The late Richard Neutra is remembered as an acclaimed architect during the 20th century who brought modernism to Los Angeles.
During his time designing and building homes for some of the most notable people in Los Angeles, Neutra was also a lecturer at Cal Poly Pomona.
In 1969, Neutra lectured at Cal Poly Pomona in the architecture, landscape architecture and urban and regional planning departments.
He died shortly after, at the age of 78 in 1970, but left a lasting legacy behind at CPP and in the world of architecture and design.
CPP has continued his legacy by naming the esteemed Richard Neutra Award for Professional Excellence after him.
This award is given to individuals who “have dedicated their careers toward researching and developing new environments in which to work, live and play,” according to the Department of Architecture.
The Austrian-born architect is best known for his classic mid-century modern home designs and his unique attention to detail. He aimed toward creating homes that met his clients’ needs.
“My father created architecture design that was for the well-being of people. He did research to see what didn’t work in a house and what did,” said Raymond Neutra, Richard Neutra’s youngest son who is a retired UCLA & Harvard Medical School professor of public health.
Raymond Neutra described the way his father looked at architecture similarly to the way doctors view medicine — he studied what would fix certain problems and what wouldn’t fix others.
Some of Neutra’s most notable designs include the Neutra VDL (Van der Leeuw) Studio which is now owned and operated by Cal Poly Pomona; the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs that Neutra built for Edgar J. Kaufmann, an East Coast department store mogul; and the Lovell House, also known as the Lovell Health House, built for doctor Phillip Lovell between 1927-1929.
The Lovell House is what many credit as being the house that put Neutra on the map and participated in his “rise to international fame,” according Architecture Daily. The Lovell House, which was built on the side of a narrow cliff in the hills of Los Angeles near the Griffith Observatory, was the first house to have a steel frame.
Some other well-known buildings in the Southern California area that Neutra designed are the Central Justice Center in Orange County, the Garden Grove Community Church and the Los Angeles County Hall of Records.
Although Neutra is best known for his modern home designs, his son Raymond says he was most proud of the schools he built.
“The schools that my father designed were the most important to him,” Raymond Neutra said. “He was one of the first architects to design schools that opened to the outside (open-air schools). He gave a lot of thought into his school projects. Many of his open-air-designed schools were followed by many.”
The Van der Leeuw House, also known as the Neutra VDL Studio and home that was originally built in 1932, is the nearest and dearest of Neutra’s work to CPP.
The house is currently owned and operated by the Cal Poly Pomona Foundation and is used as a learning place for current architecture students.
The VDL house was donated to Cal Poly Pomona in 1990.
“The house represents how his career and designs changed over three phases,” said Sarah Lorenzen, a registered architect, professor of architecture at Cal Poly Pomona and resident director of the Neutra VDL house.
The original VDL house, located on Silver Lake Boulevard in Los Angeles, consisted of two structures where Neutra’s family lived and where Neutra’s office was held.
The research house was destroyed in a fire in 1963 but the garden house remained.
The Neutra VDL house II was soon rebuilt with the help of Neutra’s eldest son Dion Neutra in 1966.
“CPP has an architecture class called the ‘Neutra VDL Docent Training Elective’ where architecture students learn about the history of Neutra and modernism,” Lorenzen said. “They are then expected to learn the history behind the VDL house and are trained on giving tours to visitors. Once approved by me, students are allowed to give tours to the public.”
The VDL house is free for all Cal Poly Pomona students and staff. It costs $15 for non-CPP visitors and $10 for non-CPP students, faculty and seniors.
The National Historic Landmark is open for tours on most Saturdays. All money from donations goes back into the cost of maintaining the house.
The VDL house was finally established as a National Historic Landmark in 2017, thanks to the help of CPP architecture historian Lauren Weiss-Bricker, Lorenzen, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and son Raymond.
“Richard Neutra played a very significant part in today’s modern architecture,” Weiss-Bricker said. “He promoted the idea of modern houses for younger families. He was about using modern technology to create open spaces.”
To learn more about the legendary architect, you can attend the Newport Beach Film Festival screening of a new documentary about him called “Neutra: Survival Through Design” at 2 p.m. April 28 at Edwards Big Newport theater in Newport Beach.
Apr. 9, 2019 7:16 p.m.: This article was updated to correct Neutra’s year of death to 1970, instead of 1997.