Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Irving Gill's First Aiken System Project: The Sarah B. Clark Residence, 7231 Hillside Ave., Hollywood, Spring 1913

(Click in images to enlarge)
Irving Gill ca. 1912, about the time he formed his Concrete Building and Investment Co.

Left, Sarah B. Clark Residence, 7231 Hillside Ave., and right, Myra N. Brochon Residence, 7235 Hillside Ave., Hollywood, 1913. Irving Gill, architect. Landscape design likely by Lloyd Wright. "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine, October 1917, pp. 223-225.

Ever since I found the above anonymous Hollywood Irving Gill houses in the book Concrete Houses: How They Were Built (see below) it has been nagging me who commissioned the projects and where they were located. These rather striking residences had not been published in any of the Gill monographs because Esther McCoy, David Gebhard, Bruce Kamerling, Thomas S. Hines and Marvin Rand either had not come across the three publications of the houses, had the addresses incorrectly listed, or did not know of their existence, thus making them difficult to find through secondary sources. Project photos were also likely destroyed in a fire or were inadvertently thrown out by a relative after Gill's death as explained in Hines's introduction to Irving Gill and the Architecture of Reform. (Monacelli Press, 2000, p. 17). 

Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920. (Author's note: An adapted rendering of Gill's Darst House appears on the cover. Articles on, and photos of, Gill's Dodge House, Darst House (see below) and Lewis Court are also compiled herein.)

Darst House, San Diego,  Irving Gill, architect. From Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 17.

Compounding the difficulty in tracking the houses down, the first time they appeared in print was in the May 1916 issue of Concrete Magazine, a full three years after their completion. A footnote in the below article in Concrete Houses muddled things even further by incorrectly stating that the article was first published in Concrete in May of 1918. In his 1993 Gill monograph Bruce Kamerling listed the houses as being built in 1913 as the "Mrs. Sarah R. [sic] Clark residence, 7731 [sic] Hillside, Hollywood" and the "Mrs. M. N. Brochon Residence, Lake near Mountain, Los Angeles." Likely taking his cue from Kamerling, Thomas Hines' Gill monograph published in 2000 had the same address listings but more confusingly listed them both under Gill's "unbuilt" projects. Marvin Rand's 2006 Gill monograph erroneously aped the listings in Hines as being "unbuilt." No mention was made of the houses within the text of any of these three books. Esther McCoy made no mention of the houses at all in her Gill chapter in her 1960 Five California Architects as she had made no attempt to develop a chronological project list, bibliography or footnotes of any sort. (Author's note: The pioneering work of architect-historian John Reed, a San Diego native, in educating McCoy, Gebhard and Winter on the location of long-lost Gill and others projects during the 1950s is much under-recognized. For much more on Reed's importance to McCoy's career see my "Selected Publications of Esther McCoy: Patron Saint and Myth Maker for Southern California Architectural Historians" (McCoy)).

"A California House With Pre-Cast Walls," in Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 161. First published in Concrete, May, 1916, p. 197.

The focus of the above article was the Clark House and its use of the Aiken System in its construction. The next door Brochon House contract stipulated that it would be built by the more traditional frame and plaster method thus it was not included in period publications and was seemingly lost for posterity. ("Building Contracts Recorded," Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer, February 1, 1913, p. 40)

The front and rear pergolas connecting the two properties and recently completed landscaping on both lots clearly indicates that the two houses were built at the same time. This was born out by a series of blurbs in the construction trade journal Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer during their February 1913 groundbreaking and May 1913 completion.

Clark House floor plan from "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine on Home Building, October 1917, p. 224.

Through an exhaustive search of back issues of Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer and a fortuitous title "Clark, 7233 Hillside" inked onto an Irving Gill slide mount in architect-historian John Reed's collection I was finally able to determine that the Aiken System house was indeed the Sarah "B." Clark Residence which was actually located at "7231" Hillside Ave. in Hollywood. Period SC&M descriptions summarized the house as being 2-story, 8-rooms, 40 x 41 ft., of reinforced concrete Aiken System construction, plastered exterior, composition roof, tile mantel, automatic water heater and having a construction value of $4500. The owner, Sarah B. Clark, was listed on the building permit as living at 1853 Gower St. when she signed the contract with Gill's Concrete Building and Investment Co. whose office was listed as 643 Citizen's National Bank Building (see below). ("Building Contracts Recorded," Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, February 15 and 22, 1913, pp. 19 and 34 respectively. (Author's note: Gill's private practice office was listed at 625 S. Hill St. in the February 15th article which also listed the Clark Residence at 7731 Hillside Ave. which is the likely source of Kamerling's mis-listing of the project address in his Gill project list.). 

Citizen's National Bank Building, southwest corner of Third and Main Sts., 1906, Harrison Albright, architect. Photographer unknown, ca. 1913. Courtesy California Historical Society, USC Digital Collection. 

Irving Gill was also listed as the architect for the $4716 Brochon House which was described as being 30 ft. x 36 ft., two-story with 8-rooms, asphalt and gravel roof, with the construction contract with F. H. Parmalee being signed on January 23rd. Coincidentally, Mrs. M. N. Brochon was also listed as living at the same address as Sarah Clark, 1853 Gower St., when her building permit was issued. ("Building Contracts Recorded," Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, February 1, p. 40). Both houses were amazingly completed within four months on the same day in late May seemingly indicating no real advantage in terms of speed to either method. ("Notice of Completion," Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer, May 31, 1913, pp. 39-40).

Friday Morning Club, 940 S. Figueroa St.. Arthur B. Benton, architect, 1900. Photographer unknown. Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.  

Gill would by the beginning of the Banning House construction in June 1913 move his office and residence to 913 S. Figueroa St. across the street from the familiarly-arched Friday Morning Club (see above) where he would remain until 1923. The Friday Morning Club  was founded by abolitionist, suffragist, mother and homemaker Caroline Severance in 1891. The club was the largest single women's club in California, with membership of over 1,800 by the 1920s. More research needs to be done on whether any of Gill's Los Angeles clients were members of the Friday Morning Club as it seems likely he would have attended numerous events at the most popular and prestigious women's club in the city. For example, 1912 Gill client Ella Giles Ruddy (see below) was a close friend of Severance thus it is plausible that they could have met at the Friday Morning Club. (For more on the Friday Morning Club see my "The Schindlers and the Westons and the Walt Whitman School." For more on Ruddy see my "Ella Giles Ruddy House, 241 N. Western Ave., Irving Gill,Architect, 1913"). 

Caroline Severance and Ella Giles Ruddy in poet Ruddy's Emerson Corner of her home, ca. 1906. Frontispiece from The Mother of Clubs: Caroline M. Seymour Severance; An Estimate and An Appreciation, edited by Ella Giles Ruddy, Baungardt Publishing Co., Los Angeles, 1906.

"The beauty of the simple treatment of the arch," from "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine on Home Building, October 1917, p. 224.

The Clark House (see front porch above and below) has the added singular distinction of being the first house for which Gill used the Aiken System tilt-slab construction technique. This fact had not come to light until I was able to determine that the house was completed by the end of May in 1913. This was right around the time that Frank Lloyd Wright was reconnecting with Gill during his and Mamah Borthwick Cheney's visit with son's Lloyd and John and former apprentice Barry Byrne. The couple were on their way back to Chicago from Japan where Wright had laid the groundwork for the Imperial Hotel commission. (Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, various issues, February, May and June, 1913. For much more on Wright's fateful 1913 Los Angeles visit see my "Irving Gill and Homer Laughlin and the Beginnings of Modern Architecture in Los Angeles, Part II, 1911-1916" ("Gill-Laughlin, Part II")). 

Construction photo of front porch exterior of Clark House. From Smith, Bertha H., "Simplicity - Keynote of Successful Concrete House Design," Concrete, January 1917, pp. 7-8.

The late date of the first publication of the Clark House would likely have confused people into thinking that the Banning House begun in June 1913 was Gill's first "Aiken" house. Esther McCoy created the myth for succeeding historians in her 1960 Five California Architects by being the first to state that the Banning House was Gill's first project to employ the "tilt-slab"[Aiken] method. By like token, by being the first to miss the fact that the Dodge House was also constructed using Aiken methodology, she established an additional myth inadvertently perpetrated by succeeding historians. (Author's note: By not ever once mentioning Aiken by name in her Gill chapter in Five California Architects and belittling his substantial national efforts before his 1912 bankruptcy, McCoy disingenuously elevated Gill's role in the development of "tilt-slab" technology. For much more on this see my "Selected Publications of Esther McCoy, Patron Saint and Myth Maker for Southern California Architectural Historians").

McCoy further reinforced the Dodge House myth in a 1965 article in which she erroneously stated "The Dodge House would have been tilt-slab except for the fact that Gill's contractor, after building a dozen tilt-slabs, bowed out." Gill's contractor was indeed his own Concrete Building and Investment Company and he did use "tilt-slab" on the Dodge House. In the same article she wrote that Gill began experimenting with tilt-slab in 1911 instead of the correct 1912-13. She dated the Banning House as 1912 instead of the correct 1913 and the La Jolla Women's Club as 1913 instead of the correct 1914. (McCoy, Esther, "The Dodge House," AIA Southern California Bulletin, Autumn 1965, pp. 10-11).

McCoy was possibly swayed by Bertha H. Smith's article "Mrs. Banning Builds First Cubist House" which appeared in the Los Angeles Times upon its completion if she had happened upon it. (Smith, Bertha H., "Mrs. Banning Builds First Cubist House," Los Angeles Times, November 1, 1914, p. VI-1). The myth was later perpetuated in Bruce Kamerling's groundbreaking 1993 Irving J. Gill, Architect, Sean Scensor in his excellent 1995 graduate thesis "Irving Gill and the Rediscovery of Concrete in California: The Marie and Chauncy Clarke House, 1919-1922," and inferred by Thomas Hines in his 2000 Irving Gill and the Architecture of Reform. (See more at my McCoy). (For much more on Marie Rankin Clarke and the Clarke House also see my "Edward Weston, R. M. Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright,Lawrence Tibbett, Reginald Pole, Beatrice Wood and Their Dramatic Circles").


Colonel Robert Aiken ca. 1908, photographer unknown. From "House Walls Built Flat and Raised," Cement World, Aug 15, 1908, p. 327. 

"The Second Annual Cement Show at the Coliseum, Chicago," Cement Age, March 1909, p. 206.

Colonel Robert Aiken (see two above) devised a system of casting the walls of buildings in a horizontal position and raising them with special equipment while in the U.S. Army building barracks in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. Numerous barracks buildings were subsequently erected using his method at army posts across the U.S. and in Panama (see below for example).  After leaving the military Aiken patented the system in 1908. On November 14, 1908, he organized the Aiken Cement House company and incorporated it in the State of Maine for tax purposes. He soon began a much-advertised national marketing campaign with the intent of  franchising his system by region. The effort also included setting up booths at concrete trade shows such as the 1909 Chicago Cement Show (see above). (Dretske, Diana, "Robert H. Aiken, Tilt-Up Construction Inventor," Lake County, Illinois History).

Below is a sequence of construction photos for one of Aiken's typical buildings for the U. S. Army, a new mess hall for Camp Perry, Ohio. Aiken used the images to illustrate his paper "Monolithic Concrete Wall Buildings - Methods, Construction and Cost" presented at the fifth annual convention of the National Association of Cement Users in January 1909 in Cleveland, Ohio. The photos provide the best illustration and insight I have been able to find as to how Gill might have sequenced the construction of his larger Aiken System projects. (Aiken, Robert, "Monolithic Concrete Wall Buildings - Methods, Construction and Cost," in Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Convention, National Association of Cement Users, Held at Cleveland, Ohio, January 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 1909, Vol. 5, pp. 83-105). (View full article at Intenet Archive).

Concrete mess hall building, 192 by 132 feet, at Camp Perry, Ohio. Built in 28 days.

Setting up jacks for the wall mold.

Placing reinforcement on two inches of concrete.

White-finishing wall on fitting platform.

Two walls in position, intersecting wall under construction.

Wall raised half way.

Rear view of wall in vertical position.

Closing up end wall, two sections of main front wall, gap for front entrance wing.

Cross wall connecting kitchen to main wall, just raised, ready to strip off wood backing and jacks.

"Aiken Cement House Company," National Association of Cement Users, Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Convention, November 1911, p. 898.

It is not certain how the concrete-intrigued Gill first became aware of the Aiken System but it was most likely through his former partner William S. Hebbard who designed the Union Title and Trust Company building on Second St. between C and D Streets. The Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company was the low bidder for the construction contract which it used for its San Diego region demonstration project. (Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, October 8, 1910, pp. 7-8). Gill also might have learned of, or followed the evolution of the Aiken process through period articles and ads in the concrete journals (see above for example). He also would have been approached directly by Aiken representatives C. C. Fife and/or Frederick H. Sears who had moved to Los Angeles in 1910 to establish the California branch of the national Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company. Frederick H. Sears, "Notables of the Southwest," Press Reference Library, Los Angeles Examiner, 1912, p. 441.

Frederick H. Sears, ibid.

Aiken Reinforced Concrete Co., 1113-1114 Union Trust Bldg., southeast corner of South Spring and West 4th Streets, designed by John Parkinson, 1904. First skyscraper in Los Angeles. From LAPL Photo DWP Collection. 

An offshoot of the Chicago-based Aiken Cement House Company which Sears also helped organize, the Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company incorporated in Los Angeles in 1910.  The firm's offices were located on the 11th floor of the Union Trust Building (see above). The associated Sears and Fife real estate development company also had its offices at the same location. Fife was a director of Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company as well as an independent construction contractor. Throughout 1910-1912 Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer listed regional "demonstration" projects for various Aiken Corporation offshoots in Phoenix, Tucson, Bakersfield, Fresno, San Diego and elsewhere.

Union Title and Trust Building, Second St. between C and D Streets, 1911, W. S. Hebbard, architect, Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company, contractor. Photographer unknown. From San Diego History Center.

The San Diego region Aiken demonstration project was for the above-mentioned $100,000 Union Title and Trust Company Building on Second St. between C and D Streets which began construction in November 1910. Gill's former partner W. S. Hebbard (see below) was the architect, thus Gill would have been closely watching the construction progress using the novel tilt-slab methodology. Hebbard applied ornamentation such as the Doric columns and pediments to the front wall of the 50x100 ft. two-story and basement reinforced concrete structure. All four walls were erected using the Aiken System tilt-slab equipment (see above). (Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, October 8, 1910, pp. 7-8).

William Sterling Hebbard, ca. 1900. Photographer unknown. From San Diego History Center.

The Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company had a short-lived presence in Los Angeles and other cities around the country after the original round of regional licenses were awarded. The firm was insolvent by mid-1912 evidenced by a bankruptcy notice for construction contractor and Aiken director C. C. Fife in Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer which listed among his assets as "419 shares of original issue of 1000 shares in capital stock in the insolvent Aiken Reinforced Concrete Co., his share of the liabilities of the company being placed at $34, 671.40." (Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer, August 3, 1912, p. 9)

Los Angeles Railway Paint Shop, 55th St. and South Park Ave., 1911, Karl D. Schwendener, architect. Los Angeles Herald Examiner, January 1911. From "South Los Angeles Wetlands Project, Draft EIR," City of Los Angeles, 2005.

The first Aiken System project in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Railway Paint Shop, a 111’ x 644’ building containing 36 car bays, was begun in September 1910 and completed by mid-1911. Designed by Los Angeles architect Karl D. Schwendener and erected by the Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company, 106 ft-long, 100-ton wall sections were cast horizontally and then raised into position (see above). (Author's note: The November 10, 1910 issue of Building Age, p. 490 listed the architect as G. J. Kubris.). 

The Herald Examiner reported that Robert Aiken, a concrete specialist from Illinois, developed the technique of “lift-slab” or “tilt-up” concrete construction and his “process [was] used for the first time in the West” in building the Paint Shop for the Los Angeles Railway. The building was undoubtedly one the largest of its era to employ tilt-up construction (see below). 

Los Angeles Railway Paint Shop, 55th St. and South Park Ave., 1911. Karl D. Schwendener, architect. Photographer unknown. From "South Los Angeles Wetlands Project, Draft EIR," City of Los Angeles, 2005.

(Author's note: The site of the first Aiken System construction project in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Railway Paint Shop, was recently converted into an innovative urban wetlands by the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation's Storm Water Management Division (see below). I could not be more proud as this group was under my direction before I retired as Assistant Director of the Bureau of Sanitation in 1999).

Rendering of South Los Angeles Wetlands Park with still-existing Los Angeles Railway Paint Shop which will become an interpretive center. From "South Los Angeles Wetlands Project, Draft EIR," City of Los Angeles, 2005 and Fuentes, Ed, "Innovative Wetlands Park Opens in South Los Angeles," KCET.org.

Still based in San Diego at the time, Gill was also likely aware of this Los Angeles region Aiken "demonstration" project and was certainly given a tour by Sears and/or Fife prior to his mid-1912 purchase of the regional patent rights of the then bankrupt Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company. (Gebhard, David, "Wood Studs, Stucco, and Concrete: Native and Imported Images," in On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900-1950 edited by Paul J. Karlstrom, University of California Press, 1996, p. 149). 

Thomas Fellows, ca. 1911. From Press Reference Library: Notables of the Southwest, International News Service, 1912, p. 473.

Likely inspired by Aiken, a similar competing method was developed in 1910 by engineer/architect Thomas Fellows (see above). Gill would have been well acquainted with Fellows and his work as he was a sales agent for the Western Art Tile Works whose hollow terra cotta blocks and other products Gill used in his 1907 Laughlin House and many of his other projects.

Typical Western Art Tile Works ad from Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer, 1908.

Fellows also lectured and published often on reinforced concrete, his particular area of expertise, and was a former field supervisor for renowned reinforced concrete architect Charles Whittlesey and equally noted reinforced concrete contractor Carl Leonardt. While wearing his City of Los Angeles building inspector's hat, in 1906 Fellows was part of a team including Octavious Morgan, Harrison Albright, Whittlesey and Leonardt which investigated the collapse of the Bixby Hotel in Long Beach. ("Nine Men Killed in Collapse of Hotel," San Francisco Call, November 10, 1906, pp. 1, 5). (For much on Whittlesey, Albright and Leonardt see my "Gill-Laughlin, Part I").

Fellows exhibited a model of a single family dwelling designed to use his recently patented reinforced concrete tilt-slab construction method and presented a paper titled "Inexpensive Sanitary Houses" at a city planning conference in Los Angeles in November 1910. ("Experts to Talk on City Planning," Los Angeles Herald, November 13, 1910, p. 6). If Gill did not attend this conference he would certainly have seen the article Fellows published in Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer a few months later on the construction of a reinforced concrete demonstration house on Branch St. in Eagle Rock employing his new construction method (see below for example). 

Fellows, Thomas, "Trying to Solve the Problem of Fireproof Construction for Small Residences," Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer, April 15, 1911, pp. 18-19. Also published in the May 1912 issue of Cement Age.


Gill formed the Concrete Building and Investment Company and essentially became his own contractor in Los Angeles in July 1912 just after the above-mentioned bankruptcy of the Aiken Reinforced Concrete Company. An enthused Gill purchased the regional Aiken System rights and bought or leased the necessary equipment from the by then insolvent Aiken Company. The equipment, including the jacks and frames, was originally manufactured at the Aiken factory in Benton Township, Illinois built by Aiken in 1908 using his own system. ("Robert H. Aiken, Tilt-Up Construction Inventor," Lake County, Illinois History).

Concrete Building and Investment Company stock offering ad. Los Angeles Herald, September 7, 1912, p. I-16.

Gill's initial capitalization of $100,000 was provided by partners and backers headed by Los Angeles real estate mogul C. Wesley Roberts, whose office was also in the Citizens National Bank Building, John W. Crump, and Chief Deputy City Auditor James H. Fountain and his assistant James K. Hawk. ("Incorporations," Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1912, p. II-2). The stated purpose of the company was "...to erect concrete buildings at low cost by pouring the walls separately on a tilting platform." (Building Age, November 1912, p. 600). 

Concrete Building and Investment Company stock offering ad. LAH, September 21, 1912, p. 29.

"Torrance, The Modern Industrial City" ad. Publication and date unknown.

Gill and Roberts originally intended to build at least 100 worker's houses employing the Aiken System in the new industrial city of Torrance where Gill was in April 1912 named chief architect for the Dominguez Land Co.. Gill's revolutionary designs did not resonate with the Torrance factory workers and the dream did not come to fruition. ("Personal Items: Incorporations," Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer, July 20, 1912, p. 39. For much more on this see my "Gill-Laughlin, Part II"). 

Thomas Fellows letter to Frederick Olmsted, Jr., January 3, 1912. Courtesy of the Torrance Historical Society Olmsted Papers. See also "Personal Notes-Business Factors," SWCM, January 12, 1912, p. 13.

Ironically Gill and Fellows, who had formed his American Concrete Company shortly before Gill formed the Concrete Building and Investment Company, were competitors for the chief architect job for the Dominguez Land Company's Industrial City of Torrance where they both had visions of employing their methods in the construction of the town's new reinforced concrete buildings. Fellows had been strongly lobbying Jared Torrance's Dominguez Land Company consultant John Olmsted for the Torrance chief architect position (see above for example). Three months before Gill was named the Dominguez Land Co.'s chief architect Fellows was quoted in Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer that his system was under consideration for the construction of Torrance's new buildings. (Ibid). Gill won the position after the Dominguez Land Company general manager H. H. Sinclair toured Gill's work and was favorably impressed. (H. H. Sinclair letter to Frederick Olmsted, Jr., April 12, 1912, courtesy Torraance Historical Society Olmsted Papers). (Author's note: Gill would in 1921-2 share Fellows' technique with R. M. Schindler when he was designing and building his residence on Kings Road. For more on this see my "The Schindlers and the Hollywood Arts Association").

Worker's cottages in Torrance. Irving Gill, architect, 1912. From Concrete Cottages, Small Garages and Farm Buildings by Albert Lakeman, Concrete Utilities Bureau/ Concrete Publications, Ltd. London, 1918, pp. 148. (Many thanks to Erik Hansen's excellent "Irving Gill Bibliography" for alerting me to this book.)

Indeed the 1918 book Concrete Cottages, Small Garages and Farm Buildings by Albert Lakeman containing the above and below illustrations states that the Aiken System was used to construct the above worker's cottages. 
"Concrete is exclusively used for the construction, the walls being cast, each in one piece on an inclined table and afterwards raised to the vertical position by means of jacks. The designer relies entirely on the proportion and grouping of the various parts for his effects, and large plain surfaces are conspicuous in each building. Arches are also greatly used and the roofs are constructed as flats with large overhanging eaves or with plain parapet walls. 
Woodwork has been eliminated whenever possible and steel is used for door and window frames, while architraves, skirtings, picture rails, chair rails and similar features are dispensed with and a good hard cement plaster is adopted for all positions where rough usage is possible. The plastering used is the very best quality, and the interior walls are generally finished with soft white or neutral tints, which reflect a certain amount of colour from the curtains, rugs, and other furnishings. The floors in many cases are finished in cement, these being specially treated with colour and oil to produce a good appearance, and wood floors are seldom adopted even in the larger types of buildings.
Site and floor plans for four worker's cottages in Torrance. Irving Gill, architect, 1912. From Concrete Cottages, Small Garages and Farm Buildings by Albert Lakeman, Concrete Utilities Bureau/ Concrete Publications, Ltd. London, 1918, pp. 144-145.
The plans illustrated (see above) will be seen to be somewhat  unusual, as the kitchen is generally placed in the front, but this is shielded by the walls of the kitchen court, and it has the advantage that the rear garden is kept free from tradesmen and rendered private for the use of the owner. Great use is made of shrubs, trees and creepers to produce exterior effects, and these designs are undoubtedly some of the most successful examples of complete concrete buildings in existence, while they show the possibilities of the material in a very striking manner."
A much lengthier article in the March 1913 issue of Sunset right after these houses were completed and while the Sarah B. Clark House was under construction made no mention of the Aiken System being used. Thus until I can find additional corroboration that the Aiken System was used at Torrance I will continue with my claim that the Clark house was Gill's first project using the Aiken System. ("Moving the Factory Back to the Land," Sunset, March, 1913, pp.299-304).

In any event Gill's 500-700 sq. ft., $1,400 cottages did not appeal to the average worker. They were not enthralled with the stark, ornament-free architectural designs thus only about a dozen of the simple house were built. Gill and the CBIC had to look elsewhere for projects on which to make the Aiken System pay for itself. (Ibid).

Riverside Portland Cement Company Factory just before completion, Crestmore, CA, 1909. ("The Plant of the Riverside Portland Cement Co." Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer, November 20, 1909, pp. 14-15).

Worker's Barracks for the Riverside Portland Cement Company, Crestmore, 1912. Rendering by Lloyd Wright. From Kamerling, p. 98.

Around the same time Gill formed the Concrete Building and Investment Company and was trying to build worker's cottages on a large scale using the Aiken System in Torrance, he also landed the commission to design worker's barracks for the Riverside Portland Cement Company factory in Crestmore. In his original design concept Gill proposed using the Aiken System to construct two reinforced concrete 100 x 150 ft. hollow squares with flat roofs for the worker's barracks (see above). ("Factories and Warehouses: Creston [sic], Cal.,"Building and Industrial News, July 30, 1912, p. 9,). 

Worker's Barracks for the Riverside Portland Cement Company, Crestmore, 1912. From Kamerling, p. 98.

Apparently the company did not agree with his still untested Aiken method of building and the project ended up instead being built of more conventional wood frame construction (see above). Riverside Portland Cement grew ever fonder of Gill's use of their product over the years evidence by featuring his Dodge House in one of their ads on the cover of Southwest Builder and Contractor (see later below for example). (Kamerling, pp. 98-99 and Scensor, p. 77).

"Form ready for Concrete,"  "A California House With Pre-Cast Walls," in Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 161. First published in Concrete, May, 1916, p. 197.

Gill was finally able to use the larger single family Clark Residence to first thoroughly learn the idiosyncrasies of the Aiken System before tackling the much more impressive Banning House which was under design during the Clark House construction. The walls were pre-cast in a horizontal position and raised by motor-driven jacks. The number of jacks used and the spacing of them depended on the weight and size of the wall to be supported. Door and window openings were laid out (see above). Metal jambs, soon patented by Gill, were set in place (see below) and the remaining surface of the wall form covered with hollow tile spaced for reinforced concrete beams to give proper stiffness; twisted steel rods were then placed vertically and horizontally, and the wall was ready to be poured. Concrete was wheeled up an incline, dumped, leveled off and allowed to set. The upper surface (the outside of the wall) was finished in its tilted position before being raised. (Ibid).

"Metal window frame," "A California House With Pre-Cast Walls," in Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 161. First published in Concrete, May, 1916, p. 197.

Putting the walls into place required a 5 h.p. gasoline engine. It took from 1/2 hour to 2 hours was required to raise each wall. Horizontal rods left projecting from the ends of the walls were bound together after two adjacent walls had been raised to an upright position. A form 12" wide was built up the entire height of the wall, and into this concrete was poured, producing a concrete and hollow tile steel reinforced with twisted steel bars.

Gill's building permit "Remarks" detailed the outer walls for the first floor to be 12 inches thick consisting of 8 inch hollow block tiles (see below) and 4 inches of concrete covered with one inch of plaster. The second floor walls and all bearing partitions were specified to be 9 inches thick with 4 inch hollow block tiles, 4 inches of concrete and one inch of plaster. The parapet walls above the roof line were to be 4 inches of concrete. (City of Los Angeles Building Permit No. 2195 issued February 17, 1913).

"Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine on Home Building, October 1917, p. 225.

Roof joists are held in place by anchors, and 1" by 6" sheathing covered by a gravel composition was used for the roofing. Interior partitions were of metal lath on wood studding, and the rough concrete slab has been covered by a finish coat reinforced with wire cloth.

"Walls ready for plaster," "A California House With Pre-Cast Walls," in Concrete Houses: How They Were Built, edited by Harvey Whipple, Concrete-Cement Age Publishing Co., Detroit, 1920, p. 161. First published in Concrete, May, 1916, p. 197.

Clark House living room. "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine on Home Building, October 1917, p. 224.

Unlike many more ornate constructions, this tilt-wall style had no moldings or panels on the doors, just plain slab surfaces. There were no baseboards, plate rails, door or window casings or ornamental molding. Marketing materials boasted that it made this house as nearly dirt proof as is possible.

Clark House living room. From "Architect in Secession," Technical World, April, 1914, pp. 231-232.

William H. Code, 1909. Photographer unknown. From (Dretske, Diana, "Robert H. Aiken, Tilt-Up Construction Inventor," Lake County, Illinois History).

The house was completed in a remarkable 3 month's time attesting to the potential cost-savings in using the Aiken System. Little is known of Sarah Clark other than she was listed as a widow in the 1915 Los Angeles City Directory. She sold the house to prominent University of Michigan-trained civil engineer William H. Code, in 1916 (see above). Code was associated with the consulting engineering firm of Quinton, Code and Hill. Engineer Code was without doubt intrigued by the technical, structural aspects of the concrete house which he likely saw in the articles published in Concrete in 1916 and/or in Keith's Magazine of Home Building. The Codes lived there until their deaths in 1951. 

(Author's note: After purchasing the house from Clark, Code commissioned Gill to enclose all the patios and the entry way to create more space. This project does not appear in any of the Gill project lists. Fascinatingly the building permit for these modifications was signed on behalf of Gill by Robert M. Cassiday who would soon marry Persis Bingham who also worked for Gill on the Chapin and Dodge House plans in 1914. Bingham went on to become a freelance architectural writer and authored numerous glowing articles on Gill's work. Bingham and Cassiday both also worked for the noted firm of Hunt and Burns whose office was in the Laughlin Building. This was around the time Gill was beginning design on the Laughlin Theater in Long Beach and completing work on the Dodge House). (See also The "Dirt-Proof" House for Adelaide M. Chapin" and "Gill-Laughlin, Part II").

Left, Sarah B. Clark Residence, 7231 Hillside Ave., and right, Myra N. Brochon Residence, 7235 Hillside Ave., Hollywood, 1913. Irving Gill, architect, landscape design likely by Lloyd Wright. "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine, October 1917, pp. 223-225.

As mentioned earlier the Clark and Brochon Houses were started and completed at the same time. If indeed the landscaping was designed by Lloyd Wright who was then in Gill's employ, this was possibly the first photograph published of his work. An interesting sidebar on the Brochon House is that noted actor and later movie director Raoul Walsh was living there shortly after starring as John Wilkes Booth in D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" with soon-to-be Edward Weston muse and later Schindler lover and client Anna Zacsek who portrayed Laura Keene. (Los Angeles City Directory, 1917). (For much more on this see my "Edward Weston, R. M. Schindler, Anna Zacsek, Lloyd Wright, Lawrence Tibbett, Reginald Pole, Beatrice Wood and Their Dramatic Circles").

W. C. Powers Flats, 821-29 S. New Hampshire Ave., Irving Gill, architect. Hines, p. 155.

I have also recently made the discovery that Gill's four flat building for W. C. Powers at 821-829 S. New Hampshire Ave. was also constructed using the Aiken System (see above and below). Gill received the building permit on March 24, 1913 just a month after being issued the Clark and Brochon permits. (SCWM, March 29, 1913, p. 32). A search of period City Directories and newspapers seemingly indicates that W. C. Powers was a photographer with a studio two blocks south of George Steckel, Gill's 1908 client and Homer Laughlin portraitist. Thus Gill's second Aiken System project could also have resulted from his Laughlin connections. Gill and Lloyd Wright would certainly have shown this construction site to the senior Wright during his earlier-mentioned May 1913 visit to Los Angeles and San Diego. (For much on George Steckel see my "Gill-Laughlin, Part I" and much on Wright's 1913 visit in "Gill-Laughlin, Part II").

W. C. Powers Flats, 821-29 S. New Hampshire Ave., Irving Gill, architect. Hines, p. 155.

Banning Residence, 513 S. Commonwealth Ave., Los Angeles, 1913. "A House Whose Walls were Built on a Table," Southhwest Contractor & Manufacturer, November 12, 1913, p. 5.

After completion of the Clark House Gill's Aiken equipment was immediately moved to the Mary H. Banning House site at 503 S. Commonwealth Ave. where it was used throughout the rest of 1913 supplemented with the Powers Flats equipment when that project was completed. (Smith, Bertha H., "Mrs. Banning Builds First Cubist House," Los Angeles Times, November 1, 1914, p. VI-1).  From there it was shipped to San Diego to build the La Jolla Women's Club and Scripps Recreation Center throughout most of 1914 and then shipped back to Los Angeles to be used on the Dodge House at 950 Kings Road at the end of 1914 and throughout 1915 and early 1916 (see progression of Gill's Aiken System projects in the below photos). 

Mary H. Banning ca. 1914, photograph by E. Robert Mushet. Satterlee, Anna E., "The N.S.D.A.R.," Out West Magazine, 1916, p. 66.

La Jolla Women's Club, 715 Alvarado St. and 7791 Draper Ave., 1914. (From Hines, p. 175).

Gill had moved to 913 S. Figueroa St. in an old Victorian mansion converted to a rooming house across the street from the venerable Friday Morning Club by the time he began design on the La Jolla Women's Club in 1913. Architect Arthur B. Benton's Spanish Revival icon was similarly arched as Gill's recent and future Bishop's School and La Jolla Women's Club designs. Gill's cleaner versions of the same theme were greatly facilitated by his use of the Aiken System in the La Jolla projects. Below is the approximate view Gill would have had from his Concrete Building & Investment Co. office-residence.

Friday Morning Club, 940 S. Figueroa St., ca. 1900. Arthur B. Benton, architect, 1900. Photographer unknown. Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

La Jolla Womens Club, Craftsman, Aug 1915, p. 451. 

La Jolla Womens Club, Craftsman, Aug 1915, p. 450.

Scripps Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St., La Jolla, 1914. Irving Gill, architect. From San Diego History Center.

Also inspired by his neighbor, the Friday Morning Club and riffing off his La Jolla Women's Club, Gill repeated the multi-arched theme in his 1914 Scripps Recreation Center.

Riverside PortlandCement ad featuring Irving Gill's Dodge House, 950 Kings Road, Sherman, California, 1916. Southwest Builder and Contractor, May 14, 1920, front cover.

Possibly Gill's last use of the Aiken System was for his tour de force Dodge Residence at 950 Kings Road. Frank Lloyd Wright and Schindler were most likely given tours of this icon by Gill and/or Lloyd Wright while it was under construction in conjunction with their 1915 visits to San Diego's Panama-California Exposition. (For much more on this see my "Edward Weston and Mabel Dodge Luhan Remember D. H. Lawrence" and  "The Schindlers and the Hollywood Art Association, 1921-1926." It is interesting to note that none of the previously mentioned Gill monographs and authors picked up on the fact that the Dodge House was built employing the Aiken method.).

"As a House of Cards Is Made; Remarkable Home of Chicago Capitalist Is Completed," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1916, p. I-12.

"As a House of Cards Is Made; Remarkable Home of Chicago Capitalist Is Completed," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1916, p. I-12.

It is not yet known whether Gill used the Aiken System on any other projects beyond the well-documented five above during his 1912-1918 Concrete Building and Investment Company venture but further much-needed Gill research might turn up others. For example Nicole Holland, Ashley Chang, and Pieter Stougaard in their excellent article "Irving Gill's Vision for the Bishop's School" state that Gill used the Aiken system in the construction of the school's Gilman Hall in 1916 which seems plausible but needs further corroboration (see below). (Journal of San Diego History; Fall 2008, Vol. 54 Issue 4, p. 276).

Gillman Hall, Bishop's School, La Jolla, 1916, Gill & Gill, architects. From Thomas, David, "Bishop’s celebrates its first century by looking back and ahead," sdnews.com.

Fascinatingly, shortly after completing the Dodge House Gill formed the Investment-Construction Corp with Ernest Lang, Lawrence McConnville, M. J. Lang and F. R. Baker with a stock capitalization of $20,000. More research is needed to learn what, if any, projects may have resulted from this effort. ("Incorporations," LAT, April 11, 1916, p. II-10. Author's note: McConnville was listed as secretary of Gill's Concrete Building and Investment Co. in the 1916 Los Angeles City Directory.).

Gill finally came to expensively realize like many others, including Aiken himself, that the large and complex machinery was tied up on-site for long periods, was expensive to assemble and store while it was idle, and that the only way one was going to turn a profit above the ongoing equipment lease payments and building royalties was to have a continuous stream of large commercial projects or large subdivisions of much smaller dwellings. Gill's corporation was legally suspended around the end of 1918. The last mention of his Concrete Building and Investment Company I was able to find was for the Raymond House in Long Beach (see below). Listed as a "frame residence" it thus unclear whether Gill employed the Aiken System in its construction. (Southwest Builder and Contractor, August 23, 1918, pp. 10, 14, 24). 

"Frame Residence," Southwest Builder and Contractor, August 23, 1918, pp. 10. 

Raymond Residence, 2127 Ocean Ave., Long Beach, 1918, Irving Gill, architect. From Modern San Diego.

Aiken was still dabbling with his system well into the 1920s. He went on to patent a number of tilt-up table devices and related mechanisms, and continued to build in the Midwest through the mid 1920s. For example, in 1924, he and his wife, Jannette, and her sister Josephine Kellogg, subdivided the northern portion of their property south of Kellogg Creek into the "Kellogg's Home Site Subdivision." The site was improved with one and two bedroom concrete, Gill-like Spanish-style bungalows (see below) that were rented on a daily basis to tourists. In addition, there was a campground and sandwich shop on site. Josephine Kellogg was the proprietor of the tourist camp which she coincidentally named "Hollyhock Hill." Aiken's concrete bungalows are still visible today on Sheridan Road in Winthrop Harbor in Benton Township, Illinois. This was Robert Aiken's last project using his method of tilt-up construction. (From Lake County, Illinois History).

Tourist bungalow at "Hollyhock Hill."  ("Robert H. Aiken, Tilt-Up Construction Inventor," Lake County, Illinois History).

Gill built numerous similarly small cottages during his Aiken tenure such as the Chapin and Bingham Houses and West Adams Villas and about a dozen "worker's houses" in Torrance thus it would be interesting to determine whether the process might have been used on smaller scale dwellings during the period he was building his larger Aiken projects mentioned above. 

Afterword


For much on Gill's early relationship with Schindler and Lloyd Wright see my "The Schindlers and the Hollywood Art Association."

For additional reading I recommend David Gebhard's "Wood Studs, Stucco, and Concrete: Native and Imported Images," in On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900-1950 edited by Paul J. Karlstrom, University of California Press, 1996, pp. 138-155. Gebhard takes a look at the use of reinforced concrete in California in the 1890s and 1900's and analyzes Gill's fascination with concrete and debunks the "myth of Gill as an avant-garde technological innovator" he attributed to Esther McCoy. For example McCoy attempted to make the case Gebhard alluded to in her 1965 article "The Dodge House" in which she wrote"...when Gill made concrete his material he had to develop his own methodology."  (McCoy, Esther, "The Dodge House," AIA Southern California Bulletin, Autumn 1965, pp. 10-11. 

Like with much of McCoy's writings, be on the lookout for inaccuracies in the dates in Gebhard's piece such as the Banning House being built in 1912 and the La Jolla Women's Club in 1913. Gebhard's statement that Gill did not use the Aiken system much after 1913 does not account for the fact that the La Jolla Women's Club and Scripps Recreational Center were built in 1914 and that the Dodge House employed the Aiken technology in 1915-16. 

Like the other Gill historians referenced above, Gebhard also did not mention the Sarah B. Clark House and thus overlooked Gill's first use of the Aiken System. Ironically, Gebhard's footnote substantiating his claim that Gill did not use Aiken much after 1913 states that,
"30. "Gill, however, as late as 1919 advocated the Aiken System. See "Pre-Cast Walls for the Concrete House," Keith's Magazine 38 (October 1917): 223-26."
Unbeknownst to Gebhard, this article was describing the Sarah B. Clark Residence at 7231 Hillside Ave. in Hollywood I cited heavily from above, i.e., Gill's first Aiken project which was built in February-May 1913.

For another excellent discussion of America's (and Gill's) fascination with the concrete house I also highly recommend Sean Scensor's "Irving Gill and the Rediscovery of Concrete in California: The Marie and Chauncy Clarke House, 1919-1922." Scensor makes more of a case for Gill's technological innovations by discussing his patent applications. He also discusses and compares the Aiken System with other competing period technologies and Gill's various iterations of the use of concrete either poured-in-place or using the Aiken System, and in hybrid use with upper story wood-framing such as in the Clarke House to obtain his post-1907 monolithic sensibility. Like Gebhard, Scensor does not mention the Sarah B. Clark House and is off on a few dates.

I have discovered a few additional significant and heretofore unknown Gill projects which are awaiting further research so please stay tuned.

As with all of my articles, I add new material as it is uncovered so check back periodically for updates.