Q&A with Robert Winter, writer of LA’s seminal structure guidebook
Robert Winter could be called the father of Los Angeles architecture.
The architectural historian and professor emeritus at Occidental College is perhaps best known for two things. The first is his house, a craft bungalow on the outskirts of Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco, the former home of tile maker Ernest Batchelder, who wrote one of his first important books over the winter.
Later books partly blamed Winter for the revival of interest in the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1970s, a revival that, he likes to point out, lasted longer than the movement itself.
In second place is his groundbreaking architectural guide for Los Angeles, which he wrote in 1965 together with David Gebhard. It is a carefully curated listing of the most significant buildings in Southern California, which is now widely recognized as the Bible of Southern California architecture. It’s now in its fifth edition, with a major revision on the way. (Gebhard died in 1996; winter is still strong at the age of 92.)
His new hire is his former student Bob Inman, perhaps best known for his own books, A Guide to the Stairways of Los Angeles and walk to Los Angeles: Stairway Street, Bridge, Path and Alley. He also came on the “Inman 300,” a 180 mile, 300-step walking tour of the city.
The cover of Winter’s landmark architecture guide to Los Angeles. Courtesy Angel City Press
They plan to extinguish demolished buildings. cannot be clearly seen from the street, such as Richard Neutra’s Sten-Frenke house in Pacific Palisades and RM Schindler’s Rodakiewicz house; and are “weak” or no longer significant, including John Parkinson and Edwin Bergstroms LA Athletic Club.
There are also new works by the architects Michael Maltzan, Michael W. Folonis, Koning Eizenberg Architecture, Stephen Kanner, Steven Ehrlich, Simon Storey, Heyday, Barbara Bestor and Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects. There are also parks like Tongva Park + Ken Genser Square and Grand Park as well as creatively converted buildings like The Standard in Downtown LA, the Ace Hotel and Columbia Square in Hollywood.
There may also be old buildings that were overlooked in previous editions, such as the JR Dennison House in Harvard Heights, Breed Street Shul, the American Cement Building, and the old warehouse belonging to John A. Roebling’s Sons Co. (now Angel City Brewery ). .
Winter will be the final arbiter of all changes.
Curbed recently sat down with him to discuss trends and developments in LA architecture. Winter shared his strong opinion about the architectural changes in Southern California.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What do you think of the design by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor for that Los Angeles County Museum of Art?
Zumthor will build what I call Trumpitecture. And now I think the buildings that are still there would be a lot better than that. A really resourceful architect could do wonders with these by putting them together. There are things like this central terrace. Nice!
I just read Joe Giovannini’s article in the Los Angeles Review of Books, it was about two years ago, and it’s brilliant. I have to resist it. …
Zumthor, I think he said he got his first idea for the thing I call the amoeba with its pseudopodia from the tar pits. Bad bad. It seems like something like what people do with billions of dollars, it’s their idea of what the big unwashed people think is nifty. This is my first reaction. But it seems absurd to me to cover everything [that area] and cross Wilshire Boulevard. What a gimmick. Ridiculous.
How do you describe the current architectural landscape of LA?
That’s wonderful. That’s just wonderful. I remember teaching at UCLA [after World War II]I lived on Wilshire Boulevard first, but then got an apartment in Santa Monica. And I wouldn’t recommend anyone coming to Santa Monica. And now, like my god, it’s a changed place. And all around …
In my opinion, the best building in town is the Frank Gehry Disney Hall. It makes me proud when I see that. When I went to concerts there, I carried a stick. It is not a place for people with problems! Because there are no carpets on the floor and nothing to hold on to. But I remember it with so much joy. And the outside is just beautiful.
The library and town hall and so on are still beautiful. But what makes me do it is when I first came to Los Angeles, taught at UCLA, and in Westwood felt like you didn’t have to go anywhere else. I didn’t have that exact feeling because I knew about Greene and Greene and all the people and how good Pasadena was …
About six months ago my chiropractor took me to Broad. I don’t think so much about the outside, but what’s going on inside is so wonderful. I would love to bring some kids there. You would be delighted. And some rooms seem to have been built for the art that should go into them, which you can afford if you are Eli Broad.
Michael Maltzan right down the street, he’s doing some interesting things. This bridge, for example. The sixth street [Viaduct]It’s a little different. But that’s fine. I think he’s actually a very talented architect.
Today, many mixed-use and apartment complexes are being built that all look the same and are cheap looking. Do you think that one day in the future Angelenos will think these buildings are cool, just like dingbats are popular now?
I don’t want to predict too far into the future. They know what’s going on at Walnut and Lake in Pasadena. Where are all these people from? I don’t think anyone has done a study as to whether or not these are needed. And that totally contradicts the idea of Pasadena, a suburb.
The idea that the future is heroic is so absurd. I am not sure what the motivation is. I think a developer is likely to see open land and they are thinking of money and want to add density. Up to the sidewalk. It’s not Pasadena. But I don’t want to be an old fog. And when they get people on lower incomes into these homes, that is a big step forward, ultimately.
What do you think of the glassy contemporary houses that rely heavily on modernist influences but use the style as luxurious rather than utopian?
It makes you class conscious. Why? Almost all of them are homely like the Dickens. I mean homely in the sense of awful. It seems to me to be a wonderful reflection of our culture. That this goes on, that people can build houses that they can pay $ 15 million or more for, $ 35 million, and people buy them when there are … people who are starving. Even in America.
I hope they stay away from $ 30 million homes.
The Batchelder House in Pasadena. Patrick Lee
I bought this house for $ 46,500. Well, that was 1972. The idea that it’s now worth over $ 2 million … I used to speak against millionaires and now I’m one (laughs).
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