Monday, April 4, 2016

Raphael Soriano's All Aluminum Home: The Grossman House ("El Paradiso"), 1964

The Grossman House ("El Paradiso"), Raphael S. Soriano, F.A.I.A., 1963-1964
A perfect match between owner and architect occurred in the early 1960s.  Albert Grossman, owner and Raphael S. Soriano, F.A.I.A., architect, demonstrate a shared a vision together.  Perhaps I should have said, the two made for a match perfect for Aluminum Heaven...  The Grossman House was the first of Soriano's experiments with all-aluminum houses.  And sadly, it is the only All Aluminum Home, in pristine condition, of what remains built.  Soriano's concept of the All Aluminum House used a pre-fabricated method of design where a factory would manufacture building materials, such as walls, roofing and other panels that could be trucked to site and assembled without a hassle.
The Grossman House - All Aluminum Home - 11468 Dona Cecilia Dr., Studio City, CA
The Grossman House was designed 1963-1964 for Albert and Simonne Grossman. The architect dubbed The Grossman House, "El Paradiso," for its space-age vision of the good life, Southern California style.  In 1964, the Los Angeles Times remarked with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, "At last, a house for people who hate to paint."  Renowned L.A. architect Soriano broke new ground with his decision to use aluminum and glass instead of the commonly used building materials, such as wood, plaster and stucco.  The two gentlemen set off to create a one-of-a-kind design that certainly will never be duplicated.  The Grossman House is a treasure; to design, to architecture and to our city.
In 1963, Soriano's promotion of his "All Aluminum Home" buildings attracted the attention of businessman Albert Grossman, "Mr. Aluminum", whose companies sold a number of aluminum products.  Albert Grossman had met Soriano through his cousin Abe Grossman, inventor of the lightweight aluminum sliders marketed as Glide Panel View Windows. 
Grossman and Soriano first intended to collaborate on a group of aluminum homes for Nicaragua's Gen. Somoza.  When the Central American strongman was deposed and the project collapsed, they refocused on building a house.  Fascinated by the idea that Grossman's aluminum products could be displayed in his own residence, Albert agreed to build a 3,200-square-foot, four bedroom house with a light aluminum frame in the Hollywood Hills of Studio City.  

The entire frame of the one-story, flat-roofed building consisted of ten rigid aluminum frames spanning two 20-foot bays, spaced ten feet apart.  Aluminum sliding-glass doors and shop-painted aluminum panels lined its perimeter.  The aluminum used in El Paradiso is thick and has a superior factory finish to standard thin-sheet aluminum siding.  Also, with its wash-and-wear resilience, El Paradiso has aged better than most of its Laurel Canyon plaster-and-stucco neighbors.  When the earthquakes came, the sliding doors rattled and shook, but the house emerged with only a few hairline cracks in the terrazzo floors. Talk about sound engineering... 

Inside walls were finished with Micarta, a plastic laminate.  The color palette ranged from purple, gold, and yellow-green in the main living quarters to violet, coral, blue, white, and avocado in the bedrooms and bathrooms.  The inch-thick plywood doors, the ubiquitous chocolate-brown refrigeration cork, the sleek Formica cabinets; all original.  Ditto on the pre-finished aluminum ceiling, which has been washed every ten years.   You'll never have the need to repaint the anodized aluminum. You have to be one who is content with the original colors.  I know I could adapt.

The glass and aluminum of architect Soriano's "El Paradiso" reflect yesterday's vision of tomorrow.  Again, as one of the Modernists who shaped the look of postwar Los Angeles, Soriano helped pioneer the use of metal and glass over wood and stucco in home construction.  Like other materials whelped by the World War II technology boom, aluminum was seen as a progressive architectural force.  European emigres like Soriano, Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra (Soriano's one-time employer) seized on aluminum, stainless steel, fiberglass and other rugged newcomers for their structural experiments.  The Grossman House's aluminum framework and 28 glass doors (all 5 by 8 feet) came complete from a factory, and the modern, functional appointments are of easy-care materials such as Formica, terrazzo and cork.  Some have said the house was more of an assembly than a build due to the early pre-fabricated / factory-built approach to the design.  Entirely prefabricated, "El Paradiso" was trucked in from a factory, section by section, and assembled in eight months at a cost of $125,000. Grossman supervised the construction from an on-site trailer. 

Soriano walked off the job before its completion.  Perhaps the signs were visible that the forceful businessman from Philly and the legendarily temperamental, Greek-born architect would have a falling-out.  What happened, according to Grossman, was that two-thirds of the way toward completion, the house was $50,000 over budget.  Some of this was his own fault, he says, because of all the "gotta haves" he wanted the house to include.  The other problem was Soriano's notorious inflexibility.  Sensing a crisis at hand, the client took the architect out for coffee to quietly discuss where the project was heading.  Without saying a word, Soriano got up from the table, crossed the street and boarded a bus. Grossman never saw him again.  Grossman picked up where Soriano left off using skills learned in his business and completed "El Paradiso" by himself and insists there are no hard feelings.  "I loved the man," he says.
Now, The Grossman House is on market asking $2,695,000, down from its original price of $2,895,000.  The four bedroom and 3 bathroom mid-century modern is designed within 3,886-square-feet and includes a lovely outdoor area with pool on a 12,541-square-foot lot.  If you are a buyer who would like to set up a viewing of this home, please contact me to set up a private showing appointment.  Recognizing and protecting historic gems like the Grossman House connects us to the past and helps us better understand the present. This is why they are called Historic-Cultural Monuments.  They provide history to a community, as well as serving their original purpose: People live in them.

The exterior continues with a wonderful display of color with verticals painted purple and fascias painted blue, along with accents of gold with the horizontal beams.  All you will need is that connection with El Paradiso's design showcasing a vision of tomorrow from the past.   As like the House of the Future, The Grossman House showcased innovative building materials and a modular approach to design. 

The Grossman's have cherished their home and you can tell by their impeccable maintenance of the home throughout the past decades.  When evaluating whether or not a landmarked property is right for you, it is important to remember that its fate rests in the hands of your stewardship.  The flat-roofed modern has been unspoiled by odd renovations.  Many attributes are in original state including the 28 aluminum sliding glass doors and the decorative aluminum metalwork by the swimming pool.  Simonne Grossman was once quoted saying, "Why tamper with perfection"? 

In 1997, Soriano's aluminum house was declared Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) No. 638 by the city's Cultural Heritage Commission.  Albert and Simonne Grossman, who were friends of Soriano, have lived in the aluminum dwelling at 11468 Dona Cecilia Drive since 1964.  Now, the family is selling the home as it is time to leave this modernist nest they have loved for many years.

Modular Plan Assembly All Aluminum Structures
In 1950, Soriano atteneded the ALCOA (the Aluminum Company of America) Aluminum conference in Boca Raton, FL.  Because of this conference, Soriano felt certain his decision to move on from steel, to aluminum and, hopefully other alloys.  Soriano's first aluminum building design was the Adolph's Office Building and Laboratory in Burbank, CA (1953-58), since destroyed by fire.  ALCOA's Creative Conference on Housing in 1957 moved Soriano further towards aluminum houses, resulting in the Modular Plan Assembly All Aluminum Structures which he developed in the early 1960s.  Designed to the last detail, priced and even weighed, these structures lent themselves to a broad range of housing arrangements. Sadly, during the more than ten years that Soriano promoted his "All Aluminum Home" building system program, only twelve of the houses were built.  Eleven homes (1962-1965) built in Maui, HI were flawed due to poor assembly and construction of the homes.  The Maui homes known as the "Soria Structures," would eventually sell to a Dutch investor shortly after completion and then altered with the addition of tiki roofs and neon signs.
"Soria Structures", Raphael S. Soriano, Architect - Maui, HI - 1965
For 30 years, from his early days with Neutra, to his final aluminum houses erected on Maui, he worked to develop a way of building which he thought best suited the modern world.  Asked about Soriano, Craig Ellwood later wrote:
"One of Soriano's major accomplishments is the simple fact that he preserved and got his buildings built.  Even if he had to build them himself.  In proving their construction possible within reasonable costs, he also showed us an exciting alternative to California's hodgepodge of hammer and saw nonsense - he showed us a valid residential esthetic could be produced with industrial techniques.  The fact that his designs became reality probably influenced in one manner or another all of us who followed."

Brief Biography
Raphael S. Soriano, F.A.I.A.

Raphael S. Soriano, F.A.I.A. (1904 - 1988)
Greek-born Raphael S. Soriano enrolled in the University of Southern California's School of Architecture in 1929 and graduating in 1934.  Upon Soriano gaining U.S. Citizenship in 1930, he secured an internship with Richard Neutra in 1931.  While assisting Neutra, he worked along fellow interns Gregory Ain and Harwell Hamilton Harris.  Soriano would also take on an internship with modernist architect, Rudolph Schindler in 1934.  His first residential commission was in 1936 with his Lipetz House, which appeared in the 1937 International Architectural Exhibition in Paris.  By the end  of the 1940's, Soriano completed the award-winning Katz House, located in Studio City.  
Case Study House 1950, Raphael S. Soriano, F.A.I.A.
The war had ended and more opportunities were at hand with more of his buildings being constructed.  He was given a great opportunity in 1950 to work with John Entenza and the magazine, Arts and Architecture, a think-tank for progressive thinkers of design and architecture.  He was asked to create Case Study House 1950.  The modular design kept true to his earlier work.  The Case Study House 1950 was of a modest rectangular two bedroom plan enveloping the Santa Monica mountains.  

In 1950, Soriano also was given a residential commission for architectural photographer, Julius ShulmanThe Shulman House was built in the Pacific Palisades and is also recognized as a Historic-Cultural Monument.
Julius Shulman House, (1947-1950) - Raphael S. Soriano, Architect
Soriano was made a Fellow by the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) in 1961.

Of the 50 buildings Soriano built, only 12 remain; the others have succumbed to wildfire, earthquake, or demolition. Among the survivors, a number endured unsympathetic make-overs and additions. Those still intact and unmolested are now protected by municipal preservation codes. The Grossman House is the last house to have had its original owners of a Soriano building still occupying the design.  A collection of Soriano papers resides at the College of Environmental Design Resource Center at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona).

Soriano died in 1988 at the age of 83, leaving a pioneering legacy of metal-framed houses conceived in a staunchly Modernist style that emphasized flat roofs and ribbon windows.

Listing and photos courtesy of MLS and Ben Di Benedeto - KWSC