Saturday, September 7, 2019

Edward Fickett and his 1950s era homes; the architectural photography of Leland Y. Lee

Image courtesy of the MultiCultural Music and Art Foundation of Northridge
CSUN, Oviatt Library

I received a tip from L.A. photojournalist Gary Leonard about a 1953 Edward Fickett-designed house in the Valley occupied by its original owner, Maxine Simons. A curious quest sent me to Reseda and Van Nuys then onto the west side in Beverly Hills to meet Joycie Fickett. My research led me back to the east side in Whittier where there are two Fickett tracts not far from where I live.

Why Isn't Fickett a Household Name?

Despite the fact that he designed a lot of households.

Joycie Fickett, wife of Edward Hale Fickett (1916-1999), points to the exceptional modesty of her late husband in regards to his own accomplishments as an architect.  She likes to cite the number of houses he designed - in the range of more than 60,000 - mostly in southern California.

Quantity aside, the quality of his work was recognized by fellow architects then and still now.  And today a growing number of homeowners and realtors appreciate the Fickett house.  Earlier this year he received a prestigious award - an induction to the National Housing Hall of Fame - the first time for a posthumous recognition.

The 1950s was the most active decade for his tract home designs, custom homes and apartments.  Incorporating modern features (open L-shaped floor plans, glass walls, playful rooflines) with traditional details, today his designs are described as modern hybrids.

Noteworthy civic projects include the historic and seismic renovation of City Hall; Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster, Cal.; the conversion of L.A. Fire Station No. 30 to the African American Firefighters Museum; and the re-do of the Silverlake Park Recreation Center.  Other high-profile buildings he is credited were the former Tower Records on the Sunset Strip; amenities at Dodger Stadium; and the now-razed Hollywood Park Racetrack restaurant and clubhouse that operated in Inglewood.  He also worked on hot dog stands and public school building additions.

He used his engineering aptitude to master plan the Port of Los Angeles as well as devise a stainless steel hydraulic chair to immerse Special Olympics swimmers into the pool at the Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks Park.

This post will also recognize Chinese-American photographer Leland Y. Lee, whose photographs are included in Richard Rapaport's book, California Moderne and the Mid-Century Dream.

Fickett Designs

Fickett Towers in Van Nuys, Cal. 
(Click on any image to zoom)

Fickett Towers in Van Nuys appears to be a design anomaly, and the building name seems out of character for the modest architect.  I asked Joycie about the Towers, currently a senior citizens residence in Van Nuys that was built around 1973.  An apartment building which Edward Fickett was the original architect, Joycie explained.  It was supposed to be only six stories high, she said, but he had to step away from the project.  The subsequent architect credited Fickett's name to the building.

Below are some examples of the type of architecture he is most known for.

The "Research House" pictured below demonstrated an affordable counterpart to the Case Study Houses.  One of two houses was located at Sunset and Merced Avenues in West Covina.  This structure has been torn down.  An identical model located at 3624 Woodcliff Road in the Sherwood Park area of Sherman Oaks has survived  Built by the McDonald Bros., the house was sponsored by the Associated Architectural Publications.  It became the prize-winning "home of tomorrow," demonstrating low-cost design for the $20,000 to $25,000 range.

"Research House" 1955 (photos by Dale Healy)
Images courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Post World War II Housing Boom

After the war came the swift rise across the U.S. of mass-produced, cookie-cutter housing developments - most famously on the east coast by the Levittowns and out west we have Lakewood (1950) in southern California.  Plenty of other new, smaller scale housing tracts offered Traditional designs.

Running counter were new Contemporary styled homes on the market, such as the concepts of Edward Fickett, although he straddled both markets at first.  An Eichler Network article online explained "Sure, in early subdivisions Fickett's homes were a "doll-up, ranch-type 'hybrid'" of modern and traditional..."  Innovative use of indigenous materials contributed to economical design.  Fickett strived towards "affordable yet palatial," and he liked to employ walls of glass in order to "bring the outside in."

Further along in this blog post, under a section called Edward Fickett's Tract Homes in Eastern L.A. County and Northwestern Orange County is a run-down of select tracts in Whittier, the San Gabriel Valley, and other parts of east Los Angeles County, and in the Orange County cities of Buena Park, Garden Grove, and La Habra.

After that, there is a closer look at the expansive development of Meadowlark Park in the San Fernando Valley.

Book cover photo taken by Leland Y. Lee

Fickett Information Resources

For the Fickett aficionado or researcher, the book California Moderne and the Mid-Century Dream written by Richard Rapaport (Rizzoli, 2014) provides visual testament to iconic apartments; luxury residences and beachfront homes; commercial buildings; resort hotels; and civic buildings and master planned developments.

A recent, well-written article with very nice photographs by Cameron Kiszla appeared in the May 16, 2019 issue of Park La Brea News/Beverly Press:  Designing a Legacy to Outlast a Lifetime."  Kiszla reported on Fickett's induction into the National Housing Hall of Fame, the first time ever for a posthumous honor.

That recognition bestowed twenty years after Fickett's death hopefully lifted his wife's spirits after the 2011 destruction of a Fickett structure - the County of Los Angeles library that once stood on San Vicente Boulevard.  Fickett designed several park & recreations structures in addition to the 1959 library in the neighborhood that would become incorporated as the city of West Hollywood in 1984.  Joycie Fickett and Steve Ward both spoke before the County Board of Supervisors in August, 2011, in an eleventh hour effort to halt the bulldozer.  They each were duly given their turns to speak before the Supervisors, but their pleas fell to deaf ears, as did the efforts of other community members in a movement to save the library.  The transcript of the August 16th hearing can be read here.

Joycie and Edward
Image courtesy of Joycie Fickett

In 2010 Fickett's business records including photographs and design plans were donated to the University of Southern California.  The collection has been archived by USC Special Collections.  Here is the finding aid, a useful document to see the content descriptions.  (From the archival description it discloses that Fickett had several design jobs in San Mateo County, Cal.  This may be the Joseph Eichler contracts that Joycie told me about.)

Other informative articles about Fickett:

"Forgotten Giant" by Dave Weinstein on the Eichler Network.

"L.A.'s Great Unknown" by Sean Mitchell for the Los Angeles Times.

Leland Y. Lee, Architectural Photographer

Leland Y. Lee (1918-2016) was renowned in his field and was Chinese American.  For eight years early in his career he assisted Julius Shulman until he embarked on his own in 1961.  From Shulman he learned about architecture and since then worked for leading architects such as John Lautner, Pierre Koenig, A. Quincy Jones, John Rex and Edward Fickett.

From blogger's copy of CA-Modern, Winter 2010
Courtesy of the Eichler Network
Lee pictured with Shulman
From blogger's copy of CA-Modern, Winter 2010
Courtesy of the Eicher Network

Richard Rapaport's book includes photographs of four Fickett projects undertaken by Lee:  the Kaye House in Manhattan Beach (1959); the Simon Beach House in Malibu (1960); the Janss House in Palm Springs (1961); and the La Costa Resort Hotel and Spa in Carlsbad (1964).

Read his amazing life story and the tragic losses of his photo archives by flood and subsequent house fire here:

"Soul searching" a 2010 article on the Eichler Network

"Leland Y. Lee, Architectural Photographer, 1918-2016" in JetSetModernist.  This article points to the fact that Julius Shulman placed Lee, his assistant at the time, into many of his photographs, including iconic ones of the Case Study Houses.

Photos and works on paper, through Coda Gallery

Edward Fickett's Tract Homes in Eastern L.A. County and Northwestern Orange County

The housing developments profiled here are not comprehensive.  Also this posting does not define if a development is in a Traditional or Modern architectural style.

1950     "Palm Grove" in Whittier, was built from the former 15-acre Tomlinson orange grove.  It is located near Palm Avenue between Broadway and Beverly boulevards.  Several years later a green space, Palm Park, would appear.  The Secrest Construction Co. offered 90 two- and three-bedroom, hybrid, "Smartly" designed choices.

Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1950

Whittier Community Study, 1951
Courtesy of the Seaver Center

This tract, not far from where I live, is possibly the earliest tract designed by Fickett to go on the market (on April 16, 1950).  Nearly a month earlier, the infamous Paul Duncan-designed Lakewood Park tract in Lakewood, Cal. opened on March 24, 1950 to throngs of people.  (In Whittier, Duncan was also responsible for the 1948 Whittier Downs tract and Glengarry Square in 1953.)

The Palm Grove houses are not the contemporary designs Fickett is known for.  His wife Joycie explained that the developers did not want a modern layout.  These houses appear along two streets, Whitley and Lorene, and there are two examples pictured below.

Two examples of Palm Grove houses photographed recently

Another side note:  Early in his career, Fickett worked for about one or two years with the well-established architect and fellow Angeleno, Paul Revere Williams.  Williams had practiced for over a quarter century by the time Fickett arrived.  Williams designed his share of post-war tract home developments, but far below the intensity of Fickett.  In Whittier, two of Williams's tracts were built much earlier than Fickett:  Broadway Village on Broadway near Whittier Boulevard (about 135 houses by the Boulevard Improvement Co. in 1947); secondly Layne Manor came onto the market in 1949, also by the same developer.

1950     The "Boulevard Grove" community in Downey contained 292 two- and three-bedroom homes on Firestone Boulevard east of Lakewood Boulevard.  This was a Fickett project with Boulevard Improvement Co. 

Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1950

1951     The announcement below advertised the Coronet Homes development, and this may have been the first phase of the Hastings Ranch section of Pasadena.  Municipal improvements provided newly paved streets and sidewalks, street lighting and sewers.  At Sierra Madre Boulevard and Michillinda.  According to Joycie, Fickett planned and designed 2,000 houses in phases - Lower Hastings, Middle Hastings and Upper Hastings.

Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1951

1951     "Lake Marie Ranchos" by Hobart-Williams Company, are located in Whittier near the streets Mulberry and Painter of 519 two- and three-bedroom homes.  Ads referenced the post-war shortage of building materials, stating that their quality construction used materials stockpiled before the emergency.  By appearances these look to be hybridized:  traditional exteriors and roof lines, but touted to have "floor-to-ceiling heavy plate-glass windows the length of the living rooms."

"Lake Marie" started out as a swampy lagoon owned by Joe Gilleland.  He deepened the lagoon and moved the soil to fill in nearby land in order to grow crops.  He named the lagoon for his wife Ruby Marie.  By the start of 1951, two different subdivisions were on the market employing the use of the old lagoon name.  Harry Brittain, Inc developed the land at Gunn Avenue and Telegraph Road - the "Lake Marie Homes" were selling by the start of 1951.

Whittier Community Study Map, 1951
Courtesy of the Seaver Center

The much larger development at Painter and Mulberry, "Lake Marie Ranchos" listed the Fickett architect name as one of the features.

Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1951

1951     In north Orange County, "La Habra Park" offered 164 three-bedroom homes and two-car garages, located near Whittier Boulevard and Cypress Street.  They continued selling into 1952.

Los Angeles Times, April 27, 1952

1952     During this year Fickett added the following to his catalog of projects:  the Sunset Capri Apartments in Hollywood, the Golden Hotel in Reno, Nevada, and a private home in Palm Springs.  The two years earlier he had two houses in Bel Air and another house in Palm Springs under his belt.

1953     Volk-McLain Company's "Alondra Village" opened to the public in March, 1953 with their brand called "Award Homes."

Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1953

"Buena Gardens" was another collaboration of Fickett and Volk-McLain in Buena Park, Cal.

Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1953

The same year "Gladstone Park" opened with 227 units of three-bedrooms or two-bedrooms plus den, each averaging a tiny 950 square feet.  These "Award Homes" by Volk-McLain, are situated on Gladstone Street between Citrus and Cerritos avenues, just north of Covina.  Notably, many of the lots had orange trees, quite possibly from former groves.  The housing brand was called "Award Homes", featuring steel kitchens, dual gas furnaces, covered carports, wide paved driveways, sheet rock interior walls and Bermuda roofs, topped with colored crush rock.

Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1953

1954     Soon another "Gladstone Park" development by Volk-McLain opened offering 344 three-bedroom units in Covina. Model homes were at Gladstone Street and Azusa Avenue, just south of Foothill Boulevard.  These were larger, averaging 1,000 square feet.  The brand "Award Homes" emphasized windows that were walls of glass opening from the living area onto the patio.

Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1954

1954     "Cypress Gardens" was also offered in Covina by Volk-McLain with 106 units featuring Award Homes amenities.  Three-bedrooms (or 2 plus den) averaging 950 square feet, the ad describes that most of the 243 lots contain mature orange trees of the former orange grove.  Located near Cypress and Lark Ellen.  Again, the colorful Bermuda roof of white, red, pink and gray crushed rocks was a design attribute.  

Los Angeles Times, March 21, 1954

This year also brought "Chapman Gardens" in Garden Grove:

Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1954

1955     "Highland Village Contemporary" in West Covina at Amar Road, built by the McDonald Bros. featured four bedrooms and two baths.  An ad described the exteriors to "feature long, low, sweeping silhouettes."

Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1955

1955     "Weathermaker Highlands" in West Covina on Sunset Avenue at Merced offered homes that were getting bigger: three- and four-bedrooms, plus den and two master baths, along with year-round air conditioning.   
Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1956

1955     "Markdale" homes were planned near the shopping center, Norwalk Square.  This ad did not publicize Fickett:

Los Angeles Times, February 6, 1955

Meadowlark Park in the San Fernando Valley

Fickett is best known for his houses in the Valley, including tracts named Sherman Park, Granada Estates, Garden Contemporary Homes, Woodland Hills Country Estates, and perhaps his latest was the final phase of Bell Canyon in 1973.

He was hired for an expansive development referred in a planning map as Northridge Manor built by Ray Hommes & Co.  The home sites are located in present-day northeastern Reseda and spilling over into Lake Balboa, but at first the area was Northridge.  The marketing name of Meadowlark Park was used consistently.  Phases of development were in the early 1950s, as indicated by Los Angeles Times newspaper ads that ran between December, 1950 through the fall of 1954.

Piecing today information from the advertisements and from the USC finding aid, Fickett's involvement appeared to be in the early phases although his name does not appear in the Meadowlark Park brochure below.  By the time Units 2 and 3 opened in the summer and fall of 1954, another architect was listed - the flamboyant John Lindsay.

Image courtesy of the MultiCultural Music and Art Foundation of Northridge
CSUN, Oviatt Library

The above brochure and the ad below was for the earliest promotion of Meadowlark Park (with owners Brentwood Builders and Sherman Park Development Co.)

Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1950

The following is a group of ads promoting a modern housing design in late 1952 and 1953 (with owner ARACO, Inc.).  This was the location that Reseda resident Maxine Simons settled in 1953 when it was Northridge.  Her home came with a built-in 21-inch Westinghouse television.

Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1952
Los Angeles Times, December 21, 1952
Los Angeles Times, January 11, 1953
Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1953
Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1953
Los Angeles Times, May 31, 1953

When the new phases Units 2 and 3 rolled out with two-car garages, the designs were attributed to architect John Lindsay.

Los Angeles Times, June 11, 1954

Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1954

Fickett Street

For those readers who have made it this far, your reward is to learn about a street in Boyle Heights.  Named in 1876 for Charles R. Fickett, its originating length ran from Brooklyn Avenue (Cesar Chavez Avenue) to 1st Street within the "M & F Tract."  Charles was the grandfather to Edward.  At the time, Joycie said, it seemed that the far west of the city ended here, and this is where the family invested in land.

Photographs taken on a hot triple-digit afternoon September 3rd
at Cesar Chavez Avenue & Fickett
Courtesy of Gary Leonard

Thank you to Gary Leonard, Maxine Simons and Joycie Fickett for inspiring this blog post.