John August Reed (b. 1926)
Among the founders of the Southern California Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, John Reed left the US Army in 1946 and within a couple of years had designed his first building; a beach house built while an associate of Lloyd Ruocco (in 1948). He then worked three years with Lloyd Wright (in Los Angeles) before working as an associate with Sim Bruce Richards (between 1953-1955). John would relocate to Los Angeles, grow a firm peaking at nearly two-dozen employees, and later scale back to form a practice with his son, and become responsible for designing over 500 projects. John Reed continues to practice at age 81.
The story starts with John’s grandfather retiring to San Diego in 1913. Soon after the birth of grandson John, the family left Ohio to clear up grandpa’s estate in San Diego in 1932. John’s family lived in Mission Hills. Young John attended school at Francis Parker.
Before joining the War effort (he enlisted at age 16 and entered the war in 1945 at age 18), John studied industrial design and roamed San Diego learning about the region’s architectural assets. He discovered Irving Gill while reading “Sticks and Stones” by Lewis Mumford (published in 1924). John, out of the military by 1946, entered USC’s School of Architecture in 1947. While still engaged in San Diego’s recent architectural history and its progressive movement (Gill and others), the young Reed’s USC classmates were none other than Conrad Buff, Donald Hensman, Thornton Ladd, Henry Hester and Pierre Koenig. Among his teachers (and dinner partners) were Gregory Ain and Garrett Eckbo.
During the summer of 1948, away from campus, John helped nail together Lloyd Ruocco’s La Mesa architecture studio (adjoining his Il Cavo home prior to building the Design Center in 1949/50) for whom he worked as a draftsman for a short while. Here he designed the Baranov Beach House, which was built, in 1949, after he returned to his coursework in Los Angeles. At the time of his summer employment, John introduced Lloyd to several Reed family friends - the Baranov, Burnett and Goodman families all would become Ruocco clients. While playing classical 78s in the office, John assisted the team of Ruocco and Jim French on the Holmgren and Jacobsen residences.
During this same summer, and among his return trips to San Diego John would borrow his father’s car (and gas card) and drive around San Diego hunting for notable architecture. During one of these trips he set his eyes on Sim Bruce Richards’ Cohu Residence (1948) and Richards Residence #1 (1949). He searched out the young building designer at his first office on Pearl Street (a pre-fab 20’ x 40’ one-board-thick cottage circa 1915) in La Jolla and started a long-term friendship.
John broke from coursework for a short time, in favor of working for Lloyd Wright. Between 1948-1951 John made $50/week helping out Frank’s son on working drawings for Wright’s Wayfarer’s Chapel (built between 1949-1951) in Rancho Palos Verdes. He would later finish his studies and pass his exams in 1956.
Between 1953-55 John Reed became an associate to Sim Bruce Richards. Renting living quarters in the back of Richards’ Prospect Street office, Reed worked from his own drafting table as well as collaborating on Richards’ projects such as the Olney Residence (1954). During this time, John completed RM Schindler’s Schlessinger House (1952-54) “…Schindler's final complete design, realized the year before his death.” Reed helped the client, a philosophy professor at Los Angeles City College, finalize Schindler’s drawings into a more structurally sound, potentially longer-lasting home.
Not that John designed buildings with three sides (The Triangle House) nor in threes (Spec Houses 1-3, 4-6), but two of John’s most notable (and publicly viewable) projects are two sets of Spec Houses. Following the development of a large parcel of land on Bangor and Gage streets, John sold the houses one by one through local realtor Betty Tate. In exchange for part of the purchase(s), Betty threw John a small parcel of land on Macaulay Street in Point Loma where he designed three row homes for sale (as well) through Tate. Just a stone’s throw from Nimitz, these three tiny homes (1,000 square feet) sit on 2,500 square foot lots.
John Reed's interest as an Irving Gill historian began while growing up in San Diego. Having lectured throughout Southern California on Gill's work as early as 1954, Mr. Reed assisted Esther McCoy with her book “Five California Architects” in 1959. Among his activities in Los Angeles, John joined The Architecture Panel aiding in shows on Frank Lloyd Wright (in 1956!), RM Schindler, Welton Beckett and Victor Gruen; published a book “Irving Gill 1870-1936” in 1958 (with The Art Center of La Jolla and LACMA); worked with others to launch a symphony, as well as a museum of modern art.
Partial List of Early Projects
for Fergen & Griffin (Designed 1963, Built 1964)
Chew, John Residence
Costa, Joseph Residence Addition (1964)
Katz, J. Residence (1957)
Rabin, Seymour Residence (1957)
Reed, David Residence
Reed, John Residence
Reed, O.P. Residence (1960)
Spec House #1 (1954)
Spec House #2 (circa
Spec House #3 (circa
Spec House #4 (1958)
Spec House #5 (1958)
Spec House #6 (1958)
Villa Point Loma Apartments (1964)