Modern architect Richard Neutra and New York developer Joseph H. Miller met at a Hollywood party in 1927. Neutra had experience as a city architect in Luckenwalde, Germany, and as a landscape gardener in Zurich. He had a green thumb and a love of the land. Miller had champagne dreams and caviar wishes and was plotting his newest investment in Los Angeles—a series of luxury apartment buildings fit to house the city's bourgeoning population of movie stars. Miller's plan called for some buildings that were five stories tall, and others so grand that they would reach skyward at thirteen stories tall. However unlikely a pairing these two were, the meeting introduced Miller to the man who would produce his lofty dreams and Neutra to the man who would offer him his first U.S. commission: the Jardinette Apartments. Today, as LA approaches its annual Neutra Earth Day Celebration on April 27, that project sits neglected in East Hollywood—but it represents everything worth celebrating about Neutra's work.
Neutra and Miller broke ground on their project on September 24, 1927. The Jardinette Apartments—today called the Marathon Apartments—was set to be the first building in Miller's $5 million series of International-style apartment buildings. Miller's champagne dreams, however, soon fizzled as he found himself bankrupt. He panicked and fled town to escape the wrath of his creditors. The Jardinette Apartments was the only building of his series ever completed.
The Austrian-born Neutra, who emigrated to America in 1923, had been working in architecture for several years when the Jardinette broke ground. He worked, first, for a short time in New York, and then in Chicago alongside one of his idols, Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1925, Neutra moved to Los Angeles, where he established his architecture practice. He is best known for his many contributions to Southern California architecture and for his austere design, which seamlessly merges structures with their natural surrounds. Neutra has also designed works worldwide, such as the recently-demolished Gettysburg Battlefield visitor's center, the Gettysburg Cyclorama, and the U.S. Embassy in Karachi, Pakistan. Neutra eventually published his philosophies on environment and design in his seminal 1954 book, Survival Through Design. The book communicates Neutra's core belief that the human race's ability to plan and think makes the environment our sole responsibility.
On April 26th, Los Angeles commemorates Neutra Earth Day. Just like worldwide Earth Day (observed on April 22nd), Neutra Earth Day emphasizes sustainability and green lifestyles. But like most things in Los Angeles, it's done with a Modern twist: it celebrates Neutra as a pioneer of the environmental movement.