by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Perhaps because it was built “beyond the pale” in little old Puente (pronounced Pew-en-tee by its residents), La Casa Nueva, as remarkable an architectural specimen as it is, did not appear to get attention in some of the well-known architecture-related publications of the day during its construction from 1922-1927.
It is true that the roofing contractor used an excellent photo of the house in its country context for an ad in California Constructor magazine in spring 1928, while the manufacturer of an amazing handle and lock set on the front door also promoted that custom work in an industry publication. Still, it would be nice to come across a full-length spread of the house in something on the order of Architectural Digest, which began in Los Angeles in that era, or in an issue of the magazine highlighted this evening, California Arts & Architecture.
The magazine combined, in 1929, three other publications: Pacific Coast Architect, which was launched in 1911, California Southland, which debuted seven years later, and California Home Owner, founded in 1922. The editor of the middle of the three was Mabel Urmy Seares, who was featured in this blog focusing on a 1926 issue of that publication and who was a rare woman in that position.
She, however, continued as managing editor of California Arts & Architecture with the editor being architect Harris Allen (architects also made up all but one of the editorial advisory board) and the editorial staff included two women, Louise Morgrage and Jessica Kate Seneca. The publisher was Western States Publishing Company, Inc., the headquarters of which was in an attractive two-story brick commercial building that still stands just west of MacArthur Park, and the assistant to manager George H. Oyer was Ellen Leech.
All three of these women and another, Dorothy Wagner, received by-line credit for contributions they made on books, the theater, and the opera, while Wagner penned a piece on painting. So, it is definitely notable the degree to which women were part of the magazine and its productions, though the focus on art and culture is not necessarily very unusual, as women were often critics in these areas for major newspapers, including in Los Angeles.
While there is much of interest in what the magazine referred to as “the allied arts and crafts,” it is in its emphasis on “the field of architecture” that the post highlights for the June 1929 issue of the publication. Given, for example, that La Casa Nueva is replete with wonderful examples of Mexican-made and American-manufactured decorative tile, there is a piece by architect J.E. Stanton on “A Heritage from the Moor” with respect to this topic.
Stanton opened his article by proclaiming that:
Decorative tile and jewels should be considered alike. Each should be used for restricted adornment, for sure, highly colored enrichments are not be lavished with discrimination and restrain.
For instance, mosques in Iran, then still known as Persia, utilized tile in “cool colors [that] were eminently effective by their soothing contrast” to the local environment. In the Alhambra in Spain, there are “the beautifully colored tiles on which softly echoed the footfalls of the sandalled princess” from Washington Irving’s well-known description. In Morocco, palaces “need no other embellishments beside these glorious mosaics of pure color” in wainscoting and flooring. In Algiers, “precious water pours from street fountains adorned by decorated tiles” and illustrious examples were cited in Tunis.
With respect to some featured gems of regional architecture, the house of Henry de Roulet, grandson of Germain Pellissier and developer of the Art Deco building that contains the Wiltern Theatre, solved “the problem of a long, narrow city lot” through the design by Morgan, Walls and Clements, the prominent architects who also worked on the Pellissier Building (Octavius Morgan was the partner of Los Angeles’ first professional architect, Ezra F. Kysor, credited with the extensive remaking of the Workman House about 1870). A floor plan and some excellent photos of the house show off the residence and its beauty and utility.
Another highlighted residence was that of Mrs. Sidney Berg, a member of the brewing Busch family, in the exclusive Oak Knoll section of Pasadena with famed architect Wallace Neff taking inspiration from the renowned Villa Giulia, built in Rome in the mid-16th century by Pope Julius III. What set this house apart from many of the ubiquitous Spanish Colonial Revival style was the curved walls, though there are also some photos of the ornate interior, as well.
The William Andrews Clark, Jr., the son of the Montana copper baron and a patron of the arts, including his founding, in 1919, of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, was featured on one page, specifically concerning the remarkable carvel panel work by George S. Hunt of Pasadena in the richly (naturally) appointed library in the mansion.
The two prior pages, however, also show the staggering opulence of two of the main rooms in the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library on the newly built campus of the University of California, Los Angeles, which was a pronounced statement about the rising status of higher education in an elite areas of the Angel City.
In this case, the interior decoration and furniture were designed and built by Hunt. Other California houses and structures that were featured were in Pebble Beach, Oakland, La Jolla, and Palm Springs, as well as the museum planned for Presidio Park in San Diego, where the mission and presidio (fort) were, in 1769, the first European establishments in California.
Meanwhile, another article of note, “Where the Road Meets the Arroyo” discusses the question of how to build highways that allow for appreciation of California’s natural beauty as a subtitle queried “Shall Beauty Be Sacrificed to Speed.” The unattributed piece began with the observation that arroyos in greater Los Angeles were formed by flood waters streaming from the steep San Gabriel Mountains and other ranges, with live oaks and sycamores growing on the banks so that “these arroyos [are] the only natural wooded areas of the one-time desert plain.” It continued that
For the children of the arid Southland, born and growing up in an artificial, metropolitan district where forty-four cities crowd into one thousand square miles, nothing man can concoct can take the place of these arroyos, washes, or natural parks.
Children could learn about acorns sprouting into oaks, see tadpoles and birds and “come close to the soil and learn deeply to love their own native land.” Moreover, “the young Californian, artist or poet, musician, sculptor will first find himself [herself?].” When it came to working with these natural areas in the midst of a rapidly urbanizing landscape and accompanying transportation system, the piece added, “where the road meets the arroyo, the problem of road builders then, becomes complicated beyond all the other problems they meet with.”
Fortunately, it continued, “those cities which have an up-to-date city plan are jealously guarding their part of arroyos and incorporating it into their system of parks.” This could be true for industrial sections and areas of high population density, in which “for railroads and highways there is no better use for the arroyo where deeper waterways care for spring floods.”
Practical considerations including the avoidance of grade crossings and the cultivation of the right speed for traffic flow entered into the matter, as well. Even in the crowded areas that “has actually spoiled the region for tourists,” there were some cities that “still claim to be worth a visit and are cultivating their natural attractions.”
This led the writer to aver that what could be conveyed to the state’s Highway Commission was:
California’s foremost appear to visitors, as well as her own citizens, lies in the state’s variety of scenic beauty and in the abundant opportunities found here for the enjoyment of outdoor life . . . This is why the name “California” has come to mean an alluring outdoor playground for millions in America. It is why many observers have declared that no industry, not even agriculture, has the permanent possibilities for the future in California as has the tourist industry. Let us then make the state one great, beautiful park!
While we omit the articles concerning theater, film, opera and art, it is worth noting that Ellen Leech’s piece on plays and playwrights does briefly discuss the new play Osceola by John Steven McGroarty, whose Mission Play, performed at San Gabriel annually since 1912 and drawing a few million patrons during its 2,000-plus performances, counted Walter P. Temple as one of its fervent supporters (he was a major donor to the Mission Playhouse, completed in 1927).
Leech observed that the work, “based on the life of the great Chief of the Seminole Indians, is designed for production in the southern State [of Florida] annually as the Mission Play is produced in California by Mr. McGroarty.” She accounted the play to be an “unusually good pageant-drama” dealing with the American occupation of that territory, the enslavement of the chief’s wife and Osceola’s death “through the treachery of an Army officer.”
Also praised were “Indian dances with accompanying chants . . . [and] especially the spirituals of the negroes, as Osceola is known as the friend and protector of the run-away slaves.” A previous post on this blog covers this work, which did not yield the success McGroarty found with the Mission Play, though that soon ended its run, as well.
Another article to note is about a “new women’s exchange” for the Assistance League of Southern California, which was established in 1919 and which still exists to improve their lives of children living in poverty. The piece noted that the exchange and “The Attic” were established at a location near Hollywood and close to the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue. The latter served lunches daily, while the former offered gifts, including clothing; jams, jellies and preserves; linens; and a “Chinese Corridor,” where “you will find your taste for Eastern Art well satisfied.”
Finally, as befitting a publication of this type, there are an abundance of advertisements, including many related to architecture and decoration, with some examples shown here. Within four months of the appearance of this issue, however, the crash of the stock exchange in New York City brought the beginnings of the Great Depression. Yet, the magazine continued on, was reorganized in the mid-Thirties and then recast in 1940 as Arts & Architecture and becoming a regional voice for American modernism until it folded in 1967, though there was a brief revival in the 1980s.
The Homestead’s collection has three other 1929 issues of California Arts & Architecture magazine in its collection, so we’ll be sure to highlight these in future posts as they are full of interesting information and photos of notable (and elite) houses and structures from greater Los Angeles and the Golden State broadly.