From the early 1930s to the late 1950s, Silver Lake was an architectural mecca, attracting masters such as R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra, who used the community's hilly lakeside setting as a showcase for new designs.
Now, as Los Angeles' downtown commercial district booms only a short distance to the east, Silver Lake, too, seems to be having an architectural resurgence. As in the past, architects are experimenting there with new forms and styles.
On Sunday, architecture buffs and curious residents will have a rare opportunity to experience the old and the new in Silver Lake's innovative living traditions. Buildings by three of Silver Lake's most famous architects--Neutra, Schindler and John Lautner--and two of the community's newest additions will be open for rare public tours.
The event is a fund-raiser for the Committee to Save Silver Lake's Reservoirs, a group formed to oppose any plans by the Department of Water and Power that could harm the aesthetics of the community's three drinking-water reservoirs.
As part of a program to improve the quality of drinking water, the DWP has considered, among other options, building a water filtration plant near Silver Lake Reservoir and covering Ivanhoe Reservoir, the smaller lake adjoining Silver Lake.
But after a loud community outcry, led by the Committee to Save Silver Lake's Reservoirs, the DWP agreed to mediation sessions with committee members to figure out how to improve the water without destroying the lakes' scenic qualities.
Both sides in the negotiations said they are making progress.
Organizers said the proceeds from the tour will help pay for the committee's newsletter, educational forums, legal and technical fees and phone bills.
In keeping with the committee's mission, the tour organizers selected homes that include lake views as a critical design element.
"There isn't an area in Los Angeles that I know of that is like Silver Lake, and a large part of that is the lake," said organizer Doug Hill, an architectural photographer. "That's why we chose houses with lake views, so people can see, 'Ah, yes, this lake is part of the design. It's beautiful.' "
But the houses on the tour offer more than just pretty views of the water. They are all products of creative minds, experimenting with light, space and form.
The architects "all made a unique use of their sites; they were all very conscious about the relationship between the indoors and the outdoors, and they were all innovators," said Marvin Malecha, dean of Cal Poly Pomona's College of Environmental Design.
The Neutra house, which the Viennese native designed for himself, was bequeathed to Cal Poly's College of Environmental Design when his widow died last year. It typifies the architect's belief that a small area can still have a feeling of space and openness. The home is filled with visual illusions, such as strategically placed mirrors, that create a feeling of spaciousness on a lot that is actually quite small.
Across the lake from Neutra's house is Schindler's Walker house. From the street, it almost looks like an unspectacular Southern California bungalow, though a few machine-age touches, such as rounded eaves sweeping upward, hint at something different. But the side of the house facing the lake is almost entirely glass and has three levels of balconies.
The most dramatic and unusual house on the tour is Lautner's Silvertop, perched on six lots atop a hill. It has a cantilevered driveway, swimming pool and tennis court. The home is constructed with an arching concrete shell, lots of glass and spaceship overtones.
The architects of the two newer homes on the tour created large, visually striking structures on irregularly shaped lots.
The Roos house, designed for former Assemblyman Mike Roos by Ko Kiyohara and Gina Moffitt, was completed last year. One of several Silver Lake houses by those architects, it is an imposing geometric mass carved into a hillside bend. It has a Mediterranean theme, although it is in every sense contemporary.
Salishan, named for an American Indian word meaning a pleasant place to meet and gather, is built on an awkward triangular lot. Completed in 1988, it is a towering modern interpretation of a Southwestern pueblo. Its designers, Michael Clifton and Maryann Kuk, live in it.
At each house, visitors will be shown through by the architect, the residents, or architectural students. The homes will be open from noon until 5, and ticket holders can visit the homes in any order. Tickets, $25 each, can be purchased at Salishan, 2011 W. Silver Lake Drive.
Except for the Neutra house, the homes are all privately owned and seldom shown. But Hill said he had no trouble persuading the owners to open their doors to help save the lake.
Kuk, who will lead tours of her house on Sunday, said she has no qualms about letting hundreds of strangers tramp through.
"We have to make our presence known to the DWP," Kuk said. "I worked two jobs for 10 years to be able to afford to build this house. If I don't work to save the neighborhood's integrity, nobody else will."