Preserving Neutra in Orange County

Mid-century modern Architect Richard Neutra’s work spans the world with many of his building situated in Los Angeles. The design legend also left his mark in Orange County. Although some of his original buildings have since been irrevocably altered or even torn down, often in favor of more contemporary designs, plenty remain intact after all these years. Fortunately, a strong preservation movement is gaining steam, fueled by a revival in MCM design as well as the combined efforts of influential design enthusiasts and experts.

Those Behind the Movement

American architect, author and lecturer Alan Hess is a self-proclaimed activist for the preservation of 20th century architecture. He doesn’t discriminate between eras, however his name seems to pop up most for mid-century modern conservation efforts. Hess has been actively advocating for as well as photographing and documenting historical buildings throughout Orange County, with a particular focus on Irvine, California. He is highly respected for having qualified a number of buildings for the National Register of Historic Places.

Neutra historian and author Barbara Lamprecht has been involved in many attempts to preserve Neutra buildings throughout the area. Lamprecht has participated in various petitions for and lectured on protecting modern architecture. Her profession and expertise makes her a go-to source for support in conservation efforts. Of recent she has been most notably involved in a campaign to protect the remaining Neutra buildings at Orange Coast College.

Architect and architectural preservationist John Linnert has been involved in many historical building conservation efforts in Orange County. In particular, Linnert is well-known for his efforts to protect the Mariners Medical Arts complex in Newport Beach, which was designed by Richard Neutra and constructed in 1963. He has helped spread awareness for Neutra’s work and its value for Orange County’s cultural background. Linnert even reached out to the council member representing the district of the site at the time, who had never heard of Neutra’s architecture firm.

Orange County native and architectural historian Daniel Paul has been particularly active in preserving Robert Schuller’s Garden Grove Community “Drive-in” Church, one of Neutra’s most famous projects in Orange County. As a part of his profession, Paul creates cultural resources and technical documents regarding important buildings. He promotes public awareness for culturally valuable constructions, particularly in the Southern California area, through his involvement in the architectural preservation community.

Last but certainly not least is acclaimed architect Dion Neutra of Richard and Dion Neutra Architecture, son of architect Richard Neutra. Neutra continues his father’s legacy and with his own, beautiful designs. He is also very involved in preserving buildings designed by his firm. He has on numerous occasions reached out to as many people in his network he could in order to help find an interested party to protect Neutra constructions. He is also actively involved in panels and lectures on architecture and preservation efforts.

Neutra Buildings – Preserved and Lost

Throughout the years many Neutra constructions in Orange County have been saved while some have been lost. Here is a list of some prominent Neutra sites in the area and their status:

  • Mariners Medical Arts, Newport Beach: Completed in 1963. Escaped demolition but is in limbo and deteriorating while waiting for a new owner and patron to preserve it appropriately.

  • Central Justice Center, Santa Ana: Completed in 1969. Has been stripped of much of its originality due to modifications and additions.

  • Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa: Completed in 1958, originally with 20 individual buildings. Some have been demolished with the rest threatened due to new plans to expand the capacity of the campus.

  • Garden Grove Drive-In Church: Completed in 1961. Preservation efforts have restored original features and maintained the building.

  • Huntington Beach Central Library – Completed in 1975. A Dion Neutra project. Various modifications and a large add-on in front have distorted the original design but much of the library’s MCM features are still intact.

New awareness for mid-century modern designs and the efforts of the aforementioned individuals and surrounding community offer great hope in preserving Orange County’s Neutra structures. However, there is much more to do to succeed in preserving these historically significant sites.

For more information and to get involved in the preservation of Orange County’s Neutra buildings and other historical sites, visit The American Institute of Architects Orange County chapter website.

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