LA modern: Schindler’s Van Dekker house receives LA Conservancy award
Los Angeles is rich in modernist history, from the the iconic case study houses, to the seminal work of Richard Neutra dotting the Californian coast. Neutra’s fellow Austrian immigrant, Rudolph Schindler, played an equally crucial role in developing Californian modernism’s distinctive style.
Born in Vienna in 1887, Schindler moved to Los Angeles in 1920 via a collaboration with Frank Lloyd Wright, whom he admired since studying the influential Wasmuth portfolio, a collection featuring that most prominent (at the time) American architect’s projects. In the private houses he built around Los Angeles between the 1920s and early 1950s, the architect connects Wright’s nature-inspired sensibility with the European modernist austerity and spatial experimentation.
The Van Dekker house was designed in 1939 for Tony Award-winning and prolific character actor Albert Van Dekker, his wife and three young kids. The Van Dekkers moved in in 1940 – the house was one of the first major modernist residences in its neighborhood. For Schindler, the project became an exceptional opportunity to design the largest residential commission of his career, totaling 3,756 sq ft over four acres of nature, with a separate garage and workshop.
Schindler introduced some of his revolutionary construction principles to the project, including a dramatic composition of protruding exterior volumes, a sloped copper roof and oblique geometries. His unconventional work on the house included a bold colour selection and an impressive double height wooden ceiling.
In the early 1950s, Van Dekker became an outspoken critic of Senator McCarthy’s tactics to expose communists in Hollywood and became blacklisted. He needed to work on Broadway, so he sold the house to his friend and collaborator, prolific film noir screenwriter AI ’Buzz’ Bezzerides, who occupied the house until his death in 2007.
Following years of neglect and a successful listing as LA City Historic Monument, the house has now been succesfully restored by its current owner Frank Gamwell, CEO of PCM, a construction management and development firm, who bought the house in 2013. The intention of the renovation was to restore the property back to its original condition, while incorporating minor changes to the interiors that would update the house to 21st century standards.
The renovation is now completed and has just received the prestigious 2016 Preservation Award, granted by the Los Angeles Conservancy.