Thursday, July 03, 2008

Richard Neutra building in Newport threatened

I was going to post some sort of upbeat 4th of July-type post tonight, but this late breaking news from my friends at the Recent Past Preservation Network needs immediate attention:
"Mariners Medical Arts, designed in 1963 by world-renowned modernist architect Richard Neutra, is threatened with demolition to make way for a new medical office complex. Located at 1901 Westcliff Dr. in Newport Beach, Mariners Medical Arts consists of three structures connected by serene gardens and covered walkways. Lush plantings and shallow reflecting pools complement classic Neutra design elements, including vertical metal sun louvers and "spider legs" made of steel I-beams.
"In 2002, the Orange County chapter of the American Institute of Architects recognized Mariners Medical Arts with a 25 Year Award of Excellence. The current owner of the property is proposing to construct a new, larger medical complex on the site by systematically demolishing the existing structures and replacing them with parking lots.
"Local architect John Linnert is concerned about the potential demolition of Mariners Medical Arts, and fears that Newport Beach is on the verge of losing one of its most significant architectural landmarks. 'It just makes you feel great walking amongst the buildings that were created, composed, and articulated by such an architectural master,' says Linnert.
"Dion Neutra, son and partner of Richard Neutra, says he 'considers this the best example of this kind of project the practice did during its heyday. It would be a tragedy if this example were lost. Instead, it should be rehabilitated and brought back to its earlier glory replete with the water features...'
"Interested members of the public are encouraged to attend the next scheduled Arts Commission meeting for the City of Newport Beach and speak on behalf of preserving this important Neutra building. Each member of the public will have three minutes to comment on non-agenda items of public interest. The Arts Commission advises the Newport Beach City Council on all matters pertaining to historical and cultural aspects of the community and participates in the designation of historical landmarks.
Next meeting: July 10, 2008, at 5:00 p.m.
Location: Newport Beach Central Library, 1000 Avocado Ave., Conference Room
Letters of support can be mailed to: Newport Beach City Arts Commission, City of Newport Beach, 3300 Newport Blvd, Newport Beach, CA 92663
"...The complex appears to eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, as the property has achieved significance with the past 50 years and represents the work of a master. Mid-twentieth century architectural resources are threatened nationwide, and Mariners Medical Arts is a particularly well-preserved and intact example of Richard Neutra's classic modernist expression. Demolition of the complex will result in the loss of an essential component of Newport Beach's history and built environment.
"Any organization interested in knowing more about the preservation campaign to save Mariners Medical Arts from demolition is encouraged to contact [Devin Colman at] the Recent Past Preservation Network. "
Everything they say is true, folks. This is one of O.C.'s best-hidden architectural jewels. As a child, my pediatrician's office was in this complex, and it's one of the key places that inspired my love of Mid-Century Modern. Any other suggestions on how to save Mariners Medical Arts?


walterworld said...

I sure hope this place can be saved. Sounds like you have quite a personal connection having gone there as a child.

Is it rundown right now? Have the water features disappeared?

I'll be sure to make a run over there next time I'm in the area.

Thanks for the alert!

Chris Jepsen said...

The last time I stopped by to take photos (a couple years ago), it was still basically in good condition. The water features haven't been turned on for decades, but it is still quite attractive.

Anonymous said...

Use this link to find a three minute webcast on Neutra's VDL house in Silverlake. (Yeah...I know, it's not Orange County.)

Chris Jepsen said...

Thanks, Steph.

Actually there are at least two other Neutra buildings still standing in O.C.: The old drive-in church (next to the Crystal Cathedral) in Garden Grove, and the O.C. Central Justice Center (Courthouse) at 700 Civic Center Dr in Santa Ana. We're lucky to have them still. Unfortunately, thanks to poor maintenance and various changes over the years, the Courthouse isn't very impressive anymore. But go wander around the Drive-In Church if you get a chance.

Anonymous said...

Another Neutra-family building in OC is the HB Central Library, which was designed by the family firm shortly after the patriarch's death. It really does still work very well, both in form and function.....

Chris Jepsen said...

True. If you add Dion Neutra's work into the mix, we can add more buildings to the list, including the Huntington Beach Central Library and the Prayer Tower (which is also next to the Crystal Cathedral.)

Tris Mast said...

The name Neutra and Orange County are synonomous to me. When I was in grade school I, too, saw a pediatrician in Neutra’s Mariners building and, with my 6th grade class, I was one of the first to visit Dion Neutra’s Huntington Beach Library. When my wife and I were dating, we both were taking classes at Orange Coast College, which features Neutra buildings, we got our marriage license at Neutra’s Santa Ana Courthouse, we were married in Neutra’s Tower of Hope in Garden Grove, and we immediately moved into the Westcliff Apartments in Newport Beach, directly across the street from the elegant Mariners Medical offices. Aside from choosing the wedding chapel, all of this was just dumb luck. I will put in my two-cents-worth to save any Neutra building. They are all masterful works of art that make most recent buildings look heavy-handed and childlike. Thanks for sounding the alarm!

Chris Jepsen said...

So will I see you at Thursday night's meeting?

I agree with you about Neutra going hand-in-hand with Orange County.

In addition to having a doctor in the Mariners complex, I also attended Orange Coast College. The best section of the campus, as far as I was concerned, was the old Art Center (by Richard Neutra), which they recently tore out and replaced with a building that looks and feels like a prison block.

And Dion Neutra's Huntington Beach Central Library (now heavily altered) has always been my local library.

Also, an elementary school I attended was (in retrospect) clearly a Neutra knock-off, with walls that rolled back to expose the whole classroom to the outdoors.

Neutra is - in most cases - a practical and comfortable blending of European Modernism with the needs arising from the Southern California lifestyle and climate.

Today's architects have learned a lot from the Neutras, (and especially from Richard Neutra,) but we'd all be better off if they'd learned much, much more.

BTW, I extended this offer on my post, so I'll do it here too,... If you'd like to join me for dinner after the Newport meeting, give me a call at work: 714-834-2434.

Sweetp said...

Last summer I spent my vacation on a retreat with Dion Neutra. He is a nice man and we talked about architecture because I work in the business. He told me about his father and his buildings. I didn't realize how famous his father was until I googled him. I couldn't believe it! I will help and ask others!

Anonymous said...

I am a little confused and concerned about "association" between the RPPN and the Dion Neutra (and of course his "renowned" architectural firm). From a basic research and inquiries, it appears that the RPPN is a mouthpiece for the Dion Neutra and his continued desire to put anything with his father's (Richard Neutra) stamp onto a pedestal, to rival that of Wright. In fact, it appears that both the RPPN and Dion push any Neutra-designed building that is being “threatened” of being demolished and replaced as "the best example of this kind of project the practice did during its heyday. It would be a tragedy if this example were lost." Find some new words and ways to say it; and perhaps if the Neutra firm would focus more on architectural design vice trying to continually live off of the founder's past glory, they may have a better chance of "re-inventing" themselves and being as good as the Richard Neutra...
who knows....
However, please at least try to improve upon the leaky roof design that is problematic in Neutra building – not every place is sunny Cali…….