George Kraigher House by Architect, Richard Neutra - In Depth

Recent image from unknown internet source

On 24 May 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the George Kraigher House on Paredes Line Road as one of America’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places for 2004. Reflecting increased awareness of the historical value of modern architecture, the then sixty-seven-year-old Kraigher House, the first International Style house built in Texas, was one of two modern buildings on the Trust’s most endangered list in 2004.

The Kraigher House was built in 1937 to the designs of Richard J. Neutra (1892-1970), an Austrian-born and–trained architect who immigrated to the United States in 1923. Settling in Los Angeles in 1925, Neutra attained international recognition as one of the foremost advocates of the Modern Movement in twentieth-century architecture with his first important building in the US, the Lovell “Health House” in Los Angeles of 1927-29. Despite the onset of the Great Depression, Neutra produced a series of inventive modern buildings in California, mostly small houses, that were extensively publicized in the international architectural press. According to Neutra’s biographer, Thomas S. Hines, it was during a business trip to Los Angeles in 1936 that George Kraigher, a Pan American Airways pilot, saw one of Neutra’s houses and commissioned the architect to design a country house for him in Brownsville, where Pan American Airways had established its Western Division offices in 1932.

George Kraigher (1891-1984), like Richard Neutra, had been born in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Kraigher was from Slovenia. He was trained as a pilot in the Austro-Hungarian military but in 1915 defected to Italy and, for the rest of World War I, flew for the Serbian air corps. Kraigher immigrated to the US in 1921. Before joining Pan American Airways in 1929, he performed aerial survey and mapping work. During the 1930s, Pan American Airways routed all its overland flights between the US and Latin America through Brownsville. Kraigher was a senior pilot for Pan Am. In 1937, he set what was then a speed record for commercial flights in a journey that began in Brownsville and, over the course of six days, extended as far south as Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, before ending in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Kraigher was gregarious and convivial. An accomplished horseman as well as a pilot, he entertained in Brownsville, often arranging for friends to fly in from other Texas and Mexican cities served by Pan Am. Among Kraigher’s colleagues was the pilot Lars H. Kristofferson, whose son, the actor Kris Kristofferson, was born in Brownsville in 1936. When the US entered World War II, Kraigher left Brownsville. During the war, working first for Pan Am, then as a US military officer (eventually attaining the rank of colonel) under the Office of Special Services, Kraigher used his flying skills and geographic knowledge in support of critical military missions. He charted air routes across Africa serving supply lines from the US to the Middle East and India in the early 1940s. In the latter part of the war, he was active in the Balkans organizing and carrying out aerial rescues of downed Allied aviators. Kraigher did not return to Brownsville after the war and sold the house in 1946. He organized air services for Aramco in Saudi Arabia and in the 1950s built a second house designed by Richard Neutra in Litchfield, Connecticut, where he lived until his death in 1984.

Neutra’s design complemented George Kraigher’s sense of adventure. The compact house is two stories high. Flat roofs, horizontal bands of steel sash casement windows, a second-floor roof terrace with metal pipe railing, and planar walls finished with white stucco are identifying modernist characteristics. Neutra offset interior spaces in plan so that all rooms have access to the prevailing southeast breeze. A spacious, L-planned room on the first floor combines living and dining uses. There is a bedroom with separate bathroom and dressing room on the first floor and a bedroom, bath, dressing room, and den on the second floor in addition to the roof terrace. A two-car garage projects off the northwest corner of the house. The house retains its original cabinetry and fixtures. Neutra’s hand is especially visible in the deftly proportioned exterior wall planes, which are sculpturally juxtaposed with overhanging roof fascias to give the small house its dramatic presence. The house is surrounded by vegetation typical of the Lower Río Grande border, the only semi-tropical area in Texas: tall Washingtonia palm trees and low, thorny ebony and mesquite trees. Adjoining the flat site is a resaca, a lagoon-like ox-bow lake. The house was built by the Brownsville contractor A. W. Neck for a contract price of $5,000. The Brownsville architect Frank L. Godwin supervised construction. Neutra did not see the house until a chance visit to Brownsville in 1951. The Kraigher House was published in the May 1939 issue of Architectural Record as “Open-Planned, Window-Walled House in Southwest.” It is also illustrated and discussed in Hines’s book Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture: A Biography and History of 1982.

The Kraigher House was the first house and (following the Magnolia Lounge at the Texas Centennial Exposition of 1936 in Dallas, designed by the New York architect William Lescaze) the second building in Texas built in the International Style of modern architecture. Neutra was the modernist master who had the greatest impact on Texas in the 1930s and 1940s. One of the first modern architects to practice in Texas, Charles Granger of Austin, worked in Neutra’s Los Angeles office in the 1930s. The Kraigher House forecast the role modern architecture would play in re-shaping the Lower Río Grande Valley during the 1950s, when, for the only time in the region’s history, buildings designed by local architects were published in the national architectural press.

The Kraigher House was owned from the 1961 until 1999 by the Brownsville real estate broker and developer Bud Franke and his wife. After the early 1970s, the Franke family ceased living in the house and rented it. By the early 1980s the house began to show signs of lack of maintenance. By 1992 it was windowless and inhabited by tenants who lived there rent-free in order to keep the house from being occupied by vagrants. Efforts by Preservation Brownsville and its founding president, Ambrosio Villarreal, Jr., led to acquisition of the house and two acres of its six-acre site by the City of Brownsville in 1999. The city enclosed the house and fenced it off but never began rehabilitation. In February 2004, Preservation Brownsville and Villarreal were successful in having the house listed by Preservation Texas as one of the most endangered historic sites in the state. Villarreal and Preservation Brownsville were also responsible for nominating the Kraigher House to the National Trust’s most endangered list. Listing prompted the City of Brownsville to negotiate a ninety-nine year lease agreement with the University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College. In January 2006 the university took possession of the two-acre site and began restoration of the Kraigher House. Dr. Juliet V. García, president of the university, and Dr. José G. Martín, provost, were instrumental in securing the university’s support of this effort.

The restoration of the severely deteriorated house was carried out by Lawrence V. Lof, assistant professor of biology and director of the Gorgas Science Foundation, who is also the university’s rehabilitation projects manager. After overseeing restoration of the Alonzo Building complex, a late nineteenth-century corner store; and another such complex, the Cueto Building, both examples of the border brick style of the lower Río Grande; as well as the J. J. Young House, an imposing Colonial Revival house built in 1910—all for use by various agencies of the university—Lof embarked on the restoration of the Kraigher House with students enrolled in Texas Southmost College’s Historic Rehabilitation Practicum. Restoration work was carried out between early 2006 and 2008.
Article courtesy of Lower Río Grande Valley Chapter, American Institute of Architects
September 2009

George Kraigher House by Architect, Richard Neutra in Brownsville, Texas

Name: George Kraigher House
Architect: Richard Neutra,
with Frank L. Godwin, associate architect
Year Designed: circa 1936
Builder: A. W. Neck
Year Completed: 1937
Size: Unknown
Location: 525 Paredes Line Road, Brownsville Texas
Type: Residential
Style: International Style Modernism
Status: Excellent
Photographed by: Robert McLaughlin

I traveled with my extended family to South Padre Island, Texas between Christmas and New Years Day. While there, we made a side trip to Brownsville, Texas and Matamoris, Mexico, sister cities on either side of the Rio Grande river. At my request we made one stop of architectural interest on this rainy day at a home designed for George Kraigher by California Modern Architect, Richard Neutra. Kraigher was a Pan Am pilot stationed in Brownsville, which in those days was a hub to South America from the US. I jumped out and quickly shot off some photos from the hip while thirteen impatient family members waited in a van. I wish the photos were better, but I had to work with haste and the poor weather conditions of the day. Later, I had to seriously debate whether to give up one of the few sunny days at the beach to make a return trip, but my family vetoed the thought.

This house is special in that it represents a significant success story for the preservation of Modern architecture. In 2004 this house was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of the "Eleven Most Endangered Places." The house sat windowless and unoccupied while termites were destroying what remained. Fortunately a few people with some idea that a modern home could be historically significant intervened and convinced the city of Brownsville to purchase the home in 1999. The property was fenced, but no work was done to stabilize the structure. The placement of the house on the 2004 list convinced the city to commit to a 99 year lease to the University of Texas Brownsville/Texas Southmost College. The home was restored by the University from 2006 to 2008. I post these photos as a testament to the good work done by the people of Brownsville.

To see larger versions of these photos go to my flickr site.

Kaufmann Residence as Photographed by the Late Julius Shulman - Modern Photo of the Week

Name: Kaufmann Residence
Architect: Richard Neutra
Year Designed: Circa 1945-46
Builder: Unknown
Year Completed: 1946 (photographed in 1947)
Size: 3162 square feet (5 bedroom 6 baths)
Location: Palm Springs California
Type: Residential
Style: Modern
Status: Excellent
Photographer: Julius Shulman

I thought that I would include this special photo of the week as a tribute to our friend Julius Shulman who died at the age of 98 last week. I would call this his second most famous architectural photo. The most famous photo being the Case Study House #22 Photo. There has been an outpouring of media honoring this talented man in the week since his death. Here is a small sampling.

KCRW Radio Segment
NPR- All Things Considered Radio Segment
NPR- Slide Show
New York Times Article
LA Times Article
LA Times Video

Modern House Tour - Eames-Saarinen Case Study House #9 For Sale

My view of the north elevation or garage face of Case Study House #9 from Chautauqua Lane

My oblique view of the west elevation and side entrance to Case Study House #9 off of Chautauqua Lane

My view over the hedge from Case Study House #8 to the south elevation of Case Study House #9

Recently I wrote about the sale of Eero Saarinen's Miller House and the fact that a Saarinen designed house was about as rare as it gets. Well it appears that the Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames designed Case Study House #9 is for sale in LA. The only caveat with this, you must buy the 9700 square foot, relatively new modern house adjacent to it. It seems that the owners of the Barry Berkus designed house have been using the Entenza House as a guest house or maids quarters, depending on who you talk to. The whole thing will only cost you a cool $14 million!

The home was designed by Saarinen and Eames for the publisher of Arts & Architecture Magazine, John Entenza. Entenza had this house designed and built for himself and documented the process in a series of articles in his magazine about the Case Study Houses.

With this house, you will be in some enviable company on Chautauqua Boulevard in the Pacific Palisades of California. The home of Charles and Ray Eames, Case Study House #8 is next door. Case Study House #18, the West Residence by Rodney A. Walker is next door the other way and Architect, Richard Neutra's Bailey House, also known as Case Study House #20 is across the lane.

For the professional Photo Tour of the Entenza house and the attached new house click here.

To see the listing for the house click here.

The Best Houses of All Time in L.A.

It seems customary these days for newspapers and blogs to present all of their top ten lists at the end of the calendar year. Here is one list that I could not help but post here.

The Best Houses of All Time in L.A.
According to the Los Angeles Times panel of experts
Click here for the LA Times Article

What intrigued me most was that all of the houses were Modern or near Modern (ala Gamble House). I also could not help but notice that most of these houses were on my list of must sees when I have been in LA. So I have included one of my photographs of each of the houses that I have visited along with the list.

1: Kings Road House, Rudolph Schindler, West Hollywood, 1921-22

2. Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra, Palm Springs, 1946

3. Ennis House, Frank Lloyd Wright, Los Feliz, 1924

4. Eames House (Case Study House No. 8), Charles and Ray Eames, Pacific Palisades, 1949

5. Stahl House (Case Study House No. 22), Pierre Koenig, Hollywood Hills, 1960
I have not been here yet, but will definitely see this on my next trip to LA. More on that later.

6. Gamble House, Charles and Henry Greene, Pasadena, 1908
I love the work of Greene & Greene, but I have not made it to Pasadena yet.

7. Chemosphere, John Lautner, Hollywood Hills, 1960
Believe me I will find this one soon too, but I hear it is very hard to see.

8. Kappe House; Ray Kappe, Pacific Palisades, 1968

9. Dodge House, Irving Gill, West Hollywood, 1916 (demolished 1970)
Well, since it was demolished when I was seven, I will just have to enjoy the photos of others.

10. Hollyhock House, Frank Lloyd Wright, Hollywood, 1921

Charles Eames in St. Louis

If you are going to be in St. Louis over the Holidays, check out the “Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture of Midcentury” exhibit at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. The exhibit runs through January 5th. I saw it at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, California last year.

Charles Eames has a St. Louis connection. The exhibit has a lot of original memorabilia and furniture including many chairs by Eames, articles, history and lots of fun video snippets from this era, my favorite was I Love Lucy. The films by Charles and Ray Eames were very interesting.

The summary from the museum states:
“Birth of the Cool examines the broad cultural zeitgeist of “cool” that influenced the visual arts, graphic and decorative arts, architecture, music, and film produced in California in the 1950s and early 1960s. The widespread influences of such midcentury architects and designers as Harry Bertoia, Charles and Ray Eames, John Lautner, and Richard Neutra, have been well-documented. Less well-known, however, are the innovations of a group of Hard-Edge painters working during this period including Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Fredrick Hammersley, Helen Lundberg and John McLaughlin, whose work retains a freshness and relevance today. Birth of the Cool revisits this scene, providing a visual and cultural context for West Coast geometric abstract painting within the other dynamic art forms of this time.”
"The show is inevitable fun ... The exhibition also represents a small seismic tremor for the way postwar LA art history is finally coming to be understood." Los Angeles Times

"Both entertaining and thought provoking. What emerges is not just a style but a spirit and an ethos that are in many ways diametrically opposite those of East Coast Abstract Expressionism. Angst-free, not monumental, anti-grandiose: California cool is laid back yet cleanly articulated, impersonal yet intimate, strict yet hedonistic, and seriously playful." New York Times