Thursday, June 10, 2010

Julius Shulman Chronicles: 1936

Julius Shulman self-portrait circa 1934. From Vest Pocket Pictures by Julius Shulman, Nazraeli Press, 2006. (From my collection).

This is the first of what I hope to be a lengthy series of posts covering the career of Julius Shulman. I will be profiling his significant life events and presenting a chronological documentation of his assignments and published work. Since 1936 was Shulman's first year as a professional photographer I will cover the entire year in this inaugural post. For in-depth information on Shulman's early years I highly recommend "A Constructed View: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman" by Joseph Rosa, Rizzoli, 1994, "Architecture and Its Photography" by Julius Shulman, Taschen, 1998, and the Julius Shulman Oral History Interview at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art conducted by Taina Rikala De Noreiga at Shulman's home in the Hollywood Hills on January 12, 20 & February 3, 1990.

Kun House, 7960 Fareholm Dr., Hollywood Hills, Richard Neutra, 1936. Photo by Julius Shulman, Feb. 1936.

Since 1929 Julius Shulman had been knocking around the UCLA and California Berkeley campuses auditing courses and living off of his meager income selling his campus photos in the bookstores while searching for something to spark a career interest. Shulman returned to Los Angeles from Berkeley in February 1936 still uncertain about his future.

Most fans of Julius Shulman's architectural photography are familiar with the story of his fateful March 5, 1936 introduction to Richard Neutra. The legend goes that Shulman met and befriended an employee of Richard Neutra's who happened to be rooming with his sister Shirley in the Silverlake area near Neutra's office. In late February 1936 said friend invited Shulman to tag along on an inspection of Neutra's Kun House then nearing completion. Shulman brought along his now famous vest pocket camera and a tripod and snapped about 6 images of the house and construction site. (see above). Shulman made a set of prints and gave them to his friend who in turn showed them to Neutra. Shortly thereafter his friend told him that Neutra liked the prints and wanted to meet him. The fateful meeting took place on March 5, 1936 in Neutra's Silverlake office. (Rosa, p. 42).

Neutra inquired about Shulman's background and his work and purchased the Kun House photos from him on the spot. He asked Shulman if he would be interested in other assignments and the rest as they say is history. Neutra obviously recognized the young photographer's potential and likely relished the opportunity to influence his evolution in the field, and probably at a rate that was initially much less than he was currently paying for Arthur Luckhaus's services.

Neutra gave Shulman a list of other projects to take a look at which included recent Neutra apprentice Raphael Soriano's nearby Lipetz House which Shulman visited the same day meeting Soriano at the site. (Wolgang Wagener, Raphael Soriano, Phaidon, 2002, p. 79). From Shulman's Oral History, "Neutra said, pointing up at the hill above the lake, at the south end of the lake, "Why don't you drive up there and meet Soriano, who is there every day supervising the construction of the house?" I drove up that afternoon, met Soriano for the first time. We became good friends. And strange, we started our respective careers that same year. And I did pictures of the house when it was completed."

Soriano recalled the March 5, 1936 meeting with Shulman in his oral history  "Substance and Function in Architecture Oral History Transcript" "You know, Shulman started out photography when I started my first house. He came in with a Brownie one day, said, "Oh Soriano, look! I'm Julius Shulman, a photographer, and I'm just starting out, too; can I photograph your house?" I said, "Sure." He had a Brownie."

 Julius Shulman's 1933 birthday gift, a Kodak "vest pocket" camera. From "Julius Shulman in 36 Exposures" by Mary Melton, Los Angeles Magazine, January, 2009. Dan Winters photo.

Shulman writes in his autobiography, "At the location I met Soriano, sitting on the newly carpeted living room floor eating lunch. I shared a sandwich with him, and described my meeting with Neutra, which surprised him. Neutra, he stated, was a tyrant with photographers. That utterance was followed by him asking, "Would you photograph this house when it is completed?" Not only did I photograph the house several months later, but subsequently its publication in this country and abroad served to showcase Soriano's design and my talents."


Lipetz House, Silverlake, Raphael Soriano, 1936. Julius Shulman photos, 1936 (From "Raphael Soriano" by Wolfgang Wagener, Phaidon, 2002


Left, National Steel Housing Corp. Exhibition House, 1934, Richard Neutra from Pencil Points, July Special Neutra Issue. Right, John Entenza House, 1937, Harwell Hamilton Harris from "Harwell Hamilton Harris" by Lisa Germany, University of Texas Press, 1991.

Soriano's Lipetz House (link to current owner interview after recent restoration) above exhibits the same semi-circular design elements as Neutra's above left 1934 National Steel Housing Corp. Exhibition House (unbuilt) and recently completed Sten-Frenke and Von Sternberg Houses in Santa Monica and Northridge. Harwell Hamilton Harris, another former Neutra apprentice, would echo this same semi-circular pattern in his above right 1937 John Entenza House near Neutra's 1934 Sten-Frenke and and 1938 Lewin Houses in Santa Monica. (See my related post Neutra's unbuilt "Skyline Apartments" seen below in a 1934 Westways article was the most obvious influence of all on Soriano's design for the Lipetz House, down to the grand piano in the semi-circular living room.See my related post at

Westways, 1934. Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

Most likely through his association with Neutra, Soriano's Lipetz House was chosen as one of the buildings to be presented as representative of American modern architecture in the American Pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exposition which ran from May 4 through November 25th. (Wagener, p. 41). Neutra did not pay his apprentices much but he did help them get published and exhibited early in their careers as he did for Harwell Hamilton Harris in the seminal January 1935 Modern Architecture issue of California Arts & Architecture and Soriano in the Paris Exposition and later group articles. (

Neutra was quoted in the July 1937 Special Neutra Issue of  Pencil Points article with the byline of one of his then assistants, Henry Robert Harrison, "You know yourself that I am proud of whatever a young man gets out of an association with me as: Peter Pfisterer from Switzerland, Gregory Ain and Harwell Hamilton Harris from Los Angeles, Stanley Vallet from St. Louis, Raphael Soriano from Greece, Elbert Brown from Texas, Carl Conrad from Pennsylvania, Marshall Shaffer, and yourself." (Henry Robert Harrison, "Richard Neutra: A Center of Architectural Stimulation", Pencil Points Special Neutra Issue, July, 1937, pp. 410-438).

Note that the same semi-circular design element is present in the U.S. Pavilion postcard below. Neutra's Scholts Advertising Agency, Bell Avenue School, Beard and Kun Houses were also on display as was work by erstwhile partner R. M. Schindler whom he had recently introduced to Shulman. Neutra was awarded Bronze Medals by the French Government for the latter three projects."California Architects Receive High Honors from France", Los Angeles Times, Sep 18,1938, p. V-2.

Not only did Soriano thus have the distinction of his first project being exhibited in the same venue with his mentor Neutra but also alongside Alvar Aalto's Finnish Pavilion, Albert Speer's German Pavilion and Pablo Picasso's iconic "Guernica" to a paid audience of over 35 million people, heady stuff indeed for the fledgling architect. (See postcards below). There is a good chance that selected Shulman's photos of the Soriano's Lipetz House and Neutra's Kun House were also on display in the exhibition although I have yet to verify this. If they were, it was probably unbeknownst to Shulman as he does not mention this in his autobiography or oral history.

U.S. Pavilion at 1937 Paris International Exposition, Paul Lester Wiener, Charles H. Higgins and Julian Clarence Levi, Associated Architects.

Entrance to the 1937 Paris International Exposition.

Basque shepherd and Raphael Soriano resting durina a walk with Shulman. Julius Shulman photo, 1936. From "Architecture and Its Photography", p. 295.

Shulman would soon befriend Soriano and entrust him with the design of his personal residence in the late 1940s.

In the following weeks Neutra introduced Shulman to other like-minded modernist architects including his former partner R. M. Schindler, fellow European emigre J. R. Davidson, and another former apprentice Gregory Ain. (Rosa, p. 42).  Thus, Shulman's assignment log book was quickly becoming a virtual listing of the eventual pantheon of modernist Southern California architects. Neutra and his circle were clearly the vanguard for the wave of modernism beginning to break in Southern California in the mid to late 1930s. Shulman was about to become a prime member of the group as they doggedly proselytized their gospel of modern architecture through the editorial pages of California Arts & Architecture, Architectural Forum, Architectural Record, Pencil Points, and through their messiah Neutra's hard-earned contacts with the European and global architectural press, to the rest of the world. (See my related post

Architectural Forum, July 1936. Plywood Demonstration House, 1936, Richard Neutra. Photo by Julius Shulman, circa April 1936. (From my collection).

Shulman's first published photograph was of Neutra's Plywood Demonstration House designed for the California House & Garden Exhibition located at 5900 Wilshire Blvd. which I documented at the following link. ( The house design won the $1,250 second prize in the 1935 General Electric Competition. This top image above right by Shulman appeared with the bottom Mott Studio photo and 2 Arthur Luckhaus photos above left in the July 1936 issue of Architectural Forum and this photo and/or others also appeared later the same year in the September issue of American Architect & Engineer and the October issue of the Japanese architectural journal Kokusai Kenchiku.

My 5,000 item Neutra Annotated Bibliography indicates that he had already published at least 500 articles all over the world by the time he met Shulman, mostly with photographs by Willard D. Morgan until 1930 when Morgan moved to the east coast, and then by Arthur Luckhaus. Shulman's first year ended with the 3 known assignments and 3 documented publications mentioned above. He may have photographed some of the work that was published in 1937 in 1936 which I will speculate upon in future posts.

Shulman's record-keeping was sketchy in his formative years thus some early assignments went undocumented. I have found close to 100 articles in which he received photographic credit which were not recorded in his log book. Shulman became so busy by 1947 with new assignments and orders for reprints of previous jobs that he had to devise a system for easy retrieval of past work. Thus the dates of these early assignments are not always available and Job Numbers are sporadic as Shulman tried to recreate a listing of his earliest work after-the-fact. I will be drawing heavily from my 8,000 item Shulman Annotated Bibliography and 8,000 item Shulman Project Database to prepare future posts. Now that Shulman had created a toehold for his future in 1936, the next year would be much more productive as his client base started to grow.