Author Archive

LA Dispatch: New Exhibition Open at Neutra VDL Research House

Posted on: August 27th, 2012 by Lauren Walser

 

We’ve already established that I welcome any excuse to tour a cool, old house. So when I found out that there was a new art exhibition opening at the Neutra VDL Research House in Los Angeles’ Silverlake neighborhood, I cleared my calendar.

And I was glad I did. Because not only is Richard Neutra’s Modernist complex tricky to tour (tours are typically offered only on Saturdays, or on Tuesdays and Thursdays for larger groups by appointment only), seeing it reinterpreted through the eyes of an artist helped me view the site -- and my city -- in a whole new way.

The exhibition, Architectones, is the creation of French artist Xavier Veilhan. It is the first in a series of installations he is producing for various Modernist landmarks, including Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #21 in Los Angeles, and, further afield, Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille, France, and the Melnikov House in Moscow.

Each installment of Architectones will respond to its environment, and the work Veilhan created for Neutra’s complex managed to highlight some of its most stunning features, while also nodding to the Neutra family, Modernism, and Los Angeles’ place in design history. A mobile of golden orbs on the second floor catches the natural light streaming inside from the wall-to-wall windows; a series of black silhouettes of Neutra capture the architect throughout various stages of his life; and a mirrored silhouette of the Neutra family at the top of a staircase reminds you that while it feels like a museum today, the structure was, in fact, a family home for more than four decades.

There are a number of other silhouettes on the property, plus sculptures of a car, a boat, and a metal flag soaring above the rooftop. A soundtrack created by a member of the French band Air accompanies the exhibition as well.

To produce such an intimate interpretation of the house and its history, Veilhan lived in the VDL House with his family prior to the opening of the exhibition. He cooked dinners in the small kitchen, his children slept in the rooftop solarium, and, I would imagine, the entire family relished every second of living in a house where the indoors and outdoors merge so fluidly in classic Neutra fashion. I admit, I am jealous.

At the exhibition’s opening night, Veilhan shared how much he and his family enjoyed their time in Neutra’s house. It’s no wonder why. Neutra designed his home to be a living and working environment that, despite limited space (the complex was built on a 60-by-70-foot lot), could still offer a tranquil, inhabitable environment that combined high efficiency and good design -- without sacrificing affordability or a sense of privacy.

The result was a stunning prism of wood and glass with gardens, reflecting pools, and patios, plus gorgeous views any way you turn. Neutra named it the VDL Research House after Dutch industrialist Dr. Cornelius H. Van der Leeuw, who provided Neutra a portion of the capital to build his experimental home.

The main house was completed in 1932. (A fire destroyed the original house; Neutra and his son Dion, also an architect, redesigned the structure in 1965, and the Garden House at the back of the lot was built in 1939.) Legions of architects, writers, scholars, and other intellectuals flocked to the complex upon its completion, turning it into a vibrant cultural salon for decades.

Today, after years of neglect, the complex is regaining some of that vibrancy, as a major restoration is underway. Two roofs have been restored, but there’s plenty of work that still needs to be done -- and plenty of funds that need to be raised.

Veilhan will contribute a portion of his sculptures’ sales to the restoration efforts. And in the meantime, VDL House Director Sarah Lorenzen says that events like the Architectones exhibition help attract new audiences to the complex, drawing attention not only to its preservation needs, but also to its importance to the city.

The exhibition is open Thursdays through Sundays and will run through Sunday, Sept. 15. Admission is $10 on Saturdays, and a $10 donation is suggested for other days.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

 

Feisty oil heiress and theater star Aline Barnsdall would have been pleased to see the scene that unfolded on her lawn at Hollyhock House last Friday: throngs of people sprawled out on picnic blankets, sipping wine, catching up with friends, and watching the sun set over Los Angeles.

I know I was enjoying the revelries. When I received an email earlier this summer announcing the start of this year’s Friday Night Wine Tastings at Barnsdall Art Park, they had me at “wine tasting.” Imagine sitting with a glass of pinot in the shadow of Frank Lloyd Wright’s c. 1921 Hollyhock House, built for Barnsdall, who had bohemian tendencies and an affinity for supporting radical causes.

But throw in the opportunity to tour the iconic house, and I was sold. So last Friday, I drove to East Hollywood and hiked up the hill where Hollyhock House stands, overlooking the city.

 
Before we began sampling the libations, my friend and I lined up for our 7 p.m. tour.  It was quite a treat to be touring the house that night: It has been closed to tour groups since July 20, save for tours given during the Friday Night Wine Tastings, on account of ongoing restoration work at the site. (It is scheduled to reopen to the public in September.)

We were led through a side door and into a small room where we were instructed to put protective booties over our shoes to spare the flawless hardwood floors. Thanks to Wright’s open floor plan, I was able to survey a good portion of the house while waiting for the tour to begin. Sheets of plastic covering the various construction zones blocked some views, but the visible parts were breathtaking. I was excited to begin exploring. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

My American Road Trip, Part 8: Last Stop

Posted on: July 5th, 2012 by Lauren Walser 5 Comments

 

Two weeks and about 4,500 miles later, Blaise and I have limped across the finish line to Los Angeles, exhausted and glad to be home. But in between Portland and here, we made one final stop: Blaise’s hometown of Davis, California.


The Davis Amtrak station, built in 1913.

After two weeks of exploring brand-new places together, it felt nice to be back in familiar territory. While we spent a good deal of time recovering from our drive (there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal and a place to wash your clothes), we also spent some time downtown. And as we were walking around, Blaise, inspired by our two weeks of exploring historic sites, pointed out some of the older buildings in his own turf -- buildings I’ve walked by many times before, but never really studied. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

 

After a 9-hour slog through western Montana, Idaho, and central Washington -- during which we stretched our legs and did some minor sightseeing in Spokane, home of this year's upcoming National Preservation Conference -- we arrived at the beautiful Mayflower Park Hotel, part of the Trust's Historic Hotels of America program, in downtown Seattle.

Originally called the Bergonian, the hotel's original ground floor amenities were a coffee shop, a drug store, a smoke shop, and a barbershop -- but no restaurant or bar space with alcohol service, as it was built during Prohibition.


The interior of the Mayflower Park Hotel in Seattle.

The hotel changed ownership a number of times until one of its owners declared bankruptcy, and it sat deteriorating for years. It found new life in 1974, when an intrepid couple purchased the hotel and turned it into the beauty it is today, with crystal chandeliers in the lobby, stately Queen Anne furniture in the rooms, and coziness to spare.

Now on the ground level, there’s a popular Mediterranean restaurant, Andaluca, and yes, a swanky bar called Oliver’s Lounge, which was the perfect place for two weary travelers to relax after a long day of driving.
Waiting for the Monorail.

Our room had a view of the Space Needle, but we wanted to see it up close. So the next morning, Blaise and I rode the Monorail, which was built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. It shuttles passengers from downtown to another world’s fair site, Seattle Center, a sprawling outdoor campus with museums, fountains, performance venues, and, of course, the Space Needle. The line to go inside was too long for us, but just standing below and looking up at it was amazing.

Seattle didn’t live up to its rainy reputation while we were there. The weather was absolutely perfect for roaming around neighborhoods like Capitol Hill -- an area I’ve been eager to explore since Preservation magazine featured an article about the revitalization of its Pike/Pine corridor.


Inside the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Once the city’s “auto row,” Pike/Pine has seen many of its old warehouses, car dealerships, and showrooms transformed into cafes, bars, boutiques, and apartments throughout the past several years. I bought a book at Elliott Bay Book Company, housed in a former Ford Truck Service Center, and was tempted by the smell of coffee wafting from Caffe Vita, tucked inside the former 1905 Anderson Tool Supply building. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

My American Road Trip, Part 6: Heavy Metal

Posted on: June 26th, 2012 by Lauren Walser

 

The drive from Jackson, Wyoming, to Butte, Montana, was an adventure that fit perfectly into our Wild West weekend. On the way out of town, Blaise and I had to stop to let two moose cross the highway. Then we drove through snow in Idaho and a torrential rainstorm near Norris, Montana, so we were all too glad to spot the mining rigs rising up from the mountains, signaling we had finally made it to Butte.


Butte, Montana's historic Hotel Finlen.

We checked into our room at the 1924 Hotel Finlen in the town’s Historic Uptown District. You could spot the towering hotel from the highway -- a testament to the original owners’ vision of building the grandest hotel in the city.

Once we settled into our room, we drove around town to check out a few of the old mining rigs, then out to the Berkeley Pit, an old copper mine that operated from 1955 until 1982. It also holds the dubious distinction of being part of the country’s largest EPA Superfund site, thanks to the toxic heavy metals and acidic water filling the pit.


The Berkeley Pit in all its glory.

Dinner that night was down the street from Hotel Finlen at the M&M Cigar Store. It was founded in 1890 by a pair of miners as a 24-hour spot to drink and gamble; 122 years later, neither its hours nor its primary activities have changed. And just a couple years ago, a local resident purchased and completely renovated the restaurant, refurbishing the sign out front and taking much of the interior back to its earlier days. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.