Richard Neutra's Silver Lake House One Of 24 New National Historic Landmarks
Of the 24 new National Historic Landmarks announced today by the U.S. Department of the Interior, one is right here in Los Angeles: the Neutra Studio and Residences, otherwise known as the VDL Research House. These latest landmarks join over 2,500 landmarks across the nation, according to a statement via U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel. "These 24 new designations depict different threads of the American story that have been told through activism, architecture, music, and religious observance," she said.
The The VDL Research House can be found at 2300 Silver Lake Blvd., near the Silver Lake Reservoir. The two-story modernist residence was built in 1932 by modernist architect Richard Neutra. Neutra built the house for himself, and lived there with his wife, Dione, and their three sons. According to the release:
During the 1940s, as Neutra’s work evolved, he also became the well-recognized founder of mid-century “California Modern” architecture. The VDL Research House is the only property where one can see the progression of his style over a period of years and is among the key properties to understanding the national significance of Richard Neutra.
The home is currently owned by Cal Poly Pomona, as Neutra's widow Dione Neutra donated the residence to the school. It is maintained by Cal Poly Pomona's College of Environmental Design, and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since May of 2009.
Originally from Vienna, Neutra came to the U.S. in 1923, where he worked with architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolf Schindler. He is responsible for numerous notable residences around L.A., including Hollywood's Jardinette Apartments and the Lovell House, and the Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs.
The VDL Research House was his third building in the United States and was so named for Dr. CH Van Der Leeuw, a Dutch philanthropist who gave Neutra a loan to build it.
Neutra himself wrote about the house and his design intentions:
I started designing the VDL by scrutinizing my own experience. Mine was the special case of a childhood in old-town Vienna, living in a modest middle-class tenement, followed by early manhood in military barracks and wartime hospital wards. It became clear to me that the demonstration I had in mind lay primarily in the field of sensory phenomena, not in the merely mechanical allotment of measurable space. I recognized that man had inherited from his primal ancestry a kind of dread of the infringement on the senses that goes with crowding. Through the growth of his brain, and his ensuing inventiveness, man had been unprecedented in his manipulation of space, mastering it in all of its mechanical and measurable magnitudes. With rare exceptions, however, he had failed grossly in sizing up its sensorial and psychological aspects.
I was convinced that high-density design could succeed in a fully human way, and I saw my new house as a concrete pilot project. I wanted to demonstrate that human beings, brought together in close proximity, can be accommodated in very satisfying circumstances, taking in that precious amenity called privacy. So armed with my memories and convictions, and in direct contrast to the sense-inimical mien of my boyhood surroundings, I planted three families on my ordinary 60-by-70-foot lot, next to Silver Lake. And I was able to arrange things in such a way as to embellish our lives with abundant plantings and bracing vistas. One felt a great sense of freedom in the VDL, as everything was carefully planned to avoid interference between the various zones of the house, and there were many options for getting off by oneself.
In the redesign, the idea was to prove that even tight spaces can foster a sense of openness and tranquillity, if not freedom. In fact, the interior space is still a meager 2,300-square-feet, but there is nothing cramped here. VDL reminds us that all architecture grapples with the tension between privacy and intimacy. The most powerful architecture is shaped by the size of the human body, not the size of the human ego.
In June of 1970, shortly after Neutra's death, his widow Dione Neutra wrote about what it was like to live in that house. Dione Neutra was a musician who had born in Germany and raised in Switzerland, and who came to the U.S. with her husband and their eldest son, Frank.
Only those, who have lived in a Neutra House, would ever understand how wonderful the daily satisfactions and delights are and how much this experience helps to augment the joy of living. This is especially the case in this house, which is built on three levels. With the many glass surfaces, mirrors, pools that reflect trees and flowers, every step from room to room, stairway up and down, is an aesthetic and artist experience, which I have the good fortune to enjoy, while I move about the house and watch the changing weather. I credit much of this satisfaction to the detailed efforts of my son, Dion, who spent the better part of two years in daily supervision and design of the rebuilt version of this house, which has so many enrichments in comparison to its predecessor of the early ‘30s. I have been asked whether I would not like to live out my last years in my hometown of Zurich. No, I don’t think I would, even if I could transplant this house; the climate is simply too bad in Europe in comparison with the one here, despite occasional smog.
In San Diego, Chicano Park was also named a National Historic Landmark. Here, on April 20, 1970, residents successfully protested against the proposed construction of a CHP substation, saying the city had previously promised a community park. Chicano Park has since become a place for the Chicano community to congregate, and is also the home of the Chicano Park Monumental Murals. There are over 70 murals, dating back to 1973. The murals were restored with five of the original artists in 2012.