Master Architects of Southern California 1920-1940, a new twelve-volume series by Marc Appleton and Bret Parsons showcases the work of the Golden Era’s most important residential architects as originally featured in the earliest issues of The Architectural Digest. Featuring some of the earliest known photographs of the work of legendary architects, the series is devoted to the era when oil titans, film industry moguls, bankers, and successful entrepreneurs who were new to the region hired the most accomplished and talented architects they could find.
In the latest volume, Wallace Neff, the authors focus on one of the most admired and influential residential architects to ever practice in Southern California. In a remarkable career that spanned over six decades, Wallace Neff produced hundreds of exceptional designs that ranged from vernacular styles to grand mansions, reaching from Bel-Air to Santa Barbara to Hollywood and Hancock Park, with a proliferation of homes in the Pasadena area. Neff’s ability to work in a variety of styles that ranged from Spanish Colonial Revival to French Normandy with equal grace made him a favorite with those seeking the very best. His client list with names like Doheny, Pickford, Gillette, and Marx- reads like a “Who’s Who” of the most important and influential figures of the era. Additionally, Neff was known for his “Bubble Houses” which he described as “a revolutionary method providing for low-cost, labor-saving process of extremely rapid construction of permanent houses and buildings.”
Yet Wallace Neff became known as an “architect to the stars,” a much sought-after designer for the elite of Hollywood with a stellar array of commissions from such legends of classic cinema as Claudette Colbert, Charlie Chaplin, Frederick March, Fred Thomson and Frances Marion, King Vidor, Darryl Zanuck, Alan Ladd, and Cary Grant. Other celebrity residents of Neff-designed homes have included Betty Grable, Diane Keaton, Jennifer Aniston, and Madonna.
Co-author and renowned architect Marc Appleton of Appleton Partners notes “These nearly forgotten architects needed to be memorialized, since their work is quickly disappearing. That’s the purpose of the series Master Architects of Southern California 1920-1940. The authors included numerous of-the-era photographs which documented the exteriors and interiors, as well as lists of previous owners (current owners’ names are withheld for privacy concerns).
Researching Neff’s life, co-author and architectural historian Eleanor Schrader says she found the details of the architect’s life and projects fascinating. “Neff’s European training and keen eye for historical styles gave him the ability to combine Spanish, Tuscan, Mediterranean, Islamic, and other design elements that melded seamlessly into something he called ‘The California Style.’”