Richard Neutra: Lovell Health House, 1927-29, 4616 Dundee Lane, Los Angeles, CA

Driving up the Hollywood Hills for quite some time before finally arriving at our destination made me understand why it was so difficult to plan and build houses in this area. Personally, when reading about ‘difficult subsoil’ and ‘steep slopes’, I was not able to conceive the real size of this architectural problem. Naturally, the on site experience made me appreciate the innovative techniques even more than before and left me excited to finally see Neutra’s Lovell Health House, due to its pioneering construction technique.

Accessibility of the house through the top floor.

It was known prior to the trip: there was no public viewing available for this house and thereby limiting the real life experience to an observation from street level, as the property was private and trespassing was permitted. Consequently, the top floor was most of what was to be seen. Even though knowing about the house being build downwards from the street level because of the difficult subsoil, the visual experience alternated quite drastically from what was shown on Shulman’s photographs. Most of the images were taken looking up to the building and thereby presenting and emphasising its monumentality. From street level however, it appeared much less imposing. Additionally, this experience leaves one to reflect about the accuracy of images in books. As I do not recall one that actually showed the view from the street level, highlighting the fact, that the so-called ‚bel étage‘ was in exception to the norm found to be downstairs.

Outside view of the famous staircase.

Sadly, as our view was limited to the exterior, we were only able to catch a glimpse from the outside at the famous staircase with its out of context Ford headlights. And there is no way for me to comment on any of its interior, except for the fact of its subsequently added wheelchair-accessibility.

The closest we could get to Shulman’s images.

It furthermore seemed to be not taken care of at all, as the plaster was coming off and generally was in a very poor condition. All this leads me to the conclusion, the Lovell Health House is in the hands of a person who either is not capable of restoring the building or – even worse – does not see its historical and artistic substance.

Retrospectively the visit to Neutra’s famous house for the Lovell family turned out to be quite disappointing, as it could not hold up to the expectations made prior to the visit. Nevertheless is it an exceptional piece of architecture and definitely worth a short visit. Besides the building itself you’ll be rewarded with an exeptional view  of the Hollywood Hills and the Griffith Observatory. If you keep your expectations low, you’re not going to be disappointed, even though what you’ve seen on Shulmans images is nothing close to what you’re actually going to encounter.

M. E. N.

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