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Cal State Northridge Razes Neutra Building

Architecture: Modernist structure, damaged by quake, will be replaced with $18-million project.

July 18, 1997|CLAIRE VITUCCI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More performance art than fine art, construction workers on Thursday began demolition of the Cal State Northridge arts building, knocking down the concrete walls designed by noted modernist architect Richard Neutra.

University employees clapped and federal officials posed in hard hats as a front loader crashed through the three-story fine arts building that was damaged beyond repair in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. One section of the structure sank six inches after the quake.

It was one of Neutra's last buildings, designed with his son in the late 1950s.

Demolition is expected to be finished by Aug. 1.

"This is a very sad day for the university," said John Broesamle, Cal State Northridge history professor and author of a book on the school's history. "This was its leading architectural specimen. . . . Neutra was a giant in 20th century Southern California architecture. He could be called the Frank Lloyd Wright of Southern California."

In fact, Neutra studied with Wright in New York in the early 1920s before moving to California, where he started his architecture firm in 1926. His son, Dion Neutra, 70, still runs the firm, now working mostly to preserve his father's work.

"I hate to see examples of our work demolished right and left," Dion Neutra said. "When you build in concrete, you think it's going to be there a long time. But forces of all kinds, natural and unnatural, cause these things to disappear."

While many of his colleagues were designing Spanish villas, Richard Neutra designed basic, rectangular buildings with lots of glass, Dion Neutra said.

Workers began disassembling pieces of the arts building in June, said Colin Donahue, the university's manager of construction services. It will be replaced by an $18-million building designed by renowned architect Robert A.M. Stern and paid for with federal funds.

Stern, who is based in New York, designed the Feature Animation Building at Disney Studios in Burbank. Mickey Mouse's cone-shaped wizard's hat, made famous in the movie "Fantasia," can be seen from the Ventura Freeway.

Stern said he creates buildings that fit their surroundings.

"I'm not interested in autobiographical architecture," Stern said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Stern said he hopes to incorporate some of the qualities Neutra designed in the fine arts building, such as the courtyard and the open-air circulation that helped keep it cool during the San Fernando Valley's hot summer and fall.

Locally, Neutra designed Kester Avenue Elementary School in Van Nuys, the Hall of Records in downtown Los Angeles and the Santa Ana courthouse. Dion Neutra designed the Northridge Medical Arts Building at Plummer Street and Reseda Boulevard.

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