Dion Neutra, the Los Angeles architect who waged a decades-long campaign to preserve his father’s architectural legacy, died Nov. 23. He was 93.
The second of three sons of Viennese-born architect Richard Neutra – the master architect credited, along with R.M. Schindler, for introducing the International Style to the West Coast – was a noteworthy architect in his own right whose greatest contribution may have been his dogged determination to save many of his father’s iconic buildings from demolition.
At a young age, Dion Neutra began his architectural education as an apprentice in his father’s office, located in the VDL Studio and Residence. While still a teenager, he was involved in the elder Neutra’s projects, the first of which was supervising the completion of the Channel Heights housing project in San Pedro. He returned to his father’s office shortly after graduating from USC in 1950, establishing a collaboration that would see the duo assert their own influence on Southern California.
“The partnership was remarkably successful in terms of architectural merit, design research and sheer aesthetic beauty through a catalog that included many fabled residences, office buildings, public housing, academic buildings and civic ensembles,” said Luis Hoyos, a professor of architecture at the College of Environmental Design and a member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that advises the President and U.S. Congress.
Among Richard and Dion Neutra’s famous projects was the rebuilding of the family residence in Silver Lake, the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences, which was bequeathed to Cal Poly Pomona by Dione Neutra, Richard’s wife, to be managed by the College of Environmental Design where Richard Neutra taught courses across the disciplines almost 30 years earlier.
“Richard Neutra faced a crisis in 1963 when his VDL studio and residence suffered a catastrophic fire,” said Interim Dean Lauren Weiss Bricker, who also serves as the director of the ENV Archives-Special Collections. “Dion courageously led the effort to rebuild the house which reflected the firm’s changing vision of Modernism.”
Dion Neutra was a generous supporter of Cal Poly Pomona’s ENV Archives-Special Collections, Bricker said. Over a period of time he donated a number of his father’s travel sketches, greatly enriching the college’s Neutra holdings previously donated by his mother Dione Neutra.
Following Richard Neutra’s death in 1970, Dion’s solo practice was, Hoyos described, “built upon the shared vision and should be understood, as he often proposed, as a continuum of Neutra Design.”
“Dion’s career included many residences and public buildings of striking design and technical accomplishment but importantly also remodels and additions to earlier Neutra commissions,” Hoyos said. “With this, came the responsibility to protect Neutra buildings from the wrecking ball. In this endeavor, he was a loyal son and confirmed preservationist. Dion now belongs to history, it is for us to continue to value and understand the Neutra legacy.”
Dion Neutra’s projects include the Eagle Rock Community Center; Huntington Beach Central Library and Cultural Center; the Kronish House in Beverly Hills; and the Neutra Colony, a group of houses in Silver Lake including his own residence, known as the Reunion House.
“Dion liked to tell people that he had lived longer in Silver Lake than anyone else,” said Neutra VDL Studio and Residences Director Sarah Lorenzen. “This is likely true since he moved to the area when his father, Richard Neutra, completed their family home in 1932. As its oldest resident, Dion was keen to opine on any change being proposed to the neighborhood. He was a tenacious advocate for the preservation of many local assets: the Silver Lake reservoir and the 10 Neutra houses that surround it.”
“Above all Dion was passionate about the preservation and legacy of the Neutra VDL House, the family home, donated by his mother Dione to Cal Poly Pomona in 1990,” Lorenzen continued. “The loss of architect Dion Neutra will be acutely felt by his neighbors and the larger architectural community.”