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San Diego Banks and Art

Balboa Park: Modeltown

(Streamline) Modern San Diego

Modern La Jolla

The FutureCraft Home

Meet Mac McClain

San Diego Quick Tour

The Pan-Pacific House

Profile: The Timken Museum of Art

Architecture Critic James Britton's Biography

Towards a Definition of San Diego Modernism

Modernism: How The Principles Developed

Sim Bruce Richards: A Legacy in Wood

San Diego's Contemporary Modernists

AIA Design Awards Remarks

Photo Essay: Lloyd Ruocco Design Demolished

Preserving Modernism

Horizon Home

Much like their buildings, there are fewer of San Diego’s post-War Architects with us Today

UCSD Muir College Modernism

Definition of San Diego Modernism

Frank Lloyd Wright's Legacy in San Diego

Gregory Ain House Discovered in Vista

Modern San Diego Prologue

2004 Julius Shulman Wall Calendar

Keith York Interview 1

Keith York Interview 2


House by Modernist Architect Gregory Ain Discovered

A long-forgotten design by important Los Angeles modernist architect Gregory Ain has been discovered in Vista. The Anselem A. Ernst Residence was confirmed this month by SOHO Modernism Committee member Keith York in conjunction with Ain scholars.

Designed in 1962 and built in 1963, one of the last designs by the world-renowned architect, the Ernst residence was the second design, and likely the retirement home, for the client. Ernst, who in 1937, commissioned Ain to build his first hillside house was likely “a young radical in the 30s and had 'mellowed' by the 60s,” stated Ain scholar Tony Denzer. While the house is an important addition to San Diego’s post-WW2 modernism inventory, some fans of Ain’s early work may be disappointed that the Ernst residence lacks some of the spirit of his earlier, more widely published houses. Perhaps this is why theErnst residence in Vista was written off to history for so long.

Ain is most widely known for his post-Neutra design the Dunsmuir Flats (Los Angeles 1936), his 1950 Exhibition House at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and his prolific tract housing designs in Mar Vista (circa 1948). An Ain design in our backyard represents yet another example of important post-WW2 modernism in San Diego as cultural resources worth preserving.

Building his first house in 1936, following a stint in Richard Neutra’s office alongside Harwell Hamilton Harris (who’s designs are also strangely absent from Arts & Architecture’s Case Study House Program), the Pittsburgh-born Ain contributed a great number of thought-provoking commercial and residential designs to the Los Angeles landscape through the 1960s. His early designs of the late 1930s reflect influences of both Viennese émigrés Richard Neutra and Rudolf Schindler. Ain’s later works, like the Ernst residence, are less cubist and more open to the elements as wood and glass reach into the landscape (and vice versa), reflecting the indoor-outdoor aesthetic of Southern California post-WW2 modernist architecture.

Exhibiting his upbringing by socialist parents, and life in the utopian socialist colony of Llano del Rio in the Antelope Valley (Elizabeth Smith in Blueprints for Modern Living, p.99), Ain invested energy in Depression-era social housing, wartime housing for war defense workers, and low-cost, mass-produced housing in Altadena, Silverlake and Mar Vista through the 1940s. Additionally, clients seeking Ain’s craft were often the same temperment.

Discovering the Ernst Residence began with the reprint of THE ARCHITECTURE OF GREGORY AIN: THE PLAY BETWEEN THE RATIONAL AND HIGH ART by Hennessey & Ingalls. The re-circulation of this program designed for a UC Santa Barbara Art Museum exhibition included a mere footnote on the house. Without an address, and confusion over whether the house was a project or a confirmed built-structure, Keith York communicated with Ain scholars and staff at the UCSB Art Museum (where the blueprints to the Ernst residence reside). Following a rough sketch drawn by UCLA graduate student Tony Denzer, the hunt began through the early-60s neighborhood of Phil Mar Heights in Vista.

Later, Denzer reported, based on his scan of the blueprints, York should look for “a broad house with a prominent prow-like piece of roof coming forward on the left and a large deck or patio across most of the building to the right of the prow-like piece. The driveway is to the right.” The description and sketch matched the facade of the house at 1425 Phillips Street.

While the house is in desperate need of restoration, a project of this magnitude may be well-beyond the scope of the 18-month current resident. Already seeking permits from Vista officials, he hopes to add-on to the house to take better advantage of its large lot and valley view. While he appreciates its design, the owner commented on the house as small, a mere 1800 sq ft, and noted that much of the wood and stucco structure as in poor condition. Education and encouragement of the current owner, perhaps supported by books and drawings, is the next phase in keeping this design as part of the San Diego cultural landscape.

For more on Gregory Ain’s career, seek out Esther McCoy’s THE SECOND GENERATION and Gebhard, Breton & Weiss’ THE ARCHITECTURE OF GREGORY AIN.