Neutra Architecture Tours: Highlights, Transcripts, On-Line Resources
Neutra Homes on the Market – Recent Listings, Sales
VDL Research House II
Lovell Health House
Available Tours in Los Angeles
Called ‘The Colony’ are a number of Neutra designs on and around Neutra Place; you can view these from the outside by touring off Earl Street between Silverlake Blvd. and Glendale Blvd. Thomas Guide p. 594 E-5. You can also click here for ‘Directions‘ to get there.
Richard and Dion Neutra VDL House II: 2300 Silverlake Blvd. Open most Saturdays only 11-3. VDL Phone: (323) 953-0224, or VDL House Website
Our former offices, at 2379 Glendale Blvd. [a couple of blocks from the VDL House]. You can visit the building most any time, and view it from the inside during regular office hours. Contact: Winnie Khoofor more information.
The VDL Research House II (2300 Silverlake Blvd., Los Angeles), designed in 1966 by architects Richard and Dion Neutra, was donated to California Polytechnic University, Pomona, in the late 1970s under a life estate for Mrs. Dione Neutra. In honor of this gift, Cal Poly Pomona University announced the first in a series of open houses in 2000, celebrating a NEW LIFE for the Richard and Dion Neutra VDL House.
The first open house was held on Sunday, April 16, 2000, the 30th anniversary of Richard Neutra’s death. Four hundred people from all over attended this event. Special guest Dion Neutra, son of Richard and architect of VDL II, conducted a touching remembrance of his father, followed by the introduction of honored guests. The group then discussed ways to continue an outreach program for the community to assist in raising funds for immediate restoration and repair of this historic building, designated.
In addition to being designated Cultural Monument #640 by the City of Los Angeles, the VDL House was listed by the World Monuments Watch as one of the 100 Most Endangered World Monuments in 2000. It was one of only five sites in the U.S. and the only one west of the Mississippi. The youngest of all the projects listed, the VDL joined such prestigious projects as the Valley of the Kings; Macchu Pichu; Beauvais Cathedral; and the oldest of the group, the Giraffe Rock Art Site in Niger, of the 6th Century BC.
After a disastrous fire in March 1963, the VDL house was rebuilt by Dion Neutra in consultation with his dad, who was often out of town during those years. It was completed in 1966, and the elder Neutras enjoyed living in the newly constituted house until Neutra’s death in 1970. His widow continued in residence for yet another 20 years until her death in 1990. In the years since, Dion has continued to struggle to actualize the vision his family had when it determined to give this house in perpetuity to a university.
Funds are needed in the range of $400,000 for the restoration/adaptive re-use of the house for the purposes contemplated by Cal Poly University. Ultimately, to fully implement the programs envisioned, an endowment in the range of $2 million is needed.
Programs would include keeping the house open more regularly to encourage ‘drop-in’ visitation; conducting University classes on site to teach the lessons of the house; and making the house available to community groups, film shoots, and group visitations. A group of photos was also assembled to celebrate this world-renowned example of Neutra design, one of the few that illustrates a late collaboration between father and son.
If you have ideas on fundraising or would like to contribute to the pot, please e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org
Take an on-line stroll through the Neutra 1959 Hasserick House, whose extensive Web site features a guided photo tour as well as floor and site plans.
October 26, 1997
Hello everyone! My name is Dion Neutra. Welcome to the Lovell Health House, now the home of Betty Topper and her family. May I present to you, Betty Topper! Thanks so much to you, Betty, for allowing us to tour your home!
Betty has been in residence longer than the original Lovell family, who were here between 1929 when the house was completed, and the late 1930s when the second owner, Mrs. Edith Bland, took occupancy. She and her children were here until the late 1940s, when the Goldbergs moved in. They were here until the end of the 1950s. It was during this time that one the Institute’s vice-presidents played with a Goldberg daughter; in fact she told me it was in this living room that she got her first kiss! Charlotte [Ahaus-Gibbs, an officer of the Institute for Survival Through Design], stand up and take another bow!
Morton Topper also was a friend of the Lovell boys, having played with them here many times over the years. When he heard of the opportunity to acquire this house from the Goldberg,s he jumped at the chance. He and Betty moved in with four of their children in 1960. Their fifth child, a daughter, was born while they were in residence here in 1964. They raised their family in these rooms until Mort’s death in 1972, just a couple of years after my dad died. Betty has carried on here by herself ever since, with varying numbers of kids living in and returning from outside the nest.
Betty Topper has been the most generous of Neutra owners, allowing her house to be used for tours, visitations like this, and movie shoots. A recent example is the film “L.A. Confidential” [in which the house appears as the home of villian Pierce Patchett].
Close Call for Neutra Centennial
Another example of Betty’s generosity was an event we had planned here as a major event of the Neutra Centennial. It was a black-tie gala that was to occur on May 2, 1992. Turns out, that was the week the Rodney King riots started! At the nth hour, my entire support crew of 16 people from the LA Conservancy announced they were canceling and so should I!
It was nothing else but a pure MUTINY! Not to be defeated, I checked with my council person’s office and the local police. I was told that we could proceed as long as guests were homeward bound from a recognized activity after nightfall.
My problem was that people were counting on this, coming from as far away as Cambridge, Mass., and were already en route. They could not be reached even if we wanted to cancel! I had hired a harpist, caterers, rented tables, cutlery, dinnerware, and had ordered drinks and a van service. WE WERE COMMITTED! We had to proceed.
I called an ex-wife and my son Nick, who is here, along with some Institute members and others. Would you all stand up and be recognized? ON THE DAY OF THE EVENT, I managed to assemble a support group of six people to do the work originally slated for 16. We played host to about 25 of the originally hoped for 30 paid participants. We all felt secure up in the mountains above the riots, whose flames we could actually SEE from up there! It certainly made for a memorable evening. I think everyone who braved the elements to get up here had a wonderful time.
One of the highlights was that May 2, 1992 was the 97th anniversary of the birth of the house’s patron, Dr. Philip Lovell, so that this year would be his 102nd! We had as special guest his son Gary, an attorney, who gave us some reminiscences of his growing up years here. Gary lives in the famous ‘Lovell Beach House’ by Rudolph Schindler.
Neutra’s History with the House
Going back to the beginning again, I’d like to give you a little history of how my dad came to design this house.
Remember, he and mom had arrived in L.A. in early 1925. They moved in with the Schindlers on Kings Road. The idea was that the two would form a collaboration. They worked together for a time, while Schindler continued to do several projects he was involved with, including the Lovell Beach House of that year, and a cabin for the Lovells in the mountains, which Schindler had also designed.
In 1926, about the time I was conceived, they were working together on the League of Nations competition for Geneva, which was submitted late that year — about the time I was born, in October. There was some bad feeling when my grandfather arranged for a publication of the work in Europe, in which Schindler’s name was played down or omitted. This was entirely unbeknownst to my dad, who was genuinely distressed about it, but the damage had been done.
Shortly afterwards I think there was a failure of the siding material used on the Mountain Cabin, to where it absorbed moisture and experienced complete degradation to everyone’s consternation. By early 1928, when Lovell had decided to design an office downtown and this house in Griffith Park, he was ready for a change of architects. You can imagine how this went over with Schindler, who was anyway somewhat intimidated by my dad’s greater business sense and PR talents. Dad commenced his work on these projects while still at Kings Road, but it must have been an awkward situation.
Some of my earliest memories have to do with the sunken lawn garden at Kings Road, which I can still remember felt ‘safe’ and ‘secure’ to me because of the way one felt ‘contained’ when rolling around in them as a toddler!
Another very vivid memory has to do with my dad taking me on an inspection trip to this house when I was only about three. He was driving his Franklin, and it overheated on a steep part of Dundee Drive. We had to pull over so he could raise the hood and inspect the engine. I remember him hoisting me up so I could see in, too. There were these black shiny tappets rising up and down and making a clicking sound. This was before ‘head covers’ were invented, I guess. You could see the innards of the engine running!
On completion, this house had an incredible ‘play’ in the LA Times, partially because of Lovell’s involvement as its main weekend columnist. He was a true precursor of today’s ‘Integrated Medical Practitioner,’ which in those days was called a ‘Naturopath.’ He believed in good diet, exercise, and rest. His charge to the ambitious 35-year-old architect was, “Design me a house that will enhance by its design the HEALTH of the inhabitants of this house!” What a GREAT program for an architect searching for meaning in his work and practice! It really set the standard by which all our buildings were to be measured for the next 70 years!
In response, my dad provided outdoor sleeping porches, an exercise yard and equipment, a swimming pool on this impossible site, basketball and handball court, etc., along with an emphasis on great amounts of glass to place inhabitants close to nature. The kitchen was outfitted with special water purification equipment, and vegetable and fruit juicing facilities. (See black-and-white photo from early in the house’s history)
And so the house came to be known as the ‘Lovell Health House.’
Revolutionary Methods; Wide Acclaim
Why did this house become so famous? Aside from the forwar- looking design at a time when neighboring houses were being built in Spanish hacienda style, the construction was remarkable. The site is precipitous; the access from the street tenuous at best, which made construction most problematic indeed.
My father, drawing on his experience in working on steel-framed buildings in Chicago and the research he did in writing his first book, found out about a new form of depositing concrete through the use of hoses; it was called ‘gunite.’ Using this method, he was able to transport the concrete from the street to the various parts of the site quickly, rather than by wheelbarrow, which would have been the only other alternative.
On this foundation, he designed a light steel frame that was completely pre-fabricated and erected in about 40 hours; a modern miracle. Into this frame he inserted industrial steel windows of standard sizes, so that the building was largely enclosed in a fraction of the time a ‘conventional’ building would have taken and with far less scaffolding, etc. The exterior stucco was also conveyed into place by the gunite method, something that had never been done with stucco up to that point, so far as I’m aware.
These revolutionary methods were widely publicized and added to the almost surreal quality of this building, which evoked images of a spaceship from another planet that had landed on the hillside of Griffith Park! Photos of the construction were widely published by the steel and concrete institutes, and magazines were filled with these images the world over. My dad’s work was dubbed ‘the New International Style,’ much to his dismay. He hated these attempts to categorize his work, which was much more philosophical than stylistic.
This all happened in the summer and fall of 1929. Dad expected his career would skyrocket with all this attention. Would you believe there was not ONE new job that came his way as a direct result of all this activity? It got so bad just after this period that he decided to make a roun- the-world lecture tour on the basis of all the publicity that had occurred around the debut of this house! It was to be years later that he would finally have the chance to build his own house on Silverlake, completed in 1933.
The layout of the Health House has the bedrooms and study on the entrance level; the living room, kitchen, and maid’s quarters on the next level down; with the pool and equipment areas below. Off to the side and down the hill a bit are the garages and extra rooms; quite a carry for the groceries!
A final anecdote: In the early 1970s, I was designing the Main Huntington Beach Library and Cultural Center. Amid all the publicity, I got a letter from, of all people, Philip Lovell! He had retired with his second wife to a small cottage near the beach in town. His letter was a real FAN letter, expressing his admiration for what I was doing for his adopted city, and remarking that I had inherited ‘the talents of your pappy!’ I made a point of visiting them in their house shortly before he died; it was very touching on both sides.
I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, while we break into informal discussion, and everyone wanders around on their own. Thank you all for your attendance and support of the Institute.
©1998 Institute for Survival Through Design (TM). All Rights Reserved.