Mar Vista Tract


The Mar Vista Tract was designed by Gregory Ain in collaboration with Joseph Johnson and Alfred Day.  Ain was a significant "second generation" modernist architect who had worked with and was influenced by the first generation of  California Modern masters - European immigrants Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler.

Ain believed in bringing good design to the masses. During his youth, he lived for a time on a cooperative farming colony, founded by Job Harriman, a socialist his father had supported in the 1911 Los Angeles mayoral race. Ain belonged to the school of thought that espoused architecture's potential to shape a more egalitarian world. He is credited as being the first architect to design a house that did not contemplate servants. A lot of Ain’s ideals were achieved in the "Modernique Homes" development, the name under which the Mar Vista Tract was marketed in 1948. The intent of the Mar Vista Tract was to create a housing development that provided cost efficient housing while advancing the cause of Modern architectural design.

The Mar Vista Tract development was planned in 1947 for a hundred houses on a 60-acre site. The first stage was 52 houses, which turned out to be the final stage. By rotating the one floor plan in different directions, Ain was able to create a sense of variation between the houses.  Garage placement in relation to the house also gave each house its own individuality.

The average size of the houses was 1,060 square feet, exclusive of the double garage. The sales price of the homes was about $12,000, considerably higher than the contractor-inspired houses around nearby Venice Blvd. that were then selling for about $5,000. The main selling points were the convertible features, the ultra-modern design, and colors. 

Through the use of a folding wooden panel separating the living room from an additional space that was designed to be used as a master bedroom or extension to the living room, Ain achieved an adaptable space for any size family. Similarly, a sliding panel divided a large single bedroom into two areas in the rear of the house. The idea was that the resident could have one to three bedrooms, depending on the needs of the family at any given time. The houses were each painted in different color combinations, using the Plochere Color system, an ink-mixing system developed in 1948 by one of Southern California’s earliest color consultants. Subtle color blending of the interior space was designed to create an “atmosphere of spaciousness and relaxation.”  Interestingly, the palette was much richer and more colorful than the white sometimes associated with Modern design.   Rather, it followed in the footsteps of Le Corbusier's  harmonic color concepts.  The exteriors were rich in color, and the interior of each house had a color scheme matching its exterior color.  All rooms used this color scheme, and each wall was a different shade of the theme color. 

Ain read some of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s writings on parenting and incorporated what he learned in the design of the cabinetry separating the kitchen, entry hall and living room, according to Anthony Denzer, an architect who is writing his doctoral dissertation on Ain. Denzer explains that since women at the time spent so much time in the kitchen, Ain felt the area needed to be open so that the mother could keep an eye on the children playing in the living room and out in the yard.  When more privacy was wanted a Venetian blind hidden in a recess above the table could be lowered as could a panel under the table allowing the family to close off the kitchen from the living room. 

In working with Garrett Eckbo in the design of the community landscape, Ain found a kindred spirit. Eckbo was more interested in the design of public landscaping and creating unpretentious free flowing useable gardens for the common person than with the creation of privately owned landscapes for the privileged. He played a central role in the formulation and practice of Modern landscape architecture. While studying landscape architecture at Harvard University, Eckbo was credited with helping launch the “Harvard Revolution." This design thesis rejected the predominate Beaux Arts style of landscape planning which emphasized formality and strict division of the formal and informal garden, in favor of a more casual and fluid use of space, utilizing clustered plant materials, geometric abstraction, and circular space to lend compositional unity to the landscape. In the Modernique Homes development, these concepts are evident.

Eckbo used a large number of planting materials to create a park-like atmosphere along the streets. He opened up the space between houses and created buffer gardens to allow for exterior spatial social interactions. Except for the Model House, the backyards were basically left for the homeowner to landscape. Although, shade trees were spaced along the rear property lines.   While the original plantings along the street have often been replaced, the layout and many of the originally planted trees and shrubs survive. Original plantings of Magnolia trees along the parkway along Meier St, Melaleuca along the parkway of Moore Street and Ficus along the parkway of Beethoven Street lend unity to the landscape.  In 2003, the Mar Vista Tract became the first Post-World War II Modern historic district in the City of Los Angeles, officially known as an Historic Preservation Overlay Zone ("HPOZ").    -  Hans Adamson and Amanda Seward

Further Reading:

The Architecture of Gregory Ain by David Gebhard, Harriette Von Breton and Lauren Weiss, Hennessey + Ingalls, Santa Monica, 1997.

Garrett Eckbo:  Modern Landscapes for Living by Marc Treib and Dorothée Imbert, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1997.

Gregory Ain Vista Tract Historic Resources Survey prepared by Myra L. Frank & Associates for Los Angeles Planning Department, Los Angeles, September, 2002.

The Second Generation by Esther McCoy, Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, 1984.