Villas and City Houses

Irving J. Gill: Clarke house (Santa Fe Springs, Calif.)

Clarke house

Gill’s clients were businessmen and women, growing population of middle class merchants and landownersin San Diego and Los AngelesSeveral of his clients commissioned multiple projects and a large number were independent women.

Gill designed villas on the outskirts of the city and suitable city houses. The villas offered views of surrounding countryside, sea or mountains, with extended porches and terraces for outdoor living. The city houses provided more enclosed and private outdoor spaces. His plans, while simple and usually symmetrical, preserved the patterns of middle class life.

Built on 60 acres of orange groves, the Clarke estate was Gill’s last major residential project. Constructed of poured in place reinforced concrete, the house measures 8,000 square feet. Gill’s drawings note that Gill and Pearson built the house using the “Gill System.” The Clarkes called their “ranch house,” Krankhaven (in German, a healthy haven). The Clarke house plan bears a remarkable similarity to that of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock house (1917-1921) in Los Angeles for Aline Barnsdall, on which Lloyd Wright and Rudolf Schindler worked. When oil was discovered on their land shortly after they moved in, the Clarkes moved elsewhere, including to land in the Coachella Valley where they established a date farm.

Irving J. Gill: Ellen Scripps house (La Jolla, Calif.)

Ellen Scripps house

A book could be written about Gill’s women clients, and Ellen Scripps would be a significant chapter. She helped her brothers build a successful newspaper business and moved to La Jolla in 1897, when the town had “cow paths in lieu of streets.” The success of the Scripps newspaper syndicate allowed her to live independently and to make significant contributions to La Jolla.
When her first house burned down, she asked Gill to design a fireproof house for the site. In a 1915 diary entry, Scripps described visiting Gill in his LA office to see the plans for her new house. He took her to his Banning, Dodge and Laughlin houses to see things, “Mr. Gill wants to introduce into my building.” Later, in a 1916 letter to her sister, she wrote: “The two Gills have been busy all day…in shirtsleeves and overalls down on their knees ‘surfacing’ the cement floors. I don’t know if you will like the effect, but to me it is ‘a thing of beauty and a joy forever.’”

Frank Lloyd Wright celebrated the American businessman as the ideal client for being independent enough to turn away from historical precedents and try something new. This was true of Gill’s clients who accepted his clean undecorated surfaces and chaste forms, even though the buildings looked so different from those of their neighbors. Clients were drawn to the appeal of healthy, sanitary houses and those who built in concrete were sold on safety.

Irving J. Gill: Dodge house (Los Angeles, Calif.)

Dodge house

The Dodge house was located on Kings Road, just north of the future site of Rudolph Schindler’s own 1921 house. Considered Gill’s masterpiece, the design was widely praised for, as historian Leland Roth wrote, "revealing a functional asymmetry whose ornament was derived solely from the studied geometry of the sharp openings in plain walls." The house was bulldozed, after a long preservation effort, on February 9, 1970. The shock of that loss helped launch the Los Angeles Conservancy, founded in 1978.
Gill assembled his own crew to build this and other houses in the L.A. area, in order to get exactly what he wanted. The house was built of reinforced concrete, with metal windows and had many modern conveniences. The layering and piling of cubes and rectangular forms in the Dodge and Clarke houses resembles Native American pueblo buildings. Schindler and Wright consciously borrowed from these native structures, but it’s not clear what Gill’s immediate sources were.

Gill reinforced the modernity of his residences by building with concrete when he could, eliminating dust-catching moldings, coating bathroom and kitchen surfaces with magnesite (“wood stone”), and incorporating the newest conveniences, such as a built-in vacuum cleaner system, or a car wash in the garage.

His formal strategy was to flatten the surface (the straight line), clarify the outline (the cube), and create patterns of clean rectangular or arched (the circle) fenestration. Then he ornamented his surfaces with subtle color and reflected light.

Irving J. Gill: Klauber house (San Diego, Cailf.)

Klauber house

Melville Klauber was from San Diego’s growing merchant class, and married to the sister of Julius Wangenheim (another Gill client). Klauber made room in his house for a studio for his own sister, Alice Klauber, a painter who had studied with American artist, Robert Henri. Alice was friends with Natalie Curtis, the ethnomusicologist and collector of Native American songs; Frank Mead; and Charles Douglas and Wheeler Bailey. Alice was later the chairperson for the Panama Californian Exposition’s Art Exhibition section.

Villas and City Houses