Sunday, September 13, 2009

Alice in Gregory Ain Land

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - louis stoumen photo 1

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - louis stoumen photo 2

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - louis stoumen photo 3

These pictures were taken by one Louis Clyde Stoumen, better known as Lou Stoumen, who was a noted art photographer in the 1940s and 50s, and then, according to IMDb and Wikipedia, later became the nominee of three Academy Awards and winner of two (for documentary work in the late 1950s and early 1960s). He also taught at UCLA film school until passing in 1991.

I have not really found any mention of Stoumen's work as a commercial photographer. Bouncing around the web a bit and looking at his work, has lead me to the conclusion that these pictures don't fall into his style as an artistic photographer. However, after discovering that he was a cinematographer in the early 1950s, and that he is often credited with creating the still-photo, story-telling "Ken Burns effect" (by way of an invention that allowed cameras to track and pan over historic photos and paintings), I think it's safe to say he had a certain narrative approach to his images.

Fascinatingly to me, one of Stoumen's first film credits as a cinematographer was on a movie called Five that I remember reading about when I was a kid obsessed with science fiction and nuclear war movies from the 50s. I never got to see it, and, not until researching a bit for this post, did I even remember ever thinking about it. Now I really must see it, just based on this IMDb synopsis:

Five people are miraculously spared when the fall-out from a super-atomic bomb eventually kills all of the rest of humanity on earth. They are Roseanne Rogers, a pregnant woman who was in an ex-ray room; Michael, a sensitive young poet and philosopher; Eric, a black man; Mr. Barnstaple, a banker; and Charles, a cosmopolitan Alpinist who was saved from the radio-active dust because he was climbing Mt. Everest at the time of the explosion and fall-out. Eventually, they all wind up in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house on a California mountaintop. Oboler, whose movies sounded like his radio programs with added visual symbolism, tosses a lot of that around, especially with the mountain climber, who represents decadent and alien fascism and the banker who brings greed and arrogance to this new Eden on Earth. Soon, all that are left are the poet and the already-pregnant Rosanne, facing the sunset as the new Adam and Eve.

So bringing it back to Ain and the pictures a bit, Stoumen is the cinematographer on this somewhat everyman avant garde film that prominently features a great and rare Frank Lloyd Wright home in Southern California. So via his association with Oboler and Ain, he's clearly running with the progressive crowd. It's curious that there is no mention of Stoumen in any of the writings about Ain, but I venture that he may have been a visitor to one or two "progressive" gatherings held at other Ain homes so well documented in Anthony Denzler's recent book.

Of the photos, you might recognize a couple of them if you've followed the blog at all. Images one and three were originally published in the 1948 edition of American Builder, which I uploaded here. Photo number two was not used in the article... maybe too whimsical. I love these pictures, as they are such a welcome departure from the now-cannonical work of Julius Shulman, Ezra Stoller, etc. You can also catch a glimpse of the then-recently-completed plantings by Garrett Eckbo in two of the shots, although they are pretty non-descript. It would be great to discover more of Stoumen's work in architectural photography, if anyone knows more. I'll be tracking down a copy of 5ive very soon.

And what is pictured here? This set of images were taken at the top two houses on the street (each on the corner of Highview and Altadena drive). Sadly, the home pictured in images one and two is very sorry shape these days, having been altered and slightly added to over the years. The other home, depicted in the interior courtyard shot, is in much better shape and still retains much of it's original character. It recently sold, and is presently undergoing additional upgrading and restoration. Slowly but surely...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Restoration and Relaxation

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - back yard 1

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - back yard 2

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - interior 1

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - interior kitchen nook 1

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - interior 2

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - interior 3

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - exterior back yard looking in

These pictures were taken by local architect and photographer, Conrado Lopez. At the request of Anthony Denzler, Conrado shot them back in the early spring of 2007. The intent was to possibly use an image or two in Anthony's book on Gregory Ain, planned to be pubished the next year. When the book finally came out in the fall of 2008, I think four or five finally wound up in the published edition. It totally blew us away. We were greatly humbled by both Conrado and Anthony's enthusiasm for our home, and can never thank them enough for being such great gentlemen.

All of the above photos are about three years old at this point, but still pretty much representative of what our home looks like today. Some of the furniture has moved around a bit of course (must keep it interesting...), and more significantly, the plantings have all grown in remarkably well. Our friend Kathleen Ferguson helped us with the landscaping, though I was such a pain in the butt with changing out things, I don't think she wanted to take real credit for it. Nevertheless, she is remarkable, and HIGHLY recommended. The picture from the Pasadena Heritage Tour back in May is more representative of the current growth. Oh, also... the Arrowhead dispenser is long gone, thank goodness.

I debated putting up images from our own house, but figured... why not. So... more to come, if I can ever find a minute to sit down at the computer at home, of course. Got some great shots of the Station Fire, as it blazed up above us in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains a couple of weeks ago. Didn't take any pictures of the ash that looked like snowfall or the pink sun, but it was pretty damned smokey for quite a while.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Garrett Eckbo's Vision Part II

gregory ain or garrett eckbo - altadena park planned homes landscape concept
Ain or Eckbo? A primitive street planting concept for Park Planned Homes

Now, first off, I'm not sure this is Garrett Eckbo's work. It was labeled as such, but I suspect it may have actually been Gregory Ain that did the sketching (or at least someone in his office). It's not actually stamped with the Eckbo, Royston and Williams office mark, and it's drawn on the same butcher paper roll that other Ain drawings in colored pencil appear. However, the most telling indicator that it's not Eckbo is the simplicity of the plant selection. We have non-botanical names with little imagination, such as, "grey succulent," "blue succulent," "ice plant," and "lantana." My favorite: "ivy." There are a few others (I can make out "palms" and "poplars" for the tree selection), but that was about it for the entire vision. What we know from Eckbo's approach, he saw a radically more complex juxtaposition to the repeating house pattern. Maybe it was just a quick sketch to show Ain what was possible... who knows.

I of course have no proof, and if any experts out there know for sure, I welcome the feedback. As an abstraction of color and line, it's beautiful regardless.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Garrett Eckbo's Vision Part I

gregory ain and garrett eckbo - park planned homes altadena - streetscape concepts
Eckbo, Royston & Williams street planting concepts for Park Planned Homes

I don't have a lot to add to this post just of yet, and I plan to put a few more Garrett Eckbo related plans and design up soon. I need to discuss his relationship to Ain and their partnership through the late 40s and early 50s, but we'll save that for later. You can find out more on Eckbo by reading Marc Treib and Dorothee Imbert's fantastic book, Garrett Eckbo: Modern Landscapes for Living or the paperback reprint of Eckbo's classic 1950, Landscape for Living, which features several discussions of Ain collaborations.

To my knowledge, this particular plan has never been reprinted and I don't there's been much discussion of it. What is interesting about it is the street plan calls for something far more radical than what was ever planted: a median green strip that went down the center of Highview! Our street really doesn't seem wide enough for a median, but it's certainly an incredible thing to consider had it actually been done.

Another curiousity of this design is that continues to perpetuate the problems of the shared driveway and the gap between the garages that was never possible in the actual realization of the street. It almost seems as if this rendering were done based on the photo used in the Architectural Record photo posted last week. Take a look...

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - early model

gregory ain and garrett eckbo - park planned homes altadena - streetscape concepts - detail

Pretty similar...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Multi-Family Housing Article

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - progressive architecture 1
Progressive Architecture, July 1947 (cover)

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - progressive architecture 2gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - progressive architecture 3
Progressive Architecture, July 1947 (p.64-65)

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - progressive architecture 4gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - progressive architecture 5
Progressive Architecture, July 1947 (p.66-67)

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - progressive architecture 6gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - progressive architecture 7
Progressive Architecture, July 1947 (p.68-69)

I'm not going to write a lot here on this one, as this is more of an experimental post. I may try it again on another day, so please bear with me. I should have stitched the images together, but I found them easier to print this way. The scans are not as high resolution as I'd hoped either... but it's legible. Maybe I'll just leave it alone and walk away... :)

Obviously this article is the cream of the crop in terms of published accounts of the Park Planned Homes project. All photos by Julius Shulman, coupled with a fantastic multi-house model of the street and a few of the drawings you've seen posted previously (albiet slightly refined and more detailed). There is something both primitive and pure in these images, and I find them remarkably beautiful. I'm able to transport back to the street and imagine it in it's just-built glory.

I've included the other article on Ain from the same issue simply because the context of the article was a critique of multi-family housing, with a mention of the Altadena project in the lead into the spread. Paul Hayden Kirk of Seattle, Washington, is another one of my favorite architects, and his series of duplexes was the third featured project of the critique. I'll save that one for the Hayden Kirk blog...

More bullets of things to observe:
  • Shulman's now infamous draping of eucalyptus tree branches over walls and in the foreground is in full force in nearly every shot. Pure genius!
  • You can see the matching chimney heights I mentioned in the previous blog.
  • On page 68, I'm not sure if "Typical Garden Front" means front of house or something else. It is curious to think that the person doing the layout for the article may have mistaken the back of the house for the front.
  • And while your on that photo... check out the beautiful cross of the telephone pole in one of the backyard shots. "The landscaping is yet to be done."
  • Ain's scale model of the street deceptively does not include any of the step-down terrace in the design. This (and the drawings of course) may be one of the contributing factors that lead to the belief that the driveways were shared between houses. In reality, there is a retaining wall from about six inches in height near the street to a full three feet or so by the time it gets to the house. You were never actually able to turn a car around in the driveways. (Many of the photos in the spread in fact do show images of the retaining walls in some form or another.)
  • The compass indicator for North is simply incorrect. This used to confuse the hell out of me for a long time, until I realized that the images used by Eckbo were most likely rendered as reversals (flipping a negative perhaps?) before being delivered to him to add his layer of landscape detailing. I would go so far as to bet that the compass was included in the prints sent to Eckbo, and that his office actually added the "N" to the pointing arrow just to make it perfectly clear. Anyway, if you flip it over in your mind (or PhotoShop), and erase the "N", you'll get the proper street diagram. But it doesn't really matter. Just glad I figured it out and can now sleep at night.
  • The paired garages in the model have a gap between them, as if it were some kind of storage area. This of course does not exist. The wall is indeed common. Again, the deception of lacking a terrace.
  • The article mentions what must obviously be the norm for all good modernist designers - southern facing living rooms (windows) - were not employed in the design, but rather privacy from each neighbor was the overriding rule. The clerestories offset this apparent drawback by providing light and ventilation in (nearly) every room.
  • I love my privacy and my clerestories. The home is incredible, and it's a blessing to wake up in it every day.
Best line from the article:

  • "One of the jurors questioned whether the clerestory wouldn't be difficult to maintain and keep clean. Mr. Ain thinks that at most this would require a good washing twice a year."
We do ours three times a year.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Interior Details

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - entry way
interior gregory ain park planned home - entry way

gregory ain altadena - park planned homes - front room
interior gregory ain park planned home - living room

You will likely recognize the top image depicting the entry way and room divider from a post a couple of weeks ago (see the American Builder magazine article). And, although the bottom image may seem familiar, it's not the same photo that was published in the American Builder article or used for the Arts and Architecture display ad. This deja-vu shot shows the same living room with the same furniture, but taken from a different corner of the room. It would be reasonable to assume that these pictures are of the same interior, but when you recognize that the first image with the two men was taken from the vantage point of the living room, it's clear that these are two separate houses.

Some details of note on the entry way photo:
  • The two men...? No clue. Neither of them is Gregory Ain.
  • 5 ft tall room divider cabinet is the spec version. Some houses on the street had this detail built all the way to the ceiling. The effect was to block out a portion of light from both the east and west sides of the house, depending on which room you were in. It also made the room feel less like the ceiling was floating overhead. I have no actual proof, but I suspect the construction to the ceiling was actually easier and cheaper to complete. This storage feature is largely gone (or heavily altered) from all of the 28 homes today.
  • The uplight below clerestories is effectively a metal gutter. In many modernist and moderne homes of the 30s and 40s, you would see this kind of feature built out of wood. It runs the length of the clerestories in the dining room and living room area. Most if not all of the homes still have this feature today.
  • The main ceiling is striated plywood, sealed in a natural tone. Only a few homes today still have this feature, and most of these have actually been painted over. With more contemporary aesthetics, the original wood feels quite heavy and busy in such a small space. Those that have removed the wood entirely, replacing it with plaster, are actually achieving a greater sense of space in the room. Ones eyes focus more on the exterior views.
  • The cabinet doors also have this same striated plywood. Ain used it here and on the other side, in the breakfast nook area.
  • The vent just below the uplight and above the hallway door is one of the termination points for the ingenious built-in ducting of the home. Both heating and air were apparently features of the system, although none of these original units still exist for obvious reasons. There are a few homes that have all new ducting that sits on top of the roof, thereby taking away from the aesthetic of the streamlined roof. It does tend to get hot in Altadena from time to time...
  • The floors are 9-inch square asphalt tiles. This one needs to be sweeped...
  • The baseboard is not obvious because it is painted a similar color to the tiles, but it was one of the 45-degree angle types, often used in homes by Neutra, Ain, etc., when a trim was required.
  • The hallway door also has a trim, which was true of all of the interior doors in the house. Both the courtyard and backyard doors do not have trim, and are more indicative of Ain's innovative economy. (We will see pictures of these another day.)
  • You can see one of the tilted windows of the garage opened slightly. That's looking through the window that was just above the kitchen sink.
  • That desert painting is in every antique mall and junk shop between Pasadena and Palm Springs. Judging by the number of times I've seen it in said places, it was a pretty popular print.
  • I don't think the Keno brothers would care much for the furniture. Come to think of it, Frank Bros. probably would not have liked it much either.

Some details of note on the living room photo:

  • The most important detail about this room is the fireplace. This fireplace is on an uphill facing wall. We know this because the hearth is raised off the ground by a three brick stack. All fireplaces whose wall was an uphill wall have this raised hearth (and larger vertical footprint in the room), and all fireplaces where the wall was downhill have a flush hearth (and smaller vertical footprint in the room). Why? Not being an engineer, I can only hazzard a guess, but it's probably a mix of retaining wall requirements, as well as an aesthetic requirement by the architect to make the street view uniform. When facing the homes on the street, each chimney between houses that do not share a common garage wall are exactly the same height. So... from all of that, we know this house is located on the eastern side of the street, with it's front door facing north (up the street). Pretty cool, huh.
  • The tile and striated plywood ceiling are more clearly visible here. Also the dark colored walls and contrasting uplight gutter give a real sense of the time.
  • The furniture is a bit of an odd mix. The couch looks almost like it could be a Laszlo piece, but it probably is not. The almost incongruous upholstery on the two side chairs, the grass rug that is slightly too small for the room, the pussywillows in the fireplace and the holiday (?) ornaments on the "mantel" makes me think this room was assembled by the photographer and not a designer (but who knows). More likely it's a showcase model for the street, open to potential buyers. In any case, it's pretty great.
  • The cabinetry that you see in the corners of the fireplace (that also are shown wrapping into the bookcase in the other angle from this room), are likely Ain spec pieces used as part of a showcase model. Not all houses had a built-in bookcase or storage like this, but there is some evidence in homes higher up on the street that at least bookcases did exist. (The higher up on the street comment referring again to the Esther McCoy noted lumber shortage; it's possible details like this did not get completed as building progressed down the street.)
  • There looks to be a lock on the clerestory windows, although it's not clear if this was a feature on every house. I have seen firsthand a weird sash/pully system in some kitchen-side windows (indicating there would have been an easier way than getting on a ladder to open them), but a system like that does not seem evident in this image.
  • Check out the sister image from the American Builder article to see what else you can find...

Once again, crossing the boundaries of too much information for one night. If there is one person out there enjoying this, then we're happy. And even if not... still happy.

More to come soon...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Constructivism, Repetition and A Guy With a Garden Hose

julius shulman images of gregory ain park planned homes, altadena, circa 1946

Period photos by Julius Shulman showing newly completed homes as the landscaping is getting installed. It's believed that the car in the driveway actually belonged to Ain. Get out your levels, rulers and t-squares.

Minimalism didn't start with Terry Riley and La Monte Young...

Color Facade Concepts

gregory ain - altadena - sketch for park planned homes - set 1

gregory ain - altadena - sketch for park planned homes - set 2

gregory ain - altadena - sketch for park planned homes - set 3

gregory ain - altadena - sketch for park planned homes - set 4

This set is interesting not only because it gives some indication of the color schemes Ain may have had in mind for the street facade, but it also reveals an unrealized constructivist abstraction of the exterior planes.

In these images above, we have multiple sets of garage pairs in sketch format. If you look back at the streetscape concept posted a few days ago (that dark, black rectilinear geometry, also shown in pale blue on the google overlay), you can see how the two street-facing walls for each pair of houses is sharing a common wall. For each house pair on the street, each upper garage originally included a small rectangular window near the roof line, while the lower garage was a blank wall. So when viewing at eye level on Highview, those two garages show as pairs of step-down planes with alternating windows as the viewer progresses down the sloped street.

Ain obviously thought of these two planes as both a singular entity as well as one that could intersect in ways not governed by the break point of the higher and lower roof. It's curious that these sketches show this extension of the lower garage into the upper garage by way of color, and by dealing with the space next to the window as a kind of void that blurs the line between beginning and end. Probably just a curiosity for the project in the end, but it's a great artifact nonetheless.

Although color plans were undoubtedly realized for both interior and exterior (see the Mar Vista Tract site for unprecedented documentation of the color plans), it's not clear if the Park Planned Homes were ever painted anything but white in their final state. Period pictures only ever reveal a white, smooth-coat stucco finish on all of the homes. Residents have obviously painted the stucco surface over the years, some even opting to add a layer of texture as was the trend for the last few decades. Some still maintain or have been restored to a smooth coat finish; It's harder to keep up, but for a few of us, it's definitely a more aesthetically pleasing acknowledgement of the home's simplicity.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Tale of Two (or Three) Kitchens

gregory ain - altadena - park planned home kitchen, circa 1946 - 1

gregory ain - altadena - park planned home kitchen, circa 1946 - 2

Though you cannot see the same unpainted kitchen cabinet from the previous posting, you get the sense of how they looked in their final, painted installation.

With most older homes, one of the first things to get demolished and rebuilt is the kitchen. The 28 Ain homes on Highview are no exception to the rule. Many have kept their small footprint, including the passageway between hall and kitchen, but even these have been updated to a more "contemporary" feel at the time of the remodel (anywhere from mid 1970s to late 1990s). Few if any still have the room divider/storage unit that separated the entry and breakfast nook, as this was removed to make way for more space. Additionally, as of this year (unofficial survey), one quarter of the homes have enclosed courtyards (up to a third or half of the outdoor space) as an extension of the breakfast nook/rear door entry flow. Much of this work dates back to the 1970s and 1980s in most cases, and as with any street seeing a slow resurgence, new home buyers are thankfully considering bringing homes back to their original footprint.

In more recent years, the kitchens have expanded well into the breakfast nook: pony walls moved; electrical, gas and water re-plumbed; some have even moved the back door over one whole width to accommodate the space. As the trend in living has migrated toward the kitchen-as-central-gathering-space over the last several decades, these changes are to be expected.

Up until late 2004, there was only one home left on the block with an original kitchen. Though in much need of care and maintenance when photographed shortly before demolition, you can get the sense of how the room used to feel with the pony wall, the corner sink, the stove and the room divider/storage unit between the entry way and breakfast nook. Please excuse the mess... this home owner was in the process of packing up to move after many years as a resident. She was kind enough to let me come in to document the last original kitchen.

gregory ain - altadena - park planned home kitchen, circa 2005 - 1

gregory ain - altadena - park planned home kitchen, circa 2005 - 2

gregory ain - altadena - park planned home kitchen, circa 2005 - 3

gregory ain - altadena - park planned home kitchen, circa 2005 - 4

gregory ain - altadena - park planned home kitchen, circa 2005 - 5

Obviously Ain's original kitchen was a key element of the home's humility and utility, but in all honesty, it did feel quite cramped and antiquated. It's no surprise that they have all been lost. When we purchased the home, the kitchen had been completely removed (ours is not pictured above). We were left with nothing, but a portable sink. No counters, no cabinets, no appliances. It took a while of living in the space to figure it out, but we think our update has preserved some of Ain's spirit while making the space more compatable with modern requirements. The first picture dates to early 2005, which the second is early 2006. The former shows an early paint idea that was quickly abandoned. The latter is a typical day, pre-toddler, with coupons on the fridge and fruit on the counter. We've since upgraded to a better water system... :)

gregory ain - altadena - park planned home kitchen rennovation restoration - circa 2005

gregory ain - altadena - park planned home kitchen rennovation restoration - circa 2006

Vintage Construction Photos

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - construction, circa 1946

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - prefabricated cabinets in unfinished garage, circa 1946

These photos are great.

The first, looking east, shows framing and masonry well underway, as well as a near complete roof. You can see how much openness and space these homes actually possess, thanks to the simple steel-plus-wood truss beams that worked in tandem with the north and south load bearing walls. Though the homes were built with fixed walls, one gets the sense that the plan could have easily modulated in a similar fashion to those houses built just a year later in Mar Vista.

The second is perhaps my favorite photos of all of the vintage images taken of the street. In this unfinished garage, you can see stacks and stacks of unpainted, prefabricated kitchen cabinetry. The classic notched handle, so prominently used in homes by Ain, Richard Neutra, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Raphael Soriano and others of their generation, is clearly visible. It's one of those details that evokes all of the simplicity and utilitarianism of the time. The walls are also ready for their plaster coating, and stacks of 1x12 lumber are ready... to be stolen.*

*Esther McCoy points out in her book Second Generation how the project was the constant victim of a lumber shortage in Southern California, and how materials were frequently lifted from the work site.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fun With Google Earth

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - street view with google earth

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - original street layout plan

Using Google Earth and a simple overlay using PhotoShop, you can see that Ain's drawing of the street plan is actually to the exact scale of the houses that were built. Super geeky for sure, but how cool is that??

Unpublished and Published Scale Model Photos

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - architectural scale model 1

Above is one of the known published photos of an architectural model of an individual Park Planned Home unit. The picture appears in the David Gebhard catalog of a Gregory Ain retrospective show from 1980 at UC Santa Barbara (the long out-of-print original edition was republished by Hennessey + Ingalls in 1997).

Little details are slightly different from what was eventually built (the built-in dresser/vanity cabinets in the back bedroom was along the window wall, not the structural back wall; the covered walkway path did not need structural support from the ground; lichen bushes were not planted...), but by and large this model represents exactly how the houses were constructed. The model shown with its removable roof piece actually in place is not known to have been photographed, but one can imagine the completion of the roof overhangs and the banks of clerestories when it sat on top of the model. My favorite details (aside from the lichen plantings) include the abstract painting in the back bedroom, the giant slide in the courtyard (it would have been taller than the roof line) and the grid pattern on the black floor for the 9 inch asphalt tile.

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - unpublished architectural scale model 2

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - unpublished architectural scale model 3

Two additional unpublished photos of the same model taken from different angles reveal even more information about the home. The front door, often depicted as a single glazed window, is also shown as such in the model. All of the front doors wound up being regular, flat-surfaced wooden doors, and the bedroom and closet doors ended up as somewhat conservative and conventional panel doors (not unlike the ubiquitous Home Depot door of today). Most speculate using off the shelf materials like these doors helped keep costs down, but it's clear that Ain's vision was to have flat plane surfaces and a glazed front door in his ideal vision for the home.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

From the Vaults

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - american builder article, 1948 - 1

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - american builder article, 1948 - 2

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - american builder article, 1948 - 3

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - american builder article, 1948 - 4

Above are scans from the February 1948 edition of American Builder magazine. The 300-plus page monthly is chock full of ads for lumber, steel, appliances, water heaters, shingles, etc., but it's not really focused on modern architecture as one would hope. The magazine does help put a historical context around the gigantic building boom taking place in the U.S. after the war, but really it's just Levittown run amok. Nevertheless, this nice little four page spread (I should add it's only 3/4 of the page) was one of the few magazines that featured the Park Planned Homes development. Amongst the Cape Cods and Colonials, the magazine's table of contents presciently proclaimed: 28 Moderns in a Group: Radical Departure from the Conventional Development.

By clicking on the images, you should be able to read the article and photo annotations, but the transcript of the main article is also provided here. In an upcoming post, we'll get into discussing some of the details mentioned in the article (e.g. the aluminum foil "insulation" barrier, the straited plywood, etc.), as well as find out what Pippi Longstocking was doing sneaking around the house. For now, enjoy:

28 Moderns in a Group
Park Planned Homes is a radical departure in concept from speculative and real estate custom. The result is a practical solution.

High up in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains at Altadena, California, 15 miles northeast of Los Angeles, lies one of the most unique sub-divisions in the entire southern California area. Twenty-eight modern individual houses, each one identical with the others, are grouped together in two long rows. The design of each house follows a similar pattern, and yet a feeling of monotony has been happily avoided.

The Altadena site is a continuous slope; therefore, each lot has been leveled off, creating a series of terraces that are separated from each other by a retaining wall. The houses, extremely interesting in their severity of line, are located within a few feet of each other. Complete privacy has been obtained for each family in both service-play yard and garden. In addition, the windows extend across the front and rear only. Sunlight is assured in every room through the introduction of a series of inset clerestory windows on two sides.

The approach to the houses is by a road placed in the center of the two groups of buildings. This road extends along the entire length of the development. On each side of the road are the driveways that lead into each garage. These are staggered -- an element that provides variety within a standard scheme. Service units, garages and service yards face toward the street, with living and sleeping units toward the garden front.

Designed by Gregory Ain, Los Angeles architect, for Robert Kahan, owner and builder, this project clearly demonstrates the possibilities that are contained within the severe limitations of speculative building. Through the collaboration of Garrett Eckbo, landscape architect, adequate natural beauty and screening is assured for the entire group.

Each house has an area of 1,400 square feet plus a two-car garage. The exterior walls are of frame covered with stucco. With an almost flat roof to contend with, the builder placed two layers of aluminum foil over the sheathing before applying the built-up roof. Insul-cote, a white, heat reflective coating was then applied to the top surface.

The framing elements built in four 12-foot units are composed of steel beams and columns. These support the wood rafters above that run parallel to the side walls. Side walls and ceilings are plastered except the ceilings of the living room which is finished in striated plywood. Floors throughout are asphalt tile laid over concrete. Forced warm air heating and cooling is provided. Indirect lighting is used in some rooms.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Get Your Tickets Now!

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - rear yard landscaping, circa 2009

Pasadena Heritage has announced a one day tour of Gregory Ain, Joseph Johnson and Alfred Day projects in the Pasadena and Altadena area. There will be two Park Planned Homes on the tour.

Anthony Denzer, author of the book Gregory Ain: The Modern Home as Social Commentary, will also be on hand giving a lecture on Ain's architectural work. A review can be found here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Arts & Architecture Ad for Park Planned Homes

gregory ain - altadena - park planned homes - original arts and architecture advertisement, circa 1947

Above is the original quarter page ad that ran in the June and July 1947 issues of John Entenza's Arts & Architecture magazine. The listing ran just as the houses were being completed on Highview.

The ad reads:
Highview avenue below Foothill boulevard in Altadena foothills. Twenty minutes by auto from downtown Los Angeles, 30 minutes from Hollywood.

Wood frame, plaster and wood finish; concrete slab covered by asphalt tile throughout house. Three bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, dining area, L-shaped living room 24 feet long, 16 and 20 feet wide. Two enclosed outdoor living areas with privacy from street and neighbors.

Forced air heating, cooling and filtering system. Clerestory windows through most of house. Indirect lighting. Clear glass wall in every room looks out onto enclosed yard. Aluminum foil insulation
and reflecting roof. Landscaping complete.

$18,000. Call builder, Bob Kahan, SYcamore 4-2852 or SYcamore 4-4656.
Although Gregory Ain was a frequent contributor to Entenza's magazine, even serving on the editorial advisory board for many years during the 40s and 50s, he famously was never a part of the Case Study House program. There have been no definitive answers as to why Ain did not contribute, though many have speculated that his interest in solving housing problems for entire communities was at odds with the singular nature of the CSH program.

Even though a number of his single family homes still remain intact throughout southern California, it's a testament to Ain's vision that all of his community developments that were actually constructed are still standing. The four unit Dunsmuir Flats from 1937, the Avenal Cooperative Housing Project from 1947, and Modernique Homes (aka Mar Vista Tract) from 1948, are all regarded as seminal steps forward in Ain's oeuvre. Park Planned Homes is unfortunately the least known of the large-scale projects, although this has been changing in recent years with recent scholarly works on Ain showcasing the post-war development and home buyers taking care to keep the street preserved.

In the coming weeks, we hope to provide more details on many of the home features listed in the above advertisment, as well as additional vintage photos, drawings and spotlights on present-day restoration efforts.