Gerard COLCORD'S wouldn't be among the first names dropped in a discussion of 20th century Los Angeles architects. He isn't as famous as contemporaries Wallace Neff or Paul Williams, nor do his homes command the premiums frequently tacked onto the prices of houses designed by Modernist darlings Richard Neutra or Rudolf Schindler.
At Hennessey + Ingalls, the vast Santa Monica art and architecture bookstore, no monograph on Colcord can be found among the stacks, because none exists. But customers frequently ask for one, and Colcord has become enough of a brand for pretenders to advertise homes for sale as "Colcord-like." And that would be what?
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 26, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Architect's name -- An article in Thursday's Home section about architect Gerard Colcord spelled the last name of architect William Krisel as Kreisel.
Imagine a fieldstone and clapboard farmhouse with deep bay windows, a roof of dark wood shakes and an arcaded front porch, nestled among mature trees. A white picket fence separates its front yard from a street uncluttered by sidewalks. The sturdy front door opens, and a young Bing Crosby steps out into the sunlight, smiling. Or maybe the man of the house is Jimmy Stewart. In any case, a wholesome paterfamilias belongs with the rustic film-studio Connecticut house, because both are redolent of a good time in a prosperous America, a confident, happy place that hadn't yet become Prozac nation.
From the late 1920s into the '70s, about 100 private residences designed by Colcord were built in some of the most attractive neighborhoods on the Westside of Los Angeles. The exact number is unknown because the architect, who lived from 1900 to 1984, was more concerned with making a living than burnishing his reputation; his archive was not donated to a university, and although he married three times, he had no children to tend his legacy.
But an architectural pilgrim can still find his Pennsylvania country houses, Tudor mini-mansions, New England farmhouses and Cotswolds cottages on the leafy streets of Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Westwood, Bel-Air and Beverly Hills. Some are made of whitewashed brick, others of stucco and stone now covered with ivy. Colcords were also built in and around Coldwater Canyon, in Holmby Hills and occasionally farther east, in Hancock Park, Pasadena, San Marino and Pomona.
"For what they are, Colcord houses are really the best there is. Gerry was one of the most sought-after architects for people who wanted a truly traditional house," says William Kreisel, who got his architectural license in 1950 and went on to design thousands of homes and public buildings in L.A. and Palm Springs. At the time, Kreisel says, a local architect like Colcord would work for one client at a time.
"In a practice like his, it would be normal to do two houses in a year," he says. "Each was very personal. He remained good friends with a lot of his clients, which is unique; people who lived in Colcord houses loved them." Yet Kreisel is surprised that Colcord's oeuvre is still appreciated. "It speaks well for Gerry Colcord that today people want to restore his houses. Within the profession, architects didn't think too highly of his work because he was copying the past."
Kreisel's style was contemporary, and Modernists are typically contemptuous of traditionalists. Isn't a 19th century Cape Cod built in Westwood in the 1930s a phony re-creation? And what's an East Coast saltbox doing in Southern California anyway?
"The criterion for creativity is doing something that's unique, that hasn't been done before," says Robert Timme, dean of the USC School of Architecture. "But except for the midcentury modern style, which came out of an industrial movement, everything is really reinterpretations. Even Greene & Greene houses were transformations of Tudor homes with an Asian influence. Gordon Kaufman's Greystone Mansion isn't authentic, but it's wonderful."
The houses with early American and British roots that Colcord specialized in were historical revivals arguably as valid as the Spanish Colonial or Mission-style houses built in the same areas after World War I. Nearly everyone came to the West Coast from somewhere else, and as they invented their futures, the houses they chose weren't necessarily reminiscent of their pasts. When architects who mined the styles of other regions and eras were hired, all that mattered was that someone's history be referenced.
All over Los Angeles, many houses as old as Colcord's creations have been torn down, replaced by larger, showier structures -- sprawling Moorish haciendas and bloated neo-Palladian villas. Some Colcords have been destroyed by wrecking balls too, but not many. "People want to preserve Colcord's houses because they have a great sense of proportion and a level of craftsmanship and quality that isn't easy to find these days," says Crosby Doe of Mossler, Deasy & Doe, a real estate agency that specializes in historic and architecturally significant properties. "His houses are part of the fabric of Los Angeles. People who know about Colcords look for them and ask for them by name."