|58. Strick House,
1911 La Mesa Drive
Architect: Oscar Niemeyer
1911 La Mesa Strick House
photo by Michael Grandcolas
photo by Michael Grandcolas
photo by Michael Grandcolas
photo by Michael Grandcolas
| The differentiation between
solids and voids is well expressed in the Strick House, an excellent example
of the International Style as interpreted by renowned Brazilian architect
Oscar Niemeyer. The International Style emerged as one of the architectural
responses to the Modern Movement that began in Europe in the 1920s and spread
throughout the world, culminating in the middle decades of the 20th century.
International Style is considered the most minimal form of modernism.
The Strick House is the only home designed by Niemeyer in the United States.
T-shaped in plan, this one-story dwelling is capped by a flat roof and is sheathed in glass, brick, and stucco. One of the most prominent features is the row of tall, narrow exposed rafters that cover the entire roof in a serrated pattern and project beyond the overhangs of the front and rear of the home.
FYI, the study, living room, dining room, and kitchen are located in the long east-west stem of the “T.” An elevated ceiling with clerestory windows augments the perpendicular bedroom wings. On the primary elevation, large vertical panes of transparent fixed glass with clerestory windows feature tubular steel mullions.
The International Style emerged as one of the architectural responses to the Modern Movement that began in Europe in the 1920s. International Style include a rejection of historical references and applied ornamentation, instead embracing steel, glass, concrete, flat roofs, smooth wall surfaces, asymmetry, open floor plans, indoor-outdoor spaces, ribbon windows, and an openness towards new engineering methods and new materials. This Modernist moved was embraced worldwide and was popular in the mid-century.
European leaders of the movement included Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Marcel Breuer, many of whom emigrated to the United States and influenced several generations of American architects.
Le Corbusier’s design tenets were especially influential in Latin America, where he collaborated on projects with local architects including Brazil’s Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer.
In the United States, there were significant regional interpretations of the International Style with architects in Southern California taking advantage of the favorable climate by emphasizing large expanses of glass and the evolution of the Craftsman concept of harmonizing the interior space with outdoor space.
Some of the best parts of the Strick House are not viewable from the street. The rear, north-facing elevation overlooks a swimming pool and a panoramic view of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Riviera Country Club fairways. The main communal living area of the house is set back from La Mesa Drive and is landscaped with a meandering concrete path and decorative boulders.
The lot size is approximately 105 feet by 246 feet. The Strick House sits on a mesa overlooking the Riviera Country Club fairways. The building fronts south and is located in a primarily single-family residential neighborhood richly landscaped with mature Moreton Bay fig trees.
Building permits on file show that in May 1964 a building permit was issued for a 4,200 square foot single-family residence and garage to be erected on vacant land for a cost of approximately $70,000. According to the permit, the architect of record was Ulrich Plaut and the owner was listed as Joe Strick. In July 1964, a permit was issued for the construction of a 20-foot by 36-foot swimming pool at a cost of $3,880.
Director, producer, and screenwriter Joseph Strick and his wife, writer Anne Strick, were living in the Gregory Ain-designed Mar Vista tract of modern houses when they contacted Niemeyer to design their new house. They had purchased the Ain home because of its indoor-outdoor qualities and Modern design esthetic, and were intent on selecting an architect fluent in the language of modernism. The Stricks were inspired by Niemeyer’s achievements in Brasilia and also in the design of his own home in Rio, but they were also seeking to further another goal.
City documents describe Joseph and Anne Strick as “politically progressive,” and they disagreed with the inability of Oscar Niemeyer to work in or travel to the United States due to his political beliefs.
Noted Mrs. Strick, “The choice of Niemeyer was not only an aesthetic one, but, in part, a way of thumbing our noses at the whole McCarthy era because it seemed so reprehensible that a man, simply because of his political views, could be prevented from working in this country.”
The design of the house was carried out entirely by letter; neither the Stricks nor the architect ever met face to face. The September 1964 issue of Arts and Architecture magazine chronicled Niemeyer’s design process for the residence from his earliest plan (a two-story dwelling with a free-form roof and bedrooms recessed into the face of the bluff for access to views), to the final plan accepted by the client and the City.
Accompanying the plans used to build the house, was a note from Niemeyer to Joseph Strick, which stated “The plan that I am sending you respects the functional lines of the ‘sketch’ sent to me. It is simple, and constructive, economical and beautiful.”
Los Angeles architect Ulrich Plaut was hired to do the working drawings of the house in the spring of 1964. Anne Strick oversaw the completion of the residence with the collaboration of Interior Designer Amir Farr.
Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer is the winner of the 1988 Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor, is one of the greatest masters of twentieth century modernism.
Oscar Niemeyer was born in Brazil in 1907. He is considered to be the most important Brazilian architect of the twentieth century because of the quantity and quality of his buildings. He began his career in the office of Lucio Costa in 1934 after graduating from the National School of Fine Art. Career highlights include his collaboration with Le Corbusier in the 1936 design of the Ministry of Health and Education Building in Rio de Janeiro. Again he worked with Le Corbusier on the 1947-52 United Nations buildings (The only other completed work by Niemeyer in the United States). He is credited with carving the city of Brasilia out of the rain forest with his mentor Lucio Costa, designing many government buildings in the late 1950s. Another pride is the Contemporary Art Museum constructed in 1996 in Niteroi outside of Rio.
An avowed Communist, Niemeyer was forced into exile in 1964 by Brazil’s military government. He returned to Brazil in the 1970s. His constant presence on the scene of international contemporary architecture from 1936 until the present time, has made Oscar Niemeyer a symbol of Brazil.
Now, back to Santa Monica….La Mesa Drive, located at the northeast edge of Santa Monica, is a six-block long, curving street of large and gracious homes mostly dating from the 1920s and 1930s. Mature Moreton Bay fig trees, with their overhanging canopy of leaves and their intricate root systems, line both sides of the street. Vintage post top street lamps, with paired lanterns at the ends of the drive and single ones on the interior, illuminate La Mesa during the evening hours. Opened in 1923, as the Canyon Vista Tract, a development of the Santa Monica Land and Water Company, La Mesa Drive quickly became one of the most sought after addresses in Santa Monica.
The street offers a who’s who of residential architects. In additional
to Niemeyer’s design at 1911, there are International Style properties
by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright at 2323 La Mesa Drive and European
architect J. R. Davidson expresses his vision at 2501 La Mesa. Santa Monica’s
native son, John Byers designed eight homes on the Drive, including his
own at 2034. Two noteworthy Pasadena architectural firms are represented
on La Mesa: Marston, Van Pelt and Maybury styled 2202, while Palmer Sabin
planned the property at 2233. Paul Williams who conceived the style for
the properties at 2201 and 2209 was one of Los Angeles’ premier
residential architects in the 1920s and 1930s. Williams is credited with
conceiving elegant upper middle class neighborhoods such as Hancock Park.