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Dione Neutra; Influential Aide in Husband's Work as Architect

September 06, 1990|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dione Neutra, concert singer and cellist and key aide to her late husband, architect Richard Neutra, has died. She was 89.

Mrs. Neutra died Saturday. The cause of death was not disclosed, but she had been confined to a wheelchair and to her home for the past several months.

She lived in Silver Lake in the Research House, which her husband designed in 1933. Rebuilt after a fire in 1963 by her husband and architect son, Dion, the house was donated to Cal Poly Pomona in 1969.

"I know I'm very lucky to live in a beautiful house, so I don't mind sharing it," she said before the three-story stack of glass, stucco and balconies was opened to a Los Angeles Conservancy tour a few years ago. She had retained a life estate, but the architectural gem will now revert completely to the university.

Mrs. Neutra, an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects and considered the matriarch of the Southern California architectural community, had given vocal concerts in the historic house, accompanying herself on the cello.

"My purpose of life was to help my husband for 48 years to accomplish as much as possible of what he felt was his mission in life, namely, to provide a more healthful, pleasing, natural environment for his clients," she frequently said in lectures and interviews after his death in 1970. "Now . . . I ask myself 'What is my purpose in life?' It seems to me to show my younger friends that life in old age can be worthwhile."

When she was widowed, Mrs. Neutra resumed the study of voice and cello that she had set aside when she became Neutra's wife and secretary.

She celebrated her 85th birthday in 1986 by publishing a book of the couple's letters from 1919 to 1932, titled, "Richard Neutra: Promise and Fulfillment."

Although she was honored at that time with a dinner given by five Southern California schools of architecture, she remained modest about her own accomplishments.

"I was always the wife of the famous architect," she said. "Mr. Neutra was the one who inspired people. Now people tell me I've become the inspiration, and I'm surprised by that."

The book details the struggles of a young European couple emigrating to California, and their anguish over the discovery that Frank, eldest of their three sons, was born brain-damaged. Dion, the second son, followed his father into architecture, and the youngest, Raymond, became an epidemiologist.

Her survivors also include two sisters, Regula Fybel and Verene Bezencon, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be planned at a later date.

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