Lloyd Pietrantonio Ruocco (1907-1981)
By Todd Pitman
architecture should call for the minimum use of materials for the
most interesting and functional enclosure of space”
Born in 1907 and arriving in San Diego in the early 20’s,philosopher architect Lloyd Pietrantonio Ruocco (d. 1981) immersed himself, as a very young man, within the architectural community that thrived in San Diego in the early part of the last century. His first position was as a draftsman in the offices of Richard Requa. Here Ruocco was exposed to the Mediterranean styles that had become immensely popular throughout Southern California. At work in Requa’s office and prior to his graduation from San Diego High School, Ruooco would develop a sensitive respect for siting and specifically the built environments relationship to the outdoors.
Following his graduation from U.C. Berkeley, he would return to San Diego and work within the offices of Requa Jackson as well as William Templeton Johnson. Along the way he would assist on the 1935 Panama Exposition, County Administration Building as well as the master plan for the community of Rancho Santa Fe under the supervision of his high school drafting instructor Lillian Rice.
Growing increasingly dissatisfied with the rehashed revival styles that prevailed through the thirties, Ruocco opened his own offices in hopes of bringing a more modern style of architecture to San Diego. He along with his wife Ilse Hammon Ruocco, an interior designer and artist, would go on to become San Diego’s pioneering post-war modernists. Designing well over 100 projects throughout San Diego County, Lloyd is responsible for several projects that are considered by many, to be some of the areas best examples of the period.
Universally respected as one of San Diego’s fathers of the post war modern architectural movement, Ruocco was equally devoted to the art community as well as the city itself. His ultimate goal was to better the lives of the people of San Diego through his tireless efforts to promote and encourage art, architecture and design; many would say that he achieved his goal. Instrumental in founding several community design organizations, Citzens Coordinate for Century 3, Allied Artists and Allied Craftsmen. Lloyd Ruocco laid the foundation for architects, artists and designers to come.
was the person to whom you turned for inspiration. He was the modernist.”
Early designs (1937-52) were almost without fail exposed redwood with flat but primarily shed roofs. Ruocco made use of indirect lighting above interior sofits, built-in bookshelves frequently running the length of the floor. Fireplaces were built-in and typically stone. Most of the designs of this period made use of concrete floors and in many cases used organic materials in their natural form. Boulders are found piercing glass walls; unmilled lumber is used lavishly in some early designs. In the case of his first residence ‘Ilcavo’, driftwood is used as towel hangers, hardware on doors and in various other forms. Ruocco’s later work although extremely progressive by San Diego standards was similar in design to many other architects practicing throughout Southern California. The early designs seemed indigenous; they were his own. His designs of this period were far less influenced by the design trends occurring in Europe and Los Angeles.
is this term, ‘a Ruocco house’. There are a few architects
who get to that point but not many”
In the early fifties and following the completion of his second home ‘Solari’ Ruocco seemed to depart in some part from is early more organic designs and began to favor a more sleek style. Possibly inspired by the case study program coordinated by then editor of Arts and Architecture John Entenza, Ruocco began designing glass, wood, steel, and concrete homes based on modular design. This style minimized construction costs as it utilized lumber in standardized dimensions. Designs from this period became architecturally less complex, offering open and often flexible floor plans. Ruocco often included homes with walls that could be moved on tracks to allow space to be modified to accommodate the changing lives of the their inhabitants. These homes nearly all were equipped with radiant heat in the floor, ceiling or both. They most often contained metal prefabricated fireplaces rather than the elaborate stone of his earlier designs. Glass was used even more lavishly than before, exposed wood beams and ceilings were used less often, as plaster ceilings became far more prevalent. Based on post and beam construction methods, these homes are almost always rectangular in design and although many contain extensive built in cabinetry of Ash and Mahogany they seem much more simple and open as compared to the earlier organic designs.
Elements of Design
Buildings were primarily redwood and glass. Preferred concrete floors most notably in early designs. Homes were always sited to maximize views. Home sites were nearly always proposed just below the crest of a slope offering the inhabitant the optimum privacy. This type of siting is what Wright referred to as high braw siting. Preferred Re-sawn lumber for its more natural appearance. Used redwood, red cedar and ash for most of his designs. Post and beam construction provided maximum spaciousness and eliminated the need for load bearing interior walls. Frequently limited interior walls to door height (6’ 8”) and made up difference with fixed glass transoms or clearstory windows. Often worked with difficult sites requiring unique footing and foundation designs. Homes rarely found on flat lots. Red Cedar tongue and groove ceilings and exposed redwood beams were common. Rough sawn redwood board on board siding. Glass panes tend to be sandwiched between post and exterior siding. Showers located at corners of residence allowing for garden views from glass wall enclosures. Use of ‘Suntile’ line of ceramic unglazed tiles made by the Cambridge Tile. Crane and American Standard bathroom fixtures. Some early designs utilized indigenous rock mixed with concrete mortar to produce exterior as well as interior walls.
The Office Transition
As Mr. Ruocco planned for extended international travel in 1960-61, he and Homer Delawie agreed to join in partnership (Homer was a registered/licensed architect so he could run the firm in Ruocco’s absence). The Ruocco & Delawie, AIA office came together and began securing commissions, such as the Senterfit Residence, as Ruocco firmed up his trip. During part of 1960 and 1961, Ruocco was on travel and Delawie began making plans for his own firm. By the time construction began on Senterfit Residence (circa July, 1961), Homer left the partnership along with Ruocco & Delawie, AIA employees Bill Fisher, Frank White, Jack Matteson, and Al Macy among others. The Chernoff Residence was inititiated under the Ruocco & Delawie, AIA office and completed by Ruocco. Delawie clearly gives credit to Ruocco for the project in his FAIA nomination. Some of Ruocco's original employees, like Jack Matteson and Bill Slatton, would later return back to his employment after stints in Delawie's office.
Partial Project List
Amrein Residence (1956)
Group Medical and Dental Center (1971)
Residence I (1948)
Residence II (1971)
Bauman, Mr. &
Mrs. Henry Residence (1955)
Mrs. Wm. N. Residence (1954, remodeled in 1964)
Burke, Mr. and
Mrs. Jack Residence (ca. 1960)
Residence (early '60s)
and Melva Residence (1962)
Edel Residence (1963)
& Charlotte Residence (1951)
Exposition House (1953)
Spec House (1969)
Geophysics & Geoplanetary Sciences (1964)
Jacobson, Mr. & Mrs. Isadore Residence (1948)
Jackson, Marvin Residence (1949)
Johann, Dr. O.P. Residence (1956)
Jones, Mr. Burton I. Residence (1949)
Kaye, Peter Residence (1956)
Residence #1 (1942)
& Marian Residence (1951)
Montgomery Memorial Park (1962)
Park Garden Apartments
Rucker Smith, Mrs. Ruth Duplex (1960)
#1 'Il Cavo' (1945)
#2 'Solari' (1958)
Salik, Mr and
Mrs Charles Residence (1957)
Sanborn Residence (1949)
San Diego Children's Zoo (1957-1961) including Children's Zoo Entry Dome (1955)
Civic Theater (1965)
National Bank (1961)
Silver Wing Monument
Southwest Onyx & Marble
St. Andrews Episcopal
Phillips Episcopal Church (1962)
Upas Garden Apartments (1960)
U.S. Navy Lounge & Bar
Wexler, Sidney & Henrietta Residence