I love of California architecture, I would be remiss in not brining this amazing talent to you!
Late in 1929, Santa Barbara architect George Washington Smith was interviewed by the New York critic John Taylor Boyd, Jr., who was conducting a series of interviews with America’s most famous architects for the magazine Art and Decoration.
The inclusion of Smith
was perfectly understandable–buildings designed by this Santa Barbara architect had been, from the beginning, a favorite of the country’s leading architecture and design magazines.
New Yorkers had been exposed to his buildings through photographs and drawings in annual exhibitions of the Architectural League of New York. In a review of the 1925 League exhibition, Matlack Price wrote of Smith’s ability to realize buildings of
“exquisite simplicity of design…of proportions,”
together with a sensitive use of “the fine patterns of trees and shrubs made by sunlight and shadows on the walls of the house.”
Smith’s work was equally appreciated in California, where he was always mentioned as the leading exponent of the Hispanic and Mediterranean revival of the 1920s. Although her house was never built, the Hollywood film star Mary Pickford selected Smith
to design a ranch house for her and husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr. “His homes, whether large or small, are remarkable in their directness,” she said in an interview in Pacific Coast Architect in 1927, “in the simplicity with which they speak the truths of this old architecture as something
eminently suitable to the creation of a tradition of beauty.”
When these New Yorkers and Californians, and certainly many of his clients, characterized Smith’s designs as simple, they were responding to two important qualities: the purity of geometric abstraction in his volumes and surfaces, countered by a strong sense of the primitive.
As Smith himself frequently pointed out, he thought in terms of the primitive in his own art, just as did the painters Paul Cezanne and Paul Gauguin, two 19th-century artists whom he very much admired. The impressive impact of his buildings was also an outcome of his sensitive response
to each site and his high regard for landscape architecture.
His houses and other buildings throughout California, in Arizona, Texas and New York, played a fascinating visual game between strong historical reminiscences and the developing modern idiom of those years. In Europe, Smith had seen not only the wonders of Spain’s historic white cities,
but also the work of many early modernists, including the Swiss/French architect Le Corbusier. “Le Corbusier,” he noted, “is a tonic. Too severe, but a pioneer with vision.”
Smith’s architectural career lasted only 12 years, from 1919 to 1930. But during these years he (with the assistance of his draftsperson, Lutah Maria Riggs, who joined his office in 1922) produced a remarkable array of buildings, both in quality and quantity–of 80 designs
for new or substantially
remodeled homes in Santa Barbara County, 54 were built. Many were based on Spanish, Mexican and Hispanic California precedents, but he also designed in the Italian, French Norman, and English Tudor modes.
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