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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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!

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


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.



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!


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.


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?


Help Save Connell House

Update: 10/21/2016
Our 1958 Connell House in Pebble Beach continues to be in jeopardy, despite it’s having been listed on State and National lists as a valued asset. All this has not convinced the owner to back off her determined program of demolition and replacement by a McMansion. We continue to rely on local champion Sally Aberg for current status. She can be reached at forthecolors@comcast.net

URGENT! SUPPORT NEEDED NOW!

Our 1958 Connell house in Pebble Beach is in jeopardy! Funds are still needed to complete its nomination for National as well as State Monument status. The hope being that such would convince the current owner to move on, and find another site for its McMansion!

We continue to support the sterling efforts of Sally Abord, who has organized the fund raiser through:

amap1.org

Everyone; let’s join and pledge $10; more if you can! $3000 needed NOW!
Prevent another Gettysburg!


Demolition Derby

The recently demolished Samuel and Luella Maslon House in Rancho Mirage, California. Built in 1962 by modernist architect Richard Neutra.

Von Sternberg Residence: early 30s example of pioneering modernist design by Neutra. Destroyed in 1972 because of management issues and ultimately to house tract of houses.

Neutra designed Cyclorama building at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania demolished 2013.

Watch the video below of the $100,000,000 Sho Hondo Buddhist temple erected to last 1000 years in early 70s destroyed in 1998 because of displaced egos in religious community.

The Sands, Las Vegas: early example of Wayne McAllister design removed to make space for larger and more profitable hotel with no history.

Laemmle Building; Hollywood and Vine; 1934. Drastically altered starting about 1940; might as well have been demolished. Was finally lost in a fire in 2008. In Dion’s book ‘The North West Corner: Hollywood and Vine’ he proposes building a design he found that Neutra had rendered in 1926 for that same corner; an 8 story building called ‘the Hollywood Fashion Center’. That could replace the current surface parking lot there, with multiple levels of subterranean parking below.

Fine Arts Building: Cal State Northridge University. 1961. Damaged by Northridge earthquake of ’94; destroyed in ’97 rather than repair.

Pennsylvania Station, NYC 1915 McKim Mead and White . Destroyed 1965 Despite massive protests to build Madison Square Garden; itself being redeveloped as we speak, along with a new entrance to the subway station via a Library building across the street by the same architects.