The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Spring 1979, Volume 25, Number 2
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor
By Bruce Kamerling
Irving Gill article ~ Images from the article ~ List of Gill projects
Page 151. Irving Gill.
Page 152. The George G. Garrettson house (1895) is Gill’s first known project in San Diego. Although showing a debt to Colonial Revival architecture and the fashionable homes of Joseph Silsbee, it does have some unusual features including a side entrance through the chimney on the east, and a fireplace under a staircase in the main entry hall. This stair hall is finished in Port Orford cedar and features an elaborately carved hand-rail terminus as well as a landing with perfectly square stick balusters.
Page 155. Before moving west, Gill was employed in the office of Louis Sullivan in Chicago, where he was appointed a member of the architectural staff of the Columbian Exposition. Gill worked on Sullivan’s Transportation Building, the only original architectural design at the Exposition, and later adapted parts of it for two of his projects in San Diego.
Page 154. The “Golden Door” was duplicated on a smaller scale for the facade of the Pickwick Theatre (1905) for Louis Wilde.
Page 155. The circular pavilions on the terrace turn up in the Los Baños Bathhouse (1897).
Page 154. Gill rarely used standard historical revival elements in his work. The State Normal School (1897-1903) is one of Gill’s few attempts at Beaux Arts classicism, and is almost a direct copy of the Fine Arts Palace of the Chicago Exposition, below.
Page 155. Fine Arts Palace of the Chicago Exposition.
Page 156. When Ralph Granger struck it rich in the silver mines of Colorado, he indulged a lifelong dream and purchased an entire collection of rare violins. To house the priceless collection, Granger had Gill design a music hall with a steel lined vault in 1896. Two years later, the original structure was greatly expanded.
Page 156. The addition featured a painted ceiling mural and elaborate organ screen, the design of which recalls the work of Louis Sullivan and George Elmslie. The clean lines and low profile of the Granger Music Hall are already beginning to demonstrate the direction Gill was to take after the turn of the century.
Page 157. Hebbard & Gill designed several commercial structures including the McKenzie, Flint & Winsby (1897) and Mrs. P.O. Josse (1899) buildings. Except for the cornice, they have little in the way of ornament.
Page 157. The smooth (concrete?) walls of the Josse building predict some of Gill’s later work.
Page 158. The “Granite Cottage” (1900) designed for Waldo and Hazel Waterman has a typically English feeling with its half-timbered gables and roughhewn granite walls..
Page 158. Gill’s touch is evident on the interiors where he ried to simplify housework by making the door frames, chair rail and baseboards flush with the plaster so that the beauty of woodwork was not marred by the drudgery of dust. Hazel Waterman later worked in Gill’s office and became a fine architect in her own right. She designed such local landmarks as the Wednesday Club
Page 159. As Gill’s personal style began to develop, his buildings tended more toward the horizontal. Great simplification can be seen in the porch railing and window treatment of the Elwyn B. Gould house (1901), while the carved eave supports add a fanciful touch.
Page 159. Gill’s ten-year partnership with William Hebbard produced a number of eclectic residences inspired by English design. The Bartlett Richards house in Coronado (1902) with its high-pitched roof, brick walls and half-timbered gables is an excellent example. After Hebbard and Gill dissolved their partnership in 1906, Hebbard continued to design homes of this type (probably including the additions to this house in 1914), while Gill followed his own tendency toward simplification.
Page 160. The Bertha B. Mitchell residence (1904) shows a gradual departure from that style. This is particularly evident in the treatment of the corner window and in the broad profile of the entry and sun-porches connected by a pergola.
Page 160. After the turn of the century, klinker bricks (bricks misshapen or burned in the kiln and usually rejected) became popular, and Gill used them to great effect in the First Church of Christ Scientist (1904). Much of Gill’s work also makes use of the pierced parapet and mission arch.
Page 161. Although the lower floor of the Julius Wangenheim house (1904) shows a tendency toward a California Craftsman style, the upper floor is again typically English.
Page 162. In the comfortable home Gill designed for George Marston (1904-06), a sun-drenched open porch looks out over Balboa Park from the north.
Page 162. A great step forward in simplicity, the house is decorative without being ornamental. This simplicity was carried through to the interior where the stair railing (below) becomes a bold statement in verticals.
Page 164. In 1899, Gill purchased a two-acre tract of land near Hillcrest where, starting in 1902, he began to test experimental construction methods. Here he developed his techniques for thin-wall construction, slab doors, and flush detailing. Gill also had a genuine concern for people of the working class and tried to design clean and comfortable low-cost housing. The canyon houses at the end of Robinson Mews (1908) incorporated window seats to expand the interior living space and an arched loggia opening onto a terraced garden. The outside wall was flush with the street. This same floor plan was later adapted for the cottages of the famous Lewis Courts in Sierra Madre (1910).
This handsome brick and shingle residence was designed for Charles P. Douglas (1905). The arch, open porch and pierced parapet are in evidence as well as a few innovations such as the upper bay windows with unframed butted glass.
Page 165. Arches were also used in the stair hall, and here again is Gill’s astonishing placement of a fireplace under a staircase.
Starting in 1905, Gill began to design a number of houses for Alice Lee and her companion Katherine Teats. Three houses were constructed on Seventh Avenue, and another eight were planned around a canyon bordered by Albatross, Walnut and Front Streets (five still stand). The textured stucco walls, low-pitched roof with wide eaves, sleeping porches and pergolas of the Seventh Avenue houses reflect the Craftsman style with a touch of the Prairie School. The interiors display Gill’s innovative thin-wall construction, slab doors and flush detailing. Hazel Waterman worked with Gill on these three homes and Kate Sessions was responsible for the landscaping. The concept of grouping houses around a common garden was to occupy Gill on several occasions.
The Melville Klauber house (1907-08) is a major turning point in Gill’s career. Gill and others had been experimenting with the use of concrete for some time but its plastic qualities had not as yet produced a vocabulary of its own. Although the Klauber house is frame with a stuccoed-brick veneer, the smooth walls and clean punched openings became trademarks of his later severe style in concrete. The finely detailed eave supports have a Japanese influence reflecting an interest of the client but the other features are typically Gill. The Craftsman interior has been greatly simplified, particularly the stairwell with its very modern-looking railing. On the third floor, protected by the north eaves, was an artist’s studio designed for Melville’s wife Amy. It has a private balcony, fireplace and built-in seat around the perimeter of the room.
Page 170. Down the street from the Lee and Teats houses and across from the Marston house, Gill designed a house for Mary Cossitt (opposite) in 1906. Here his style took an important step forward. Eliminate the cornice and wide eaves and this house would become an arrangement of simple cubic shapes. The beautifully crafted redwood interior is more complex with several levels including two distinct stories. Gill had previously designed three houses for Mrs. Cossitt in Coronado and later designed four more on Eighth Avenue in San Diego.
Page 170-171. Although Gill’s work had been approaching abstract simplicity for several years, his first essay into totally stripped-down architecture was the Russell C. Allen house in Bonita (1907), designed while in partnership with Frank Mead.
The clean window opening, recessed porches and bold columns create a facade of classical serenity. Mead’s exposure to indigenous North African architecture possibly had an effect on Gill’s increasing tendency to remove irrelevant ornamentation from his buildings.
Page 172. The Wilson-Acton Hotel in La Jolla (1908, later the Cabrillo, and eventually incorporated into the La Valencia) was Gill’s tallest building. Firmly believing that architecture should not conflict with its environment, most of Gill’s buildings reflect the basic horizontal of Southern California topography. This minimal reinforced concrete structure has typical Gill arches and recessed porches.
Page 173. The bold statement of the stepped gables of the Sherwood Wheaton house (1908) are softened by the graceful arches of the covered driveway. The smooth walls sharply contrast with the texture of the foundation and chimney in klinker brick.
Page 173. Gill’s residence for Melville Klauber’s brother, Hugo (1908), shows further refinement of his style. All lines are horizontal and vertical and even the arch has been temporarily eliminated. The broad bands of casement windows with ventilators above demonstrate Gill’s concern for adequate lighting and air circulation.
Page 174. The Biological Station (1908-10) in La Jolla (now part of Scripps Institution of Oceanography), was a low-cost reinforced concrete structure designed to make maximum use of natural lighting. Banks of windows set in slightly recessed planes surround the building and there are skylights in the roof.
Page 174. Most of the interior walls also have windows and even the floor of the second story has glass pavement bricks allowing the light from the skylight to filter through to the lower level.
Page 175. The Holly Sefton Memorial Hospital (1908-09), designed for the Children’s Home Association, was one of Gill’s most innovative and beautifully scaled structures. Its bold cubic extensions created an impression of grand scale, even though the building itself was rather small.
As the landscaping developed, the white walls seemed to have grown there also. Richard Requa designed the Boys’ building (top, at right) and Hazel Waterman later designed the remainder of the complex. Since both Requa and Waterman had studied with Gill and were familiar with his style, the entire group of buildings was well integrated architecturally.
Page 176-177. When the Christian Science congregation outgrew Gill’s brick church downtown, they had him design a larger building (above) at Second and Laurel. This and Gill’s later buildings in La Jolla demonstrate his radical simplification of the mission style at its best. The basic cubic masses are relieved by graceful arches.
Page 177. The large number of presentation sketches (right) prepared for the Arthur Marston house (1909) seem to indicate that the architect and client (George Marston’s son) had trouble agreeing on a design. Gill tended toward smooth white walls, while Marston wanted red brick. The result is a rather unusual, but not unpleasant, combination of New England and mission elements.
The Bishop’s School in La Jolla is one of Gill’s most dynamic multiple-structure designs.
The plan was started in 1909, and developed over a period of several years. Long arcades and broad open lawns create an exciting interaction of indoor and outdoor space.
In 1908, George W. Marston of the Park Commission asked Gill to produce a design for the Plaza (now called Horton Plaza) that would be suitable for a central monument or fountain. The following year a competition was held and, besides Gill, designs were submitted by Allen Hutchinson, Lionel Sherwood, Arthur Stilbolt and F.C. Wade.
Gill’s design for an electric fountain with classical columns was selected and even though the design was not very original, the technology was quite advanced. Water was pumped up through the marble columns and out onto the dome of prismatic glass with bronze filigree, creating rainbow effects. At night, it was illuminated by hundreds of colored lights set on a flasher so that there were fifteen color effects each lasting thirty seconds.
Page 182. The Henry H. Timken house above (1911) was one of Gill’s greatest residential structures. Here he began to seriously refine the use of relative interior and exterior spaces and the use of abstract design elements that eventually produced the magnificent Dodge house in Los Angeles (1914-16). Three open loggias surrounded a central court with a separate yard for the children.
Page 182. Gill’s last project on Seventh Avenue was the concrete bungalow below for G. Taylor Fulford (1910). It boldly illustrates his reduction of forms to simple basics.
Henry H. Timken House plans.
Page 183. Although the Charles L. Gorham house (1910-11) doesn’t make any new statements it was a pleasant combination of Gill devices with interesting detailing under the eaves (the angelic apparition on the roof is actually part of the church in the next block).
Page 184. When plans were being made for the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park, it was generally assumed that Irving Gill would be the chief architect. Bertram Goodhue, who had studied and written a book on Spanish Colonial architecture in Mexico, let it be known that he was interested in the project. San Diegans were impressed that “such a distinguished gentleman” was interested, and soon made him chief architect with Irving Gill and Frank P. Allen, an engineer, as associates. Gill’s contributions to the Exposition are difficult to trace since he walked out on the project after discovering graft in the purchasing of materials.
Although Goodhue’s assistant, Carleton Winslow, is generally credited with the design of the Administration Building, (building at left ) his plans are dated December 2,1911, almost five months after the groundbreaking for the building. Winslow did design the Spanish Colonial balcony and window frame above the door, but photographic evidence shows that these details were added to the structure after completion (and have since been removed). The cubistic arrangement of shapes, recessed arched entry, and clean window openings and roof line are almost certainly the work of Irving Gill. The graceful simplicity of the arches of the Puente Cabrillo (above) also show Gill’s touch, especially when compared with his bridge into the city of Torrance (1913).
Page 185. The La Jolla Woman’s Club (1912-14) was produced by the tiltslab method whereby entire walls could be cast horizontally and then slowly raised into place. The finished product in this case is a building of incredible subtlety and beauty and must be considered one of Gill’s masterpieces. The pergola and arch were never used to better advantage.
Page 186. The Scripps house was Gill’s last major residence. The interior, as in the Dodge house, featured flush panels of Honduras mahogany.
Page 186-187. In 1915, a disgruntled former employee burned Ellen Browning Scripps’ home to the ground. Miss Scripps was devoted to Gill’s work since she had donated many of his La Jolla buildings and he had designed several projects on her estate.
She also liked the fact that he worked in fireproof concrete. The Scripps house (1915-16) was another of Gill’s great works, similar in concept to the Dodge house but more compact. Two antique pergolas, all that remained of the older house, were incorporated into the design. Like two outstretched arms they connected to a central covered porch from which the house grew in cubic simplicity behind.
Page 188. The La Jolla Playground (1914-16) was designed about the time Gill went into partnership with his nephew, Louis, who had worked in his office since 1911. The Recreation building was designed to complement the Woman’s Club across the street and the Bishop’s School to the southwest. Louis Gill was left in charge of the San Diego office, and completed this project while his uncle went to Los Angeles to design the Dodge house.
After the Panama California Exposition in 1915, there was a sudden rage for Spanish Colonial design and Gill’s almost ascetic simplicity was soon left behind. Late in his career, Gill associated briefly with John Siebert and produced designs for several schools including the one at right for South Bay Union Elementary (1929). Most were never built.