Los Angeles Times

Son of famed 20th cen­tury ar­chi­tect

DION NEUTRA, 1926 - 2019 A prac­ti­tioner him­self, he be­came known as an ag­gres­sive stew­ard of his fa­ther’s legacy.

- BY MARK ROZZO

Dion Neutra, the son of the 20th cen­tury ar­chi­tect Richard Neutra and a prac­ti­tioner in his own right who also waged a decades­long war to save his fa­ther’s iconic build­ings from the rav­ages of time, re­mod­el­ing and de­mo­li­tion, has died at his home on Neutra Place in Sil­ver Lake, a neigh­bor­hood stud­ded with Neutra ar­chi­tec­ture.

Neutra died Sun­day in his sleep, said his brother, Ray­mond Neutra. He was 93.

As the scion of an ar­chi­tec­ture prac­tice syn­ony­mous with In­ter­na­tional Style modernism, Neutra was a link to the gen­er­a­tion of 20th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­tural ti­tans who in­cluded his fa­ther, Mies van der Rohe, Le Cor­bus­ier, Mar­cel Breuer, Wal­ter Gropius, Eero Saari­nen, Al­var Aalto, Louis Kahn and Ru­dolph Schindler.

Richard Neutra, a Vi­en­nese émi­gré who came to the United States in 1923 to work with Frank Lloyd Wright, ar

rived in Los An­ge­les in 1925, the year be­fore his son was born, and be­gan build­ing.

The fa­ther and son, in­di­vid­u­ally and in col­lab­o­ra­tion, ex­e­cuted hun­dreds of houses and civic projects. Many of them re­ceived lau­rels from the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects, were des­ig­nated as land­marks, and made al­lur­ing mo­tion­pic­ture cameos — as Richard Neutra’s 1929 Lovell Health House (the first steel-frame dwelling in the United States) did in the 1997 movie “Hol­ly­wood Con­fi­den­tial.”

Be­tween them, Richard and Dion Neutra ex­erted their in­flu­ence upon the built en­vi­ron­ment and vis­ual aes­thet­ics of Los An­ge­les for nearly a cen­tury.

The lithe and airy struc­tures were ex­e­cuted in a pal­ette of no-non­sense glass, steel, con­crete and wood — gleam­ing and seem­ingly ma­chine-made. At once el­e­gant and breezy, and ar­tic­u­lat­ing South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans’ de­sire for an in­doorout­door life­style, Neutra ar­chi­tec­ture achieved global renown as a sym­bol of Los An­ge­les, much like the mu­sic of Brian Wil­son, the art of Ed Ruscha and the nov­els of Ray­mond Chan­dler.

Dion Neutra con­tin­ued the prac­tice after his fa­ther’s death, com­plet­ing build­ings of his own, such as the Hunt­ing­ton Beach Cen­tral Li­brary and Cul­tural Cen­ter, de­clared “mag­nif­i­cent” by The Times when it opened in 1975. With its sooth­ing, earth-toned in­te­ri­ors, co­pi­ous plant­ings and wa­ter fea­tures, the fa­cil­ity has the feel­ing of a fu­tur­is­tic pav­il­ion sprout­ing from a botan­i­cal gar­den. It re­mains a vi­brant fo­cal point of the com­mu­nity and, de­spite some al­ter­ations over time, is ar­guably the younger Neutra’s most sig­nif­i­cant project.

But the ar­chi­tect was per­haps best known for his work as an ag­gres­sive and some­times prickly stew­ard of the Neutra legacy. He cam­paigned vig­or­ously for the preser­va­tion of modernist build­ings, in­clud­ing his fa­ther’s Cy­clo­rama Cen­ter at Get­tys­burg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park, a 1962 vis­i­tor fa­cil­ity that the Na­tional Park Ser­vice ear­marked for de­mo­li­tion in the 1990s.

That bat­tle dragged on for more than a decade and gen­er­ated na­tional head­lines as ar­chi­tec­tural his­to­ri­ans, ar­chi­tects, and fans of modernism fought Civil War his­to­ri­ans, reen­ac­tors and the Na­tional Park Ser­vice to a stand­still. Neutra helped col­lect thousands of let­ters in de­fense of the struc­ture, in­clud­ing one from Frank Gehry, who wrote that Neutra’s build­ing “re­flects the high­est ideals of his own time, and de­serves the high­est ap­pre­ci­a­tion of ours.” The stale­mate was bro­ken in 2013, when the Cy­clo­rama Cen­ter — once deemed el­i­gi­ble for the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places and listed as “en­dan­gered” by the World Mon­u­ments Fund — was de­mol­ished.

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s over­heated real es­tate mar­ket, Neutra houses can carry out­size price tags, ev­i­dence of their sig­nif­i­cance and de­sir­abil­ity. Even so, an alarm­ing num­ber of them have been bought as tear-downs. “There should be a na­tional will to save th­ese build­ings,” Neutra told The Times in 2004. “It shouldn’t have to be a one-man crusade.”

Dion Neutra was born in Los An­ge­les on Oct. 8, 1926. “My dad started me draw­ing when I was 11,” Neutra re­called in 2001. By 1944, Dion Neutra, then a 17-year-old high school ju­nior, was iden­ti­fied by the Mag­a­zine of Ar­chi­tec­ture as a col­lab­o­ra­tor with his fa­mous fa­ther.

After ser­vice in the U.S. Navy dur­ing World War II, Neutra pur­sued his ar­chi­tec­ture stud­ies at USC, grad­u­at­ing in 1950. Neutra then went to work in his fa­ther’s firm. Ac­co­lades came quickly: an Honor Award from the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects in 1954, fol­lowed by an AIA Merit Award the fol­low­ing year.

Fa­ther and son worked to­gether through the 1950s amid patches of tur­bu­lence.

In 1961, Dion Neutra de­scribed “frus­tra­tion, re­sent­ment and dis­tor­tion” in the re­la­tion­ship. After a brief split, they were again joined in prac­tice from 1965 un­til Richard Neutra’s death in 1970. “Ar­tis­ti­cally,” his mother said, “they got along very well.”

Some of the tac­tics the younger Neutra em­ployed in the name of preser­va­tion verged on guer­rilla the­ater. In the sum­mer of 2004, he turned up at the Cy­clo­rama Cen­ter in Get­tys­burg with a length of heavy chain, demon­strat­ing how he would at­tach him­self to the build­ing if and when a de­mo­li­tion squad ar­rived. “I’ll con­front the bull­doz­ers and say, ‘Take me with the build­ing, gen­tle­men,’ ” he pro­claimed, as bat­tle­field tourists and broad­cast news teams gath­ered to watch.

After the Cy­clo­rama Cen­ter was de­mol­ished, the ground where it had stood for 51 years was groomed in em­u­la­tion of the bat­tle­field ter­rain of 1863. The ag­ing

Neutra did not, in the end, chain him­self to the build­ing.

The loss was also per­sonal. “They be­come part of who you are,” he said of the build­ings he and his fa­ther cre­ated. “So to take one of those down is like cut­ting off part of my arm.”

In the early 2000s, after Neutra ar­chi­tec­ture, and all things mid­cen­tury mod­ern, had swung back into vogue, Neutra al­lowed the li­cens­ing of a lim­ited num­ber of Neutra de­signs — a type­face, fur­ni­ture, house num­bers — to House In­dus­tries.

Ask­ing prices for Neutra homes were on the rise. Neutra found that they had now be­come fetish ob­jects. He also dis­cov­ered that the avowed Neutra fans who bought them of­ten had lit­tle in­ter­est in col­lab­o­rat­ing with him on restora­tions, in­ter­pret­ing his over­tures as med­dle­some or his in­ten­tions as wor­ry­ingly purist. “We keep get­ting peo­ple hav­ing their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of ‘what Neutra would have wanted,’ ” he bris­tled, “when Neutra is around to be asked.”

Neutra main­tained a studio in his Sil­ver Lake home, the Re­union House, de­signed by his fa­ther in 1950. From there, he served as ex­ec­u­tive con­sul­tant and project di­rec­tor of the Neutra In­sti­tute for Sur­vival Through De­sign, a non­profit es­tab­lished in 1962 to ad­vance modernist and eco­log­i­cal prin­ci­ples, and wrote sev­eral books, in­clud­ing a self-pub­lished memoir in 2017. The nearby Neutra Of­fice Build­ing, at 2379 Glen­dale Blvd., was added to the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places in 2004.

Neutra’s fi­nal project was a house in Hon­duras for the younger of his two sons, Nick Neutra, com­pleted in 2018 and the sub­ject of a 2017 doc­u­men­tary short, “Neutra in Roatan.” In ad­di­tion to his sons and brother, he is sur­vived by his wife, Lynn Smart Neutra; two grand­chil­dren; one great-grand­child; and two stepchil­dren from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage.

Pre­serv­ing ar­chi­tec­ture as he did, Neutra ad­mit­ted, in­volved risks of its own. “My wife gives me hell be­cause I’ve kept the orig­i­nal 1950s Case toi­let that doesn’t f lush right,” the ar­chi­tect said of his own house. “‘Lis­ten,’ I tell her. ‘This is the toi­let that Richard Neutra sat on — I’m not get­ting rid of it.’ ”

 ?? David Bohrer Los An­ge­les Times ?? LITHE AND AIRY STRUC­TURES Dion Neutra and his fa­ther, Richard, ex­erted their inf lu­ence upon the built en­vi­ron­ment and vis­ual aes­thet­ics of Los An­ge­les for nearly a cen­tury.
David Bohrer Los An­ge­les Times LITHE AND AIRY STRUC­TURES Dion Neutra and his fa­ther, Richard, ex­erted their inf lu­ence upon the built en­vi­ron­ment and vis­ual aes­thet­ics of Los An­ge­les for nearly a cen­tury.
 ?? Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times ?? GLOB­ALLY RENOWNED Neutra, shown near his Sil­ver Lake home, cam­paigned vig­or­ously for the preser­va­tion of modernist build­ings, in­clud­ing his fa­ther’s Cy­clo­rama Cen­ter at Get­tys­burg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park. It ul­ti­mately was razed.
Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times GLOB­ALLY RENOWNED Neutra, shown near his Sil­ver Lake home, cam­paigned vig­or­ously for the preser­va­tion of modernist build­ings, in­clud­ing his fa­ther’s Cy­clo­rama Cen­ter at Get­tys­burg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park. It ul­ti­mately was razed.

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