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The tragic deaths of George Floyd and so many others at the hands of authorities have opened our eyes to the role we all play in the systems that govern our lives and to the realization that inequities can no longer remain unquestioned. The peaceful mass protests are a step in that direction; violence and destruction are not only heartbreaking but serve as distractions from our personal and collective responsibilities to work toward a better future, even as we celebrate the best of our past.

I’ve been reminded of a personal experience. In 1992, after the police were acquitted of the beating of Rodney King, Los Angeles erupted in violence. For six days, the city struggled. The mayor imposed a curfew. Businesses closed. Events were cancelled. And everyone tried to find his or her way through the tumult.<

It just so happened that the unrest of 1992 coincided with a planned “Neutra 100” celebration, commemorating the centennial of the birth of architect Richard J. Neutra, FAIA. Among the scheduled events was an exclusive evening salon at the Lovell Health House (1927-9). It was a pricey E-ticket of more than $100 and a friend and I had each ponied up the money for the event. When we received word that, despite the stay-at-home order, the event would not be cancelled nor money refunded, we weighed our options. My friend and I decided we might never have the opportunity to see the Lovell Health House again and decided to break curfew to attend.

My first memory of the evening is of how little traffic there was. Much like one could during the COVID-19 lockdown, we sailed along the freeways toward the Hollywood Hills. That was the first time that the Los Angeles freeway system actually fulfilled its promise of getting motorists anywhere in 15 minutes.

The entire evening was a tribute to Neutra and to the Lovells. About a dozen people attended. Caterers recreated the healthy recipes that naturopath Dr. Philip Lovell advocated for in his columns in theLos Angeles Times. I cannot remember exactly what we ate, but I think it was the first time I had ever had quinoa. Upon reflection, comfort food might have been a better choice, but it supported the thematic experience.

The son of the original owners, Gary Lovell, shared his memories of his parents, growing up in the house, and of Neutra bringing potential clients to the house seemingly unannounced. Gary’s stories imbued the iconic house with a warmth and humanity that can only come from calling a place “home.”

The contrast between the experience of the house and the context of the city was surreal. The steel framing system expressed the future-forward possibilities of using materials in new ways. The rigor of the architectural language was both beautiful and evocative of a utopian vision. Walls of glass offered a clear view of the Los Angeles basin with the Henry Hancock’s lighted grid of boulevards and major thoroughfares on full display. In the distance, however, fires were visible, and the reality was that the city was far from delivering on its utopian promise.

Nearly 30 years have passed since that night. I am saddened by how far we have not come. How did we get here? It is a question I have asked myself too many times in 2020. I asked it when I sewed my first masks. I asked it when I disinfected my groceries. And I asked it last week when I watched those sworn to protect and serve, do neither.

I still believe in the possibilities of Los Angeles and the optimism expressed by the architects who came here with a vision. Let each one of us contribute to making it a better, more just, place.

Sian Winship and the SAH/SCC Board

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