Edwin Wallace Neff (January 28, 1895 – June 8, 1982) was an architect based in Southern California and was largely responsible for developing the region's distinct architectural style referred to as "California" style. Neff was a student of architect Ralph Adams Cram and drew heavily from the architectural styles of both Spain and the Mediterranean as a whole, gaining extensive recognition from the number of celebrity commissions, notably Pickfair, the mansion belonging originally to Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.[1]

Wallace Neff
Born(1895-01-28)January 28, 1895
DiedJune 8, 1982(1982-06-08) (aged 87)
Resting placeMountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum, Altadena, California
34°11′12″N 118°08′59″W / 34.186734°N 118.1497°W / 34.186734; -118.1497
Known forArchitect and designer of residences for Hollywood personalities
Notable workPickfair
StyleMediterranean Revival architecture, Spanish Colonial Revival architecture
SpouseLouise U. Neff

Early years edit

Edwin Wallace Neff was born January 28, 1895, to Edwin Neff and Nannie McNally, daughter of Chicago printing tycoon Andrew McNally (Rand-McNally Corporation).[2] Since Andrew McNally moved to Altadena, California in 1887 and founded Rancho La Mirada, La Mirada, California was Neff's birthplace. However, he spent a great deal of time at the Altadena residence, a grand Queen Anne Victorian mansion which looked from the hillside community down to the Pacific Ocean. It's little wonder that the young Neff would take up an interest in architecture given his surroundings on Millionaire's Row (Mariposa Avenue). At age nine Wallace moved to Europe with his family only to return to the U.S. at the outbreak of World War I.

Developing career edit

His interest in architecture saw him studying under the revered Ralph Adams Cram in Massachusetts. He eventually returned to California and took up residence in Altadena while serving as a shipyard draftsman in Wilmington. Eventually he found himself ready for the architectural realm creating designs of the Spanish Medieval period including his own home parish of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church, established 1918 in Altadena. His gift to the parish as well as the community was the design of the church building finished and dedicated in 1926.

The church is of Spanish Medieval design including a bell tower which is patterned after a Spanish watchtower. The view from its broad portals at 100 feet gave an enormous panorama not only of the Southern California countryside, now blocked by the since-built steeple of Westminster Presbyterian Church to its south, but an expansive view of the San Gabriel Mountains to its north, which boast peaks as high as 10,000 feet in altitude. The building is reminiscent of the Serra Missions with its arched south porch and terra cotta tiles. It has high stucco-on-concrete walls with small, high, stained glass windows. Below each window is a taller stained glass window with biblical depictions leaded into each one.

It boasts a Spanish tile roof and a massive plank wood arched front double door. The interior is vaulted to heights in excess of 50 feet. Across its ceiling are three broad rough-hewn trusses acting to support the gabled ceiling. In actuality, the building's superstructure is built of iron girders. Other details on the exterior are broad wing sweeping walls and exaggerated window sills with wooded bars. These features become an important part of his developing style. The Saint Elizabeth church building is the only house of worship ever designed by Neff, and has the distinction of being the oldest building in use for Catholic worship in the Greater Los Angeles area. To the parish plant Neff added the priests' rectory, the convent for the Holy Name Sisters who taught at the school, and a pet project, a shrine to Saint Theresa of Avila (1929) which features the true style of his architecture. This makes Saint Elizabeth Parish a rare collection of Wallace Neff works.

California Style edit

Architectural historian Eleanor Schrader wrote "Neff’s European training and keen eye for historical styles gave him the ability to combine Spanish, Tuscan, Mediterranean, Islamic, and other design elements that melded seamlessly into something he called ‘The California Style.’” [3] As Neff's style became more popular and demanded by the elite, the rich, and the famous, he moved to the exclusive Pasadena suburb of San Marino.

To his client list he added the Singer Mansion, Gillette Mansion, the Gates Residence, Libby Ranch, and the Pickfair Estate. Other fine mansions line the streets of Chapman Woods, Hancock Park, San Marino, Glendora, Beverly Hills, San Pascual Avenue, California Street and others in lower East Pasadena.

Neff's Angelo Drive house for the film director Fred Niblo, Misty Mountain, features a distinctive circular driveway and has been virtually unchanged since its construction. It has since been owned by Jules Stein and latterly Rupert Murdoch.[4]

In 1946 Neff designed the "airform" or "bubble" house, a distinctive form of inexpensive housing, a dome-shaped construction made of reinforced concrete that was cast in position over an inflatable balloon. (The balloon is the "airform", a portmanteau of "air" and "formwork".) Though the design did not gain support in the United States, it was used for large housing projects in Egypt, Brazil, and West Africa during the 1940s and 1950s.[5] The Straus House was designed in 1970 by Neff at the end of his career for Macy’s department store heir Robert K. Straus as a weekend retreat. The 1.53-acre (0.62 ha) site is on a bluff overlooking the Santa Barbara Channel in the Hope Ranch community, just north of the city of Santa Barbara.[6]

Neff's 1934 Fredric March House was built for the actor Fredric March and subsequently owned by Wallis Annenberg. It was owned and sold by Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston in 2009.[7] In 1998, actress Diane Keaton, an avid fan of Neff's work, purchased a low-slung Neff house in Beverly Hills – featured in Architectural Digest, July 1999 – with the front lawn covered in lavender, for $7.5 million. This home was later purchased by Madonna and Guy Ritchie, and was still in their possession as of 2007. In 1990, Bob Newhart purchased a Neff house in Bel Air for $4.2 million, subsequently selling it to Robert Quigg (developer) in 2016 for $14.5 million.[8] Everett Phipps Babcock and Georgious Y. Cannon worked in Neff's office.[9]

Partial list of works edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Wallace Neff, Architect, 87; Pioneer of the California Style". The New York Times. June 11, 1982.
  2. ^ Kanner, Diane (1998). "The Lemon Grove Boyhood of Wallace Neff". Southern California Quarterly. 80 (4): 435–460. doi:10.2307/41171921. JSTOR 41171921.
  3. ^ Appleton, Marc; Schrader, Eleanor; Parsons, Bret (2021). Wallace Neff: Master Architects of Southern California 1920-1940. Angel City Press. pp. Introduction. ISBN 978-0999666449.
  4. ^ Mark David (20 March 2015). "Rupert Murdoch Sells BevHills Estate to Son James". Variety. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  5. ^ Daunt, Tina (May 19, 2004). "It's 'dome sweet dome' for pair in mod house: Architect Wallace Neff designed unit as a model for affordable housing", Los Angeles Times, p. K-1, reprinted by the San Francisco Chronicle
  6. ^ Walker, Howard (2021-02-16). "Home of the Week: This Stunning Oceanfront Santa Barbara Estate Was Designed by Legendary Architect Wallace Neff". Robb Report. Retrieved 2021-02-18.
  7. ^ Ryon, Ruth (Oct 2, 2005). "A Neff, but enough is enough". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
  8. ^ "Funnyman Bob Newhart exits Bel-Air with $14.5-million deal, and other top sales". LA Times. May 2016.
  9. ^ Wallace Neff, 1895–1982: the romance of regional architecture Edition illustrated Huntington Library, 1989 Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized November 12, 2007 143 pages
  10. ^ "W. N. Caldwell Residence". Los Angeles Conservancy. Archived from the original on 2016-04-21. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  11. ^ Wallace Neff; Virginia Steele Scott Gallery; Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery (1998). Wallace Neff 1895-1982: The Romance of Regional Architecture. Hennessey & Ingalls. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-940512-13-9.
  12. ^ "Singer Mansion". Singer Mansion. Retrieved 23 July 2023.
  13. ^ "Bellagio Road - Wurtzel-Neff Estate". The legendary Estates of Beverley Hills. Archived from the original on 2021-01-17. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  14. ^ "Precious Blood Catholic Church". Los Angeles Conservancy. Archived from the original on 2016-03-31. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  15. ^ "Fletcher Residence". Los Angeles Conservancy. Archived from the original on 2020-09-25. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  16. ^ "Singleton Residence". Los Angeles Conservancy. Archived from the original on 2016-04-01. Retrieved 10 April 2021.

Further reading edit

  • Neff, Wallace (January 1, 1964). Architecture of Southern California: A Selection of Photographs, Plans, and Scale Details from the Work of Wallace Neff (First ed.). Rand McNally. ASIN B0007E02AC.
  • Belloli, Andrea P.A. (August 1989). Wallace Neff, 1895–1982: The Romance of Regional Architecture. Huntington Library Press. ISBN 978-0873281287.
  • Clark, Alson (October 1, 2000). Wallace Neff: Architect of California's Golden Age (California Architecture & Architects). Hennessey & Ingalls. ISBN 978-0940512245.
  • Kanner, Diane (November 17, 2005). Wallace Neff and the Grand Houses of the Golden State (First ed.). The Monacelli Press. ISBN 978-1580931632.

External links edit