RM Schindler’s Rose Harris House, 1942, Introduction, part 1 of 5

An old favorite, revisited and rediscovered

I have always liked the Harris House, or at least what I knew of it. That was limited to the Julius Shulman photographs of the front and the living room (Figs 1 & 2). I wanted to learn more about it, and was delighted to discover what a wonderful design it is and how much I didn’t know.

 

 Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Sarah Sherman, Reference Librarian and the Getty Research Institute for letting me use Julius Shulman’s Harris House photos. Photos 1,2,5, 6 & 8 are copyright J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library st the Getty Research Institute (204.R.10). Figure 7 is used by permission, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Introduction

A good place to start is Schindler’s description of the house, from the January, 1943 issue of arts & architecture magazine 1.  Typically for Schindler, he wrote the description all in capital letters.

RESIDENCE: ROSE L. HARRIS, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

ARCHITECT: R. M. SCHINDLER

LOT: A SADDLE ON A ROCKY RIDGE FACING A LONG-DISTANCE VIEW THROUGH A VALLEY WESTWARD.

PROGRAM: A DWELLING FOR A WRITER WANTING SECLUSION, TO BE BUILT UNDER DEFENSE HOUSING RESTRICTIONS.

LAYOUT: TOP OF RIDGE WAS FLATTENED FOR PATIO. HOUSE WAS PLACED NEAR THE HIGHEST POINT ON THE DOWNSLOPE. THIS GUARANTEES UNOBSTRUCTED VIEW FOR GARAGE SPACE UNDERNEATH. SECONDARY ROOMS AND PERGOLA INSURE PRIVACY FROM HIGHER LEVELS ACROSS ROAD.

STRUCTURAL SCHEME: CONCRETE FOOTINGS, WOOD FRAME CONSTRUCTION, STUCCO FINISH, COMPOSITION ROOF.

ARCHITECTURAL SCHEME: FOOTING IS MADE AS SMALL AS POSSIBLE WITH HOUSE CANTILEVERING OVER THEM. ROOMS AND PATIO ALL ON ONE LEVEL. RAFTERS ARE ALL CANTILEVERED ACROSS SUPPORTING PARTITIONS AND REST ON EACH OTHER, FORMING THREE STEPS AND CEILING HEIGHTS ACROSS THE BUILDING. EXPOSED WOOD RAFTERS.

MATERIALS AND COLOR: EXTERIOR–GRAY-GREEN STUCCO AND WOOD STAINED TO MATCH AND TO BLEND WITH NATURAL SHRUBBERY OF THE SURROUNDINGS. INTERIOR: WOODSTAIN SAME AS EXTERIOR. WALLS OF GREENISH YELLOW INTERIOR STUCCO. GRAY-GREEN OVERALL RUG.

COST: ABOUT $3000. 2

And an excerpt from a 2005 article on Schindler by Julius Shulman, from artforum 3.

“The long-demolished Harris House (1942–44), built for Rose L. Harris, a writer for whom he felt a special affinity, was erected on the most unforgiving site imaginable, a tiny tract of rocky earth purchased by his favored client for $300. Schindler bulldozed the rock to create a flat platform, on top of which he set what is, to my mind, among his most imaginative structures.”Cost
The costs sound so low by today’s dollars, but are they? We can get an idea if we adjust the 1942 costs in dollars to 2011 dollars, allowing for inflation. We can then compare that adjusted cost to current typical costs.4 The living area of this tiny house is 590 square feet.5

 

Construction
$ in 1942
$ in 2011 w inflation
typ 2011 cost
$/sf
 $5.10
 $72.12
 $200
Total
 $3,000
$42,420
$118,000

Actual cost of construction has tripled since 1942, after adjusting for inflation.The cost of land has changed dramatically, and is a major factor in the high cost of housing.

Land
$ in 1942
$ in 2011 w inflation
typ 2011 cost
Total
 $300
 $4,240
$150,000 – $250,000 or more

The actual cost of land has increased by more than a factor of 35 since 1942, after adjusting for inflation.

Increased costs of construction and dramatically increased cost of land, this is why no one builds such small, low budget single family houses anymore – and why architects rarely get the opportunity to work on them.

A few mysteries

I was unable to find any other information about Rose L. Harris (or Mrs. George F. Harris), a writer who lived in Los Angeles in the 1940’s.

Julius Shulman refers to the house being “long demolished” in 2005 3. I couldn’t find any more information on when it was demolished. Ester McCoy, in Five California Architects from 1960 6, mentioned the house but did not say it was demolished. Julius Shulman, in an article from 1986 7, described the house in the present tense. From this I would guess that the house was demolished sometime between 1986 and 2005. A different house is on the site now.

If anyone has additional information, please contact me. I’d love to learn more.

Figures
1      Front from the north corner, photograph by Julius Shulman
2      Living room looking toward fireplace, photograph by Julius Shulman
3      Floor/site plan
4      House, site and plan, viewed from front
5      Living room towards desk, photograph by Julius Shulman
6      Bedroom, viewed from piano, photograph by Julius Shulman
7      Rear, viewed about 2/3 up ramp, photograph by Julius Shulman
8      Front from the south corner, photograph by Julius Shulman

 

Footnotes
1 Rudolph Schindler, “Mountain Home”, California Arts and Architecture (San Francisco), vol. 60, January 1943, pgs. 32-33
2 I have no idea why Schindler bothered to point out that the “garage underneath” had an “unobstructed view”. It’s just a garage, after all. A clue might be found in drawings Schindler prepared, dated 1944 (after the description was written), for a second bedroom to be added below the living room and partially above the garage. Maybe he was thinking ahead?
3 Julius Schulman, “Shadows Figure”, artforum, May, 2001 at http://www.artforum.com/static/issues/200105/feature/index3.html
4 From the Inflation Calculator at http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm
5 Julius Schulman, in an article from 1986 (Julius Shulman, “On Architectural Photography and the work of R. M. Schindler”, February 15,1986 in R.M. Schindler, August Sarnitz (New York: Rizzoli, 1988) pgs. 39-41) mistakenly described the house as “slightly more than 1,000 square feet”. The area on the construction drawings is 590 square feet, and that matches the area of my model.
6 Ester McCoy, “R. M. Schindler” in Five California Architects, pg. 192,(New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975)
7 R.M. Schindler, August Sarnitz (New York: Rizzoli, 1988) pgs. 39-41)

2 thoughts on “RM Schindler’s Rose Harris House, 1942, Introduction, part 1 of 5”

  1. The county assessor indicates that the present house on the site was built in 1976. Sadly, the Harris house didn't last long.

    Thanks to your earlier posts I'm seeing far more detail in these pics than I've noticed before. For example, the 'lower roof' plane appears to intersect the walls over the fireplace and in the bedroom (and bath?), presumably at 6'8". And the horizontal members of the 'outrigger corners' (?) on the north corners appear to align with the window mullions, I suppose at 16" intervals — do these corner details have a structural function?

    A very interesting project. Thanks again, Steve! Looking forward to your next posts.

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