By David J. Barboza
If you’re trying to make the case that a building is historically significant, it never hurts to know that a noted architect is the creative force behind it. That’s why an article in the USC Trojan Family Magazine caught my eye recently. In Modernism for the Masses, Allison Engel delves into the work of William Krisel and to a lesser extent Edward Fickett, both graduates of the Trojan architecture program. Although, Krisel is best known for his work in Palm Springs, his designs are hardly confined to the Coachella Valley. According to Engel, Krisel and Fickett “made their names by bringing innovative style to tract developments” in several sunbelt cities, including Los Angeles. Fickett was particularly prolific in the San Fernando Valley.
One of Krisel’s developments (with Dan Palmer), Corbin Palms, has been pointed out at MyHistoricLA.org. Located on the west side of Corbin Avenue between Calvert and Hamlin Streets in Woodland Hills, the tract has generated some online attention recently, with an article from the Eichler Network and a post at CurbedLA. It’s also home to Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #976, the Corbin Palms House. Partnering with the Alexander Construction Company in the early 1950s, Krisel was initially given 10 lots to play around with. The company was skeptical that Krisel would be able to produce good design at a good profit, but Krisel threw them a curve ball, designing in cost-saving features that also enhanced the style of the tract houses. These features included post and beam construction, open floor plans, and extensive use of clerestory windows. The houses were not just cheaper to build, the appeal of their design allowed them to be sold at a premium. Palmer and Krisel went on to design about 4,000 houses in the San Fernando Valley.
Engel’s article goes on to highlight a history of the USC School of Architecture being written by Professor James Steele. Steele argues that “USC played a critical role in fomenting the international revolution of the architecture curriculum towards Modernism.” Many notable faculty members are name dropped, as are two Pritzker-prize winning alums: Frank Gehry (who won in 1989) and Thom Mayne (the 2005 laureate). Boosterism aside, the connections between USC, Modern architecture, and Los Angeles are interesting, and can help inform SurveyLA.
As always, if you know of any historic places SurveyLA should know about, please point them out to us!