Thursday, May 22, 2014

The "Dirt-Proof" House for Adelaide M. Chapin, "Fire-Proof" House for Persis Bingham Cassiday, and West Adams Villas for Anna W. Mills, Irving Gill, Architect

(Click on images to enlarge.)
Irving Gill, ca. 1912.

I was out on a scouting trip with architect and Irving Gill historian John Reed yesterday and was thrilled to be able to show him a Gill he had never seen before, i.e., the Adelaide M. Chapin Residence at 1326 Lucile Ave. in Silver Lake. I was especially excited as Society of Architectural Historians Southern California Chapter founding member Reed is singularly responsible for educating David Gebhard, Robert Winter and Esther McCoy on the location of Gill's (and many other's) treasures in Southern California. (For much more on Reed's important contributions to the historiography of the architectural history of Southern California see my "Selected Publications of Esther McCoy: Patron Saint and Myth Maker for Southern California Architectural Historians." I plan on doing future feature articles on Reed and Gebhard so stay tuned.)

Chapin Residence, 1326 Lucile Ave., 1915, Irving Gill, architect. Photo by John Crosse, May 21, 2014.

I serendipitously discovered the Chapin Residence location while browsing through some 1914 back issues of Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer Magazine (see below). The 1915 Los Angeles City Directory conveniently listed Chapin's address as 1326 Lucile Ave. and her occupation as teacher. In his highly recommended Irving J. Gill, Architect, Bruce Kamerling had the house listed among Gill's "List of Known Projects" as built in 1914 for Miss Adelaide M. Chapin on Lucile St. near reservoir, Los Angeles. The house was also listed  in Thomas S. Hines's important Gill monograph under "The Unbuilt Projects of Irving Gill" with the location being "Lucile Ave. near reservoir." The project was not included at all in Marvin Rand's Gill monograph or Esther McCoy's chapter on Gill in her Five California Architects. I had never seen any other mention of the house until my striking find in SC&M.

"Building Contracts Recorded: Los Angeles," Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer, November 21, 1914, p. 31.

Lincoln High School, Lincoln Park. LA Public Library Photo Collection.

Adelaide Chapin graduated from the University of Chicago with bachelor degrees in education and philosophy in 1908 and was listed as a teacher in the 1911 and 1915 Los Angeles City Directories. She taught drawing and math at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles where she was transferred when the new high school campus was opened in 1914 (see above). She was living at 301 S. Boyle Ave. in the immigrant community of Boyle Heights when she commissioned Gill to build her new home in Silver Lake close to the exciting Edendale-Echo Park neighborhood where Mack Sennett's Keystone Studio (see below) and many others were then becoming established. Charlie Chaplin was starring in his first movies for Sennett when Chapin signed her contract with Gill (see below). 

An early view of Echo Park Lake ca. 1914. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

Mack Sennett's Keystone Studio, 1700 block of Glendale Blvd. From LA Public Library Photo Collection.

Charlie Chaplin on the right in his film debut in Mack Sennett's 1914 "Making A Living."

The contract for the house at 1326 Lucile Ave. was let almost simultaneously with the Dodge House contract and likely served as convenient fill-in work for Gill's newly formed Concrete Building and Investment Company. It is entirely possible that R. M. Schindler and Frank Lloyd Wright were shown this residence during their 1915 visits to Southern California to view the Panama-California International Exposition in San Diego. Both visited Gill and Lloyd Wright while in Los Angeles and undoubtedly saw Gill's masterpiece, the Dodge House while it was under construction. (For much more on Schindler's and Wright's 1915 trips to California see my "Edward Weston and Mabel Dodge Luhan Remember D. H. Lawrence" and "Edward Weston, R. M. Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright, Reginald Pole, Beatrice Wood and Their Dramatic Circles.")

More research led me to an article by Persis Bingham on the affordable "dirt-proof" bungalow published in 1916 in Countryside Magazine and Suburban Life from which the below photos and floor plan are extracted from. 

Chapin Residence entryway from Bingham, Persis, "The Dirt-Proof House," Countryside Magazine and Suburban Life, May 1916, p. 285.

Chapin Residence floor plan from Bingham, Persis, "The Dirt-Proof House," Countryside Magazine and Suburban Life, May 1916, p. 285.

Chapin Residence dining room from Bingham, Persis, "The Dirt-Proof House," Countryside Magazine and Suburban Life, May 1916, p. 285.

Chapin Residence screen porch from Bingham, Persis, "The Dirt-Proof House," Countryside Magazine and Suburban Life, May 1916, p. 285.

Chapin Residence kitchen from Bingham, Persis, "The Dirt-Proof House," Countryside Magazine and Suburban Life, May 1916, p. 308.

Chapin Residence garage, 1326 Lucile Ave., Silver Lake, 1915, Irving Gill, architect. Photo by John Crosse, May 21, 2014.

Chapin Residence, 1326 Lucile Ave., 1915, Irving Gill, architect. Photo by John Crosse, May 21, 2014.

Bingham, Persis, "The Dirt-Proof House," Countryside Magazine and Suburban Life, May 1916, pp. 285, 308.

Chapin, who later became a Christian Science Practitioner, may have been connected in some way to Cornelia Chapin who commissioned Gill's former employees and partners Mead and Requa to build her 1913 Moorish Palomar Apartments with views of the Panama-California International Exposition in Balboa Park (see below). Adelaide's younger sister Joy was a Christian Science Practitioner in San Francisco whose apparent success likely inspired Adelaide to switch careers. (Author's note: Chapin was also connected to Helen Girvin, the principal of Aline Barnsdall's Kindergarten at Olive Hill having sold her a lot in Laguna Heights in late 1921. She thus possibly knew Leah Press Lovell and/or Pauline Schindler. (Santa Ana Register, December 3, 1921).

Palomar Apartments for Cornelia Chapin, San Diego, 1913. From Toward a Simpler Way of Life: The Arts and Crafts Architects of California by Robert Winter, p. 235.

Persis Bingham, the author of "The Dirt-Proof House," was working for Gill at the time of its design evidenced by her signing the building permit on Gill's behalf. She and her future husband Robert M. Cassiday were both listed as draftsmen for Hunt and Burns in the 1915 City Directory. The Hunt and Burns office was in Gill's client Homer Laughlin's Laughlin Building. This was also around the time Gill was designing the Laughlin Theater in Long Beach. In 1916 Cassiday signed a building permit on behalf of Gill for the remodeling of Gill's 1913 Sarah B. Clark residence recently purchased by civil engineer William H. Code. This indicates that Cassiday also worked for Gill between stints with Hunt and Burns before going out on his own after obtaining his license. Bingham went on to become a full-time freelance architectural writer after she married Cassiday in 1917. 

Cassiday's employment with Gill coincided with the launch of Persis's career as a freelance writer of architectural pieces. Two of her first articles were on Gill projects, the above May 1916 Chapin cottage piece, which she drew up the construction plans for, and another on Gill's 1913 bungalow for Ella Giles Ruddy which appeared in the August issue of Bungalow Magazine. Bingham wrote about her transition from an overworked draftsperson to a freelance architectural writer for a fascinating piece in The Editor the following year around the time she and Cassiday were married. She made a fascinating statement in this article which indicates some close collaboration with Gill. 
"I had made a serious study of sanitary kitchen and bathroom construction for several years and chose for this the subject of my first article, partly because I was most familiar with it and partly because it seemed that men as well as women needed enlightenment along this particular line. The article turned out to be about 1800 words in length and as I was fairly good at pen and ink rendering, I illustrated it myself." (Cassiday, Persis Bingham, "Breaking Into the Architectural Magazines," The Editor, June 16, 1917, p. 536).
Through the couple's employment with Gill and Persis's articles on his work the couple became great proponents of his design philosophy. They incorporated many of his design elements for their personal cottage just two blocks north of Adelaide Chapin's house in 1920. Like Chapin's house, the Bingham cottage had, until my recent discovery of its location, also gone totally undetected and misattributed by Gill historians. (Bingham, Persis E., "Fire-Proof Home of Moderate Cost," Keith's Magazine, June 1924).

Gill has been attributed by both Robert Winter and Thomas Hines for the design of the cottage for the Bingham and Cassiday. Recent research confirms that Gill did not do the design. The building permit lists Robert M. Cassiday as the owner but does not name an architect but the June 11 issue of Southwest Builder and Contractor lists him as the designer. Kamerling also does not mention a cottage for either Bingham or Cassiday. Bingham wrote about the house in 1921 article in Sunset, "Three of Us in a Pill Box," which alludes to her husband Big Chief Pill-Box as the designer and makes no mention of Gill. The cottage was certainly Gill-inspired. The article (seen below) describes many features he used in his houses that Persis wrote about in her previous articles on Gill. She also wrote on her beloved Pill Box in a 1924 article in Keith's and a 1930 article in Sunset.

Bingham cottage front yard and floor plan. From "Three of Us in a Pill Box," Sunset, January 1921, pp. 62-4.

Bingham cottage front yard and floor plan. From Gebhard, David, "Irving J. Gill," in Toward a Simpler Way of Life: The Arts and Crafts Architects of California by Robert Winter, p. 207.

Bingham and Cassiday married in 1917 by which time erstwhile architectural designer and drafstwoman Persis had switched to a more lucrative free-lance career writing about Crafstman-Style architecture and other topics for publications such as Sunset, House Beautiful, Sunset, Keith's Magazine, Beautiful Homes, The Craftsman, Countryside Magazine and Suburban Life and others. In an article in a publication geared towards writers, Persis wrote of the opportunities for articles which popped up in the five months since her new child was born, many of which centered upon her new house's Gill-like features. 
"...a small hollow tile home with hollow tile floors, wall safety deposit boxes and many other original ideas in construction. A description of the house, with plan and photograph (see above), sold to Sunset Magazine for $22.00 and was used in the issue being made up at the time they received it, which, I should judge, is the next best thing to the presses being stopped to receive your work. Another more technical description, and twice as long, has gone to an eastern building magazine. 
We made our own slab doors by taking old panel doors and filling in the panels with a substance known as magnesite composition. A short description of this process brought $6.00 and took less than two hours to write. Our floor construction is unique and highly satisfactory. I have just found a magazine devoted to fireproof construction to which I will send an illustrated account of how the floors were made. Also an article on the fire-proof storage vaults will go to the same market." (Cassiday, Persis Bingham, "Opportunities Plus Difficulties," The Editor, June 25, 1921, pp. 67-8).
Persis wrote of additional opportunities presented by her house in a follow-up article, 
"...We needed a splash of color on our grey house as well as shade over one sunny window. The story of how an orange, blue, grey and black awning was bought by the same magazine [Sunset] on its first trip for $12.00. Our kitchen floor is made up of a material called magnesite composition, which we laid ourselves. A description of this process sold to Science and Invention, price not named. (Cassiday, Persis Bingham, "Hardest Problems Easiest to Sell," The Editor, December 2, 1922, p. 74). 
Seemingly unaware that Bingham and Cassiday were married, David Gebhard described the Bingham House thusly, 
"What Bingham received was a fireproof cube house that was easy to maintain. The plain stucco exterior walls were relieved in a painterly fashion by the continually shifting shadow patterns of three large California pepper trees that grew outside. The interior, with its many built-ins, conveyed the feeling of the tight cabin of a small sailboat." (Gebhard, p. 206).
Bingham cottage,  rear of 1634 Edgecliffe Dr., Silver Lake. Robert M. Cassiday, architect, 1920, 1926, 1933, 1934. Photo from Google Earth.

Built at the back of a deep lot like the Chapin house, the Bingham-Cassiday cottage appears to still exist, albeit in a much altered state, with another house built in front of it closer to the street. Field verification should be able to clarify whether the back house above is indeed a still-existing, albeit modified, Cassiday. At any rate, I tracked down the location by first determining that Bingham and Cassiday married in 1917 and that the Cassidays were listed in the 1921 Los Angeles City Directory as residing at 1634 Edgecliffe Dr. (Author's note: Kamerling correctly does not have reference the Bingham house. Hines includes a brief mention on p. 230 of his Gill monograph based on Gebhard's above cited article but states in note 1 on page 271 that "...since Gill's records were lost, and since neither the Bingham nor the Gebhard articles gives the address of Bingham's "Hollywood house," it is impossible to locate it and to know whether or not it still exists. City directories and census records were also unrevealing.").

I also recently discovered another heretofore unknown, or if known, mislocated Gill project at 1655 West Adams Blvd. where in 1917 Gill was commissioned to remodel existing apartments for another teacher, Anna W. Mills (see article below). It is not yet known whether Mills and Chapin knew each other. The project was for some reason mislocated when it was described in the below period article which is likely why no one had discovered it's actual location to date.

"An Electrically Equipped Home in Pasadena," Architect and Engineer, April 1918, p. 111.

"Contract Awarded: Alterations for Apartments," Southwest Builder and Contractor, August 3, 1917, p. 15.