“Southern California Occupies a Conspicuous Place in American Building”: The 1922 Year Book of Architecture and Allied Arts, Part One

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It may be fairly stated that, by the 1920s, Los Angeles was in the upper echelon of American cities, judged by population, economic might and other criteria. Certainly, some of the older eastern metropolises might have sniffed that the Angel City, home to the “Dream Factory” of the Hollywood film industry, was more style than substance with even the former questioned by those occupying the more rarefied realms of, say, “the legitimate theater,” “serious music,” or the great art museums of New York, Boston or Chicago, among others. The leading figures of San Francisco, as well, often looked down upon their contemporaries in the south as lacking the finer qualities.

Elites in the Angel City, however, were determined to demonstrate that they could hold their own when it came to comparisons with other American cities and, with music, theater, fine arts and such, there were major developments in the first part of the 20th century. Just a few examples included the establishment of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art (1913), Henry E. Huntington’s formation of his Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens (1919), and the launching of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (1919).

This latter was the project of a group led by William Andrews Clark, Jr., the son of copper king William Andrews Clark, whose daughter Huguette was the subject of today’s discussion by the Homestead’s Non-Fiction Book Club of the biography Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., the latter a cousin of Huguette Clark.

On this blog, a post featured the Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home for working single women, an institution run by the local Young Women’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.), while another highlighted a 1929 arts and architecture magazine with a couple of photos of the ornate William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, built by the junior Andrews to replace his house in the West Adams district near the University of Southern California.

For this post, there is another Clark connection, as well, as we delve into the pages of the 1922 Year Book of Architecture & Allied Arts issued by the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Los Angeles Architectural Club and showcasing winners, with accompanying photos or architectural drawings, of Honor Awards in Architecture and the Fine Arts bestowed by the regional AIA chapter.

The sections included single-family and multi-family dwellings; commercial structures; “Semi-Public and Cultural Buildings;” schools; landscaping; and architectural photography. No awards were given for public work, group planning, or city and community planning along with some classes within the other categories.

The opulent $500,000 mausoleum built by William Andrews Clark, Jr., at what is now Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Fortunately, while most of the recipients were of structures of and for the upper classes, some were not. In its own class in opulence was the William Andrews Clark, Junior Mausoleum at what is now called Hollywood Forever Cemetery and its architect, Robert D. Farquhar, designer of choice for the family in Los Angeles was the winner of a “Special Award of Distinguished Honor in Architecture.”

One photo shown in the yearbook was of the ornate interior with its abundance of marble, quarried in Georgia but cut and finished in the Angel City, including remarkable mosaic arches, wall panels and inlaid floors, a quartet of stained glass windows made in New York, imposing bronze doors and other details.

The Hanson house at La Cañada-Flintridge, designed by Harwood Hewitt.

Another does show an exterior with the building and adjacent landscaping, including cypress trees, but the sheer excess of the project can only be appreciated fully by seeing more panoramic exterior photos of the Greek Revival structure set on an island amid an artificial lake and connected to the rest of the cemetery by a granite bridge.

At a cost of a half million dollars, the mausoleum, certainly dwarfs Walter P. Temple’s comparatively modest contemporary at El Campo Santo Cemetery at the Workman Homestead—both were completed in 1921— but the scale, size and expenditure was certainly in keeping with much of the Clark family’s lavish building proclivities in Los Angeles, New York City and Butte, Montana, where Clark, Senior made his many millions in copper mining.

Myron Hunt and Harold C. Chambers’ Flintridge Country Club, also in La Cañada-Flintridge.

A winner for “multiple dwellings” was Edwin Bergstrom’s California Yacht Club building at Wilmington, the harbor city south of Los Angeles, though the structure was hit by fire in 1930 and, a few decades later, the club moved to its current quarters at Marina del Rey. Capturing a prize in two of the single dwelling classes was Harwood Hewitt with one of his designs being for the Alice Lynch house in Hollywood and this Spanish Colonial Revival building looks somewhat simple compared to his other winner.

This was for his design for the W.P. Hanson mansion at La Cañada-Flintridge with photos of an interior great room and the exterior pool and deck and a terrace. There is a mansion in that city today that was said to have been completed in 1922 for George Hanson and it seems likely this is the same structure, though, if so, there has been a major remodeling.

A rendering of buildings at Whittier College by the brothers James and David Allison.

Another winner in that exclusive area in the multiple dwelling section was the expansive Flintridge Country Club, with Harold C. Chambers and the well-known Myron Hunt as the architects. The pair also were recognized in the Semi-Public and Cultural Buildings category for the famous library of Henry E. Huntington at his San Marino estate.

The brothers Walter and Pierpont Davis (the latter was on a team that later designed the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.) worked on the Pierpont’s residence and their design for the Spanish Colonial Revival house won an award for single-family dwellings with several photos of the exterior and one of a hallway shown.

The Pierpont Davis house in Los Angeles designed by him and his brother Walter.

Somewhat similarly, David J. Witmer and his partner Loyal F. Watson, best known for their later work on the Wyvernwood housing project in Boyle Heights, won a certificate for a pair of Los Angeles houses for his mother and wife, these part of a city Historic-Cultural Landmark in an area that Witmer’s father and uncle developed through the Second Street Cable Railway and Crown Hill projects.

A commercial project awarded a prize was the Limoneira Packing House in Santa Paula, east of Ventura, with the structure, designed by the brothers James and David Allison, certainly demonstrating an aesthetic quality highly unusual for that type of edifice. A different class entirely was a studio and stores designed by Henry F. Withey, though the Tudor style edifice is long gone. Withey also won an award for a modest-looking Los Angeles single-family dwelling in the Spanish Colonial Revival style.

Another Allison and Allison project that was honored was the University Club building in Los Angeles.

In the Semi-Public and Cultural Building section, the Allisons were honored for their work on buildings at Whittier College, while the duo also were awarded a certificate in the Multiple Dwellings section for their work on the University Club with three pages of exterior and interior photos provided. A rare awarded project in the eastern hinterlands was for the School Work section and was another Allison and Allison design, this one for Glendora Intermediate School No. 2.

For a class in the Commercial Buildings section, the firm of Morgan, Walls and Morgan were honored for their design of the Bank of Italy (within a few years renamed Bank of America) Building at Olive and 7th streets. The $34 million, height-limit building of twelve stories, officially opened in March 1923, was also long known as Giannini Place, after the bank’s founder, Amadeo P. Giannini and, after a short stint as the NoMad Hotel, it recently reopened as the Hotel Per La.

The modest home of Alice Lynch in Hollywood was a far cry from Hewitt’s work for the Hanson residence.

Octavius Morgan, whose work in the Angel City went back nearly a half-century and who was a junior partner of Ezra F. Kysor, the city’s first trained architect and designer of the Workman House remodel, had his namesake son and longtime partner John A. Walls associated with him, but, after Morgan, Senior died in 1922, Stiles O. Clements joined and the company was renamed Morgan, Walls and Clements and did much important work in the region.

On the landscaping side, Paul G. Thiene was recognized for two projects. For the estate of Ben R. Meyer, president of the Union Bank and Trust Company, which was designed by Reginald Johnson (who Thomas W. Temple II suggested to his father Walter as a possible architect for La Casa Nueva), Gordon Kaufmann and Roland Coate, Thiene created a lush landscape around a pool. At the John L. Severance Estate in Pasadena, a photo shows a more formal garden with flowering plants flanking a narrow and length lawn with oak trees screening the house in the background.

Another Allison brothers creation was this intermediate school in Glendora.

With respect to architectural photography, an award was given to William M. Clarke, who was also a practicing architect, but who had a long career in this specialized field included extensive work included images for the Los Angeles magazine, Architectural Digest, of which the Homestead has several early issues in its collection. Clarke’s winning entry was a view of the historic stone church at Mission San Gabriel, showing the oft-photographed south elevation framed among trees. Notably, just around this time, Walter P. Temple was engaged in the development of a block behind Clarke (whose nearly 4,500 photos and negatives are in the collection of the Huntington) and across Mission Drive from the church and its adobe rectory.

We’re flipping the script here, but the foreword to the publication is quite interesting as it was asserted that “this book of architecture and allied works [is], so as known the first in the United States to be financed entirely by architects . .” Moreover, it was stated that “architecture without the allied arts is inconceivable” and the “young men of the Architectural Club” were also thanked for their collaboration.

The firm of Morgan, Walls & Morgan’s rendering of the Bank of Italy Building at Olive and 7th streets in Los Angeles and which was opened in March 1923.

It was noted that the book was a compendium of successes by local architects, “workers in the allied arts,” constructors, and “the owners who gave sympathetic collaboration to all the workers and made the achievements possible.” To the writer, “architecture may be glorious or deadly dull” but the field was not just about the work of the practitioner but reflective of the community.

A new and strong city would have a like cadre of designers “working ever into a more satisfying art as the community progresses in education and appreciation of the finer arts,” though if “frivolity and decadence” held sway, buildings would “become characterless, over-decorative and exhibit all the idiosyncrasies of decadent thought.”

Landscape architect Paul G. Thiene was honored for his gardens at the Beverly Hills estate of banker Ben R. Meyer.

Modern architecture in the United States was heralded as “the finest that is coming into existence” and Old World influences were utilized even as the architecture of Europe “seems to have passed into an utter forgetfulness of all that has gone before.” This was, of course, a clear attack on the modern work being done across the Atlantic. The writer continued:

Southern California occupies a conspicuous place in American building. Does its architecture qualify it to hold as distinguished a position in the art of architecture? Is the architecture that is being developed in the community a good architecture? Is it alive? Is it strong? Has it character? Distinction? Is it leading toward or receding from those precepts of architecture which have come down through centuries of human thought and have become basic because every age has found them satisfying?

The book was created “in order to take stock of ourselves” and answer those questions and, it was averred “if the answer is favorable, we can proceed with confidence,” but, if not, “we must halt and find the way to a path which leads more soundly to a finer art.” Strong statements, to be sure!

Architect and architectural photographer William M. Clarke’s award-winning view of the south elevation of the old stone church at Mission San Gabriel.

This yearbook is filled with so many other great photos of other structures, some famous landmarks, others long forgotten and some no longer with us, that we’ll return tomorrow with part two and share some of these images and a little history about the structures and the architects, so be sure to check back for that.

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