"Meanwhile the virus of the World's Fair, after a period of incubation ... began to show unmistakable signs of the nature of the contagion. There came a violent outbreak of the Classic and the Renaissance in the East, which slowly spread Westward, contaminating all that it touched, both at its source and outward.... By the time the market had been saturated, all sense of reality was gone. In its place, had come deep seated illusions, hallucinations, absence of pupillary reaction to light, absence of knee-reaction-symptoms all of progressive cerebral meningitis; the blanketing of the brain. Thus Architecture died in the land of the free and the home of the brave.... The damage wrought by the World's Fair will last for half a century from its date, if not longer." (The Autobiography of an Idea by Louis Sullivan with a foreword by Claude Bragdon, Press of the American Institute of Architects, New York, 1924).
Sullivan's loathing of Beaux Arts architecture for two years, Gill moved to San Diego in 1893 avowedly for health reasons. (Hines, p. 38). The move was also perhaps at least partly spurred by a run-in with his supervisor Wright over his appearance as Wayne Andrews surmised in his Architecture, Ambition and Americans (see below) which was in turn excerpted from Wright's Genius and the Mobocracy.
"He [Gill] might never have moved from Chicago to the West Coast if he had not had an unfortunate collision with Frank Lloyd Wright. Gill was so indiscreet, so Wright tells us, as to show up for work sporting the hair-do and the flowing black tie which the future lord of "Taliesin" had made very much his own. "This had been the case with others often enough, "Wright tells us, "'but in this instance the affair suddenly seemed to me more like caricature. I regarded him for a moment and said, 'Gill, for Christ's sake, get your hair cut.' The common enough exhortation, to which I have myself been subjected in nearly every province of the United States, was not pleasantly said. Gill was as rank an individualist as I and he quit then and there. But his individual character came out to good purpose in the good work he did later in San Diego and Los Angeles. His work was a kind of elimination which if coupled with a finer sense of proportion would have been-I think it was, anyway-a real contribution to our so-called modern movement." (Architecture, Ambition and Americans by Wayne Andrews, Harper Brothers, New York, 1955, p. 267 and Genius and the Mobocracy by Frank Lloyd Wright, New York, Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1949, p. 52).).
Pierce-Morse Block, Sixth and F, San Diego, 1887, Nelson Comstock and Carl Trotsche, architects. From Irving Gill, Architect by Bruce Kamerling, San Diego Historical Society, 1993, p. 7.
Art Institute of Chicago, Van Buren and Michigan Ave., 1887, Burnham and Root, architects. From School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Upon graduation from Cornell University in 1887 Hebbard joined the crowd moving to a rapidly building Chicago and signed on as a draftsman for the prestigious firm of Burnham and Root. During his short time there he would almost certainly have
witnessed completion of the firm's well-reviewed Richardsonian-Romanesque Art Institute of Chicago (see
above) and worked on drawings for The Rookery which was completed in 1888 and
became the firm's new home (see below). This would have been an inspiring year
indeed for the fledgling architect.
The Rookery, Chicago, Burnham and Root, 1887-88. Photographer unknown. From Wikipedia.
Hebbard quickly moved on to a similarly booming Los Angeles in 1888 to join the busy and important Los Angeles firm of Curlett, Eisen and Cuthbertson. (Kamerling, Bruce, "William Sterling Hebbard: Consummate San Diego Architect, Journal of San Diego History, Winter 1987). Hebbard's two years in Los Angeles must have been as inspiring as his time in Chicago. For example in just the first seven months of 1889 Hebbard's new employers had close to $1,000,000 worth of work on the boards, most notably the Richardsonian Romanesque Los Angeles County Courthouse and Los Angeles Orphan Asylum in Boyle Heights (see above and below). ("Buildings: Concise Statement of the Improvements of 1889. Reported by Curlett, Eisen and Cuthbertson," LAT, January 1, 1890, pp. 10-11).
Hebbard's inspiration for his striking 1895 Grant Building perhaps came from a possible visit to the Columbian Exposition. The building was commissioned by U. S. Grant, Jr. who had moved to San Diego in 1893, the same year as Gill, and became a prominent real estate developer and philanthropist. Hebbard had also completed a residence for Grant's brother Jesse the previous year. If Hebbard did not visit the fair in person he certainly would have been following its design and construction in the architectural journals as his former employers were charged with coordinating the massive design and construction effort. Hebbard would also certainly have become familiar with the work of Burnham and Root's Chicago rivals Adler and Sullivan during his two year apprenticeship. (Author's note: Gill biographers Hines and Kamerling list the Grant Building as being designed by Hebbard and Gill and completed in 1898. This is contradicted by a blurb in the July issue of The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration which attributes the design solely to Hebbard for client U.S. Grant, Jr. and that Hebbard was moving his office into the new building on September 1, 1895. ("Personal," The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, Volume 01, No. 07, July, 1895). Furthermore the January 1895 issue of The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, which Hebbard seemingly subscribed to, contained an article "The Gothic Palaces of Venice" which echoed the ornament along the building's cornice.).
In any event, Hebbard moved his office into the new building on September 1, 1895 where he would remain for the rest of his time in San Diego. It was here where he invited Gill to join him the following year. The younger Gill would have immediately taken note while the building was under construction and eagerly compared Sullivanesque notes with Hebbard on what was then likely one of the first "modern" buildings in San Diego. Hebbard and Gill maintained their offices in the Grant Building until dissolving their partnership in 1907. ("Among the Architects," Architect and Engineer of California, June 1907, p. 141. For much more on Hebbard and his partnership with Gill see Flanagan, Kathleen, "William Sterling Hebbard: Consummate San Diego Architect," San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, Winter 1987).
It was during his 11-year partnership with Hebbard that Gill formed lasting relationships with San Diego's progressive philanthropic elite such as Melville, Hugo and Alice Klauber, Julius Wangenheim, Wheeler J. Bailey, George and Arthur Marston and most importantly Ellen Browning Scripps.
After Gill parted ways with Hebbard in the spring of 1907, he and his former employee Frank Mead formed a brief but modernistically important partnership with an office also located in the Grant Building. Gill and Mead were perhaps comparing their creative ideas and anxious to try them out without the probable domineering influence of the more senior Hebbard. The four residences created during their seven-month partnership began to exhibit the ornament-free, geometric elements for which Gill is now most fondly remembered. Finally breaking free from the elder Hebbard's yoke of Beaux-Arts eclecticism and romanticism and his own earlier Shingle Style and Prairie School influences gleaned from East Coast trips and projects during 1902-4 enabled Gill and Mead's remarkable Melville Klauber, Wheeler Bailey, and Russel Allen House designs in San Diego (see above and below).
"This should be an object lesson to those having a little knowledge of the theory of reinforced concrete construction, yet lack the experience for its practical application. In this case I think that the blame cannot be with the architects of the building, for they frankly acknowledge their inexperience in reinforced concrete work and entrusted the structural design to engineers who professed a knowledge of the subject but who had had little or no practical experience."(Whittlesey, Charles, "Victory for Pure Type of Reinforced Concrete, Architect and Engineer of California, November 1906, pp. 48).
Besides attending AIA meetings together in Los Angeles, by 1907 Gill and Albright were also exhibiting together. The Los Angeles Architectural Club planned it's first annual exhibition in conjunction with the Arts and Crafts Society of Los Angeles for the third week of May 1907. Gill's rapid acceptance by his Los Angeles colleagues was evidenced by his being named one of the selection jurors along with Elmer Grey, Augustus B. Higginson, Timothy Walsh, Charles Sumner Greene, Arthur Roland Kelly, Theodore Eisen, Frank Stiff and Francis Pierpont Davis for the Architectural Club. Four illustrations of Gill's work and Albright's rendering for the U.S. Grant Hotel were included in the show at the Associated Arts Hall at 718 S. Spring St. ("Arts and Crafts Will Show Drawings," LAH, April 6, 1907, p. 5, Anderson, Antony, "Art & Artists: A Joint Exhibition," LAT, Apr 14, 1907, p. VI-2 and "Los Angeles Architectural Exhibit," Architect and Engineer of California, June 1907, p. 84). ).
Homer Laughlin, Jr., who graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from Stanford in 1896, likely first became attracted to the properties of reinforced concrete while watching with great interest the construction progress of Albright's Laughlin Building Annex. When it came time to choose an architect for his own personal residence he selected Gill, who used concrete and hollow tile for the two-story, 11-room residence at 666 W. 28th St. described in detail earlier above. Gill and Laughlin arranged with architect Albert Walker to receive bids for the project while Gill was attending to business in San Diego. Walker's office was located next door to Laughlin's on the 6th floor of the Laughlin Building, one floor above Albright's offices. ("Architects Are Busily Engaged; Many Magnificent Homes Are Being Planned," LAH, April 19, 1908, p. IV-2).
A presentation rendering of Gill's Arthur Marston House (see above) was exhibited in the fourth annual Architectural Club of Los Angeles exhibition in February of 1910 in the Hamburger Building along with Albright's Spreckels Theater Building and San Diego Union Building where he finally established a San Diego office the same year (see below). (Ibid). Thus it seems plausible that Gill and Albright could have been comparing notes on ongoing developments in reinforced concrete construction techniques. Gill also broke ground for Scripps Hall at the Bishop's School for Girls the same month. ("School and Colleges: San Diego," SWCM, February 12, 1910, p. 9).
"Southern California is second to no section of the United States in adaptability for the driving of the automobile, and she will have to do something in the near future or lose that which is becoming the greatest drawing card with the wealthier class of Eastern people, people who spend a portion of every year in search for that clime which will afford them the greatest amount of outdoor recreation and bodily comfort..."
"Most emphatically I do. Not in the racing of novices along the country road or through the city streets, but in the racing of the automobile as a test on special speedways by men who are masters of their machines. In no case should racing be allowed in the city, and with the provision of speedways either inland or on the seashore built especially for that purpose." (Ibid).
Shortly after Gill received the Laughlin garage commission, Frederick B. Lewis, a bright up-and-coming engineer with the Southern California Edison Company contracted with him to design 12 rental units at the corner of Alegria and Mountain Trail Streets in Sierra Madre. Lewis received bids for the project while Gill was beginning work on the Laughlin garage. Each concrete and hollow tile unit for the $30,000 project contained a large living room, buffet kitchen, bedroom and bathroom with all units surrounding a large central courtyard garden (see above and below). ("Residences," Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer, July 23, 1910, p. 12).
It has not yet been determined how Gill met Frederick Lewis but it could have been through AIA meetings or engineer Lewis running across Gill's work in architectural and/or building trades journals. Lewis rapidly rose through the ranks from meter tester in 1905 to become Assistant General Manager of the Edison Company by 1924 and Vice President in 1928 (see above). The Lewis Court development was one of Gill's proudest accomplishments and was easily his most broadly published and widely acclaimed project. ("Edison Advances Engineer," LAT, May 13, 1928, p. I-8).
As Lewis Court and the Laughlin, Sr. garage were nearing completion Gill became active in organizing the architects of San Diego. He liked what he was learning from his Los Angeles colleagues and wanted to spread it to his home base. Meeting in Gill's office in early September a slate of officers was elected. Gill's former partner William S. Hebbard, the reigning dean of San Diego architects and 1901 charter member of the State Architectural Board of Certification was named President, S. G. Kennedy - Vice-President, Gill - Secretary, and Charles Quayle - Treasurer. Gill's field superintendent Richard Requa and others attended the meeting. ("San Diego Architects Organize," SWCM, September 3, 1910, p. 26). Under the auspices of the new group Gill soon led the charge recommending that the San Diego Building Department be reorganized to be under a single head who is a certified architect or engineer modeling itself along the lines of the City of Los Angeles whose building department Gill had recently studied. ("Ask Reorganization of San Diego Building Department, SWCM, November 12, 1910, p. 17. For much on Gill's role in organizing San Diego's architects and his efforts to improve the San Diego Building Codes see Schaffer, Sarah J., "A Significant Sentence Upon the Earth: Irving J. Gill, Progressive Architect Part II: Creating a Sense of Place," Journal of San Diego History, Winter 1998.).
During September Gill was working on the plans for a substantial 2-story 12-room house for the well-decorated dean of Los Angeles society portrait photographers George Steckel (see awards above for example). Steckel's studio and art gallery was located on the entire fifth floor of the Gray Building at 336 1/2 S. Broadway across the street from the Laughlin Building after he moved from 220 S. Spring Street in 1908. Steckel's gallery served as the temporary exhibition space for the Fine Arts League of Los Angeles which was incorporated in 1907 with the intended purpose of forming Los Angeles's first fine art museum. The League's vision was achieved with the opening of the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, Science and Art in Exposition Park in early 1913. ("Los Angeles Fine Arts League Holds Its First Exhibition at Steckel Gallery," LAH, April 4, 1909, p. II-7 and "Fine Arts League: Organization for Advancement of Permanent Museum Announces Near Completion of Building," LAT, September 24, 1912, p. I-12. For much more on the organization and management of the new museum and its associated Otis Art Institute see my "The Schindlers and the Hollywood Art Association").
The front facade of the Steckel Residence (see above) expressed similarities with the Laughlin House sans the pitched roof. The commission likely came about through a Steckel acquaintance with Laughlin whose portrait he took for a 1909 article in Out West (see two above). (Author's note: Photographer Edward Weston briefly worked for Steckel shortly after his 1908 arrival in Los Angeles from Chicago. Weston's close friend Johan Hagemeyer also worked for Steckel for a short time in 1918-19 after a brief apprenticeship with Weston. (Artful Lives: Edward Weston, Margrethe Mather and the Bohemians of Los Angeles by Beth Gates Warren, Getty, 2011, pp. 9-10, 138, 153.
Gill arranged for the Steckel House bids to be received by Los Angeles architect E. C. Kent whose name also appeared along with Hebbard and Gill on their preliminary drawing of the U. S. Grant Hotel shown earlier above. Kent's office was two blocks from the Laughlin Building at 427 W. 5th St. Despite a building permit being issued for Steckel's lot on Normandie Ave. near 4th St. the house was not built. Steckel would a few years later construct a house and studio designed by someone else on land he purchased among the orange groves of Covina. ("Building News: Los Angeles Notes: [George Steckel] Residence," SWCM, October 1, 1910, p. 9.)
Through his connections with Marston and the fact that Gill had designed a house for Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.'s brother Albert in Newport, Rhode Island in 1901, he had high hopes of being named the chief architect for the Exposition. Likely for future business reasons, the Olmsteds preferred to collaborate with the more familiar and prominent east coast architect Bertram Goodhue and successfully lobbied for his selection. (See numerous early 1911 letters referencing Gill in the Olmsted Papers in the Panama-California Digital Archive).