Richard Neutra: The Perkins House
When I was a teenage student, I took a test called the Kuder Interest Inventory. I’m sure it was part of the counseling program for college-bound kids in South Pasadena, where I grew up. I scored in the 98th percentile for architecture, which wasn’t a surprise—then, or now. So, what was the next step? “Find opportunities to develop skills here and ask people what they like about their work,” the counselors told me.
I followed up right away. Fortunately, the architectural offices of Whitney R. Smith were right next to the Junior High School. I boldly called and asked for an appointment. To his credit, Whitney Smith kindly scheduled a time for me (and two like-minded friends) to come to his design studio and office complex. We toured the drafting rooms, saw architectural models, and learned about new building materials—all from one of the most respected architects in the region. The office still stands, a landmark of mid-century modern building design.
But an even greater opportunity awaited me. At South Pasadena High School, I was enrolled in drawing, painting and art history classes with a mentor, Jack Dalton. Once Mr. Dalton learned of my interest in architecture, he arranged for me to go to a small house designed for his colleague, the art historian and critic Constance Perkins. We drove to the San Rafael Hills, and ascended mid-way up Poppy Peak Drive to the Perkins House, designed by Richard Neutra.
I had never seen such a home, and still remember climbing the stairs and entering the small but perfectly composed rooms. Ms. Perkins explained that all of the cabinetry was built for her height and reach, and that Neutra had measured her library of books. These were new concepts for me. For anyone wanting to learn about modern architecture, that day was inspiring—especially to look out from the living area to the San Gabriel mountains, through the famous glass corner, over the fish pond.
I still drive up Poppy Peak, and stop to admire the simplicity and perfection of a small jewel of modern residential architecture. The impression of that day has never diminished, and I’ve toured other Neutra homes when they are open. I often drive by the Research House in the Silverlake area, as well as the other houses on Neutra Place nearby. It’s a constant reminder of the extraordinary legacy of residential design in Los Angeles.