The “Enhance Silver Lake As Park” Project

As President and Chief Consultant of the Neutra Institute, and Dion Neutra, Inc. I, Dion Neutra, have been involved with ideas about how to preserve or enhance the experience at Silver Lake, for now, nearly 9 decades; since 1932, actually.

That was the date my father, finished construction of his first version of a live-work environment sited close to the water in Silver Lake, which he chose for his site, based on its urban beauty, location and potential back in those days. In the pic below, you see me, at about age 8, at left, three years later, admiring the reflections of the trees on the peninsula in what we called ‘The East Bay’.

Silver Lake plan pre-1950

This view was one of the attractions that dad listed in his assessment of this, as a site choice for his advanced model for such a multi-purpose structure. It was named after a Dutch philanthropist, VDL, who loaned him a modest $3500 to help fund this effort, which upon completion immediately attracted international attention, and landed dad as representative in the early modern show mounted by the Museum of Modern Art, New York in that year.


A view of VDL House reflected in Silver Lake

I’m in the process of recording some of what we together and me, solo, have thought about this in a book called MY NINE DECADES IN SILVER LAKE due out some time later this year.

You can imagine the consternation with which we greeted the news in the early 50s, that DWP had decided to close off the East Bay and plant lawn there instead! That this would be locked off from public access was yet another insult. My father immediately came up with the idea of a large reflection Pool that would recapture at least some of the lost water views enjoyed for years by the public owning property on the East side of this park.


A sketch of how a reflection pool would work

The DWP rejected this idea, and instead started a program of watering and mowing lawn of 6 acres in area from that period on. Fast forward. 60 years later, DWP finally relented and allowed this area to be developed to what has become to be known as ‘the meadow’. This has been enjoyed as a passive recreation and relaxation area since.

Silver Lake Reservoir Meadow plan

In the illustration below, we see famed photographer, Julius Shulman with my father, setting up a shot in one of many photo shoots they managed together over a very long period, starting in 1936 and continuing on until the photographers death just a few years ago. You could say Neutra launched Shulman on a world famous practice.

Richard Neutra and Julius Schulman

In 1970, April 16, my father passed away in Germany of a massive heart attack. He was photographing a project of ours in Wupertal. An associate snapped this pic of him some 15 minutes before. As you can see, he was at the top of his game to the very end!

Last know photo of Richard Neutra

A scant week later, the very first Earth Day was celebrated; April 22, 1970. I thought to myself, ‘What a shame that dad didn’t live to see this day; he’d been sounding the alarm about the health of the planet since the publication of his seminal tome, Survival Through Design of 1954. Had the world paid attention to some of what he espoused in that book, we’d be in much better shape today!

This irony gave rise to a specialized garden design I came up with, for the then fenced off lawn area across from the VDL house, which had by then, been rebuilt by me, after a disastrous fire in 1963. I came upon the idea that the City could make headlines by designating an actual physical site for the commemoration of Earth Day, an annual event. Here is an update of what that design looked like 45 years ago.


A plan for the Silver Lake Ecology Garden

During the years, I had more detailed ideas in response to various initiatives put forth by the DWP, meeting with them numerous times, attempting to convince them for example to operate the lake at a much higher level, so as to reduce the views onto the offensive blacktop banks, which had come to surround this lake (in contrast to how it looked in the early days, natural banks; weeping willows and no service road all around).

Early Days of Silver Lake showing banks and trees

I learned because of State Dam regulations that a ‘freeboard’ of at least 5-7 feet would have to be maintained, to mitigate imagined ‘Tsunami Effect’ in case of an earthquake. To make this even worse, in the 70s the DWP suddenly announced that, in its wisdom, it had decided to rebuild the South Dam to a more secure earthquake proof design. Unfortunately, this also proposed to abandon what we called ‘the South East Bay’ a portion of the reservoir which extended into what became the dog park. See illustration above. Note how the water came right to the road; no service road inside. Again, stake holders around that corner of the lake, lost their views. This was exacerbated by the decision to raise the height of the dam an additional 10’, further blocking off views to the water even more.

See below for an early response in which I suggested a pool in lieu of non-reflective treatment. I called it ‘the SE Pool’. Note that this would have replaced the water area as it existed before the relocation of the dam! A vain hope of saving some of the water view for a considerable number of people.

South East Pool at Silver Lake

About 10 years ago, now, I came up with an idea designed to mitigate the onerous views onto the blacktop banks, whose appearance had become even more unsightly because of the patching that DWP had found necessary, giving rise to what people called ‘tiger stripes’.

Silver Lake Board Walk Plan

Since it was unlikely that the water level could ever be raised to within a few feet of the level of the service road, how about a series of ‘board walks’ designed to allow an alternate experience of this gem of the city. Ramp down and walk along close to the water, and then back up again after a time? I called this ‘The Board Walks of Silver Lake’.

This map also served as a guide to icons of modern architecture around the lake for use of visitors. (see roster at left). Below, see view of south dam before installation of BD-5. Imagine how much more interesting this view would be, if that vast expanse view of dam were broken up, not to speak of the option of enjoyment of getting down closer to the water!

An example of the tiger stripes from crack repairs

In 2017, the VDL was honored by being selected as a ‘National Historic Monument’; the highest honor in our country reserved only for the very top examples of importance, historically. The ceremony was attended by Dion, congressman Adam Schiff, and others, as a bronze plaque was affixed to the wall near the entrance.

VDL National Historic Registry Plaque

This gets us back to my plan for Ecology Garden. Note that one of its features is an effort to recall the role water had played in dad’s selection of this site. How about a connection from the street out front of the monument leading the eye back to the lake in the background?

A plan for the Silver Lake Ecology Garden

What about the notion of commemoration of this ground as a site to focus attention once a year in April to why we celebrate Earth Day? What is the message being communicated by this celebration? This site could be the focus of a big rally featuring a world class speaker, to be covered by TV, and seen world-wide; putting LA on the map, as one of the only cities, to so honor this occasion?

At the same time, I had envisioned the idea of commemorating pioneers in the ecology movement, such as Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, Richard Neutra and others. This list could be augmented from time to time, as new candidates emerged and were honored. There was a small parking area provided to allow for school buses primarily.

A close up of the memorial garden plan

I had the idea that each of these pioneers would receive a weatherproof display case extolling their life and contributions surround this pool. During the year, park rangers could ferry visitors, especially children around, explaining the role these people played leading up to the final decision to celebrate Earth Day yearly.

Would it not be cool, if the Master Plan could advocate this reworking of the meadow area?
What better way to honor the only Historic Monument in our area, than this park with its water feature focusing attention on this piece now hidden by trees from the West, as well as recreating, to the extent possible, the historic view from it to its historic site; the expanse of silver Lake?

There would actually be more lawn area in this plan, than is the case at present. As a bonus there could be an ‘Old Faithful’ much like the one which appeared at Echo Park, many years after I first proposed such a feature here. Note the tuned ceramic vessels to pick up or emanate sounds to go with these ‘eruptions’ perhaps every quarter hour, rather than wait an hour!

Portions of this post were first published in 2014; others in 2018.

Read and Sign the petition

RAISE THAT RESERVOIR WORKING LEVEL 15-20′! BREAK UP THE VIEW ONTO THOSE UGLY BANKS! 450 people signed the petition at that time through end of 2014

No matter what part of the world you live in, you can vote to help us influence how this lake transitions to a Public Park within the next five or so years. Sign and get others to join in to overwhelm the City of Los Angeles with interest here, sufficient to make them pause with their plans to give these options serious consideration.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Thanks for your support. Announce this to your Social Media outlets and contacts for support; make this go VIRAL!

Neutra In Roatan, The Island Dream

Architect Dion Neutra has led the Neutra firm for the last half of its illustrious nine decades of service. Dion’s work and unique experience serve to further secure the Neutra legacy; Richard Neutra is revered the world over as one of the most influential architects of our time.

Dion’s son, Nick Neutra, is in the process of building a multi-structure complex on the Honduran island of Roatan. Dion and Nick formed the team to conceptualize the project starting in 2007. This cooperative effort represents a milestone in a tradition of creative expression.

A feature-length documentary is being proposed that will chronicle this recent chapter in the Neutra story: the tenth island project of the Neutra practice. Dion is concurrently producing a book, The Island Projects of the Neutra Practice.

The Roatan project will be the central element around which the storyline will evolve. The film will explore three generations of father-son relationships, going back to the first Neutra island project, The Windshield House, Fisher’s Island, in 1936. The narrative will focus on the universal challenges and rewards of the creative process.

The current collaboration between Nick and Dion presents a unique opportunity to enhance the Neutra legacy. With funding secured, this film will further document and preserve that history for generations to come.

For more information and to support these projects,

Roberto Burle Marx’s only US example

In response to a NY Times article about Marx:

In the mid 50s our office designed a large residence in Havana. Through dad’s contacts, we somehow attracted Marx to offer a landscape design for that project.

In 1955, we were working on the LA Headquarters building for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. Dad convinced Marx that this would be a great opportunity for him to show his mural talents for LA. We have a picture of Marx putting the finishing touches on that piece;. the only live example of this man’s work in the US! It would appear that the paint was applied directly to the plastered surface, as opposed to a canvas being adhered.

Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America - Roberto Burle Marx

We have tried repeatedly to make contact with the current owner, who has avoided us; who knows why, but we suspect he does not want to know about this treasure in his midst for fear of the responsibility this might reveal. We’ve reported this to the Mural Program of the City, but no one seems to have an idea how and under what authority something might be done here.

First, of course, it would seem, an experienced archeologist should scrape the white painted surface to see if signs can be found of this art work underneath. But what if it’s true; what to do next? It is not practical to remove this wall with the plastered surface intact, I would say, altho with enough funding anything is possible. But what to do with it if and when? I don’t think this owner would want to be bothered, even if funding were found for a restoration.

Neutra Lofts in Los Angeles – A Recent Phenomenon

Neutra Loft

The loft phenomenon is one of the most interesting movements in contemporary life style and architecture. Its goal is to design domestic spaces in structures originally constructed for industrial uses.

Following our firm’s philosophy, we attempt to design a special category of lofts, hoping the client does not make a mistake when buying and reconstructing these spaces. Based on Bauhaus considerations and our International Style principles, we continue to apply biorealism and transform this important concept into biometabolic: the conversion of structures into practical elements of circulation zones and personal activity.

In addition, we apply the defined aspects of realness: presence, significance, materiality and emptiness (For An Architecture of Reality, Michael Benedikt, Lumen Books, 1987).

A building with presence is not apologetic, but asserts itself as architecture, having a right to be there, to take up its position as a new entity in the physical world. An object or building with presence has a shine, a sensuousness, a symmetry to it. It waits for our return. In Neutra lofts, these conditions are met by paying attention to circulation access zones and built in open spaces with contours and edges.

Significant buildings, real buildings, are achieved rather than provided. They are built over time by someone rather than arriving all but ready-made by strangers. Thus, we should not be surprised that most important lofts, and how often anonymous buildings, are provided by government and corporations, usually neglected, vandalized, or just suffered and ignored.

Materiality derives from the speed, economy and formal freedom with which walls and ceilings can be made. Be aware of ‘fake’ materials that suggest solidity and consistency of material throughout the piece. Most plastic veneers are doubly fake; they disguise not only the lack of correspondence between surface and interior, but also the nature of the material in the first place, like a decoy. In Adolf Loos’ essays, we found some practical principles: look for the thickness of the veneer, the hollowness of the gypsum-board walls, the marvel of formica marble, the freedom and power of paint.

Emptiness has a connotation of silence, clarity and transparency in the clean lines and open spaces, and surely, is the most difficult component of realness. It denotes innocence and intention.

For architecture, emptiness, implies that a building should not be a slave to its program (such as most generic programs of gentrification in Los Angeles), turning to accomodate high-income people, squirming to please affluent people, but rather should be formed according to innate principles of order, structure, shelter. It should be found beautiful and useful, like a tree. They seem ‘better’ than anything we could design from scratch, and that is why, increasingly, we like them.

The Neutra firm invites the exploration of these principles and to stamp our logo and name, our promise is infinite, it is the promise of life.

Design and Vision by Reuben A. McDavid, Associate Creative Director, Neutra Institute for Survival Through Design. 2006. All rights reserved.

12 Qualities and Characteristics of Neutra’s Work

12 Qualities and Characteristics of Neutra’s Work
(From ARCH 322, Great Houses of Los Angeles, Lecturer: Prof. Victor A. Regnier, FAIA, University of Southern California, School of Architecture, 2003.)

1. Modernist Look – (appearance)

  • Flat roof
  • Stucco and glass materials

2. Inside-Outside Relationships

  • Nurtured and developed in many different ways
  • Courtyards, roof tops, sliding glass walls, edge spaces

3. Built-in Furniture

  • Controlling room design and use — beds, cabinets, bookshelves
  • Making it easier to use and clean

4. Use of Industrial/Experimental Materials

  • Lots of types — steel, plywood, diatomaceous materials, commercial type applications, masonite

5. Concern for Human Fit (personal and environmental linkage)

  • Occupant interviews
  • House fits pattern of living — could cause a divorce through “faulty” design

6. Transparency and Reflectivity — (VDL House)

  • View nature from a protected setting
  • Mirrors reflect views of courtyards and the landscape

7. Nature and Landscape

  • Water, plants, edge spaces, trees
  • Minimalist ethic — not just lush landscaping

8. Design with Climate

  • Overhangs, cross ventilation, HVAC works

9. Ribbon Windows (around perimeter)

  • Roof is separated from the wall below

10. Dramatic Stair Connections

  • Between floors – always opened up – aware of where you are going
  • Celebrated as part of the sequence

11. Low Maintenance (ease of living)

  • Easy to clean
  • Taste, imagination, “element of practicality”

12. Minimalist Detailing (simple and elegant)

  • Landscaping
  • Lack of door trim
  • Bases/coves — very simple