On October 5th, I had the pleasure of attending the first official event of the Southern California Chapter of Docomomo, a 25-year-old international organization. The mission of the new chapter is to increase awareness and celebrate the legacy and influence of Southern California’s Modern Movement through education, documentation, and advocacy. The chapter hopes to be a resource, in particular, to municipalities that do not have strong preservation movements in place, or that do not possess expertise on Modern resources.
The group wasted no time getting right to the hard stuff: 1970s Orange County. In the interest of full disclosure, this topic hits me squarely in the “that can’t be historic, I remember when it was built” preservation trap. So, it was a powerful experience to have architect, author, and expert Alan Hess explain the progressive nature of much of Orange County’s (and Irvine’s) master planning efforts of the 1960s and 1970s.
One example is Dana Point Harbor, a public recreation project that was designed by Grillias, Savage, Alves and Associates in Santa Ana. A feat of engineering that began in the late 1960s, the Harbor was dedicated in 1971. The construction of two breakwaters enabled the engineers (Koebig and Koebig) to reclaim land for walking, biking, and picnicking, as well as for leisure shopping and dining activities. Grillias, Savage, Alves established a relaxed post-and-beam architectural language for the Harbor inspired by vernacular pier construction, nautical elements, and America’s increasing appreciation for Hawaiian and Polynesian culture at the time. The influence of Sea Ranch (Lawrence Halprin; MLTW Architects, 1964-5) can also be felt here, with the incorporation of shed roofs and textured wooden materials. The landscape architects, Frederick Lang and Ken Wood, provided a unifying planting scheme that featured eucalyptus trees and succulents. The result is a complex of functional and harmoniously scaled structures that keep your attention focused on the beauty of the Pacific Ocean and the majesty of Dana Point.
Current plans by the City fathers call for the partial demolition of the low-rise shopping and dining areas in favor of a four-story mall and two-story parking structure in the Cape Cod style.
Hess’ thoughtful presentation helped me better understand what was once my own backyard. As I drove around other areas of Irvine later in the day, I began to see and appreciate elements of master planning I had previously overlooked. Unfortunately, the architectural merit of much of what I saw remains unconvincing. Rare developments like Promontory Point (Fisher-Friedman Associates, 1975) in Newport Beach reveal the hand of a thoughtful architect as well as planner. Personally, I still have far to go to discern between the quality and the quantity from the 1970s. But with the help of organizations like the Southern California chapter of Docomomo, it should be a fascinating journey.
To read a review of “The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA” (through September 15, 2013 editor, Julie D. Taylor, Hon. AIA/LA, go to ArchNewsNow.com