Walter L. Dodge, patron. Purchases several acres of land in the West Hollywood Hills. An important commission comes to this emerging architect to design/build a 16-room HOME. Dodge earned a small fortune for a health product called “Tiz”—a patented medicine/remedy for “tired feet”. This emerging Architect develops a HOME in reinforced concrete in a “blended” Spanish Mission and Modern architectural language. Constructed between 1914-1916 (just before the madness that was to be WWI).
The “emerging architect” was Irving Gill. The Walter L. Dodge House is (was!) considered one of Gill’s masterpieces of domestic architecture. The Dodge House is (was) one of the 15 most prominent and most significant of American houses. Yet, people were becoming complacent and apathetic about the place of modernism in daily life. There was still some nostalgia about the past and a peculiar reverence was rising for the romance of the forms/shapes of the distant past. In 1921, House Beautiful profiled the studied geometric design offered by Irving Gill for the Dodge House. “This house, though unmistakably Californian, nevertheless exemplifies certain bold and novel ideas in design, construction and decoration that make it notable, even in this land where originality in architecture is to be expected… It is without ornament save that furnished by vines, for he believes beauty should be organic and that no amount of ornament can redeem a badly designed structure. There is not even an overhanging roof to break the severity of the exterior, and as may be seen in the photograph, there is a distinction, a dignity about it that is classic. Mr. Gill thinks there is nothing more arrestingly beautiful than a plain wall across which move cloud shadows or a silhouette of flower, and that no carving or frescoing could more perfectly finish a doorway or window than a vine or creeper.”
The Dodge House was sold on several occasions eventually ending up owned by the Los Angeles Board of Education. Efforts had been made to build apartment units on the Dodge property but save the Dodge House for preservation.
In late 1969, after a lawsuit to preserve the Dodge House was rejected, the property was sold to the Riviera Management Company. Efforts to preserve the Dodge House were numerous but, unfortunately, could not prevent the utter demolition of the Gill masterful design as Riviera Management Company proceeded to create housing density on the 2.75 acres of highly desirable residential property! As a result of profit over culture, the Dodge House was demolished on a cold, rainy Monday morning on February 9, 1970. Bulldozers ripped the clean geometry lines and crisp forms of Irving Gill’s Dodge House and hauled the remains away to the dump! Architect Kurt Meyer felt this act of destruction was akin to taking a “knife and slashing a Rembrandt painting”!
Noted New York architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote a scathing condemnation of the demolition of Irving Gill’s Dodge House in the New York Times one month after the event: “a tragic commentary on how we throw our national heritage away.” (New York Times, March 8, 1970)
But the general public was unconcerned and ambivalent! John Pastier wrote the following in the Los Angeles Times on August 31, 1969:
“In some ways, it’s a house only an architect would love. Nothing noteworthy ever happened there, and it’s not really old enough to claim historical status. Visually, it has neither the charm nor nostalgia of a ‘period piece,’ nor the spectacularly expressive design of many ‘modern’ residences. From the outside, it seems quite ordinary: two stories high, flat-roofed, with undecorated white walls, simple rectangular metal windows, and a few arches to remind the viewer that he is in Los Angeles and not somewhere else.”
What are your thoughts on the destruction of an architectural masterpiece in order to build seven separate three-story structures with 48 studio apartments? Where does a work of art—in this case, a work of domestic architecture—fit into the cultural life of an urban environment? Is there room for culturally important edifices in the urban space or is density more valuable than heritage and legacy?