On Friday, the LA Times’ architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne reported that Craig Ellwood and Jerrold Lomax's Hunt House in Malibu faces a demolition threat. AN reached out to several experts on Ellwood, preservation, and modern architecture for comments on what this means for Los Angeles. Designed in 1957, the modest beachside home built for Victor and Elizabeth Hunt is considered an iconic piece of midcentury architecture. Late last year, Hawthorne noted, documents were filed with the Malibu Planning Commission to replace the 1,335-square-foot Hunt House (sold in 2012 for $5.3 million) with a “a new 28-foot-tall, two-story, 5,511-square-foot single-family residence.” “The Hunt House looming demolition is a textbook case of artwork misread as real estate object,” wrote architect and educator Pierluigi Serraino in an email. As author of numerous writings on midcentury design, including California Modernism (Chronicle Books, 2006), he put a fine point not on the historic value or the property value, but on the true cultural value of the structure. “This is one of the landmark buildings of California Modernism and its potential loss would be sheer loss of cultural identity. Collector value as opposed to real estate value can provide a more apt lens to evaluate this small inventory of gems,” he continued. “Imagine if what is threatening the Hunt House happened to the Eames House. [The] proposed demolition speaks to the utter disregard a selected few have for what belongs symbolically to the collective.” In 1967, Esther McCoy was commissioned to write an essay for the Craig Ellwood monograph published by Bruno Alfieri the following year. In it, she discusses how the Hunt House by Ellwood and Lomax (who is uncredited) sets the tone for the firm’s work to come and solidifies its influences. “McCoy’s essay points out Ellwood's love for good detailing, adherence to logic ("the logic of steel"), independent spirit, and a sense of refinement informed by the 'full stark splendor' of Mies and modular principles found in Japanese houses and industrial buildings,” noted Susan Morgan, editor of Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader. “[McCoy] wrote that the Hunt House—with its H-plan, distinct volumes and levels—was very important in Ellwood's development: The three space frames are more three-dimensional Mondrian than Mies.” Morgan also reminded AN that the Hunt House features in Reyner Banham’s Architecture of Four Ecologies as the northernmost edge of Surfubria, his first ecology on beaches. Rudolph Schindler’s Lovell Beach House marks the southern boundary. The Hunt House, like other midcentury designs, is particularly vulnerable to demolition due to trends for larger homes, maintenance issues, and land values. “It’s worth noting that the City of Malibu has no protections for its historic places and got an F on our 2014 Preservation Report Card,” said Los Angeles Conservancy's Director of Communications Cindy Olnick. In October, the Los Angeles Conservancy sent a letter to Malibu Planning Commission calling for an “Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prior to the approval of any project that would adversely impact the building.” The organization urges individuals concerned about the fate of the house to write to the commission via Malibu City Hall.
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Long-time Mar Vista Lanes diner, Pepy’s Galley, an iconic, authentically Googie-style restaurant, closed its doors forever on Monday. By most accounts, the interior will be a total loss, as the building’s new owner, BowlmorAMF, intends to convert Pepy’s into a catering space for the adjacent bowling alley. The Mar Vista Lanes complex was designed by famed architects Armet & Davis, a seminal Los Angeles firm also known for Pann’s and the original Norm’s restaurant. For longtime business owner, Joseph "Pepy" Gonzalez, the decision marks the end of a 45-year association with the restaurant, first as an employee and then as proprietor. Pepy's is on a month-to-month lease from the bowling alley, so he’s only had 30 days to wrap up his operations. “This neighborhood is a family-oriented place,” said Pepy. “That’s how I run my restaurant—the employees are my kids, and you customers are my family.” The family nature of the restaurant is reflected in the multiple uses of the bowling alley complex, which also includes an arcade area and a bar with a separate entrance. Located along Venice Boulevard, just east of Centinela, the bowling alley retains many of its authentic architectural details, including a cast-concrete block façade that angles back from the property line to open up views and create visual interest. Mar Vista Lanes opened in 1961 with a Tiki-themed bar; you can still find a single carved wood Tiki column outside the entrance to Pepy’s. It’s unclear whether the new owners will retain these classic architectural elements. In the meantime, a Facebook group has been established, seeking to prevent the closure, although the new owners have released a statement suggesting it was too late. Jon Yoder, associate professor of architecture at Ohio’s Kent State University and an authority on the visuality of Los Angeles architecture, as well as a longtime Pepy’s customer, lamented the loss of yet another Googie-style temple to the greasy spoon. Taking time out from eating a custom, off-the-menu breakfast burrito recently at Pepy’s, Yoder reflected on the nuanced visual complexity of the Googie style, something he views as lost in the chain restaurant culture that dominates most American cities. “The spatial configuration forces mixing of different sizes of parties and types of people,” Yoder said, noting tightly controlled nautical themed space with counter seating, fixed booths, and combinable booths with flip-up table wings. “There’s some place for everyone here.” This visual complexity was not accidental. In 1980, the late historian Esther McCoy wrote in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner of the influence of the style, which emerged following the original Googie’s diner designed by John Lautner in 1949 and built next to the famous Schwab’s pharmacy. That diner, which has been replaced by a bland multi-story, mixed-use shopping center at Sunset Boulevard and Laurel Canyon, marked a shift, in McCoy’s view, on how restaurant design could locate the viewer in space. “For the first time the tables and booths in a small restaurant were oriented to the outside rather than the cash register…” wrote McCoy. “Through large windows at the front and side was a view of the hills in the distance, the stream of traffic in the middle ground, and in the foreground you could see who was going in or out of Schwab’s.” From the vantage point of a booth at Pepy’s, McCoy could have been describing either diner. Googie diners are becoming rare specimens in Los Angeles, even though the style ranks as an icon of the city’s taste culture. But like much of the city’s architectural production, historically weighted toward commercial returns and public trends, eventually mainstream fascination wanes and developers seek fresher aspirational expressions of consumer fantasy. That said, no one can argue with the classic that is Pepy’s off-the-menu breakfast burrito.