• A squared house with terraces and greenery in the front

      Miltimore House in South Pasadena (Photo – Marina Khrustaleva)

      California architecture lovers celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of Irving J. Gill (1870 –1936), one of the earliest American modernist architects.

      By Marina Khrustaleva

      He began exploring the possibilities of plain forms and non-decorated surfaces in the early-1900s, well before Adolf Loss, Le Corbusier, De Stijl, Bauhaus, and Vkhutemas in Europe. Gill’s passion for simplicity and clean lines laid the groundwork for the Southern California mid-century modernists, including Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler.

      Irving John Gill was born to a Quaker family in Tully, NY. His father and brothers were building contractors. Before moving to California in 1893, Gill worked as a draftsman in Syracuse, N.Y., and then for the prominent firm of Adler & Sullivan in Chicago. His first projects featured Craftsman-style elements.  It took him about a decade to develop his own ideal: “the simple cube house with creamy walls.” Gill’s innovations included both style and material; he was a strong proponent of concrete as a durable, flexible, and hygienic material.

      Most of Gill’s early classic modernist creations were built in San Diego and in the La Jolla area. That “collection” is still big enough to organize rare and desirable Irving Gill tours. Of the nearly one hundred of his projects in Los Angeles County, only a handful survive. The demolition of the iconic Dodge House in West Hollywood in 1970 was a turning point in the Los Angeles preservation movement. Several major monographs on Gill’s legacy were published after that event. One of the earliest tributes, Esther McCoy’s One California Architect, Irving J. Gill, was recently reprinted by the Irving J. Gill Foundation.

      [spoiler title=’Click here to read more: Missed Pasadena Connection’ style=’default’ collapse_link=’true’]Gill and his partner William Hebbard made several attempts to build in Pasadena area. In 1900, they submitted sketches for the First Methodist Church but lost in the competition to John C. Austin. The massive stone church built as a result of this competition at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Marengo Avenue was moved down Colorado in 1923 and still exists as the Community Church at Holliston UMC. In 1902, they lost another competition to C.H. Brown who was chosen to design the Pasadena City Hall on Fair Oaks Avenue and Union Street, now the location of the Container Store.[/spoiler]

      A white building with arches and trees around it

      The Bella Vista Terrace bungalow court in Sierra Madre (Photo – Marina Khrustaleva)

      Sierra Madre

      In 1910, Gill designed the Bella Vista Terrace bungalow court in Sierra Madre. Six flat-roofed cottages with arched loggias, now significantly altered, became his statement of contemporary aesthetics and sanitary affordable housing. In 1919-21, he built two duplexes in the area, one on Magnolia Avenue in Monrovia, and another on North Oakland Avenue in Pasadena. The latter, a modest structure called “Little Cloister” now almost covered with blooming bushes, was designed for wealthy socialist, Kate Crane-Garst.

      South Pasadena

      South Pasadena is home to one of the clearest examples of Irving J. Gill’s creativity. Miltimore House at 1301 Chelton Way was built in 1911 for Mrs. Paul Miltimore and her stepdaughter Catherine. Mrs. Miltimore was a remarkable person in her own right. She was the widow of Daniel Miltimore, Civil War veteran and land developer. After he died in 1902, she became an owner of a highly successful business, the Southern California Olive Growers Association in Sylmar. She travelled a lot; a copy of her 1922 passport shows such destinations as British Isles, France, Italy, Morocco, Greece, Gibraltar, Belgium, Holland, Palestine, Constantinople, Tunis, Algeria, Egypt, and Switzerland. In her 1935 obituary, she is described as “a woman of fine cultural attainments”.

      After her death, only two other families, the Shaws and the Holts, owned the house. They preserved it lovingly, with minimal alterations. When it appeared on the market in 2016, there was concern that the house would face major redevelopment or even demolition. Long-term South Pasadena residents living next door, Mario and Therese Molina, purchased the house and initiated a meticulous restoration that brought the Miltimore House back to its original splendor.

      A black and white photo of a man with his hand on his cheek

      Architect Irving J. Gill circa 1910 (Photo – San Diego History Collection)

      Irving Gill Garden Gala

      The South Pasadena Preservation Foundation, together with the Molinas, had scheduled the Irving Gill Garden Gala for May 3, 2020, which was to include a garden luncheon, a tribute to Irving J. Gill, silent and live auctions, and docent-led tours of the Miltimore House. Like many other events this spring, it had to be postponed. The Foundation is looking forward to announcing a new date for the event. All the tickets sold for the event will be valid. Tickets can be purchased or sponsorships secured on the non-profit’s website.

      > This article owes credit to local historians, Glen Duncan and Olivia Shea of South Pasadena and John G. Ripley of Pasadena.

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