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Raphael Soriano, FAIA (1904-1988)

Raphael Soriano, FAIA was born on August 1, 1904 in Rhodes to a Sephardic Jewish family. Following a stint at College Saint-Jean-Baptiste, he emigrated to the United States in 1924. Relocating to Los Angeles, Soriano graduated from USC’s School of Architecture in 1934. Prior to graduation, in 1931, he began an internship at Richard Neutra’s office alongside Gregory Ain and Harwell Hamilton Harris. Following a brief inernship, in 1934, with Rudolph Schindler, he returned to his unpaid position in Neutra’s office.

Upon completion of his degree Soriano worked for the County of Los Angeles on several WPA projects. By 1936 he had completed his first commission — the Lipetz house, which was included in the 1937 International Architectural Exhibition held in Paris. During World War II, he invested himself in lecturing at USC and contributing designs to various competitions and publications focused on post-war housing. Of these, Soriano received Third Prize in the Postwar Living Competition sponsored by Arts & Architecture (in 1943) with his Plywood House.

Invited by editor John Entenza, Mr. Soriano participated in Arts & Architecture’s Case Study House program – completing Case Study Houses #21 and #22 in 1950. Relying heavily on steel construction materials and methods, Koenig was recognized widely as a pioneer.

According to Ilse Ruocco’s niece, Charlotte Hamann Brady, who lived with her in the late ‘40s while attending San Diego State College, Lloyd's "best friend" was "an Italian guy who was also an architect and designed steel homes." Uncle Raffy came to San Diego often including a time when he offered a controversial lecture that sparked a post-lecture debate including Lloyd Ruocco, James Britton, Dan Dickey, William Davis and Ethel Ihan.

In 1953 Soriano relocated to Tiburon, California where he lived with his wife Betty Stephens and her two daughters Margaret and Lucille Coberly. By 1955 Soriano designed the first mass-produced steel house, built by developer Joseph Eichler in Palo Alto. In 1965 Soriano started a venture to design and build prefabricated aluminum houses called Soria Structures, Inc.; the structures were marketed as "All Aluminum Homes." The last designs of Soriano's to be realized were eleven All Aluminum Homes in Maui in 1965.

Of the 50 buildings of Soriano's built, only 12 remain. Mr. Soriano passed away on July 21, 1988.

Partial List of San Diego Projects

Unknown Project, La Jolla (unbuilt)

Library, location unknown (unbuilt)

Addition to Existing Home for Mr. and Mrs. Faust (unbuilt)


Left to Right: Lloyd Ruocco, James Britton, Dan Dickey, William Davis, Ethel Ihan

From San Diego & Point Magazine:

Soriano Started Something: Five San Diego artists are stimulated by that lecture that shook the Gallery to look for what is good in art; by tape recorder we listen in.

EDITOR’S NOTE:
The now-famous lecture by the enfant terrible of modern architecture, Raphael Soriano, at the Fine Arts Gallery, was heard in late November by an audience which is still trying to recover from the shock. Advertised by the gallery as a talk on modern architecture, furniture and art, the speech broke like a storm over every phase of contemporary American life. People who had neglected to put firm foundations under their art opinions found them collapsed or blown away.

Soriano started his talk by whipping out a vivid orange necktie he had received as a gift and complaining because the beautiful simple weave had been loused up with an ‘applique’ of metallic thread. He then proceeded to rip it out, with great flourish, on the spot. Having thus established the mood, he ripped on through the night clawing verbally at women’s hats and dresses, San Diego’s plans for a public library, “old masters” paintings (“spit on them” he said) and, to the surprise and chagrin of many avante-garde artists in the audience, many modern paintings, sculptures, and buildings as well. A large part of this four hour harangue was dominated by a raucous phonograph which was supposed to show the audience the difference between good and bad music.

After the storm had passed, there was much assessing of its effects by professionals and the general public. It was evident, despite the clumsiness of the speech, that even top local exponents of the arts had been stimulated to review their own basic positions. Accordingly, Magazine San Diego set out to get a cross section of professional opinion on the talk. James Britton, who has written several articles for us, brought together in his Mission Hills home five of the city’s most careful observers of the art scene who had heard the lecture and tape-recorded the conversation. Here it is, with just enough editing to improve the flow. Participating are Ethel Ihan, painter; Bruno David Ussher, music and drama critic; Lloyd Ruocco, architect; Dan Dickey, painter and teacher; and William Davis, designer.

BRITTON: Lloyd, you’re an architect and Soriano’s an architect – so perhaps you’re in the best position of any of us to make out what he’s up to. What was he trying to do in that lecture the other night at the Fine Arts Gallery – teach us or torture us?

RUOCCO: To me, the whole problem in this lecture is: what does Soriano have in his mind as a vision of society? Answer that, and then the parts mean something. You have to chop down the woods before you can see the plain upon which to build the new garden – and that’s what he was doing. There’re all kinds of muddle around here – all kinds of extraneous old buildings and junk and untended bushes and wees that have accumulated and just got ingrown. And he, being a young-minded man and not having belonged to all that culture – or having it belong to him – comes in and knocks it all down first. He doesn’t care for it: push it back, and now let’s see what we can do. After all, suppose we didn’t have anything – in things – but we have our vitality, our minds and the culture that’s left in our minds up to this point. We could start right out and do things afresh, and it might be good tonic for us.

BRITTON: Then Soriano’s lecture tries to force our thinking about the arts back on the first principles. Like Plato he seems to regard most art activity as mere image-making and shadow-play. Plato made the almost Freudian observation that we get in the habit of having our emotions played on by one or another artistic device, we get in the habit of living with shadows – we all keep rabbits named Harvey.

DAVIS: That last sounds like pure Britton.

BRITTON: If it’s Britton, it can’t be pure. What I’m trying to say is that the way it is today with the radio and the movies – and that unmentionable with the tall antenna – our mental energy and attention are drained. We have no energy left over to focus on these tough but vital ideas which Soriano is throwing at us. The public generally can not follow him because they’re not in the habit. The layman is lying down with his dreams – like the opium eater. Don’t disturb.

RUOCCO: I think the handling of his talk suffered from the things he advocated against in other forms of art. After all, to talk to a group is in itself an art. But I know that Mr. Soriano is intensely busy. He lives in the town of Los Angeles without driving a car, which adds to his confusion. And the buildings he designs he can’t get built satisfactorily by the current run of contractors up there – so he supervises them personally and in great detail. All these things lead us to the fact that he has a little time to prepare for such a talk. On top of that he is so positive-minded --

DICKEY: Opinionated.

RUOCCO: --or let us say he has such a stream of  vitality in him that he is not unduly conscious of other people around him. That’s the way he is.

BRITTON: A typical creative artist, annoying to everyone -  including himself.

USSHER: I don’t mind his being annoying, but I think he made too many misstatements – or sweeping statements. He passed too many judgments without citing the evidence, and – as far as music is concerned – it seems to me he mixed up personal liking with appreciation or analysis – though he doesn’t allow personal feelings.

RUOCCO: Yes. Many might think that there was no more to his criticism than: “I don’t like it. It’s no good. Throw it away.”

DICKEY: I’m sure he made a number of misstatements of fact, and treated a number of first-rate artists like Frank Lloyd Wright, Paul Klee and Picasso unfairly. Yet his remarks about them – while annoying and of little factual value – had the very useful effect of contradicting some long-cherished and possibly sleazy opinions held by members of his audience. Sacred cows got herded off to slaughter – and as for myself, I was socked hard right where I live. But that’s good!

IHAN: Yet a lot of people went away just plain angry or disgusted.

RUOCCO: It was his technique as a lecturer that aroused us. I read a very brilliant book not long ago by the great French architect, Le Corbusier. He had a very deft touch – he’d come up, pat us on the back and say what nice people we Americans are and how fine we are doing. Then he’d sock us under the chin in the next sentence and lay us out. And of course both the pat and the blow are right. He would lead us along – build us up. We’d think he was right there, maybe he’s right there – and so on. But when you’re only cut down, you hate all of it.

DICKEY: I consider Soriano my benefactor in socking me. The net result was that I returned to my cubicle and submitted myself and my frame of values on art, science and life to a rigid examination, and asked myself some severely pertinent questions. That’s good, even if it would mean burning my work.

DAVIS: I wondered if some of the painters I saw in the audience thought of going home and burning their paintings. There’d have been some regrettable losses. I’ve gotten a lot out of many of the things they’ve done. Their work has pleased me, puzzled me –absorbed me for one reason or another. If pictures do that, they can’t be said to have no function.

DICKEY: Soriano, it seems to me, come to us with the intention of performing the role of Siva - (Hindu diety standing for the principle of destruction and reconstruction) and he only half performed it. Of course, I feel the role of the Siva is extremely important – that a certain measure of destruction must take place before re-creation can take place – as Lloyd indicated so well. Soriano got only as far as the destruction, and after he had worn everybody down to a nub – three hours or more – there wasn’t much margin for the audience to receive the reconstruction if he had offered it.

BRITTON: With the audience in that weekend condition, we brought in Soriano’s architecture to be admired – and not much else that he approved, except a few high-tension towers an anice new pig pen.

USSHER: Though I think Soriano threw off too much of what seemed only mental fireworks, I was glad to have heard him. I am sure he is honest. He believes what he says so vehemently. He is stimulating, and I think the Fine Arts Gallery deserves thanks for bringing him. The overflow size of the audience proved that he is an artist-protagonist worth hearing now and then.

RUOCCO: I do think, though, the audience might have appreciated it more if he had stuck closer to his own profession. He might have made a few slashes at painting and a few swipes at music – just to give yes and no in such cases – and then gone into architecture.

BRITTON: Dr. Ussher, what about Soriano’s treatment of music? You said he doesn’t allow personal feelings. Can you give us some details on that?

USSHER: Soriano dismissed all music which was national or personal or individualized in feeling, and at the one time he held out very strongly for folk music as here – in contrast to concert music. Yet folk art began essentially as individual expression, and definitely as expression of a personal sentiment which has become universal. He played – approvingly – music of Josquin des Prez, which he regarded as music without a personal feeling – which I think is a misconception because it’s definitely religious music.