After having chronicled his native city for over a decade, Shulman signed on to shoot Case Study Houses, experimental residences commissioned by Arts & Architecture magazine in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, created by masters like Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig. These photographs helped make Shulman the most famous architectural photographer of his generation.The structures that Shulman captured have been fixed in the popular imagination as living museum pieces. But a few, detailed below, are open to visitors, who can experience the homes and landmarks by appointment. Visiting them not only allows a close-up view of the architecture, it also allows you to experience the spaces as Shulman photographed them. He was able to distill the character of a building’s surroundings, bringing the outside in and extending the inside out with his bold, wide angles, striking perspectives and diagonals that, as his gallerist Craig Krull once told me, “suck you in.Unlike the monuments of other cities, those of Los Angeles require you to work for them. Many are not even open to the public. Some that are, are off the beaten path. As a result, when you arrive at some of the city’s greatest architectural masterpieces — many of them that Shulman himself made famous — you’re often all alone, or touring with a few other people, communing with the building and reliving a photograph.
Case Study House 22
The most famous piece of architecture that Shulman captured is Case Study House 22, by Pierre Koenig, in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood. It is open for both day and night tours. Shulman’s shot of two women staring down at the lights of Los Angeles from this steel house jutting over the side of a cliff is arguably one of the most famous architectural photographs of all time.
The L-shaped home, built on a tiny lot that the owner, Buck Stahl, and his wife, Carlotta, shored up with discarded concrete, seems to perch over the city. It lives up to Shulman’s image, providing a 270-degree view of the area, from the Griffith Observatory in the Los Feliz neighborhood to the ocean beyond Santa Monica. And it’s almost completely clad in floor-to-ceiling glass — open on three sides in the living room, which juts off the side of a mountain (although not as far as Shulman’s pictures suggest). Being inside makes you feel as if you’re floating, or even flying over the city. The house also provides visitors the chance to recreate Shulman’s famous shot, taken outside the glassy living space from the pool, which everyone does, and automatically makes it their new Facebook highlight." (Information on viewings, freewebtv.org )
The site of the Eames House , one of the most famous houses in Los Angeles, has been open to visitors since 2005. Charles and Ray Eames were perhaps best known for their eponymous chair and other furniture, but in the architectural world, their house, otherwise known as Case Study House 8, is singular. Visiting the home, just off a bluff overlooking the ocean in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, feels like making a pilgrimage.
The public tour allows you to walk around the house, which is bisected by a small courtyard. From there you can take in the house’s design, an inexpensive one that used prefabricated materials ordered from catalogs. The Eameses took advantage of their skill in graphic and industrial design to create a simple composition of exposed steel frames and colorful steel panels.What’s striking is not just the architecture but the otherworldly peacefulness of the site, with its dappled light, sloping hillside, cool ocean breezes and acacia, eucalyptus and pepper trees. I suggest taking a second to sit on the wooden swing, hanging from one of the trees’ branches. The living room had been left exactly as it was when the Eameses lived there. But you won’t see it there until this summer. It has been moved to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until June 3 for its exhibition, California Design , 1930-1965: “ Living in a Modern Way .”Still, from outside the home, you can peer in to see its lofted spaces. (Information on exterior and interior tours: freewebtv.org )
Shulman’s love of the new was not limited to rare buildings created by elite architects and enjoyed by the rich. He also photographed the rest of the city, from the streets of downtown to great department stores to factories and tract houses on the outskirts. It doesn’t get much farther from the beaten path than Watts, which is still not the safest of neighborhoods. But if you’re willing to explore, you’ll be in for one of the greatest architectural surprises of your life.
The Watts Towers , another subject of Shulman’s created by Simon, a k a Sam, Rodia, an immigrant laborer from Italy who didn’t think like everybody else. Day by day, from 1925 to 1955, Rodia worked on the towers outside of his house, adding glass , bottles , broken plates , tiles and seashells to his complex of intertwined and jumblede stel structures that rose as high as 100 feet.
The structures’ frames were made of chicken wire , coat hangers , barbed wire and rebar . His tools were rudimentary, and he used no bolts or nails. Inside the gates of this mesmerizing twist of steel, ceramics and color, it feels like a cross between a drip castle, an oil derrick and the Sagrada Familia. Quite an accomplishment for a lay architect who didn’t have the imprimatur of a magazine. (Schedule and other information on: freewebtv.org )
Shulman is famous for capturing the work of Frank Lloyd Wright’s protégés Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler. But he also shot the work of the master himself, including several of his homes in Los Angeles. Wright’s Hollyhock House , in the East Hollywood neighborhood, is open to visitors. Located atop Barnsdall Park, the Mayan-inspired residence was constructed for the eccentric oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, whose favorite flower, the Hollyhock, appears in abstracted form throughout.
As you enter through a cramped hallway, you wonder what all the fuss is about. But proceed farther and the ceiling explodes upward and you enter the home’s highlight: its breathtaking living room. Centered on a huge stone fireplace, etched with a geometric frieze and fronted by what was once a moat, the room is filled with ornate woodwork , sleek Wright-designed furniture , striking stained-glass windows and wonderful views of the park and the city.
The house is planned around a central courtyard embedded with an amphitheater, and light-dappled rooms open to the park. I recommend checking out the collection of vintage architectural magazines in the study. (Information on freewebtv.org )