Thornton Abell (1906-1984): Mid-century modern


Thornton Abell graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in architecture, and worked for the well-known firm Marsh, Smith & Powell throughout the 1930s. During the 1940s and 1950s, Abell taught at the Chouinard Art Institute and at the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture. In 1948 Abell was asked by John Entenza to design Case Study House #7 for the magazine Arts and Architecture. He was not as well known as some of his peers, however his residential work in the mid-century modern style is a superb blend of indoor-outdoor living, glass walls, and natural accents.


Thornton Abell, architect


Thornton M. Abell papers, Architecture and Design Collection. Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa Barbara.


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Collection Items

Thornton Abell: Abell house (Santa Monica, Calif.)
Thornton Abell designed this house on a very steep lot in the hills of Santa Monica for himself and his family. The three story home featured a rooftop deck, main level terrace, lower level drafting room, and a garden with a pool and guest house.

Thornton Abell: Siskin house (Los Angeles, Calif.)
This house was built in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles for a young family with many children, live-in maids, and a need to entertain large groups. The International Style house that Abell designed also worked well for the Siskin's need for…

Thornton Abell: Bakos house (Los Angeles, Calif.)
This one-story house in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles is sited on a flat lot, with a private pool and outdoor living area. Built with a distinctive roof line, the house allows for indoor/outdoor living through glass walls and atriums.

Thornton Abell: LeBrun house (Malibu, Calif.)
The house was designed for Rico LeBrun, an artist and teacher. LeBrun requested a large art studio with an outside work area, inside work area, drawing room, metal shop, sculpture room, and large studio with darkroom and plentiful storage. The house…

Thornton Abell: Rich house (Los Angeles, Calif.)
The steel magnate Gustav Rich commissioned this house from Abell in 1966. The steel frame with stucco also contained long walls of glass and interior walls of walnut.
The house was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2006, after…

Thornton Abell: Adelman house (Beverly Hills, Calif.)
This house for L.B. Adelman is sited on a portion of the former Charlie Chaplin estate in Beverly Hills (the tennis court on the property is the original Chaplin Estate court). The post and beam design was designed by Abell and O'Neil Ford, a…

Thornton Abell: Bank of America (Los Angeles, Calif.)
In addition to private homes, Abell also designed schools, stores, and other commercial buildings such as this bank on Larchmont in Los Angeles. The clean and simple facade, overhanging roof, and ample off-street parking have survived the 40+ years…

Thornton Abell: CSU Art Building (Fullerton, Calif.)
The Art Building complex at California State University, Fullerton is actually a grouping of four buildings connected by courtyards, loggias, and water features. The classrooms in the Art building were designed to be wide and long, to permit many…

Thornton Abell portraits
The Thornton Abell archive contains a number of studio portraits of the architect.

Thornton Abell: Abell office (Santa Monica, Calif.)
The Thornton Abell office building in Santa Monica highlights his architectural style for clients. The use of clean lines, indoor/outdoor living, and sliding partition doors were all features showcased in the photos by architectural photographer…

Thornton Abell: Beck house (Los Angeles, Calif.)
This house in the Bel Air Hills section of Los Angeles, was built for Dr. William S. Beck. Sited on a steeply upwardly sloping lot in a canyon, the house was placed close to the road to take advantage of the only flat portion of the lot.

Thornton Abell: Braddock Street School (Los Angeles, Calif.)
This elementary school was one of many schools designed by Abell. Located in the Culver City area of Los Angeles, this school is now a 'gifted magnet' school. The photographs by Julius Shulman were thoughtfully staged.

Thornton Abell: National Home Show model home (Inglewood, Calif.)
This house was built for the Los Angeles Seventh National Home Show and Building Exposition. Abell designed a model home named "The Californian."

Thornton Abell: Charnock Road Elementary (Mar Vista, Calif.)
The site plan for the Charnock Road Elementary School shows how additional buildings could be added to the site as enrollment grew during the population boom of the 1950s. This was a project for the Los Angeles City School district in the Mar Vista…

Thornton Abell: Valley Center Shopping Center (Van Nuys, Calif.)
This rendering for a shopping center was commissioned by M. Russell Davis and Philip Mackay Gordon, builder and business property developers. This early work shows influences of Streamline Moderne as well as a more Modern aesthetic.

Thornton Abell: KTLA Studio Plant (Hollywood, Calif.)
For this axonometric drawing, Abell shows a cut-away of the Paramount Television Productions studio plant on North Bronson Avenue in Hollywood. Klaus Landsberg, a pioneering electrical engineer for the early television studios, is listed as the 'West…

Thornton Abell: Degnan shopping center (Los Angeles, Calif.)
For this shopping center in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Abell designed the business block for Philip M. Gordon and the Los Feliz Investment Company.

Thornton Abell: Niedringhaus/Reber duplexes (Montecito, Calif.)
Abell designed side-by-side duplexes for sisters Mary McKeen Niedringhaus and Christine Reber. Both houses had private views of the mountains and each side of the duplex also contained a rental unit.

Thornton Abell: Mt. Vernon Junior High School (Los Angeles, Calif.)
This commission from the Los Angeles School District for a classroom building at Mt. Vernon Junior High, was located in the West Adams neighborhood. It is now named the Johnnie Cochran Middle School.
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