The Silver Lake area in Los Angeles takes its name from one of the expansive water reservoirs five miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, the historic core of the city. Herman Silver was a member of the first city’s water commission who lend his name to the reservoirs. Silver Lake reservoir was constructed in 1906 and integral to William Mulholland’s plan to support LA’s water system. In 1989, it was declared a cultural monument by the cultural heritage commission. Sites are awarded these titles based on their architectural, historic and cultural merit.
In the beginning of the 1900s Silver Lake started to draw a bohemian crowd. Writers, architects and political activists flocked to this area. Visionary modernists started moving to this part of Los Angeles after Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Hollyhock House for Aline Barnsdall, a socialist and oil heiress. Silver Lake began to appeal to the creatives after it became home to a number of movie studios: The Mack Sennett Studios, The Mixville Studios, Talmadge, Monogram Studios and even the first official Disney Studio. Because of this, many screenwriters, set designers and cartoonists decided to move to Silver Lake. The population of artistically inclined people grew with time. And many were highly receptive of new architectural ideas. The ideal soil for avant-garde architects to build upon.
Silver Lake today includes architecture designed by Richard Neutra, Rudolf M. Schindler, Gregory Ain, John Lautner and Lloyd Wright among others. Neutra as well as Lautner decided to build their own homes in this neighbourhood. Now, the area displays a great number of Mid-Century Modern architecture as well as popular Spanish Colonial Revival, Spanish Mediterranean, French Normandy, English Tudor, Gothic, and Post-modern styles.
An accumulation of Neutra designed houses, colloquially known as ‚Neutra Conlony‘, sits on the East shore of Silver Lake. Right on Silver Lake Boulevard to the right of Earl Street one finds, from North to South: Sokol House (constructed in 1948), Inadomi House (1960), Kambara House (1960) and Yew House (1957). One street up the hill, parallel to the shore, runs Neutra Place. The cul-de-sac was officially renamed in the 1990s during a ceremony held by the city of LA. It now is the proud address to, from North to South, Reunion (1949), Flavin (1958), Ohara (1961) and Akai House (1961). On the opposing side of Earl Street Richard Neutra designed the Treweek House in 1948. All homes in the colony are characteristic examples to the architects’ style. Rectangular outlines, the lack of ornament, flat roofs, sliding glass walls and outdoor decks are overall present. Indoors and outdoors are intertwined, to enjoy the Californian weather in all aspects. Not far from the colony, on Glendale Boulevard, Richard and Dion Neutra set up their original office. The city of Los Angeles listed the building as a Historic-Cultural Monument.
On the Western hills of Silver Lake John Lautner built one of his masterpieces, the Silvertop. The grounds of the home include an infinity pool and a tennis court. Never inhabited by the original owners its design became well known thanks to the shimmering, arched roof. Ingenious engineering enabled a spacious interior with glass walls suspended from the ceiling. Hence enabling stunning views across Silver Lake and the mountains.
On the same side of the water reservoir Schindler constructed a three-story home for the Droste family in 1940. It boasts a two-story picture window as well as features all the elements of classical modern design.
With the resurge of interest in Californian modernism all of the houses accomplish large sums on the real estate market. For example, the Kambara House listed for the first time in 2014 for $2.3 Million. Today the entire Silver Lake area is a highly sought after neighbourhood and continues to thrive. Residents thoroughly enjoy the views, hip cafes and dog parks.
• Hines, Thomas S.: Architecture of the Sun. Los Angeles Modernism 1900-1970, New York 2010
• Smith, Laura Massino: Architecture Tours L.A. Guidebook. Silver Lake, Atglen, PA 2007
• http://www.silverlake.org/about_silverlake/aboutsilverlake.htm (accessed last 16.03.2017)