Construction on the Gateway Seminary Fremont Campus (a Graduate Theological School) is in full swing, progressing very smoothly and rapidly thanks to the capable team put together by the development consultant, Rob Hart of HartWest SA. Building framing was prefabricated in panels offsite, trucked to the site, and erected within days. Better quality, better accuracy, and no exposure to the elements make this method the new industry gold standard. Kudos also to Bejhan Razi and John Dahlquist of IZAR construction, General Contractor, whose attention to detail and hands-on management skills have been a huge asset to the project. Last but not least, thanks to Gary Groat and Robert Dvorak of Gateway Seminary, our clients, for such a mutually respectful and fulfilling relationship.
George Vernon Russell, FAIA, 1905-1989
"Architect to the Stars"
My dad was a complex man: charismatic, cantankerous, kind, compassionate, demanding, egotistical, difficult, narcissistic, passionate about architecture, and loaded with talent. He was also eager to teach me all he knew, and I learned a great deal from him about both the art and business of our chosen profession. I also experienced the inevitable frictions that develop between fathers and sons working together. After ten years at his Los Angeles office (having arrived there straight out of college) I decided that it was time to follow my own course, and moved to San Francisco for a fresh start. Though I've never looked back, my admiration for what he accomplished in his very full and productive career continues to grow.
The first in his family to graduate from college, he began as draftsman/designer at York and Sawyer, a 300 person A&E firm in New York City. The firm had dwindled to 5 on the eve of the Stock Market Crash of '29, so he left for Mexico with a buddy to ride out the Depression, figuring it would be over in 6 months. 4 years later, having traveled by bus and burro throughout Central America, he returned penniless to his native California and began looking for work. Fast forward to 1935, by which time he had established a thriving practice with a partner, Douglas Honnold, who had important connections with the rich and powerful in Hollywood. From that time until he joined the war effort, (building air bases in Northern Ireland for Lockheed Aircraft,) he had cemented his place as the "Architect to the Stars," designing lavish homes for the likes of Samuel Goldwyn, Charles Boyer, Maureen O'hara, and others. He developed a deep friendship (and lasting business relationship) with Billy Wilkerson, founder of the Hollywood Reporter and serial entrepreneur, who had turned his talents to the restaurant business. In the space of 5 years, Billy had established some of the most famous and successful restaurant/nightclubs in the world: Ciro's, Cafe Trocadero, La Rue, and Vendome. George was the architect for them all. Hollywood glitterati came in droves, spent lavishly, and made Billy a very wealthy man. During this period my father began to develop the modernist style that would become his signature in the post war years and garner him national recognition.
After traversing most of Central America by bus and burro from 1929-1932 (leaving NYC just before the stock market crash, which he and his buddy could see was coming - their firm had dwindled from 300 strong to fewer than 10 in two years,) George Russell was forced to return to his native California to find work. They had naively estimated that the crash would last no more than six months and that they could then return to their jobs in New York after it had all settled down. When he finally landed at his Aunt's house in San Diego, he had the many fond memories of his Mexican adventures and about $17 to his name. It took him another year to find any semblance of work, but when he did, it turned out to be in one of the few places in California where there were clients who could afford the services of an architect - Hollywood. While working as a set designer for Paramount Pictures, he met and became close friends with Douglas Honnold, a young, talented architect who was well connected with the rich and powerful in the movie business. They formed a partnership, Honnold and Russell Architects in 1934, and soon counted among their clients the likes of Samuel Goldwyn, Charles Boyer, Billy Wilkerson (founder of the Hollywood Reporter), Maureen O'Hara, and other luminaries. Their eclectic style was rooted in the modernist "International Style," but also exhibited a unique mix of Art Deco and stylized classical elements. Interiors could be plush and luxurious, with upholstered walls and deco furniture, or more spartan. These houses were a precursor to the modernist buildings that would soon become their signature style.
They remained partners until 1942 when George decided, after reconsidering his heretofore isolationist views, to join the war effort. Kenneth Hull, a close friend and senior executive at Lockheed Aircraft, suggested that rather than enlist, he should instead go to work for Lockheed and oversee the design and construction of a massive air base in Northern Ireland. "That way, you can be giving orders to the Generals, instead of the other way around." This appealed greatly to his already robust ego, and the deal was done. But during the preceding eight years, the Honnold-Russell collaboration produced many striking examples of residential and commercial work.
Samuel Goldwyn Residence, 1938
Recently, having read and admired the memoir "Elsewhere" by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo, I decided to take a look at some of the films for which he wrote the screenplays, stories that put Russo on the map as promising writer. During a viewing of "Twilight", made in 1998 and starring Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, and James Garner, the primary location of the shoot - a 30's style modernist house in West Hollywood - seemed familiar. It suddenly dawned on me that this was a house designed by Honnold and his first partner, Cedrick Gibbons (who subsequently gained fame as the set designer and art director for such movie classics as The Wizard of Oz, Singin' in the Rain, The Philadelphia Story, An American in Paris, and many others) and his even more famous actress wife, Dolores Del Rio. She was considered by many as the most beautiful woman of her time, and was on her way to becoming a major Hollywood star. My father would join Doug Honnold a couple of years after this project was designed, and together they would reiterate its many design innovations on subsequent projects.
The Original Owners, and Scenes from the film
The house today
"Twilight" was made some years before the house was acquired by producer and executive Joe Roth, the current owner, who has meticulously restored it, adding just the right elements to bring it into the 21st century while remaining faithful to it's Modernist and Deco roots.
Note the consistent asymmetric "chevron" theme employed for the metal entrance gate and the main entry door. This motif is employed throughout the house and grounds, including the pool house