Over the decades, the Silver Lake home of famed architect Richard Neutra has suffered water damage from reflecting pools on the rooftop terrace.
The pools are now dry but there's a major effort under way to preserve and rehabilitate the flat roof to prevent further scarring. Only then can the interior of the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences - named after its wealthy Dutch benefactor C.H. van der Leeuw and on the National Register of Historic Places - be restored to its former glory with the proviso that funds are available. | See photo gallery.
"With so many modern houses in need of help it's hard to raise money," says resident director Sarah Lorenzen, an assistant professor of architecture at the Cal Poly Pomona College of Environmental Design.
The university, where Neutra once taught, took over management of the modernist compound from the architect's widow, Dione, in 1990. The $100,000 endowment that came with the house was insufficient to cover the cost of upkeep and restoration - around $1 million. So during her five-year tenure Lorenzen has brainstormed ways of fundraising in collaboration with various booster groups, including youngest son Raymond Neutra's Friends of the Neutra VDL.
She's opened the house to the public for half-hour tours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and spearheaded an artist-in-residency program.
Next up: French artist Xavier Veilhan (best known for his installation in the Palace of Versailles and its gardens) takes up residency in late July to create sculptures relating to Neutra and the compound. An exhibition of this work will follow from Aug. 9 to Sept. 15 at the VDL house with the sale of one of those sculptures to benefit ongoing restoration work.
In addition, a Julius Shulman photograph of Neutra sitting on the rooftop terrace in 1966 will be available for purchase at www.neutra-vdl.org under the "Urgent Campaign for Neutra VDL" tab as part of fundraising efforts, thanks to the Friends of VDL. The prints are numbered and signed by Shulman and sell for $2,000 apiece.
Despite the relaxed appearance of Neutra in the photo, he was constantly at work.
"It was my mother who, after his death, really got to appreciate that house and she really relished it," says the younger Neutra, a retired epidemiologist and public health official who gives talks around the world to raise funds and share news about his childhood home.
Currently on the drawing board is a smartphone-based mobile guide to engage visitors.
"If you were standing in front of the piano in the music room you could hear my mom singing on the piano and then upstairs you could hear her talking about what entertainment was like in the '30s, '40s and so forth," he says of the app's capabilities.
What makes the VDL house worthy of saving is that it wasn't just the primary residence of the senior Neutra from 1932 until his death in 1970, but it represents the evolution of the architect's career through three buildings - all on a 4,200-square-foot lot across the street from Silver Lake Reservoir in a neighborhood that has aesthetically changed very little.
What: The Silver Lake home and workplace of famed architect Richard Neutra.
When: Open for half-hour tours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
Where: 2300 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles.
The first to go up in 1932 was the International Style house and workspace where the architect regularly entertained clients and such luminaries as Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames and the Stravinskys. In 1939, Neutra built a California Modern- style back house with a wall of glass sliders that opened to the courtyard as a continuation of the living space. When the 1932 wing was destroyed by fire in 1963 the architect and his business partner/son, Dion, collaborated on rebuilding the late modern house on the original foundation.
Like all of Neutra's work, the primary residence was a showcase of the latest technologies, efficient construction and affordable, readily available materials of the time such as linoleum flooring, Formica surfaces, acoustical ceilings, plywood woodwork and more.
Deep overhangs, louvres and trees kept the house cool from the outside in. High windows and floor-to-ceiling mirrors frame desirable views. A series of reflecting pools were added at every level, from the front yard to the rooftop terrace, as a way to reconnect the house with the reservoir that used to end just on the other side of Silver Lake Boulevard.
Since then, much of the reservoir has been filled in, pushing the water farther from the house.
"When the (1965) house was built you had that very continuous vision of the water coming up to that upper level and extending to the lake as a way of really making that connection very powerful," says Leo Marmol, the managing principal of Marmol Radziner, the West L.A.-based architecture firm that has a history of restoring Neutra houses.
The firm has offered to restore the roof pro bono, with the rooftop terrace phase set to begin in October.
"Certainly we're in an era where raising money for anything is a challenge, and then raising money for not very sexy things like roof repairs makes it that much more difficult," Marmol says. "But there's a lot of support for the house, it has an incredible history and what's wonderful about this particular project is that it's open to the public.
"It's really a way for people to experience a modern home in a personal way without intruding on somebody's life."