J.R. Davidson (1889-1977): A European Contribution to California Modernism


Julius Ralph Davidson was born in 1889 in Berlin. Beginning at the age of 18, J.R. Davidson worked in architectural offices in Berlin, London at the office of Frank Stuart Murray, and Paris. During the years 1919 to 1923, Davidson had his own practice in Berlin before relocating to Los Angeles in 1923, at the age of 34.

In Los Angeles, Davidson went to work for the office of David Farquhar, then worked as a set designer under contract with Cecil B. De Mille, and then begun remodeling houses for a firm of builders. In 1927, Davidson opened up his own office in Los Angeles, though he never became a licensed architect. His commercial buildings of the 1920s, for which he often designed the interiors, fixtures and furniture, were widely published, including those for the popular Coconut Grove restaurant/nightclub and the High Hat restaurants. Davidson’s house designs date primarily from the late 1930s through the 1940s.

Invited by John Entenza, editor of Arts and Architecture magazine, Davidson designed Case Study House 1, which was finally realized in 1948. He also designed Case Study House 11, the first of the Case Study houses to be built, and Case Study House 15. Although many of Davidson's designs were published during his lifetime, Esther McCoy helped bring international attention to his work when she included him in her book, The Second Generation. Davidson died at his home in Ojai, California on May 2, 1977.


J.R. Davidson, architect


Julius Ralph Davidson papers, Architecture and Design Collection. Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa Barbara.


circa 1920 - circa 1960


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Collection Items

J.R. Davidson: Stothart House (Santa Monica, Calif.)
Photographs of the exterior of the Stothart House; one of the driveway entrance and one of the side patio. The design emphasis on horizontal and flat forms, along with uniform windows and parapets echoed the International Style.

J.R. Davidson: Gretna Green apartments (Brentwood, Calif.)
Photographs of the exterior of the apartments. The plans reflected the Bauhaus concept of utilizing limited space. Each of the four apartments has an exterior space such as a patio or sundeck to provide private outside access- a luxury usually only…

J.R. Davidson: Foster Project (Bishop Calif.)
Built in the single-story"ranch style", the Walter Foster House project was one of Davidson's new designs bearing a departure from the International Style in favor of Soft Modernism. The house's plan incorporated local building styles and materials,…

J.R. Davidson: Feingold and Harris medical building (Los Angeles, Calif.)
These photographs document the narrow medical building that housed the practices of Dr. B.F. Feingold and and Dr. J.M. Harris. The spaces were designed to be modern and expansive, with scattered lighting and noise insulation.

J.R. Davidson: California Sport Magazine cover
Davidson's design for the cover of California Sport Magazine.

J.R. Davidson: Vigeveno #1 (Ojai, Calif.)
Exterior photograph of the Vigeveno #1 House, a ranch-style vacation home for art dealer James Vigeveno and his family. Another design was made for Vigeveno alongside the first, although this second house featured a completely different architectural…

J.R Davidson: Rabinowitz House (Bel Air, Los Angeles, Calif.)
Photographs of the interior and a floor plan of the Rabinowitz House. The design featured a panoramic view of Bel Air from its secluded position on a hill.

J.R. Davidson: Hi-Hat Restaurant (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Photographs of the interior of the Hi-Hat restaurant. The owner originally requested an English style tavern, to which Davidson created a design that reflected his wishes but through a modernist's sensibilities.

J.R. Davidson: Office (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Photos and plan of the entrance to Davidson's office in Los Angeles. The facade echoes the stylistic influences of Rudolph Schindler and Frank Lloyd Wright.

J.R. Davidson: portrait
A portrait of J.R. Davidson in his later years.

J.R. Davidson: Bilicke-Satyr Books (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Photographs of the exterior and interior of the Bilicke-Satyr Bookstore, featuring special strip lights. Many of Davidson's early commercial projects incorporate Art Deco elements, calculating geometric shapes, sleek forms, and straight lines.

J.R. Davidson: Schilling's Flower Store (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Photograph of the interior and front entrance of the Schilling's Flower Store. It was later replaced by Bachelor's Haberdashery Shop.

J.R. Davidson: Bachelor's Haberdashery Shop (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Photographs of the entrance and interior of the Haberdashery (a men's clothing store). This business replaced the earlier Schilling's Flowers.

J.R. Davidson: Drive-in Curb Market (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Renderings and floor plan of the Drive-in Curb Market. Designs like this clearly anticipated the increasing importance of automobiles in the modern age.

J.R. Davidson: Hotel Knickerbocker Bar and Tavern (Chicago, Illinois)
Photographs of the remodeled bar and tavern of the Hotel Knickerbocker. The resulting shape of the space results from the combination of "several existing odd rooms".

J. R. Davidson: The Golden Lion Inn, Sheridan Plaza Hotel (Chicago, Illinois)
Photographs of the exterior entrance, bar, and lunch counter of the Golden Lion Inn. The facade echoed tavern aesthetics, yet the inside was incredibly spacious and well lit.

J.R. Davidson: Lamp Designs
Schematics of lamp designs. Davidson was inspired by Bauhaus furniture, which were streamlined, stainless steel constructions.

J.R. Davidson: Blake G. Smith House (Laguna Beach, Calif.)
Sketches of the vacation house designed for Blake g Smith. The house was situated on the top of the cliffs, with a staircase leading down to a "natural sea pool".

J.R. Davidson: View of Klopstockstrase (Berlin)
Watercolor sketch of Davidson's hometown of Berlin.

J.R. Davidson: Sketches of Objects in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs (Paris, France)
An early sketchbook of Davidson's studies of furniture and other objects from a decorative arts and design museum in Paris. Note the attention to detail and pattern.

J.R. Davidson: Church Steeple (Posen, Poland)
Watercolor sketch of a church steeple when Davidson probably still lived in Posen, Poland.

J.R. Davidson: Sketch of Sommer im Schutzengraben
Watercolor sketch from one of Davidson's sketchbooks.

J.R. Davidson: Converted Apartment (Berlin, Germany)
Photographs of the former servants' quarters that Davidson retrofitted into his five-bedroom apartment in Berlin.

J.R. Davidson: Davidson House (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Floor plan and photographs of the residence Davidson designed for himself and his wife on South Barrington Avenue in Los Angeles.

J.R. Davidson: Cocoanut Grove, Ambassador Hotel (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Photographs of the interior of the coconut grove courtyard and lamp details. Davidson emphasized unique lighting designs, with the lamps here incorporating vegetal or "oriental" star elements.

J.R. Davidson: Sardi's Restaurant (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Davidson was commissioned to refurbish Sardi's Restaurant, which originally had interior design work done by Rudolph Schindler. Davidson reorganized the inside and added new features, opening up the space by cleverly incorporating partitions and…

J.R. Davidson: Tierney and Co. Restaurant and Cafe-Bar (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Concept for the Tierney and Co. Restaurant. Note the bold Art Deco inspired interior.

J.R. Davidson: Bransten House (San Francisco, Calif.)
Davidson was asked to design a family home for Richard Bransten, son of a wealthy coffee manufacturer from San Francisco. The window design reflects De-Stijl sensibilities, focusing on large geometric shapes. The three story residence was built on a…

J.R. Davidson: Maitland Residence (Bel Air, Los Angeles, Calif.)
Davidson retrofitted this Georgian home to better house the owner's modern art collection. He replaced wall space with larger windows and a glass enclosed porch to allow more light in and open up the space.

J.R. Davidson: Cellarette on Wheels (Chicago, Illinois)
Davidson's furniture and restaurant supply designs expressed both Art Deco and modernist sensibilities. His "cellarette" concept for a pullout bar on wheels echoes the same simple, functional design of his patent for an easy open cigarette container.

J.R. Davidson: Berlin Armchair Design (Berlin, Germany)
Originally designed in Berlin, Davidson brought this drawing with him to America. The slightly curved armrests are reminiscent of Bruno Paul's own armchair designs.

J.R. Davidson: Crosby House (Los Angeles, Calif.)
The plan of the Floyd D. Crosby Residence is actually the same floor plan Davidson used for the design of his own home, though the interior design choices of the homes differed widely.

J.R. Davidson: Taylor House (Los Angeles, Calif.)
This house was designed not unlike the Crosby residence and Davidson's own home, although in the Taylor house the kitchen plan is more open and a glass vitrine provides views into the living room.

J.R. Davidson: Joseph Kingsley House (Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, Calif.)
After supposedly being turned down by Richard Neutra to design their home, clients Joseph and Lore Kingsley commissioned Davidson to design a unique home to fit their needs. This design was then mirrored next door in the house built for Joseph…

J.R. Davidson: Rattan and Bamboo Furniture
Davidson designed a whole line of outdoor furniture crafted from rattan and bamboo materials, which are flexible and durable enough to withstand the elements. He was inspired by Asian modes of craft-making, classic wooden furniture, and the designs…
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