Saturday, March 15, 2008
Lovell Health House
1929 – Richard Neutra
4616 Dundee Drive – map
Okay, wrap your head around this. While Claude Beelman was drawing up plans for Los Angeles landmark No. 121, the Art Deco Garfield Building downtown, Richard Neutra was busy building the Lovell Health House, “unquestionably the most influential and significant building of the International Style to be built in Los Angeles or, perhaps, the United States”. They’re only about six miles apart, but, even though they were constructed within a year of each other, they might as well have been built on different planets.
Richard Neutra was born in Austria in 1892, emigrating to the U.S. midwest in 1923. In early 1925, he headed to Los Angeles where he partnered with Rudolf Schindler. His family even lived with his fellow Viennese in his West Hollywood home for a time.
As for Philip Lovell, he was the very model of the health-obsessed Angelino: a naturopath into holistic medicine and plenty of exercise. He was famous for writing a weekly Los Angeles Times column called “Care of the Body”.
Now, while Lovell and his wife, Lea, hired Schindler to design their famous beach house in Newport Beach a few years earlier, for some reason they opted for Neutra to create their Griffith Park-adjacent home (Neutra’s son, Dion, thinks the switch in architects may’ve had something to do with the Lovells’ dissatisfaction with a mountain cabin Schindler had designed for them). This would be Neutra’s second L.A. commission.
Also, according to the younger Neutra, Lovell told his dad (Dion’s dad, not Lovell’s) to “Design me a house that will enhance by its design the HEALTH of the inhabitants of this house!” Hence, “Health House”.
Neutra went on to design for the couple a three-level house built into a steep hillside: the bedrooms and study on the entrance (top) level; the living room, kitchen, and maid’s quarters on the middle level; and the swimming pool and equipment areas at the base. The architect also included sun decks, outdoor exercise areas, exterior sleeping porches, and an eight-foot tall revolving cooler for his vegetarian clients.
The steel frame - the first in an American residence - was put up in just forty work hours, while the home’s different parts were shop-fabricated and shipped to the site.
For the most part, Neutra acted as his own contractor on the house, although A.G. Pritchard was the cement and plaster contractor while Gaston W. Duncan handled the lath work. The total construction cost ran close to $59,000.
In the first few weeks after its completion, thanks to Lovell’s popularity, the Health House received more than 15,000 visitors. Unfortunately, Neutra didn’t get one new job as an immediate result of the project.
A 1969 report on the home reported that while maintenance had been lax, what few alterations that had taken place (like the enclosing of some porches) had been performed by Neutra’s office. In 1971 the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Besides watching L.A. Confidential again to see the Lovell Health House, you should click here to read the speech Dion Neutra gave on a 1997 tour of the landmark. Also, this Library of Congress page has a detailed Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record report with diagrams.
Sadly for those of us who visit the house today, we can’t see too much beyond what’s in these shots in addition to a glimpse of the garage which lies a little to the south of the main entrance. Still, though, it’s worth the quick drive up Dundee to see “one of the most important houses of the 20th century.”
Patrick McGrew and Robert Julian. Landmarks of Los Angeles Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1994 New York
Lamprecht, Barbara. Neutra Taschen 2006 Hong Kong Köln London Los Angeles Madrid Paris Tokyo
Up next: Tierman House