An architecturally significant Los Angeles home owned by Cal Poly Pomona has been declared a National Historic Landmark — a designation that puts it in the company of sites such as Edgar Allen Poe’s home, Carnegie Hall, and the Apollo Mission Control Center.
The Neutra VDL Studio and Residences in Silver Lake were one of 24 new historic landmarks named by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Others added this year include the former home of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the Erie Canal.
Addition of the VDL house to the new list of national landmarks “puts us in extraordinary company with symbols of major historical events around the country,” says Michael Woo, dean of the College of Environmental Design, which oversees and maintains the property. “This decision in the closing days of the Obama Administration is a dramatic gesture that reinforces the fact that midcentury modern architecture is a vital part of America’s cultural legacy.”
The Neutra VDL Studio and Residences, known commonly as the VDL House, were designed in 1964 by Richard Neutra, an Austrian-American architect widely regarded as one of the most important Modernist architects. The VDL House is a prime example of midcentury modern architecture, a style that emphasized geometric designs and airy, open floor plans.
“It experimented with uses of nontraditional materials like metal and glass,” Woo says, “and took advantage of the unique climate of Southern California to make the connection between the inside and outside spaces.”
Woo says the landmark designation comes at a time when both the architectural community and the public at large are showing a renewed interest in midcentury modern design.
“It wasn’t so long ago that modern architecture was disrespected as being not old enough to be considered historical or worth saving,” Woo said, “but now there’s a growing audience for the midcentury style.”
The VDL House came to Cal Poly Pomona via Neutra’s work as a lecturer here in the late 1960s. In 1990, Neutra’s family, honoring his ties to the university, donated the home and studio to Cal Poly Pomona with the hope that it could be used to educate both students and the public about the importance of architecture.
Several years ago, the home became the focus of a major preservation effort led by VDL House Director Sarah Lorenzen, a professor in the Department of Architecture, and supporters of modern architecture such as Leo Marmol of the Marmol Radziner architecture firm. The renowned architectural photographer Julius Shulman, who started his career working for the Neutra firm, supported the fundraising drive by donating prints of one of his photographs of Richard Neutra on the roof of the VDL house.
Today, the VDL House is open to the public on Saturdays for tours, often led by Cal Poly Pomona students.
“It’s not only a chance for our students to learn about historic preservation and Neutra’s architecture, but how to educate others about it,” Woo says.
The university’s stewardship of the home has more recently resulted in it receiving another significant residence as a gift. The Schrage House, also a midcentury modern structure, has been gifted to Cal Poly Pomona by its owners, Steve and Marian Dodge. The home, designed in the 1950s by acclaimed architect Raphael Soriano, is only 10 minutes from the VDL House.
“We were originally inspired by a tour of the VDL House and hearing about the Neutra family’s gift,” Marian Dodge says, “We came to know the role the university played in preserving the VDL house, which led to our donation to Cal Poly Pomona.”