Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Casa Laguna Takes Your Breath Away (a history of a 1928 spanish colonial revival)

I'm gonna give you a little history on one of my favorite historic buildings in LA, if you know me you know there are many, but most designed by my favorite architect Arthur Zwebell, I will one day live in an apartment or condo designed by him, moreover an entire building, there are six, so the odds are in my favor with some serious luck....

Casa Laguna Takes Your Breath Away

Architecture from the 1920s and 1930s in Los Angeles is museum-esque; a remarkable work of art that has been well preserved and is appreciated still today. With ornate detail and comprised of beautiful materials such as; spacious courtyards, unique water fountains, red tile roofs, two-story soaring living rooms, hand painted Spanish tiles, perfect plank hardwood floors, meticulously crafted fireplaces, perfect wrought iron detail, and immaculate windows; these historic Spanish buildings of the golden age will take one’s breath away! Angelenos are superbly lucky to have many remarkable representations of such history still standing! One such husband wife architecture/design team that made a strong imprint of this rich Spanish influenced style and pioneered the courtyard style architecture are Arthur & Nina Zwebell, who created six landmark courtyard buildings in Los Angeles in the 1920s. The Casa Laguna, built in 1928 by unmatchable architects Arthur & Nina Zwebell, located in Hollywood, CA, is a magnificent building in the Spanish Colonial revival style.

Zwebell’s Casa Laguna is a strong example of the Spanish Colonial Revival Style of Los Angeles architecture. This breathtaking 18-unit courtyard structure is particularly of the Andalusian influence, strongly influenced by the region of Spain. Built in 1928, the last of the Zwebell’s esteemed courtyard projects, the Casa Laguna shows strong elements of the 1920s Spanish movement in California. Their work in Los Angeles was limited to the decade of the 1920s, and in that time period they created six remarkable creations, most of which are cultural historical monuments today.

The Zwebell pair came to Los Angeles from the Midwest, first to visit in 1917. Then four years later in 1921, they moved to LA permanently bringing along their nest egg of $35,000. Remarkably, they lacked formal architectural training, but in 1923 built their first courtyard apartment building, the Primavera in West Hollywood. Over the course of the next five years the Zwebells embarked on a prolific careers as developers of unwaveringly exquisite courtyard apartments. To Follow the Primavera were; the Patio del Moro in 1925, the couple’s crowning achievement the Andalusia in 1926, the Rhonda in 1927, and completed their portfolio in 1928 with the El Cabrillo and finally the Casa Laguna.

The materials used in the construction of Casa Laguna, seemingly rare today; they were perfectly combined to create a rich and awe-striking art piece of incredible detail. In the 20s it also seemed Los Angeles had the most talented artisans and craftsman, which utilized such materials to their fullest potential. A grand hallmark noticed in this Spanish Revival style was the ornate hand painted tiles work, used on interior and exterior staircases, as well as interior courtyard fountains, in kitchens, bathrooms, fireplaces, etc. Additionally the use of arches was very prominent in both the courtyards and the interior architecture. The Zwebell’s also utilized immaculate windows, both round-ached and floor to ceiling pained French windows and doors, traditionally in a turquoise green hue. The use of ironwork was another hallmark of the Zwebell’s, the Spanish architecture, and of course, the Casa Laguna. The building made lavish use of such decorative ironwork via its; railings, window grills, hinges, door and gate locksets, weathervanes, and most notably the lighting fixtures, as immaculate sconces and chandeliers abound! The use of wood is also profound, from the perfect hardwood floors, to the beautiful beamed wood ceilings, and even the intricate carvings on interior and closet doors. Another beautiful feature of many interior units in Casa Laguna are the fireplaces, with gorgeous stonework, brick decorations, and / or perfectly arranged Spanish tiling. The Zwebell trademarks of an exterior fireplace and water fountain are also eminent in this historic building! Another interesting construction feature is double-storied roofed gallery, utilizing stone columns and a heavy beam. My favorite feature of five of the building’s unit’s interiors is the two-story townhouse utilizing both the hand-painted Spanish tiles along with the ironwork along the staircase rail and second story balcony! Some of these units have ceilings up to 20 feet high, with the gorgeous staircase and balcony overlooking, coupled with fireplace down below- a truly betaking sight that is seldom replicated today!

The interior and exterior of Casa Laguna are gorgeous, crafted with exquisite attention to detail. The notable materials used on this remarkable courtyard building include; hand painted Spanish tiles, pristine hardwood floors, timber beamed ceilings, certain red tiles, ornate iron work, and original beautifully sculptured lighting fixtures etc. The exterior colors of the building as well as its phenomenal courtyard are very bold, in a mustard yellow tone! The accents are green. It is possible that in its original incarnation the buildings paint was a lighter yellow or possibly a white or tan tone. All many of these elements were brought over to California from the influence of the Spaniards, most specifically of the area of Andalusia. There was as also much Moorish influence in this time, reminiscent in the Casa Laguna and even more so, other Zwebell buildings.

This building is very ornate, attentive to detail, and an exquisite showpiece. Due to its time of being built, 1928, prior to the Second World War and the great depression, Angelenos were still into this type of showcasing architecture. Similarly, after World War I many people had money to spend, and wanted to enjoy and live life to the fullest, hence the immaculate designs that came out in the decade following. The design of the courtyard building was also very appropriate to southern California with its warm climate; utilizing much creative outdoor space to create as a huge community courtyard, outdoor fireplace, common fountain area, many private balconies, decks, and patios. The late 1920’s in Los Angeles were a very glamorous time, with the film industry growing and many of such buildings were original built for studios to house silent films stars during film production. Arts & architecture were still very decorative and clearly separated the have’s from the have not’s. Unfortunately the Casa Laguna was the Zwebell’s last masterpiece, for after the complete crash of the private housing market in 1929, they turned to other occupations. Then came the Great Depression and such styles faded while the mechanistic modernist aesthetic was on the rise. Similarly with rising land value, such spacious courtyard utilizes much land, for a decorative realizing interior space became unrealistic and therefore were seldom made again. Shortly after this style changed and was toned down slightly with the art deco period. But until then, the Spanish Colonial revival period spared no details and turned out some of the most fascinating architecture and design Los Angeles has ever seen!

In closing, one can see the great beauty, unique architectural design, incredible craftsmanship, and finest material and attention to detail used in this Spanish colonial revival architectural style. The Casa Laguna was the last great masterpiece by husband and wife architect/ designer pair Arthur & Nina Zwebell. They made a huge imprint on Los Angeles’ architectural history and were the primary innovators of the Andalusian courtyard style that became so popular and thank Goodness, well preserved. Their talents and creativity go beyond measure as exemplified in this remarkable 18 unit apartment building / courtyard dwelling!

Additional information available on building website :

*photos via my iphone 4 on a dark rainy nite, sorry they're not the best...worth taking a look - and to be honest there are two openings there now - of course I'm friends with the owner, so if you'd like a link, you can go live out one of my dreams, I'm living out another here too :0