Monday, February 22, 2010

From the Archives: The Eames House

(Originally posted on 3/22/2009)

In addition to creating some of the most iconic furniture designs of the 20th Century, husband and wife Charles Eames (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1988) built a lovely modern house and studio in Pacific Palisades as part of the influential Case Study Program. Through the Los Angeles-based program, which ran from 1945 to 1966, Arts & Architecture magazine commissioned top architects to design and build inexpensive and efficient modern houses that could serve as models for the post-WWII housing boom.


After building the Pacific Palisades house for the Case Study Program, the Eameses resided in the house from its completion in 1949 to their deaths in 1978 and 1988. The Eames House is one of the Case Study Program's most popular houses and has even been replicated in miniature out of chocolate.

The house was constructed out of pre-fabricated, industrial materials and the Mondrian-inspired exterior is composed of white and primary colored panels of varying sizes outlined by black steel beams:

Twisting bark on a row of large, fragrant eucalyptus trees in front of the house provides an interesting textural contrast with the glass and steel of the structure's exterior:

The two buildings and their adjoining patios are set against an 8-foot high, 200-foot long retaining wall which abuts the hill on one side of a small meadow. The far edge of the meadow ends on a bluff with views over the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Bay.

A view of the house from the top of the retaining wall:

A view from the studio over the little meadow toward the ocean:

The grounds of the Eames House are open to visitors who call in advance to schedule an appointment. The interior of the house is not open to the public, but the living room, kitchen, and dining area are visible from outside through the glass doors and windows. The living room, with its high ceiling, warm rugs, tropical plants, and tall book shelves, is unusually livable and comfy for a modernist house. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take interior photos. Here is the living room from the outside:

The side of the living room as viewed from one of the patios:



A few blocks away from the Eames House, modern treehouse-style homes are perched above little creeks running through the narrow, lush Santa Monica Canyon. Kappe House, built in 1968 on Brooktree Road by architect Raymond Kappe, is the most well-known of these treehouse residences. From the road, the Kappe House appears to be floating above the canyon. Wooden terraces jut out from the house and blend in with the treetops and a creek runs underneath the house on wide, rocky boulders.

Unfortunately, my photos do a poor job of capturing the charm of the Kappe House:

While Kappe's name is not well known among the general population, architects and designers love his houses and the L.A. Times ranked the Kappe House as number 8 on its 2008 list of the best Los Angeles Houses of all time. Also on the L.A. Times list were several other houses that I have visited including the Eames House (#4), the Gamble House (#6), the Ennis House (#3), Hollyhock House (#10), and the Schindler House (#1).

Another view of the Kappe House from the street:

Here is a map with the locations of the Eames House and Kappe House:

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cat of the Week: Sal

Sal mostly stayed in the bedroom during a dinner party at his house in West Hollywood last night:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Seasons in Southern California

Here are two pictures (taken from different angles) of the La Jolla Valley in Mugu State Park. I took the first picture at the end of August, when it hadn't rained for 6 months, and I took the second picture today in mid-February after we've had a couple of winter rains:

For more information on Mugu hikes check out the Modern Hiker and the Geek Hiker websites. I recommend the 7.5 mile loop that starts at the parking lot marked below:


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Thursday, February 11, 2010

From the Archives: L.A.'s Cathedral

(Originally posted on 5/9/2009)

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is the third-largest cathedral in the world and serves as the seat of the archbishop of Los Angeles. The cathedral was completed in 2002 and was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, who received architecture's highest honor - the Pritzker Prize - in 1996.

The great cathedrals of Europe were traditionally built next to rivers but in Los Angeles, the cathedral is next to the 101 freeway. Architect Rafael Moneo has likened the freeway to a modern day river that serves an an artery for commerce and transportation in the city. The view of the cathedral is so clear from the freeway that many Angelinos refer to it as "Our Lady of the 101."

Robert Graham (1938-2008), a Venice Beach based artist and husband of actress Angelica Huston, created the monumental brass doors and the modern sculpture of the Virgin Mary at the entrance to the cathedral:
Architectural critics have described the cathedral as "introspective" because it is somewhat uninviting from the exterior, but has beautiful interior spaces. The cathedral didn't appeal to me at first, but it has grown on me. I like the solidity of the building, its unusual angles, its warm color, and the repetive horizontal stripes on the exterior.

A view toward the bell tower from the front courtyard:

Here are some views of the massive exterior from the side of the building that doesn't face the 101:

The interior is divided into small and large spaces and is lit with natural light filtered through alabster windows. I had trouble capturing the quality of the interior spaces in my photos. Here is one view of the central cross over the main altar:

Our Lady of the Angels is open to the public and is located in downtown L.A. on Temple Street between Grand Avenue and Hill Street. The cathedral has an outdoor plaza and garden and lots of contemporary Catholic artwork inside. There are docent-led tours Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. and self guided tour booklets available for purchase in the gift store. More information is available at the cathedral's website.


View Our Lady of the Angels in a larger map

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Union Station Harvey House

In 1875, a businessman named Fred Harvey (1835-1901) opened two restaurants in Kansas and Oklahoma along the Kansas Pacific Railway. At that time, the railways did not serve food on trains and Harvey's restaurants quickly became popular with travelers. Within a few years, Harvey contracted with the Santa Fe Railway to build and operate restaurants at dozens of stops throughout the Southwest. The Harvey House chain operated until the 1960s and at its height included 84 restaurants stretching from Kansas to California.

The last of the Harvey Houses was built in 1939 in Los Angeles by architect Mary Colter (1869-1958) next to L.A.'s Union Station. Colter, who built a number of the Fred Harvey restaurants, drew inspiration from Navajo themes and her restaurants and hotels continue to be influential in Southwestern architecture. The glossy red and brown tiled floor of the Los Angeles Harvey House resembles a Navajo rug:

The restaurant has many beautiful architectural details such as the floral-patterned studding on the leather siding of this raised dining area:

A detail of the concrete parrot tiles that line the walls of the restaurant:

After having bad experiences with male employees in the Southwest, Harvey decided to hire only educated, single women between the ages of 18 and 30 from the East Coast and Mid-West to work at his restaurants. Harvey hired the young women on one-year contracts, paid them quite well, and required that they live in boarding houses adjacent to the restaurants run by house-mothers who enforced strict rules of conduct. In popular lore, the respectable "Harvey Girls" civilized and populated the Southwest by marrying local men after their year-long contracts with Fred Harvey expired. There is even a musical entitled "Harvey Girls" produced by MGM Studios in 1946 starring Judy Garland as a young woman from the East Coast who became a Harvey Girl.

The Los Angeles Harvey House stopped operating as a restaurant in 1967 and the space is now rented out for special events and movie shoots. The central dining room at the Harvey House is dominated by a large U-shaped lunch counter that used to be surrounded by built-in seating and is now used at a bar during events:

The view from behind the bar:

There are raised dining areas on both sides of the central room with built-in leather seating:

The L.A. Harvey House is generally not open to the public, but the L.A. Conservancy walking tour of Union Station includes entrance into the Harvey House. More information about the Conservancy's walking tours including their Union Station tour is available on the L.A. Conservancy website. I highly recommend that people who are interested in historic buildings in Los Angeles join the Conservancy and go on Conservancy walking tours. For more pictures and information about Union Station, check out my Union Station blog post.

The Harvey House is located adjacent to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles:


View Harvey House in a larger map