An Unlikely Modernism: Bakersfield Built
SAH/SCC Zoom Presentation
Sunday, March 27, 2022
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Join SAH/SCC Board Member David Coffey as he takes us to an unlikely place for a modernist mecca: Bakersfield, California. David Coffey is the owner of Richard Neutra’s Davis House, curator of the Frank Lloyd Wright Ablin House and founder of Bakersfield Built—a celebration of Bakersfield’s modernist architecture that takes place every five years.
Built on a resilient economy of oil and agriculture, Bakersfield’s affair with modernism dates back to the 1920s, when a young Richard Neutra was courted to design an ultra-modern fly-in clubhouse for the town’s budding aviators. Neutra would go on to design the Davis Residence (1937), the Leddy Residence (1958) and the Norwalk gas station (1947).
Bakersfield also enjoys work by native son, Ernest Kump. Although generally known for his school architecture, Kump’s Streamline Moderne-style Sill Building (1940) is one of downtown Bakersfield’s most avant-garde structures.
After World War II, the city expanded eastward, enjoying a housing boom like many areas of Southern California. In 1952, the city suffered a horrific earthquake. Although devastating for the community, the earthquake, along with a postwar population boom, resulted in a wave of modern residential, commercial and institutional work. A generation of mostly USC-trained post-and-beam modernists including Eugene Choy, AIA, Wright, Metcalf & Parsons, Whitney Biggar, AIA, Eddy & Paynter, Ernest L. McCoy, AIA, and Clifford Harding, AIA brought modern architecture home.
Bakersfield residents, George and Millie Ablin, commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Ablin Residence (1961), one of the master’s final homes. A hexagonal Usonian, the house has had but two owners and remains an intact example of Wright’s late residential work.
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