Late Work: 1922 –1936
In the last year of his life, with the Depression still strong, Gill designed at least four buildings, of which only the Blade-Tribune newspaper building and a beauty parlor in Redondo Beach were built. In 1936 he was working on a theater with Zara Witkin, a civil engineer for the City of Los Angeles who had worked on the Hollywood Bowl with Lloyd Wright, 1927-1928. In a 1936 letter to Gill, Witkin notes that he visited the Dodge house on Gill’s recommendation and was eager to discuss the “possibilities of mutual work.”
A heart attack in 1924 put Gill out of commission for several years. During the Depression he lived off his work as a magnesite contractor and occasional small architectural jobs, while tending his wife’s avocado orchard (he married in 1928) and a large subsistence garden in Carlsbad.
Though World War I sparked a temporary boom in the U.S. in the 1920s, the number of Gill’s commissions declined dramatically. The drawings that remain in his archive illustrate a few residences and apartments, commercial structures, and a number of public buildings for the period after 1922. Given the difficulties of the times, it is surprising and thrilling to see how much work he did and how engaged he continued to be until his death in 1936.
The architect and planner Frederick Gutheim worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 1930s. His letters to architectural critic Esther McCoy and to Louis Gill describe his friendship with Irving Gill and the Barona Resettlement project they worked on together. Letters in the Gill archive from agents in Washington D. C. refer to the clay block construction and the task of finding a proficient contractor for the Magnesite, which Gill specified for the interiors. Gutheim reported that Gill worked alongside the new residents to build the church and 12 cottages of handmade clay bricks. He was convinced that Gill’s work was important for being “a truly native style of modern building in California.”