Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Sage

Whitney Smith, FAIA, was a prolific architect of the postwar period. I went to work for him after Smith and Williams relocated out of 1414 Fair Oaks to Culver City in 1982, and worked on some of the Westridge School campus projects. Here's a little doodle he did of himself. Whit passed away in 2002 after moving up to Oregon.

Three significant buildings on the Westridge Quad were designed by Whit: the Seeley G. Mudd Science Building, with three fully-equipped Upper School laboratories and a computer technology center, the Laurie and Susan Frank Art Studio and the Hoffman Gymnasium. An earlier structure, Ranney House, and parking lot expansion was completed in 1985.

His work spanned the entire spectrum from whimsical work to serious industrial facilities, to theme parks and fairs, campuses, commercial buildings, and medical office structures. He and Wayne worked with Julius Shulman who photographed, among other things, the Mobil Gas Station. His work was unique, always took a different view of a building's program and gave it a special twist that changed its standard typology to something special. His early career started with working in the office of Harwell Hamilton Harris, where he became involved with the Case Study project designs.
The Neighborhood Church campus is still partially intact, the Sanctuary has been remodeled somewhat - the wistaria trellis is gone - and some outbuildings were demolished for a large structure. But the original vision of the campus as a totemic and austere wooded grove remains, reflecting the essence of Emerson and Thoreau that grounds the church philosophy. It still retains the original Cole House by Greene and Greene at the heart of the campus, at the minister's request; that's an interesting story.

His most radical work remains unbuilt, with A. Quincy Jones in 1945 for the Case Study homes: unbuilt Case Study #5 and unbuilt Case Study #12. As an example of the principle that no good deed goes unpunished, his Crestwood Hills home design was destroyed in 2007 to make room for paving. This nearly happened to the 1414 Fair Oaks Office Building, before the community and our Smith and Williams "alumni group" intervened.

Obie Bowman has done a very interesting interview with Whit in 1992, download it here.

Postscript 10/15/09: Look what just turned up. Here's a picture of Whit and Lee Hershberger back in their salad days. Taken in 1961.