Since Los Angeles really came into it’s own in the 20th Century, let us begin then in 1900. By that year Los Angeles had experienced a number of “mini” booms and busts in the latter part of the 19th Century. However, by 1900 the City of Angels was here to stay, and by 1910 was booming yet again. That said, these early pre World War I years represent a kind of architectural gestation period, where there was little stylistic focus. I should mention here that this history might appear to be a history of the elite, and their homes. The wealthy naturally have the resources to patronize the arts, and architecture is indeed the art closest to home (pun intended). But the homes of the wealthy set the tone, and become the icons that the rest of us seek to emulate in our own modest way. The tastemakers’ ideas trickle down to the masses, and certainly LA is no exception to this pattern. So in reading about the mansions of the rich, we really see the dominant stylistic trends for everyone.
Here is a list of some of the most important houses of the 1900-1920 period. They are as disparate stylistically as one would expect from such an un-tethered place as Los Angeles at the beginning of the 20th Century.
- The Doheny Mansion (photo below) in Chester Place, designed by Theodore Eisen and Sumner Hunt in 1899 is a Renaissance Revival and Gilded Age Gothic compilation with a steeply pitched clay tile roof and stucco walls offering a nod to the old California missions.
- In 1908, perhaps the most perfect of all the pre-1920 houses was built for David & Mary Gamble (of the Cincinnati Procter & Gamble fortune), by the brothers Charles Sumner and Henry Mather Greene (Greene & Greene). The Gamble House (photo above) is one of the most famous houses anywhere, and is the paradigm against which all American Arts & Crafts Style homes are judged.
- In 1909, Sumner Hunt completed a large Medieval Revival house for his customer Henry O’Melveney. The house has numerous tall chimneys and interesting Tudor style half-timbering. Unlike the ubiquitous Tudor style homes of the 1920s and 1930s, at this early date there is significant Arts & Crafts influence in this work.
- One of the richest men in California, Henry E. Huntington hired Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey to design his massive Mediterranean-Italianate mansion in San Marino, completed in 1911. Now the Huntington Library (photo below), the gardens are also world famous.
- The 1915 Jewett House in Pasadena, designed by Marston and Van Pelt, is a lovely Palladian-style villa. Of note is yellowish-pink color of the exterior stucco.
- Another really fascinating house from this early time is on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1921 Petitfils-Boos House in Hancock Park (photo below) was designed by Charles Plummer in a dazzling Italian Renaissance-Revival style. This house “may be the only single-family residence clad in Gladding McBean architectural terra-cotta.” Since terra-cotta is a glazed material, it hardly ages, and as such, the Petitfils-Boos house looks strangely, almost new today.
Once again quoting from Classic Homes of Los Angeles:
“All the best Los Angeles houses of that era reveal the anxiousness behind their facades. Grand, knowing, well-formed — and in the case of the Gamble House, nearly perfect — the first classic homes of Los Angeles strove to marry native desire and aesthetics drawn mostly form alien forms.” —Douglas Woods, author.
Of the houses described above, none other than the Gamble House really “defined” the period, or established a “true” Los Angeles aesthetic. Certainly the American Arts and Crafts movement and the California bungalow made a significant long-term impact on southern California taste. Yet it would take longer for the real Los Angeles style to come into it’s own.