the walter l. dodge house
The love affair with Irving Gill continues on claass HAUS today.
It was a house like no other, a stark, streamlined, and sprawling estate in West Hollywood, a machine in a 3-acre garden. Looking through the old photographs by Marvin Rand, it is difficult to fathom its 1916 completion date, several decades before modernism became the defining characteristic of the California dream. But architect Irving Gill's residential masterwork, a modern classic years before its time, couldn't survive the call of progress, and despite pleas from one of the era's foremost architectural historians, this radical piece of early modernism fell to the wrecking ball, its sturdy reinforced concrete walls finally succumbing to the will of an unannounced demolition crew.
His work underappreciated and undervalued for decades, Irving Gill has seemingly found his rightful place among the pantheon of Modern masters (though he remains far from a household name). A pioneer and an innovator, Gill's experimental engineering and forward-looking aesthetic redefined the California landscape in a daring departure from traditional American architecture. Certainly on par with his better-known European contemporaries, Mies, Corbusier, and Gropius, Gill developed a formal architectural vocabulary that would not only predict the celebrated California Modernism of the 1950s and 1960s but proved indispensable to the evolution of the Modernist movement. His most famous project, the aforementioned Dodge House, is a pivotal piece of modern architecture, its tilt-slab construction, formal simplicity, and abstracted composition boldly anticipating the future of design.
Constructed between 1914 and 1916, the expansive estate was commissioned by Walter Luther Dodge, an entrepreneur who made millions selling a popular foot bath tablet (TIZ). Relocating from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Dodge hired Gill, then a well-established San Diego architect, to design a spacious modern home in the leafy confines of West Hollywood. Embodying Gill's reductive and efficient approach, the Dodge House was a series of concrete cubist masses effortlessly integrated with its surrounding landscape. With an emphasis on unadorned surfaces, flat rooflines, and repetitive arches, the residences takes from California’s Spanish traditions as well as Gill’s interest in minimal forms, a successful blending of classical proportions and composition (the cube against the arch) with an uncompromisingly modernist sensibility. On the interior, Gill's meticulous execution of details like coved walls that prevented the collection of dust, cabinets painted with an easy to clean white enamel, and rooms with perfectly framed views of the well-manicured gardens made for a modern and efficient residential machine.
Best known for her seminal book, Five California Architects (1960) (Gill was one of the five), Esther McCoy began researching Gill in the 1950s, seeking out the architect's colleagues and documenting his unheralded buildings (she eventually curated a retrospective of his work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1958). During the 1960s, as the Dodge House faced an uncertain future, McCoy launched a years-long campaign to save the landmark, only to see the house demolished one February morning in 1970 (it was replaced by condominiums). As part of her effort to save Gill's masterpiece, McCoy and Oscar-winning documentarian Robert Snyder (also the son-in-law of Buckminster Fuller) made this short film, and while it may be a bit dry by today's standards, it is definitely worth a look for the chance to see the Dodge House in all of its glory.
Video courtesy of Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
All photographs are part of the Library of Congress' Historic American Buildings Survey collection:
Historic American Buildings Survey, Walter Luther Dodge, Winnie Dodge, T. Morrison McKenna, Anita K. McKenna, Los Angeles High School District, Irving John Gill, et al., Rand, Marvin, photographer. Walter Luther Dodge House, 950 North Kings Road, West Hollywood District, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, CA. Documentation compiled after 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, ca0570.
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