Neutra Village is a concentration of architecturally significant houses located just off the Silver Lake Reservoir, at the intersection of Earl Street with Silver Lake Boulevard and Argent Place, that demonstrates the varied, yet cohesive modern style of Neutra in his mature career. The Neutra Village features the largest concentration of Richard Neutra’s architecture in the world.
This group of houses, built incrementally between 1948 and 1962, are archetypal of mid-century modern style with their rectilinear forms and flat roofs. They demonstrate Neutra’s interest in the indoor/outdoor aspect of architecture, which he could explore to the maximum in the mild southern California climate, using sliding glass walls to open up indoor spaces which lead on to generous roof top decks.
This unique living environment, sheltered within a park-like landscape, was not a planned development. Each residence is unique and was carefully executed one by one with the architect’s first ground rule being to provide by design for the happiness and well-being of each individual owner and their family. Neutra understood that well-being was tied directly to the idea of living in harmony with nature, neighbours and within the family unit itself. The result is a community with a sense of sensual, animated tranquillity, of accomplished sophistication rendered simply by mature hands.
This makes Silver Lake home to some of the most celebrated modernist architecture in the US, including Richard Neutra’s VDL Research House, where he lived for nearly 40 years, and John Lautner’s Silvertop.
The architecture of Silver Lake developed hand-in-hand with the film industry. Like a mighty wave, the creative individuals captivated by the magic of Hollywood were drawn by the thousands to Southern California to ‘make their mark’ seeking employment but also needing a place to call home. The beautiful hillsides of Hollywood, Los Feliz and Silver Lake were often the preferred locations for these early pioneers. As Los Feliz and the Hollywood Hills became too pricey, homebuyers and renters looked eastward towards Silver Lake. At the same time, as new architectural styles were coming into fashion, the architects who were designing them found greater acceptance for their often avante garde designs in the cultural mix of Los Angeles. As a result, the works of Modernist pioneers like Gregory Ain, Eugene Kinn Choy, Raul Garduno, David Hyun, R.M. Schindler, Raphael Soriano, Eric Lloyd Wright, John Lautner, Kemper Nomland and Richard Neutra are literally sprinkled throughout our hillsides.
Designed for Mr. and Mrs. Wong Yew in 1957, Neutra designed the house with a mind towards entertaining and the enjoyment of the view of the lake. The Master Bedroom features a roof deck which is served by a dumbwaiter from the kitchen. The kitchen itself features open shelves so that the lake may be seen at all times. This home reflects in a significant way Neutra’s desire to bring elements of the outdoors ‘inside’ so that one has the sense of always being connected to nature.
The Kambara House features walls of glass, typical of Neutra’s work which take advantage of the lake views, with the addition of protected balconies that run the length of the structure. That the Kambaras spent their entire lives here treasuring the house, and carefully maintaining it exactly as built, speaks to the success of the architect’s endeavour. The Kambara House went on the market in 2014 for the first time since it was constructed, with an asking price of $2.3 million.
The Inadomi House appears almost connected to its neighbour to the south, the Kambara House, built at approximately the same time, with which it shares a common pathway to the street before dividing at a small reflecting pool. It is a pure example of the International Modern Style, unadorned, with large expanses of glass walls to take advantage of the views of the lake across the street.
The Sokol house was the first house to be built and is distinctively different from the others. It is also one of the largest of the group, being 221 square meters.
A centrepiece of the Neutra Village, the Ohara House is a classic example of the work of Modernist Richard Neutra, set on a hillside which affords stunning lake and mountain views, including views to the Griffith Park Observatory and famous Hollywood sign. The west-facing site fills the house with natural light. Breezes from the lake flow up the hillside and throughout the house, cooling it in the process.
Neutra designed this house for June and Hitoshi Ohara and their two daughters. In August 1995, Patricia and C.J. Bonura became the second owners of this signature home. Maintenance of the house had been deferred since construction. However, while in need of restoration, all original finishes, colours and systems remained in the as-built state. Over the next eight years, Bonura Building proceeded to restore the house to the original specifications. What really distinguishes this house from the other Neutra designs in the Village is the landscaping which really enhances bringing the outside in.
The Ohara House has appeared in numerous books and magazines, and was the Miles’ House from The Holiday with Jack Black. The exterior of the house showed up only once and very briefly in the movie.
The Flavins admired the work of the Modernists and tried to buy two other existing Neutra homes first: the Alexander Meltzer House on Murray Drive and later, the Sokol House on East Silver Lake Boulevard. Not succeeding, they hired Neutra to start afresh which turned out to be a good choice. The Flavins were able to get the architect to build a home specifically for their personal needs which included a workshop at the northeast end of the house.
Reunion House is the personal home of architect Dion & Lynn Smart Neutra. The house is the most private of all the homes in the Neutra Village; instead of exposed to the lake, it is hidden in a forest of trees and ponds, creating a most tranquil setting. It was designed by Richard Neutra in 1949 and remodeled by Dion Neutra in 1966.
The original Neutra VDL Studio and Residence, a living laboratory for architect Richard Neutra’s theories on residential design, was built for $8,000 (including the site!) in 1932. It was designed by Richard Neutra as a study in creating the perfect living space within a confined site. Neutra used natural lighting, great views to the landscape and mirrors as pivotal elements in creating a house that felt much larger than its actual size. The architect said: “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.” He did this with clever design and use of modern materials.
After a disastrous fire in March 1963, the VDL house was rebuilt by Dion Neutra in consultation with his father, Richard Neutra, who was often out of town during those years. It was completed in 1966, and the elder Neutras enjoyed living in the newly constituted house until Neutra’s death in 1970. His widow continued in residence for yet another 20 years until her death in 1990. In the years since, Dion has continued to struggle to actualize the vision his family had when it determined to give this house in perpetuity to a university.
Today, this glass-walled paragon of modern design overlooking the Silver Lake Reservoir is owned by California Polytechnic University, Pomona, and is an active part of LA’s design community and home to occasional art installations.
In addition to being designated Cultural Monument #640 by the City of Los Angeles, the VDL House was listed by the World Monuments Watch as one of the 100 Most Endangered World Monuments in 2000. It was one of only five sites in the US. The youngest of all the projects listed, the VDL joined such prestigious projects as the Valley of the Kings; Macchu Pichu; Beauvais Cathedral; and the oldest of the group, the Giraffe Rock Art Site in Niger, of 6th century BCE.
Richard Neutra was born in Vienna, Austria, into a wealthy Jewish family. He attended the Sophiengymnasium in Vienna until 1910, then he studied under Adolf Loos and Otto Wagner at the Vienna University of Technology from 1910 to 1918. In 1912 he undertook a study trip to Italy and the Balkans with Ernst Ludwig Freud (son of Sigmund Freud).
Neutra studied at the University of Zurich and worked briefly for landscape architect Gustav Ammann. In 1921 he worked as City Architect in the Planning Department of Luckenwalde, an industrial town in Germany. He also worked briefly for architect Erich Mendelsohn in Berlin.
In 1922, Neutra married Dione Niedermann, the daughter of an architect, and they moved to the US in 1923. At the funeral of Louis Sullivan, Neutra met Frank Lloyd Wright, who hired him in 1924 to work at Taliesin in Wisconsin while Wright was in Japan. Work ran out in 1925 and Neutra left Taliesin to work in California with Rudolf Schindler.
Among many projects, Schindler and Neutra collaborated on an entry for the League of Nations Competition of 1927; in the same year they formed a design firm with planner Carol Aronovici called the Architectural Group for Industry and Commerce (AGIC). Neutra and Schindler and their wives were very close; they shared space in Schindler’s house on Kings Road in Los Angeles from February 1925 until the Neutras left to tour Europe in May 1930.
The breakup of Neutra and Schindler is often accorded to Neutra “stealing” client Phillip Lovell for the Lovell Health House. According to Neutra’s son Raymond, it was not that simple. Schindler was busy with projects like the Buck House on Catalina Island and the unbuilt Transparent House for Aline Barnsdall. Phillip Lovell was grumpy about an earlier 1924 Schindler cabin that collapsed in the snow during its first winter. Schindler was also having an affair with Harriet Freeman, Lovell’s sister-in-law (who Lovell intensely disliked) and Lovell didn’t want the architect of his new Health house under her influence. Schindler was just as happy not to put up with Lovell, and the project shifted to Neutra. The Lovell House was the turning point in Neutra’s career, putting him on the architectural radar.
The hostility began in late 1930 when Schindler heard from friends that Neutra was not crediting him about the League of Nations project. It got worse when Schindler was rejected from the Philip Johnson’s MOMA International Style exhibition in New York which Neutra brought to LA for the 1932 Olympics.
Neutra and Schindler ended their partnership and co-residency and rarely interacted after that. When Neutra had a heart attack in 1953, he found himself in the same hospital room as Schindler. They made peace before Schindler died there of cancer. The hostility was on Schindler’s side and Neutra was happy to have the reconciliation.
Novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand based part of her character Howard Roark on Neutra in The Fountainhead. She was the second owner of Neutra’s Von Sternberg House.
Between 1927 and 1969, Neutra designed more than 300 houses in California and elsewhere. In 1949, Time Magazine featured Neutra on its cover and ranked him second only to Frank Lloyd Wright in American architecture. After that, Neutra had all the work he could ever want.
Neutra coined the term biorealism, which means “the inherent and inseparable relationship between man and nature”. Neutra hired several young architects who went on to independent success, including Gregory Ain, Harwell Hamilton Harris and Raphael Soriano.
In 1965, Neutra formally partnered with architect and son Dion Neutra as Richard and Dion Neutra and Associates. In 1966, he moved back to Vienna, Austria. He died in Germany in 1970 while in the middle of an argument with a client, according to grandson Justin, who later made a short film about Neutra. In 1977 Neutra was awarded the AIA Gold Medal.