The History of the Los Altos Neutra House
A talk by King Lear at an Ethical Culture Society Meeting at the Neutra House on 3/12/2023.
After 17 years of running the Neutra House project as a volunteer, King Lear retired in January. He continues to work on documenting the history of the house and the lives of the architect and client. He made this presentation with a lot of new material, and it evolved into a reunion of the critical project volunteers King introduces in the video.
There are four stories that King tells in this lecture. Richard Neutra, a renowned architect, was the reason we saved this house. Jacqueline Johnson, the client, had her own fascinating life story. Third, we have an account of the project to keep the house. Finally, many excellent architecture appreciation programs were conceived to pay off the loan incurred to finish the project in 2008.
The movie is as-taken, not edited. The second person appearing at the movie’s end is John Dukovic, chair of the Ethical Culture Society of Silicon Valley. John led the proceedings. This group has been meeting in the Neutra House since 2016 and is a perfect example of the non-profits that appreciate the Neutra House.
The Neutra House project in Los Altos saved an iconic single bedroom, 750 square feet redwood home designed by Richard Neutra.
We moved it to Los Altos City land. The Los Altos community under the leadership of the Los Altos Community Foundation raised the funds to move and restore and adapt the home to a public small conference center and architectural exhibit.
When completed the facility was gifted to the City of Los Altos.
Our fund-raising efforts included architecture appreciation programs.
One of our advisory committee members, the late Carroll Rankin, a Palo Alto architect, said we needed to interview Matt Kahn as part of our Architecture Program due to Matt’s past involvement with Eichler Homes.
I contacted Matt and he agreed to do an interview in July 2009. At that time Matt was phasing out of teaching at Stanford after a 60-year career. He was having some health problems but he was happy to participate in this interview.
Matt liked what we had done to save the Richard Neutra house. Later Matt gave the Neutra House Program one of his art works, “Magic Mountain”. It graces the main conference room. He chose the art piece for its curves as it resides in Neutra’s rectilinear space.
Matt was a very special person and an important teacher on Design to thousands of Stanford students over the years.
On this ten-year anniversary of our interview I fondly remember how happy Matt and I were doing this.
There are two movies, one 46-minute complete interview, and a 28-minute movie extracted from the complete interview.
The short version focuses on Matt’s experience with Joe and Ned Eichler and Eichler Homes.
It goes on to talk about Matt’s art, finishing on a wonderful summary by Matt of the artistic value of his technique.
The complete 46-minute interview discusses Matt’s art works in detail, including his mesmerizing Preying Mantis done in reaction to and quickly after the 9/11/2001 attack on the NY World Trade Center.
In many ways Matt Kahn was the art and soul of Eichler Homes.
Kahn (1928-2013) influenced several generations of engineers, artists and industrial and graphic designers through his teaching at Stanford University where he taught design and art for more than 60 years.
He often opened his Eichler home on campus to students, most notably for an annual and soon-to-be legendary assignment to carve jack-o-lanterns.
For a decade from the ‘50s into the ‘60s Kahn and his wife Lyda Kahn furnished model homes for builder Joe Eichler in a creative manner rare in the merchant home business.
He worked with photographer Ernie Braun on staging the homes for photo shoots. Kahn taught art appreciation classes to Eichler’s employees, and designed graphics for Eichler Homes as well.
In the 28-minute excerpt from an interview conducted by King Lear in 2009, Kahn focuses on his involvement with Eichler Homes and builder Joe Eichler.
The Neutra Letters
From his Architectural student days in Vienna, prior to World War I, Richard Neutra had wanted to visit the United States to meet Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. But the war intervened and it was only in 1923 that he was able to go to the United States leaving his pregnant wife Dione behind with her parents.
I, Richard’s youngest son, and my wife Peggy Bauhaus read the exchange of letters between Richard, Dione and her parents about their thoughts on architecture and their impressions of this trip to America in the early 1920’s.
This video was recorded in the Los Altos Neutra House conference room with Matt Kahn’s artwork as the background.