Monday, August 11, 2014

Tina Modotti, Lloyd Wright and Otto Bollman Connections, 1920

(Click on images to enlarge).
Tina Modotti movie head shot, ca. 1920. Photographer unknown. From  Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life by Mildred Constantine, Chronicle, 1993, p. 33.

Tina Modotti was a stage performer in San Francisco's Italian community before marrying Robaix "Robo" de L'Abrie Richey in 1917 and moving to Los Angeles to pursue a movie career. After three years of nothing but uncredited bit parts her acting career seemed to be gaining traction around the time she met Edward Weston in 1920. Tina's first major role could have been sparked by any number of mutual movie industry friends in her and Robo's and/or Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather's social circles including Anita Stewart, Myrtle Stedman, Olga Zacsek, Florence Deshon, Helen Richardson, Vivian Martin, Ramiel McGehee and numerous others. Perhaps another intro however was provided by Lloyd Wright who had many strong industry contacts through his heading up the set design department for Paramount Pictures and drama connections through his best friends Reginald Pole and Helen Taggart. He also had collaborated with McGehee on stage set design for his Cherry Blossom Players performances at the Alexandria Hotel and elsewhere in 1916-17.  (For much more on this see my "Edward Weston, R. M. Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright, Lawrence Tibbett, Reginald Pole, Beatrice Wood and Their Dramatic Circles" (WSZW). 

Lloyd Wright, ca. 1920. From "The Blessing and the Curse" by Thomas S. Hines in Lloyd Wright: The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. by Alan Weintraub, Abrams, 1998, p. 14.

The vehicle for Modotti's best role to date was a screen adaptation of Elizabeth Dejeans's The Tiger's Coat which was first serialized in The Pictorial Review in 1916-17 and published in book form by Bobbs-Merrill in 1917 (see below). 

The Tiger's Coat by Elizabeth Dejeans, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1917. Front cover art by Arthur L. Keller.

Tina Modotti, photographer unknown. Movie still from Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life by Mildred Constantine, Chronicle, 1993, p. 29.

The project was the brainchild of the Dial Film Company president and soon-to-be Lloyd Wright client Otto Bollman. His next "book into film" project was Irving Bacheller's The Light in the Clearing (see below).

 Left to right, Otto Bollman, president of Dial Film Company; Mari Bollman. continuity writer; J. J. Curtiss, vice-president of Bobbs-Merrill Publishing Co. "The Light in the Clearing," will be the first Bacheller novel produced in pictures by Dial, "Publisher Consults Dial About Bacheller Stories," Exhibitors Herald, October 23, 1920, p. 75.

Robert Brunton, 1920. Photographer unknown. From Dunlea, D. D., "Robert Brutnon," System, January 1921, p. 47.

Bollman rented studio space to film the Roy Clements screenplay from the Robert Brunton Studios at 5341 Melrose Ave. in Hollywood. Brunton (see above) was also leasing space to 13 other companies while Bollman was filming "The Tiger's Coat" in the summer of 1920. Lloyd Wright may also have been designing stage sets for companies filming at the Brunton Studios facilitites which by the following year had changed hands and became United Studios (see below). Much of his Paramount Pictures set design work likely took place on the Brunton lot. It is interesting to speculate whether he had a role in the set design for "The Tiger's Coat" since he would begin design on Otto Bollman's Whitley Heights house shortly after filming was completed in late July.

Brunton Studios, 5341 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, 1920. Photographer unknown. From Early Paramount Studios by E. J. Stephens, Michael Christaldi, Marc Wanamaker, Arcadia, 2013, p. 45.

"The Tiger's Coat" was for the most part filmed in Brunton's Soundstage No. 3 (see below). Filming began in late June and was completed by July 28th. ("Film Flashes," New York Clipper, July 28, 1920, p. 33).

Brunton Studios Soundstage No. 3. From Early Paramount Studios by E. J. Stephens, Michael Christaldi, Marc Wanamaker, Arcadia, 2013, p. 45.

Lawson Butt, Myrtle Stedman and Tina Modotti, photographer unknown. Movie still from  Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life by Mildred Constantine, Chronicle, 1993, p. 29.

Lawson Butt and Tina Modotti, photographer unknown. Movie still from  Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life by Mildred Constantine, Chronicle, 1993, p. 29.

Tina Modotti, photographer unknown. Movie still from  Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life by Mildred Constantine, Chronicle, 1993, p. 29.

After filming was completed Tina drove north to visit her family. Sometime in August she was injured in an auto accident but apparently made a quick recovery as a brief in the New York Clipper reported, "Tina Modotti has fully recovered from injuries received when her automobile went over an embankment near San Francisco." ("Film Flashes," New York Clipper, August 25, 1920, p. 33).

"The Tiger's Coat" release ad. Exhibitors Herald, October 30, 1920, p. 13.

"The Tiger's Coat" release ad. Exhibitors Herald, November 6, 1920, p. 13.

"The Tiger's Coat" release ad. Exhibitors Herald, November 12, 1920, p. 13.

Due to various delays "The Tiger's Coat" was not released until around Thanksgiving 1920 just around the time the Schindlers were headed west from Chicago (see above period ads). Aline Barnsdall's complaints to Frank Lloyd Wright regarding Lloyd's inattention to detail on her Hollyhock House prompted him to summon Schindler to Olive Hill to take over the construction management reins from his by then seriously moonlighting son. Lloyd's lack of a regular salary from his forgetful father coupled with possible resentment over being replaced by Schindler was the likely motivation for his moonlighting and resulting lack of focus on Barnsdall's house. Ironically just two weeks before the Schindler's arrival Lloyd had broken ground on the Bollman House which he apparently was able to keep a secret from his father during his late 1920 stopover on his way to Japan. Lloyd would also soon begin his Weber House and numerous other landscape design projects. ("Notices of Completion," Southwest Builder and Contractor, March 25, 1921, p. 35 and "Mechanics Liens," Southwest Builder and Contractor, May 13, 1921, p. 41. See also WSZW).

Otto Bollman Residence, 2200 Broadview Terrace, Hollywood, 1921. Lloyd Wright, architect. From Lloyd Wright, Architect by David Gebhard and Harriette Von Breton, UC-Santa Barbara, 1971, p. 13.

The Schindlers obviously soon learned of Lloyd's dramatic Hollywood project for Bollman and were also likely introduced to Modotti and Weston around this time evidenced by later events which I discuss at length in my "Edward Weston, R. M. Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright, Lawrence Tibbett, Reginald Pole, Beatrice Wood and Their Dramatic Circles." It is interesting to speculate whether Lloyd obtained the Bollman commission through Tina or whether Tina got a lead role in "The Tiger's Coat" through Lloyd. The connection appears to me however to be more than simply coincidental.

Otto Bollman Residence, 2200 Broadview Terrace, Hollywood, 1921. Lloyd Wright, architect. From Lloyd Wright, The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. by Alan Weintraub Abrams, 1998, p. 21.

Otto Bollman Residence, 2200 Broadview Terrace, Hollywood, 1921. Lloyd Wright, architect. From Lloyd Wright, The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. by Alan Weintraub Abrams, 1998, p. 238.

Aerial photo of the Hollywood Bowl ca. 1930. From WhitleyHeights.org.

The Otto Bollman Residence is visible just to the left of the Whitley Heights High Tower at the lower right in the above photo (see also below). Fascinatingly, Lloyd's two band shells for the Hollywood Bowl just over the hill were completed in 1927 and 1928.

"Gallagher's Elevator," Holly Leaves, April 18, 1924, p. 20-1.

Van Amberg Residence in foreground, 2012 Holly Hill Terrace, Otto Bollman Residence in background, upper left, 2200 Broadview Terrace, 1921. From "Gallagher's Elevator," Holly Leaves, April 18, 1924, p. 20-1.

Various publications reference the builder of the Otto Bollman Residence as being his contractor "brother" [sic] Henry O. Bollman. The Notice of Completion however states that the builder was the Escherich Brothers. Otto's "son" Henry O. Bollman would commission Lloyd to design his house at 1530 Ogden Ave. in Hollywood which was completed in 1923. Lloyd's December 1922 drawings for Henry's house do indeed list Henry as the builder. ("Notices of Completion," Southwest Builder and Contractor, March 25, 1921, p. 35). Lloyd served as an usher at Henry's wedding to Virginia Ball in 1925. (Levy, Juan Neal, "Society: Ball-Bollman," Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1925, p. I-7).  

Duell, Prentice, "A Note on Batik," California Southland, November, 1921, p. 19.

By the time the Otto Bollman Residence was completed in March 1921 the Schindlers were deeply intertwined into the Weston-Mather-Modotti-Johan Hagemeyer-Ramiel McGehee-Betty Katz-Miriam Lerner circle. They would have attended a party or two at Tina and Robo's studio at 313 S. Lake St. (see above) as Pauline had already become intimate with former Weston lover Betty Katz. Pauline was also teaching at the Walt Whitman School where Weston's two oldest sons, Chandler and Brett, were enrolled. She and RMS were also both on the school's board of directors. (For much more on this see my "The Schindlers and Westons and the Walt Whitman School").

Apparently Otto Bollman's finances took a turn for the worse when his Dial Film Company went "belly-up" ca. 1922, resulting in his remarkable Whitley Heights aerie being auctioned off in early 1926.

Otto Bollman Residence Auction, 2200 Broadview Terrace, Hollywood, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 1926, p. 4.

After "The Tiger's Coat" Modotti apparently only appeared in two other films and finally abandoned hopes of a film career by the end of 1921. She became intimate with Weston sometime in 1920-21 and after Robo's passing in February 1922, the couple would make their fateful trip to Mexico in August 1923. (For more on this see my "The Schindlers and the Hollywood Art Association").

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sarah B. Clark Residence, 7231 Hillside Ave., Hollywood: Irving Gill's First Aiken System Project

(Click in images to enlarge)
Irving Gill ca. 1912, about the time he formed his Concrete Building and Investment Co.

Sarah B. Clark Residence, 7231 Hillside Ave., Hollywood, 1913. Irving Gill, architect, landscape design possibly by Lloyd Wright. "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine, October 1917, pp. 223-225.

Ever since I found the above anonymous Irving Gill house in Hollywood in the book Concrete Houses: How They Were Built (see below) it has been nagging me who commissioned the project and where it was located. This rather striking residence has not been published in any of the Gill monographs because Esther McCoy, David Gebhard, Bruce Kamerling, Thomas S. Hines and Marvin Rand either had not come across the three publications of the house, had the address incorrectly listed, or did not know of it's existence, thus making it difficult to find through secondary sources. Project photos were also likely destroyed in a fire or were inadvertently thrown out by a relative after Gill's death as explained in Hines's introduction to Irving Gill and the Architecture of Reform. (Monacelli Press, 2000, p. 17). 

Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920. (Author's note: An adapted rendering of Gill's Darst House appears on the cover. Articles on, and photos of, Gill's Dodge House, Darst House (see below) and Lewis Courts are also compiled herein.)

Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 17.

Compounding the difficulty in tracking the house down, the first time the house appeared in print was in the May 1916 issue of Concrete Magazine, a full three years after its completion. A footnote in the below article in Concrete Houses muddled things even further by incorrectly stating that the article was first published in Concrete in May of 1918. In his Gill monograph Bruce Kamerling had the house listed as "Mrs. Sarah R. [sic] Clark residence, 7731 [sic] Hillside Hollywood" and being completed. Likely taking his cue from Kamerling, Thomas Hines' Gill book had the same listing but more confusingly cited it under Gill's "unbuilt" projects. Marvin Rand's Gill monograph erroneously aped the listing in Hines as being unbuilt. No mention was made of the house within the text of any of these three books. And of course Esther McCoy made no mention of the house at all in her Gill chapter in her 1960 Five California Architects.

"A California House With Pre-Cast Walls," in Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 161. First published in Concrete, May, 1916, p. 197.

Clark House floor plan from "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine on Home Building, October 1917, p. 224.

Through an exhaustive search of back issues of Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer and a fortuitous title "Clark, 7233 Hillside" inked onto an Irving Gill slide mount in architect-historian John Reed's collection I was finally able to determine that this house was indeed the Sarah "B." Clark Residence which was actually located at "7231" Hillside Ave. in Hollywood. Period SC&M descriptions summarized the house as being 2-story, 8-rooms, 40 x 41 ft., of reinforced concrete Aiken System construction, plastered exterior, composition roof, tile mantel, automatic water heater and having a construction value of $4500. The owner, Sarah B. Clark, was living at 1853 Gower St. when she signed the contract with Gill. Gill's office was listed as 643 Citizen's National Bank Building (see below). He would by the beginning of the Banning House construction in June move to 913 S. Figueroa St. across the street from the inspirationally-arched Friday Morning Club (see two below) where he would remain until 1923. (Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, February 15 and 22, 1913, pp. 19 and 34 respectively). (For more on the Friday Morning Club see my "The Schindlers and the Westons and the Walt Whitman School"). (Author's note: The pioneering work of architect-historian John Reed, a San Diego native, in educating McCoy, Gebhard and Winter on the location of long-lost Gill and others projects during the 1950s is much under-recognized. For much more on Reed's importance to McCoy's career see my "Selected Publications of Esther McCoy: Patron Saint and Myth Maker for Southern California Architectural Historians.")

Citizen's National Bank Building, southwest corner of Third and Main Sts., ca. 1913. Courtesy California Historical Society, USC Digital Collection. (Author's note: Gill's office was also listed at 625 S. Hill St. in Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, February 15, 1913, p. 19. This article also listed the Clark Residence at 7731 Hillside Ave. which is the likely source of Kamerling's mis-listing of the project address in his Gill project list.).

Friday Morning Club, 940 S. Figueroa St., ca. 1900. Arthur B. Benton, architect, 1900. Photographer unknown. Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.  

"The beauty of the simple treatment of the arch," from "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine on Home Building, October 1917, p. 224.

The Clark House (see front porch above) has the added singular distinction of being the first house for which Gill used the Aiken System tilt-slab construction technique. This fact had not come to light until I was able to determine that the house was completed by the end of May in 1913. (Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, various issues, February, May and June, 1913). The late date of the first publication of the Clark House would likely have confused people into thinking that the Banning House begun in June 1913 was Gill's first "Aiken" house. Esther McCoy created the myth for succeeding historians in her 1960 Five California Architects by being the first to state that the Banning House was Gill's first project to employ the Aiken method. By like token, by being the first to miss the fact that the Dodge House was constructed using Aiken methodology, she established an additional myth inadvertently perpetrated by succeeding historians.

McCoy was possibly swayed by Bertha H. Smith's article "Mrs. Banning Builds First Cubist House" which appeared in the Los Angeles Times upon its completion if she had happened upon it. (Smith, Bertha H., "Mrs. Banning Builds First Cubist House," Los Angeles Times, November 1, 1914, p. VI-1). The myth was later perpetuated by Bruce Kamerling in his 1993 Irving J. Gill, Architect, Sean Scensor in his excellent 1995 graduate thesis "Irving Gill and the Rediscovery of Concrete in California: The Marie and Chauncy Clarke House, 1919-1922," and inferred by Thomas Hines in his 2000 Irving Gill and the Architecture of Reform. (See more at my McCoy). (For much more on Marie Rankin Clarke and the Clarke House also see my "Edward Weston, R. M. Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright,Lawrence Tibbett, Reginald Pole, Beatrice Wood and Their Dramatic Circles").


Colonel Robert Aiken ca. 1908, photographer unknown. From "House Walls Built Flat and Raised," Cement World, Aug 15, 1908, p. 327. 

"The Second Annual Cement Show at the Coliseum, Chicago," Cement Age, March 1909, p. 206.

Colonel Robert Aiken (see two above) devised a system of casting the walls of buildings in a horizontal position and raising them with special equipment while in the army building barracks in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. Numerous barracks buildings were subsequently erected using his method at army posts across the U.S. and in Panama (see below for example).  After leaving the military Aiken patented the system in 1908. On November 14, 1908, he organized the Aiken Cement House company and incorporated it in the State of Maine for tax purposes. He soon began a much-advertised national marketing campaign with the intent of  franchising his system by region. The effort also included setting up booths at concrete trade shows such as the 1909 Chicago Cement Show (see above). (Dretske, Diana, "Robert H. Aiken, Tilt-Up Construction Inventor," Lake County, Illinois History).

Below is a sequence of construction photos for one of Aiken's typical buildings for the U. S. Army, a new mess hall for Camp Perry, Ohio. Aiken used the images to illustrate his paper "Monolithic Concrete Wall Buildings - Methods, Construction and Cost" presented at the fifth annual convention of the National Association of Cement Users in January 1909 in Cleveland, Ohio. The photos provide the best illustration and insight I have been able to find as to how Gill might have sequenced the construction of his larger Aiken System projects. (Aiken, Robert, "Monolithic Concrete Wall Buildings - Methods, Construction and Cost," in Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Convention, National Association of Cement Users, Held at Cleveland, Ohio, January 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 1909, Vol. 5, pp. 83-105). (View full article at Intenet Archive).

Concrete mess hall building, 192 by 132 feet, at Camp Perry, Ohio. Built in 28 days.

Setting up jacks for the wall mold.

Placing reinforcement on two inches of concrete.

White-finishing wall on fitting platform.

Two walls in position, intersecting wall under construction.

Wall raised half way.

Rear view of wall in vertical position.

Closing up end wall, two sections of main front wall, gap for front entrance wing.

Cross wall connecting kitchen to main wall, just raised, ready to strip off wood backing and jacks.

"Aiken Cement House Company," National Association of Cement Users, Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Convention, November 1911, p. 898.

It is not certain how the concrete-intrigued Gill first became aware of the Aiken System but it was most likely through his former partner William S. Hebbard who designed the Union Title and Trust Company building on Second St. between C and D Streets. The Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company was the low bidder for the construction contract which it used for its San Diego region demonstration project. (Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, October 8, 1910, pp. 7-8). Gill also might have learned of, or followed the evolution of the Aiken process through period articles and ads in the concrete journals (see above for example). He also would have been approached directly by Aiken representatives C. C. Fife and/or Frederick H. Sears who had moved to Los Angeles in 1910 to establish the California branch of the national Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company. Frederick H. Sears, "Notables of the Southwest," Press Reference Library, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 1912, p. 441.

Frederick H. Sears, ibid.

Aiken Reinforced Concrete Co., 1113-1114 Union Trust Bldg., southeast corner of South Spring and West 4th Streets, designed by John Parkinson, 1904. First skyscraper in Los Angeles. From LAPL Photo DWP Collection. 

An offshoot of the Chicago-based Aiken Cement House Company which Sears also helped organize, the Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company incorporated in Los Angeles in 1910.  The firm's offices were located on the 11th floor of the Union Trust Building (see above). The associated Sears and Fife real estate development company also had its offices at the same location. Fife was a director of Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company as well as an independent construction contractor. Throughout 1910-1912 Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer listed regional "demonstration" projects for various Aiken Corporation offshoots in Phoenix, Tucson, Bakersfield, Fresno, San Diego and elsewhere.

Union Title and Trust Building, Second St. between C and D Streets, 1911, W. S. Hebbard, architect, Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company, contractor. Photographer unknown. From San Diego History Center.

The San Diego region Aiken demonstration project was for the above-mentioned $100,000 Union Title and Trust Company Building on Second St. between C and D Streets which began construction in November 1910. Gill's former partner W. S. Hebbard (see below) was the architect, thus Gill would have been closely watching the construction progress using the novel tilt-slab methodology. Hebbard applied ornamentation such as the Doric columns and pediments to the front wall of the 50x100 ft. two-story and basement reinforced concrete structure. All four walls were erected using the Aiken System tilt-slab equipment (see above). (Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, October 8, 1910, pp. 7-8).

William Sterling Hebbard, ca. 1900. Photographer unknown. From San Diego History Center.

The Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company had a short-lived presence in Los Angeles and other cities around the country after the original round of regional licenses were awarded. The firm was insolvent by mid-1912 evidenced by a bankruptcy notice for construction contractor and Aiken director C. C. Fife in Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer which listed among his assets as "419 shares of original issue of 1000 shares in capital stock in the insolvent Aiken Reinforced Concrete Co., his share of the liabilities of the company being placed at $34, 671.40." (Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, August 3, 1912, p. 9)

Los Angeles Railway Paint Shop, 55th St. and South Park Ave., 1911, Karl D. Schwendener, architect. Los Angeles Herald Examiner, January 1911. From "South Los Angeles Wetlands Project, Draft EIR," City of Los Angeles, 2005.

The first Aiken System project in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Railway Paint Shop, a 111’ x 644’ building containing 36 car bays, was begun in September 1910 and completed by mid-1911. Designed by Los Angeles architect Karl D. Schwendener and erected by the Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company, 106 ft-long, 100-ton wall sections were cast horizontally and then raised into position (see above). (Author's note: The November 10, 1910 issue of Building Age, p. 490 listed the architect as G. J. Kubris.). The Herald Examiner reported that Robert Aiken, a concrete specialist from Illinois, developed the technique of “lift-slab” or “tilt-up” concrete construction and his “process [was] used for the first time in the West” in building the Paint Shop for the Los Angeles Railway. The building was undoubtedly one the largest of its era to employ tilt-up construction (see below). 

Los Angeles Railway Paint Shop, 55th St. and South Park Ave., 1911. Karl D. Schwendener, architect. Photographer unknown. From "South Los Angeles Wetlands Project, Draft EIR," City of Los Angeles, 2005.

(Author's note: The site of the first Aiken System construction project in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Railway Paint Shop, was recently converted into an innovative urban wetlands by the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation's Storm Water Management Division (see below). I could not be more proud as this group was under my direction before I retired as Assistant Director of the Bureau of Sanitation in 1999).

Rendering of South Los Angeles Wetlands Park with still-existing Los Angeles Railway Paint Shop which will become an interpretive center. From "South Los Angeles Wetlands Project, Draft EIR," City of Los Angeles, 2005 and Fuentes, Ed, "Innovative Wetlands Park Opens in South Los Angeles," KCET.org.

In San Diego at the time, Gill was also likely aware of this Los Angeles region Aiken "demonstration" project and was certainly given a tour by Sears and/or Fife prior to his mid-1912 purchase of the regional patent rights of the then bankrupt Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company. (Gebhard, David, "Wood Studs, Stucco, and Concrete: Native and Imported Images," in On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900-1950 edited by Paul J. Karlstrom, University of California Press, 1996, p. 149). In mid-1912, while still heavily involved in his City of Torrance projects with the Olmsteds and with a young Lloyd Wright who followed him from San Diego in his employ, an enthused Gill purchased the regional Aiken System rights and bought or leased the necessary equipment from the by then insolvent Aiken Company. The equipment, including the jacks and frames, was originally manufactured at the Aiken factory in Benton Township, Illinois built by Aiken in 1908 using his own system. ("Robert H. Aiken, Tilt-Up Construction Inventor," Lake County, Illinois History).

Gill formed the Concrete Building and Investment Company and essentially became his own contractor in Los Angeles in July 1912 just after the above-mentioned bankruptcy of the Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company. His initial capitalization of $100,000 was provided by partners and backers including Los Angeles real estate mogul C. Wesley Roberts, auto industry magnate James W. Hawk, John W. Crump, and James H. Fountain. ("Incorporations," Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1912, p. II-2). The stated purpose of the company was "...to erect concrete buildings at low cost by pouring the walls separately on a tilting platform." (Building Age, November 1912, p. 600). 

"Form ready for Concrete,"  "A California House With Pre-Cast Walls," in Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 161. First published in Concrete, May, 1916, p. 197.

Gill used the smaller Clark House to learn the idiosyncrasies of the Aiken System before tackling the much more impressive Banning House which was under design during the Clark House construction. The walls were pre-cast in a horizontal position and raised by motor-driven jacks. The number of jacks used and the spacing of them depended on the weight and size of the wall to be supported. Door and window openings were laid out (see above). Metal jambs, soon patented by Gill, were set in place (see below) and the remaining surface of the wall form covered with hollow tile spaced for reinforced concrete beams to give proper stiffness; twisted steel rods were then placed vertically and horizontally, and the wall was ready to be poured. Concrete was wheeled up an incline, dumped, leveled off and allowed to set. The upper surface (the outside of the wall) was finished in its tilted position before being raised. (Ibid).

"Metal window frame," "A California House With Pre-Cast Walls," in Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 161. First published in Concrete, May, 1916, p. 197.

Putting the walls into place required a 5 h.p. gasoline engine. It took from 1/2 hour to 2 hours was required to raise each wall. Horizontal rods left projecting from the ends of the walls were bound together after two adjacent walls had been raised to an upright position. A form 2" wide was built up the entire height of the wall, and into this concrete was poured, producing a concrete and hollow tile steel reinforced with twisted steel bars.

"Raising equipment," "A California House With Pre-Cast Walls," in Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 161. First published in Concrete, May, 1916, p. 197.

"Three stages of construction," "A California House With Pre-Cast Walls," in Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 161. First published in Concrete, May, 1916, p. 197.

Roof joists are held in place by anchors, and 1" by 6" sheathing covered by a gravel composition was used for the roofing. Interior partitions were of metal lath on wood studding, and the rough concrete slab has been covered by a finish coat reinforced with wire cloth.

Clark House living room. "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine on Home Building, October 1917, p. 224.

Unlike many more ornate constructions, this tilt-wall style had no moldings or panels on the doors, just plain slab surfaces. There were no baseboards, plate rails, door or window casings or ornamental molding. Marketing materials boasted that it made this house as nearly dirt proof as is possible.

"Walls ready for plaster," "A California House With Pre-Cast Walls," in Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 161. First published in Concrete, May, 1916, p. 197.

William H. Code, 1909. Photographer unknown. From (Dretske, Diana, "Robert H. Aiken, Tilt-Up Construction Inventor," Lake County, Illinois History).

The house was completed in a remarkable 3 month's time attesting to the potential cost-savings in using the Aiken System. Little is known of Sarah Clark other than she was listed as a widow in the 1915 Los Angeles City Directory. She sold the house to prominent University of Michigan-trained civil engineer William H. Code, in 1917 (see above). Code was associated with the consulting engineering firm of Quinton, Code and Hill. Engineer Code was without doubt intrigued by the technical, structural aspects of the concrete house which he likely saw in the articles published in Concrete in 1916 and/or in Keith's Magazine of Home Building in 1917. The Codes lived there until their deaths in 1951. (Author's note: Code's fascination with Gill's methods and use of reinforced concrete presaged similar feelings of another very prominent civil engineer, Horatio Seymour, who would commission Gill to build his Horatio West Court Apartments in Santa Monica in 1921. For much more on this see my "Horatio West Court, 140 Hollister Ave., Santa Monica, Irving Gill, Architect, Horatio Seymour, Owner, Clyde Chace, Builder").

Sarah B. Clark Residence, 7231 Hillside Ave., Hollywood, 1913. Irving Gill, architect, landscape design possibly by Lloyd Wright. "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine, October 1917, pp. 223-225.

The Clark House house appears to be related in some fashion to the house to the west at 7235 Hillside Avenue evidenced by the front and rear pergolas and landscaping possibly designed by Lloyd Wright, then in Gill's employ, seemingly connecting the two properties (see above). This strongly begs the question as to whether Gill had anything to do with its design. An interesting factoid about 7235 Hillside is that then noted actor and later movie director Raoul Walsh was living there shortly after starring as John Wilkes Booth in D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" with soon-to-be Edward Weston poser and later Schindler lover and client Anna Zacsek who portrayed Laura Keene. (Los Angeles City Directory, 1917). (For much more on this see my "Edward Weston, R. M. Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright, Lawrence Tibbett, Reginald Pole, Beatrice Wood and Their Dramatic Circles").

Banning Residence, 513 S. Commonwealth Ave., Los Angeles, 1913. "A House Whose Walls were Built on a Table," Southhwest Contractor & Manufacturer, November 12, 1913, p. 5.

After completion of he Clark House Gill's Aiken equipment was immediately moved to the Mary H. Banning House site at 503 S. Commonwealth Ave. where it was used throughout the rest of 1913. (Smith, Bertha H., "Mrs. Banning Builds First Cubist House," Los Angeles Times, November 1, 1914, p. VI-1).  From there it was shipped to San Diego to build the La Jolla Women's Club and Scripps Recreation Center throughout most of 1914 and then shipped back to Los Angeles to be used on the Dodge House at 950 Kings Road at the end of 1914 and throughout 1915 and early 1916 (see progression of Gill's Aiken System projects in the below photos). 

Mary H. Banning ca. 1914, photographer by E. Robert Mushet. Satterlee, Anna E., "The N.S.D.A.R.," Out West Magazine, 1916, p. 66.

La Jolla Women's Club, 715 Alvarado St. and 7791 Draper Ave., 1914. (From Hines, p. 175).

Gill had moved to 913 S. Figueroa St. across the street from the venerable Friday Morning Club by the time he began design on the La Jolla Women's Club in 1913. Architect Arthur B. Benton's Spanish Revival icon provided the obvious inspiration for Gill's cleaner version necessitated by, and resulting from, his use of the Aiken System in the La Jolla construction.  

Friday Morning Club, 940 S. Figueroa St., ca. 1900. Arthur B. Benton, architect, 1900. Photographer unknown. Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

La Jolla Womens Club, Craftsman, Aug 1915, p. 451. 

La Jolla Womens Club, Craftsman, Aug 1915, p. 450.

Scripps Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St., La Jolla, 1914. Irving Gill, architect. From San Diego History Center.

Also inspired by his neighbor, the Friday Morning Club and riffing off his La Jolla Women's Club, Gill repeated the multi-arched theme in his 1914 Scripps Recreation Center.

Riverside Cement ad featuring Irving Gill's Dodge House, 950 Kings Road, Sherman, California, 1916. Southwest Builder and Contractor, May 14, 1920, front cover.

Possibly Gill's last use of the Aiken System was for his tour de force Dodge Residence at 950 Kings Road. Frank Lloyd Wright and Schindler were most likely given tours of this icon by Gill and/or Lloyd Wright while it was under construction in conjunction with their 1915 visits to San Diego's Panama-California Exposition. (For much more on this see my "Edward Weston and Mabel Dodge Luhan Remember D. H. Lawrence" and  "The Schindlers and the Hollywood Art Association, 1921-1926." It is interesting to note that none of the previously mentioned Gill monographs and authors picked up on the fact that the Dodge House was built employing the Aiken method. ).

"As a House of Cards Is Made; Remarkable Home of Chicago Capitalist Is Completed," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1916, p. I-12.

"As a House of Cards Is Made; Remarkable Home of Chicago Capitalist Is Completed," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1916, p. I-12.

It is not yet known whether Gill used the Aiken System on any other projects beyond the above well-documented five during his 1912-1918 Concrete Building and Investment Company venture but further much-needed Gill research might turn up others. His longstanding interest in low-income worker's housing prompted him to propose to the Riverside Portland Cement Company in 1913 his concept to use the Aiken System for barracks for their plant's migrant workers. Apparently the company did not agree with his concept and the project ended up being constructed of wood (see below). (Kamerling, pp. 98-99 and Scensor, p. 77).

Worker's Barracks for the Riverside Portland Cement Company, Crestmore, 1913. From Kamerling, p. 98.

Gill finally came to expensively realize like many others, including Aiken himself, that the large and complex machinery was tied up on-site for long periods, was expensive to assemble and store while it was idle, and that the only way one was going to turn a profit above the ongoing equipment lease payments and building royalties was to have a continuous stream of large commercial projects or large subdivisions of much smaller dwellings. Gill's corporation was legally suspended around the end of 1918. The last mention of his Concrete Building and Investment Company I was able to find was for the Raymond House in Long Beach (see below). (Southwest Builder and Contractor, August 23, 1918, pp. 10, 14, 24). 

"Frame Residence," Southwest Builder and Contractor, August 23, 1918, pp. 10. 

Raymond Residence, 2127 Ocean Ave., Long Beach, 1918, Irving Gill, architect. From Modern San Diego.

Aiken was still dabbling with his system well into the 1920s. He went on to patent a number of tilt-up table devices and related mechanisms, and continued to build in the Midwest through the mid 1920s. For example, in 1924, he and his wife, Jannette, and her sister Josephine Kellogg, subdivided the northern portion of their property south of Kellogg Creek into the "Kellogg's Home Site Subdivision." The site was improved with one and two bedroom concrete, Gill-like Spanish-style bungalows (see below) that were rented on a daily basis to tourists. In addition, there was a campground and sandwich shop on site. Josephine Kellogg was the proprietor of the tourist camp which she coincidentally named "Hollyhock Hill." Aiken's concrete bungalows are still visible today on Sheridan Road in Winthrop Harbor in Benton Township, Illinois. This was Robert Aiken's last project using his method of tilt-up construction. (From Lake County, Illinois History).

Tourist bungalow at "Hollyhock Hill."  ("Robert H. Aiken, Tilt-Up Construction Inventor," Lake County, Illinois History).

Gill built numerous similarly small cottages during his Aiken tenure such as the Chapin and Bingham Houses and West Adams Villas thus it would be interesting to determine whether the process might have been used on smaller scale dwellings during the period he was building his larger Aiken projects mentioned above. 


For much on Gill's early relationship with Schindler and Lloyd Wright see my "The Schindlers and the Hollywood Art Association."

For additional reading I recommend David Gebhard's "Wood Studs, Stucco, and Concrete: Native and Imported Images," in On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900-1950 edited by Paul J. Karlstrom, University of California Press, 1996, pp. 138-155. Gebhard takes a look at the use of reinforced concrete in California in the 1890s and 1900's and analyzes Gill's fascination with concrete and debunks the "myth of Gill as an avant-garde technological innovator" he attributed to Esther McCoy. Like with much of McCoy's writings, be on the lookout for inaccuracies in the dates in Gebhard's piece such as the Banning House being built in 1912 and the La Jolla Women's Club in 1913. Gebhard's statement that Gill did not use the Aiken system much after 1913 does not account for the fact that the La Jolla Women's Club and Scripps Recreational Center were built in 1914 and that the Dodge House employed the Aiken technology in 1915-16. 

Like the other Gill historians referenced above, Gebhard also did not mention that the Sarah B. Clark House was Gill's first use of the Aiken System. Ironically, Gebhard's footnote substantiating his claim that Gill did not use Aiken much after 1913 states that,
"30. "Gill, however, as late as 1919 advocated the Aiken System. See "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine 38 (October 1917): 223-26."
This is the very article describing the Sarah B. Clark Residence at 7231 Hillside Ave. in Hollywood I cited heavily from above which was indeed Gill's first Aiken project which was built in Febraury-May 1913!!

For another excellent discussion of America's (and Gill's) fascination with the concrete house I also highly recommend Sean Scensor's "Irving Gill and the Rediscovery of Concrete in California: The Marie and Chauncy Clarke House, 1919-1922." Scensor makes more of a case for Gill's technological innovations by discussing his patent applications. He also discusses and compares the Aiken System with other competing period technologies and Gill's various iterations of the use of concrete either poured-in-place or using the Aiken System, and in hybrid use with upper story wood-framing such as in the Clarke House to obtain his post-1907 monolithic sensibility. Like Gebhard, Scensor does not mention the Sarah B. Clark House and is off on a few dates.

I have discovered a few additional significant and heretofore unknown Gill projects which are awaiting further research so please stay tuned.

As with all of my articles, I add new material as it is uncovered so check back periodically for updates.