Sunday, June 27, 2010

Neutra's "Skyline Apartments" Penthouse, Westways, 1934

Westways, 1934. Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

I ran across the above article yesterday while researching something else. It's a project that I have never seen before in all my years of Neutra research.  Barbara Lamont, frequent architecture and housing contributor to Westways Magazine, in this article, "California Castles in the Air", described numerous recently built penthouses in Los Angeles and the increasing trend towards building more. She describes and includes a photo of the home of Mr. James Oviatt atop his Oviatt Building in downtown Los Angeles, a photo of the Norman-French penthouse at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Blvd., and references penthouse units at the El Royale on N. Rossmore, the Taggart, Highbourne Gardens, Sunset Towers, the Piccadilly, the La Belle Tour, and the Chateau Elysee in Hollywood. The article discusses why in a city with so much land would people "resort to crowded Manhattan's expedient of building houses on top of other houses?" 

Lamont then goes on to list the advantages penthouses bring such as reduced maintenance costs, convenience for traveling, concierge service and nice surroundings. She then questions the need for so much space in a penthouse and says there could be many more of them if they were smaller. To illustrate her point, editor Phil Townsend Hanna commissioned Richard Neutra to draw a sketch and floor plan for a modern one-bedroom penthouse to be used in the article. (See above). The "Skyline Apartments" drawn on a Hollywood hillside slope with a view towards the ocean include Neutra's plan with a "small, efficient kitchen, snug dining-room, spacious living-room, and single bedroom no larger than comfort demands."

"The last requisite, modernity, is supplied by the lines of the house design, which are low, racy and dynamic, with clean-cut angles and wide sweeping curves. The design calls for plenty of roof space, so the occupant can live and sleep out of doors. The house is, in fact, a country home in the middle of a city, with fresh air and high seclusion."

 Beach Apartments (Project), 1926, from Richard Neutra: Buildings and Projects edited by Willy Boesiger, Editions Girsberger, 1950. (From my collection).

Neutra's unbuilt 1926 Beach Apartments above, his highly successful 1927 Jardinette Apartments and other unbuilt apartment projects under the auspices of the Neutra - Schindler AGIC partnership in the late 1920s, not to mention his Rush City Reformed skyscrapers, are a strong indication of the significant amount of thought Neutra had given to high density planning and apartment design by the time of the above article. Also interesting is the fact that the "Skyline" penthouse design was quickly usurped by apprentice Raphael Soriano for his 1936 Lipetz House in Silverlake. 

Lipetz House, Silverlake, Raphael Soriano,1936. From Raphael Soriano by Wolfgang Wagener, Phaidon, 2002. Julius Shulman photo. (From my collection).

The above Lipetz House by Soriano has a remarkably similar floor plan down to the semi-circular living room with floor-to-ceiling windows and grand piano. See above and my related post at for more Neutra projects exhibiting this particular semi-circular design element. Also see my post on Phil Townsend Hanna's Touring Topics - Westways editorship and it's impact on Southern California modernism at