In subsequent years the site was taken over to build Dodger Stadium; a blatant misuse of land that had been obtained by Eminent Domaine for a public purpose!

Having tooled up for greatness, the partnership shopped for other joint work.  Early on, we did city planning studies for Sacramento, Tulsa, the island of Guam. Later design of the US Embassy in Pakistan, Visitor Centers for the National Park Service, and design for buildings on several University campuses, along with Palos Verdes High School. Also several other elementary schools. In the end, design of the LA County Hall of Records in downtown.

All this happened as the 50s wound down, and the building had become known as the Neutra Office Building.  As the partnership came apart in the early 60s, the building was used by an outfit called ‘Lakeside Architects’.

In early 1963, because of a fire at VDL, the Neutra practice was moved overnight to this optional site, and worked there in the front part of the building until the end of the century. In 2000, the project was selected as City monument #640. It was elected to the National Register for Historic Places in 2003.

Many of the later iconic designs associated with the Neutra practice were created in this space over the course of several decades.

I had moved the practice up to my home office studio on Neutra place by the first years of 2000, and began to rent out the front part of the Neutra Office Building and the two rear apartments as such, having inherited the building upon my mother’s death in 1990.

I thought it might be interesting to trace the transition of these usages to a new existence and purpose, the NEUTRA INSTITUTE MUSEUM OF SILVER LAKE.  That was launched in summer of 2014. This is what Dennis thought might be of interest to this audience. Let’s see some images…

We see here a view of how the building looked upon its first completion…

Series of some 30 slides, depicting development of the building over its first half century, culminating in how it looks today as NEUTRA INSTITUTE MUSEUM OF SILVER LAKE both from interior and exterior.

To wind it up, some flyers for current shows and books which have appeared in the past couple of years.


Efforts continue to restore Eagle Rock Recreation Center to it’s original stature

This is my baby. I led the drawing crew, supervised construction and attended the opening with dad with all the city officials in attendance. I’ve long decried the desecrations that the Rec and Parks Department visited on its ward. How could all this happen to a City Monument?

Rather than sweat a tortuous fund raiser from private sources, I think the City’s feet should be held to the fire to where funds are extracted from some coffer and it pays for its own transgressions!

I would serve at a reduced rate to oversee these restorations! I would ask the Parks Department to agree to operate within the building as we envisioned it for a year, and then report any perceived tweaks they felt, at that point, were needed to suit their current needs.


VDL Research House II receives National Historic Landmark designation

The VDL Research House II and the original version of Painted Desert Visitors Center, AZ  have been chosen with 20 other historic sites by outgoing Secretary of Interior to NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARKS!

This is the highest level of appreciation for important Historic Sites and is a great honor for us here at the Institute!

The program is presided over by the National Park Service and LA This Week did a feature about the designations

Ironically, it was to this same honor that our Gettysburg Cyclorama Visiitors Center (same vintage as Painted Desert; 1960s) was nominated to, about 15 years ago with 20 other candidates. It was the only one NOT chosen at that time to be so honored!

Instead, some years later, the National Park Service presided over its destruction and grinding to powder on its site in 2013!

Check out Dion’s ebook available here about the Cyclorama’s destruction.


“Dion – My Life” autobiography now available.

Dion Neutra has published the first edition of his autobiography: “Dion – My Life”. A perfect Christmas gift for the Architecture lover in your life.

My father published his at age 70. I’m starting mine at age 90. This first draft will be augmented in future editions, energy permitting. Stay tuned…

Below is an excerpt from the book:

Writing one’s autobiography would seem like a good time to try and summarize what one’s life philosophy has been like.

Looking back, it would seem for one thing, that I’ve lived somewhat reactively, in that my career was suggested by others (my dad), and I followed that lead, however much I’ve enjoyed the profession since.

I think I’ve basically always assumed things were ‘possible’, and set out to actuate them once the course was set. In many cases, I created something out of nothing, and introduced concepts that the client might not have thought of as part of the basic program. I admit emulating this from dad, who was fabulously talented in doing this, on almost every project.

I like to think that I was basically an optimist and approached the challenge with the best intentions and hopes. That I often was blocked or frustrated was more about the “NIMBYs” in my life than a flaw in the proposed course of action.

Pretty much throughout my life, I’ve lived with a sense of urgency. The feeling that there was much to be accomplished, and perhaps not enough time to do it. For this reason, I’ve been active 16 to 18 hours per day, always seeming to have an agenda yet to be addressed.

I do think I had much more potential to do significant works. Regret not having the chance to find out. This was especially true after my dad’s passing. Kept trying by putting it out there in the late 80s and since, that the practice was still vital and available for work.



OCC Board elects to destroy at least two Neutra buildings

As of May, 2016 word has come down that the OCC board ‘after careful consideration’ elected to destroy at least two and maybe three of the original Neutra buildings the above petition was designed to save! We’d achieved over 350 signatures on this petition to that point, which were obviously insufficient to sway these vandals from their dastardly course!

This latest desecration of some of the few remaining Neutra examples, gave rise to a new Institute Project. We’re calling it

THE NEUTRA PRESERVATION WALL OF SHAME

On it will be emblazoned the names of the aggrieved projects, the date they were despoiled, and the names of the perpetrators, so that they can be publicly shamed for their lack of appreciation of the art objects of which they were supposed to be caring stewards!

Stay tuned for more new on this, and feel free to continue building up signatures on the above petition; 1000 would still be great!


Looking ahead to Earth Day 2017

Thank you for your continued tax deductible support of the Neutra Institute for Survival Through Design, and its new Neutra Institute Museum of Silver Lake.

Proceeds will continue to go towards causes of preservation, with special emphasis continuing on into next year towards the events to be scheduled for Earth Day week, ending Sunday, April 23, 2017 and ‘Preserving VDL’. This iconic monument will continue to be in need of repairs of all kinds, and desirably an endowment!

To learn how you can become involved we have all the information on our Volunteer Opportunities page.

[insert donation button here]


Wanted: Information About Neutra Building Owners

If you know of a Neutra building, or if you OWN a Neutra building, please get in touch with the Institute and give us the latest information about the building and its current owner.

The Institute is assembling a database of all current Neutra building owners. Our goal is to create a mailing list for news about the preservation and conservation of what remains of the Neutra oeuvre.

If you have any information, please send it to Dion Neutra. Please include phone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses if available.


The amazing Neutras in Orange County

The original motivation for this show was the threat in 2010 to the Mariner’s Medical Arts Complex in Newport Beach, (still at risk). In 2016, we have the threat to several of our buildings at Orange Coast College, where the Board there has declared itself ready to destroy about three of the rare examples we were able to get built there in the early 50s Why? Not to build on their sites, but “to clear the center of the campus for a green area!” or for parking.

This is all scheduled for some time this year. Aside from individual letters to the college, we’ve come up with a petition whereby you can sign, making any remark you care to, about the value to history, to have these examples survive.

This would appear to be one of our last hopes; would 1000 signatures sufficiently impress these folks to pressure them to change course?


The Preservation Disaster of the 21st Century

The Life and Death of the Neutra Gettysburg Cyclorama Center

cyclorama-cover

In the late 50s, the Neutra and Alexander firm was selected to design what became the signature example of a National Parks Visitor Center. The one for Gettysburg, Pennsylvania became the darling of Richard Neutra together with his architect son, Dion, who acted as Project Architect, throughout the preparation of documents and later during construction, which was finished and dedicated in 1962.

Continue reading “The Preservation Disaster of the 21st Century”