Sunday, May 25, 2014

Gregory Ain's Boyhood and Early Residences and Workplaces

Gregory Ain at the Beckman House, 357 North Citrus Avenue. Likely Julius Shulman Job No. 094, 1939. Courtesy Gregory Ain Collection, UC-Santa Barbara Architecture and Design Collections.

While researching a recent article on Irving Gill's Chapin House I was serendipitously led to Lincoln High School where distinguished alum Gregory Ain decided to become an architect while attending in the early 1920s. This prompted the below fascinating Google Earth and archival tour of selected Ain boyhood and early residences and workplaces as his architectural career began to mature into the 1930s.

Ain Residence ca. 1911-1914, 3047 Lafranco Ave., Boyle Heights. From Google Earth.

The above and below photos of the Ain family's still extant residence after moving to the immigrant community of Boyle Heights in 1911 bespeak of Ain's humble proletarian beginnings. Boyle Heights was at the time, and for the next few decades, a mixed, vibrant community of Socialist-leaning Eastern European Jewish immigrants. This environment attracted radical educator and social worker Pauline Schindler where she would land her first teaching job at the Walt Whitman School, "The First Proletarian Day School of the West," in early 1921. Two of Pauline's students at Whitman were Edward Weston's sons Chandler and Brett who were one and three years younger than Gregory respectively. (For much more on Boyle Heights history and the Schindlers' early years in Los Angeles see my "The Schindlers and the Westons and the Walt Whitman School").

Ain Residence ca. 1911-1915, 3047 Lafranco Ave., Boyle Heights. From Google Earth.

Western Comrade, September 1914, front cover.

Western Comrade, September 1914, back cover.

Fascinated and attracted by later Schindler client Job Harriman's socialist and Utopian ideals espoused in the Llano Del Rio's monthly organ Western Comrade, Baer Ain decided to move the family to Llano in 1916. It was here that eight-year old Gregory was exposed to the "learning by doing" philosophy taught in the colony's Montessori and Industrial Schools (see below for example). The colony had the second Montessori School in California. The Principal, Prudence Stokes Brown, attended classes with Dr. Maria Montessori during her four month stay in Los Angeles in 1915. ("Colony Celebrates Anniversery," Western Comrade, May 1915, p. 19 and "Noted Educator at USC," Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1915, p. II-3).

Western Comrade, June 1915, pp. 6-7.

Western Comrade, November 1915, pp. 16-17.

Western Comrade, June-July 1916, p. 22.

Travis, Mildred, "Our Industrial School," Western Comrade, January 1917, pp. 19-20

Travis, Mildred, "Our Industrial School," Western Comrade, January 1917, pp. 19-20

Williams, L. K., "Llano Colonists are Undaunted by Storm," Western Comrade, December 1915, p. 20.

Drafting classes were taught in the colony's Industrial School as were house-building skills which could clearly have been early architectural inspiration for the future proletarian architect. The above photo of Llano boys building their adobe "Clubhouse" clearly presage Ain's 1939 adobe house for close Schindler-Scheyer mutual friends Marjorie Eaton (see below).

Marjorie Eaton Residence, Palo Alto, 1939. Gregory Ain, architect. Photos courtesy of Marjorie's niece Susan Kirk.

Marjorie Eaton Residence, Palo Alto, 1939. Gregory Ain, architect. From the UC-Santa Barbara Architecture and Design Collections, Gregory Ain Papers.
"In Llano Del Rio Colony, I say we are experimenting not only with the little children from two and a half years of age to six, but we are extending the spirit and purpose of "Scientific Pedagogy" through the grades. Under a most efficient physical culture and play ground director the children are sweeping and dusting the school rooms, keeping the school yards in order, clearing ground of brush and stone for a garden, turning the soil with their own labor, planting the seed, caring for the horses that are accorded to their use, making bricks and planning and building a club house; they receive the money that is usually paid to a janitor, and with this money they purchase play ground apparatus and other necessary equipment. They are constructing their own swimming pool and are learning to swim and run and play ball as well as to work and study." (Brown, Prudence Stokes, "The Children's House," Western Comrade, March 1916, p. 28).
Lincoln High School, Lincoln Park, ca. 1915. LA Public Library Photo Collection.

Wood shop and upholstery class, Lincolnian Yearbook, Lincoln High School, 1926.

The Ain's moved back to Boyle Heights when Llano sadly did not fulfill Baer's Utopian dreams. Gregory then began attending Lincoln High School in nearby Lincoln Heights (see above) where he took drafting classes and began designing and building furniture in woodshop class presaging his experimentation with bent plywood in the Eames Office during World War II. (For more on Ain's time in the Eames Office see my "Herbert and Mercedes Matter: The California Years").

Ain certainly must have felt at home in the school's wood shop after his early Llano Industrial School exposure. His father thought designing furniture was frivolous and challenged him to build something useful like a garage. At the tender age of 15 Ain designed and built a garage behind the family home at 244 Townsend Ave. (Gregory Ain: The Modern Home as Social Commentary by Anthony Denzer, Rizzoli, 2008, p. 25). This then begs the question whether the below garage behind the still existing, seemingly well-maintained bungalow might have been Ain's first official project.

Baer Ain Residence ca. 1918-1930s, 244 Townsend Ave., Boyle Heights. From Google Earth.

Site of Baer Ain Tire Store, 810 N. Mission Blvd. from the 1926 L.A. City Directory. Image from Google Earth.

University of California Southern Branch, Vermont Ave., ca. 1922. Allison and Allison, architects. From Wikipedia.

The year after Ain finished his garage he matriculated at University of California Southern Branch (see above) to begin his architectural studies and soon thereafter encountered Schindler who was lecturing on "Space Architecture." (Denzer, p. 26). Here Ain may have crossed paths with Schindler-Weston intimate Annita Delano who was teaching art and industrial design and Bertha Wardell who was a fellow dance instructor friend of Pauline Schindler's sister Dorothy Gibling. Shortly thereafter Ain visited the Schindlers' Kings Road House and was soon swept up into their social circle of friends including future clients Galka Scheyer, the Lovells, Marjorie Eaton and Brett Weston as well as Harwell Hamilton Harris, Richard Neutra, Edward Weston and countless others. Once Pauline Schindler learned of Ain's pedigree as a resident of 1924 Schindler client Job Harriman's Llano Del Rio she was a close friend and promoter of Ain and his work for the rest of her life. (For much on Ain's apprenticeship with Neutra and friendship with Delano, Harwell Harris and others see "Foundations of Los Angeles Modernism."  For much on Pauline Schindler's promotion of Ain's work see my "Pauline Gibling Schindler: Vagabond Agent for Modernism." For much more on Ain's time in the Eames Office and Brett Weston during World War II see my "Herbert and Mercedes Matter: The California Years.").

"Girls Aim at Architectural Fame," Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1932, p. IV-3.

Ain enrolled in architecture at USC in 1926 but soon became bored with the Beaux Arts curriculum and left the following year. (Denzer, p. 28). This was about the time of his first visit to Schindler's Kings Road House which reinforced his commitment to a career in architecture. Ain was listed in the 1929 City Directory as living at 2406 Palm Grove Ave. and working as a draftsman for architect Raphael A. Nicolais whose office was then located at 686 S. Vermont Ave. Ain was only in the Nicolais office briefly but likely met Nicolais' daughter Muriel (see above) who would soon serve her apprenticeship under her father's tutelage in his new office in the Art Deco Clem Wilson Building at 5225 Wilshire Blvd. which was under construction at the same time as the Lovell Health House and Bullock's Wilshire.

Clem Wilson Building, 5225 Wilshire Blvd., 1930, Arthur E. Harvey, architect. From LA Public Library Photo Collection.

"Theater Skyscraper Announced," Los Angeles Times, December 23, 1928, p. V-1.

Ain next worked as a draftsman for Seattle architect B. Marcus Priteca whose Los Angeles office was located at 411 W. Seventh St. Priteca's firm specialized in movie houses with the most significant project on the boards during Ain's tenure being the 2800-seat Pantages Theater. The completion of the Pantages plans coincided with the groundbreaking for Neutra's Lovell Health House (see below). It was while still working for Priteca that Ain would meet Richard Neutra. He religiously attended Neutra's lectures at Franz Ferenz's Academy of Modern Art in the Fine Arts Building. It was also in Neutra's "A Practical Course in Modern Building Art" where Ain would meet and befriend a like-minded architectural neophyte Harwell Hamilton Harris, UCLA art and industrial design teachers Annita Delano and Barbara Morgan and her photographer husband Willard (see below).

From left to right, Franz K. Ferenz, Barbara Morgan (kneeling), David Giffen, Ragenhilde Liljedahl (Mrs. Giffen), unknown, unknown, Annita Delano, Richard Neutra, unknown, Harwell Hamilton Harris and Gregory Ain. (E. Merril Owens is one of the three unidentified students). Photo by fellow class-member Willard D. Morgan, early 1929. (See Gregory Ain: The Modern Home as Social Commentary by Anthony Denzer, note 39, p. 234).

Ain married the nineteen-year old Russian-born Agnes Budin on May 11, 1929 shortly after the above photo was taken of Richard Neutra's class field trip at the Lovell Health House. Agnes was a fellow student at Ferenz's Academy of Modern Art and also a member of the "Lovers of Shakespeare Society." She often performed with the group such as a reading of the fifth act of "Coriolanus" at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1927. ("Shakespeare Meeting," Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1927, p. I-11). Ain was also apparently a lifelong kindred lover of Shakespeare evidenced by an anecdote shared by Theodore Lindauer, restorer of Ain's Edward House, with Ain's biographer Tony Denzer after his retirement. "Once we spent the entire evening reading Shakespeare to one another." (Denzer, p. 222).

719 N. Madison Ave., Los Angeles. From Google Earth.

Shortly before moving into Neutra's radically new VDL Research House the Ains were living at 719 3/4 N. Madison Ave. (see above). Richard Neutra was then living and had set up his studio at 1348 Douglas St. (see below) after returning from his year long world tour. Ain worked for Neutra here, likely on the VDL plans, throughout 1931-32 before moving into Neutra's new home at 2348 Silverlake Blvd. in Echo Park (see two below) where he lived and worked before deciding to go it alone in 1935. 

1348 Douglas St., Echo Park. Neutra home from 1931-32.

VDL Research House, 2348 Silverlake Blvd., 1932, Richard Neutra, architect. From Wikepedia.

During 1935-36 Ain worked in a somewhat collaborative arrangement with Harwell Hamilton Harris in his award winning Fellowship Park House in Silverlake. (Denzer, p. 50).  Both erstwhile Neutra classmates were simultaneously gaining their architectural sea legs in an extremely fertile design studio indeed.

Fellowship Park House, 2311 Fellowship Park Way, 1935, Harwell Hamilton Harris, architect. Fred R. Dapprich photo.

1121 W. Kensington Rd., Echo Park. From Google Earth.

The 1938 City Directory lists Ain residing at 1121 3/4 W. Kensington Ave. in Echo Park which exhibits some Irving Gill-like elements (see above). By then estranged from Agnes he was about to marry Josephine Cohen on August 12, 1938. 


Shulman duplex, 542-546 N. Cummings St., Boyle Heights. From Google Earth.

Two years younger than Ain, his later photographer of choice, Julius Shulman, also spent his boyhood in Boyle Heights after his family moved there from Brooklyn in 1920. Julius was one year younger and one year older than Chandler and Brett Weston respectively. He was into technology at an early age, well before his renowned passion for photography took root. As a sixteen-year old he built his ham radio station in his bedroom in a still-existing 1905 Mission-Revival duplex located at 546 N. Cummings St. in the Reesmont Tract in Boyle Heights (see above and below). Their shared neighborhood roots and Neutra apprenticeships likely provided a lasting bond for one of the most iconic architect-photographer teams in Southern California. It is fascinating to me that in the fateful year of 1921 Boyle Heights was the mutual focal point for the lives of Ain, Shulman, the Schindlers and the Westons after which they would all remain lifelong friends.  (For much more on Boyle Heights history and the Schindlers' early years in Los Angeles see my "The Schindlers and the Westons and the Walt Whitman School").

Julius Shulman self portrait, 1934. From his Vest Pocket Pictures.

Julius Shulman ham radio station in his bedroom at 546 N. Cummings St., Boyle Heights, 1926. Photo by Julius Shulman from his Vest Pocket Pictures.

Julius Shulman ham radio postcard, 1926. From my collection.

The rest, as they say, is "Architectural History." I'll likely be adding material to this piece from time to time so check back once in a while for updates.