Lincoln Place Architects

Ralph A. Vaughn and Heth Wharton

from original brochure, 1951

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Ralph Vaughn  Heth Wharton

The Architects and Relevant Experience Leading to Lincoln Place

It had been widely believed that Heth Wharton (1892-1958), a Los Angeles based architect active from the twenties through the forties, was the sole architect responsible for the designs of Lincoln Place.  New evidence indicates that noted black architect Ralph Vaughn (1907-2000) actually led the design team on Lincoln Place.  Gerald Bialac, one of the developers of the project says that "It was our intention to build the finest and largest FHA-insured project in the country-using the highest building standards, the best site-plan and creating eminently livable spaces in an aesthetically beautiful environment.  We looked at garden style apartments throughout the Southland in order to find the very best architect working in that area.  Ralph Vaughn was far and away the best.  He had not only the best footprints but had an incredible flair for design and an ability to deliver affordable housing that looked and felt like luxury housing.  We were a perfect fit.  We did not know at the time that Ralph was African-American but it would not have mattered to us.  We later received death threats for working with a black architect but that did not stop us." 

At the time, Vaughn did not have his architectsí license and when he was asked by a contractor to design Lincoln Place, an FHA insured project, he teamed up with Wharton to form Wharton & Vaughn Associates.  Allen Mock, a draftsman who worked in the office at the time and who is now a practicing architect, says that Vaughn was primarily responsible for the planning and the design of all of the projects in the office and Wharton served primarily as the project manager.

Vaughn had worked with Wharton as a set designer at MGM during the War.  Wharton was known for his liberal political views and he welcomed the opportunity to partner with a black designer.  In addition, their design approaches were complementary.  As a licensed architect, he designed homes for many prominent clients, including a house in Malibu for screenwriters Sonya Levien and Carl Hovey.  This home was on the Standard Oil Postcard for many years.  He also designed homes for members of the Uplifters Club in Santa Monica. In 1949, he completed a fashion atelier and apartment for the noted Hollywood costume designer Adrian Adolph Greenberg and his wife, actress Janet Gaynor.  He participated in at least two residential competitions, receiving an award in one and an honorable mention in another.  His work appeared in several architectural publications, including Pacific Coast Architect, Southwest Building and Contractor, California Arts & Architecture, and The Architect and Engineer. In 1927, he designed Glendon Manor in Westwood Village, which is listed on the California Register of Historical Resources.  He attended Harvard University School of Architecture from 1915-1917 as a special student, indicating he was already an experienced practitioner in the field. From 1913-1915, Wharton worked in the office of Myron Hunt, one of the most prominent architects in Southern California during this time.

Vaughn was well-versed in Modernist architecture and housing policy.  He was a committed member of the group of architects who believed architecture could solve social problems by providing livable space that gave residents a sense of belonging.  He was mentored by a key pioneer in public housing and adherent to Bauhaus design and the Garden City Movement.  Vaughn was also an artist who saw architecture as a creative endeavor.  All these experiences informed the design of Lincoln Place, which is apart of a sophisticated evolution of the Garden City Movement with direct lineage to the work of Clarence Stein, the major proponent of this movement in the United States. 

Vaughnís father, Roscoe Vaughn was an architect and one of the early black Washingtonians in the field.  In 1924, Roscoe Vaughn set up an architectural firm in Washington, D.C. with George A. Ferguson, the first native black Washingtonian to receive an architectural degree in an accredited program.  Both also taught at Armstrong Manual Training School and developed a course of study that helped the Armstrong program gain a reputation as a "feeder" for Howard Universityís architectural program in the 1920ís and 1930ís.

Ralph Vaughn, the designer of Lincoln Place and the son of Roscoe Vaughn, graduated from the University of Illinois in 1932, earning a Bachelor of Science in architecture.  While at the University of Illinois, he worked on several student projects with famed modernists William Pereira and Charles Luckman, who were Vaughnís contemporaries at the school and would go on to form a successful partnership from 1950 to 1958, designing many buildings defining the Southern California landscape.

After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1932, Vaughn was an instructor of architecture at Howard University in Washington, D.C., at which time he worked with and was mentored by two professors who were key figures in the emerging garden apartment movement, Albert I. Cassell and Hilyard Robinson.  Cassell is known for his design of the award-winning Mayfair Mansions garden apartments in northeast Washington D.C., which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. While in Cassellís office, Vaughn contributed to the design of a science laboratory at Howard University and also the Universityís Founders Library.

Hilyard Robinson was especially important in Vaughnís development as a designer of garden apartments.  While pursuing a Masters in architecture from Columbia University in 1931, Robinsonís interest in housing was bolstered by the work of Henry Wright and Clarence S. Stein, who in 1923 founded with several others, the RPAA to promote Garden City principles as a basis for metropolitan expansion in the United States.  Robinson was especially intrigued by their development at Radburn, the seminal project derived from the Garden City principles, which was started in 1928 in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Radburn included single family houses, two family homes, townhomes, semi-attached houses and a 93 unit apartment building. Robinson said of Radburn, that this "pleasant, relaxing, and children-oriented" community stimulated him to translate the concepts of a planned community of comfortable housing to crowded, lower-income areas.

In the summer of 1925, Robinson had visited the housing exhibition at Frankfurt, which included the work of Walter Gropius, Mies van de Rohe and Marcel Breur, leading Bauhaus architects who were instrumental in defining the International style.  In 1931 through 1932 Robinson studied in Berlin with Gropius and Breuer.  During this period, he also traveled to the birthplace of public housing, Amsterdam and Rotterdam where he observed first hand what he called the "inexhaustible archives of the engineering, economics and politics of housing." 

Well-versed in public housing concepts in 1932 he returned to the United States, and in 1934 was invited to become a senior consultant to the U.S. Resettlement Administration ("RA"), part of President Franklin D. Rooseveltís New Deal.  Robinson went on to design eight major housing projects in various cities, at least two of which are on the National Register.  The first of these housing developments was the Langston Terrace Housing, the first federally funded low-cost housing project in the District of Columbia, which today is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

On the 40th Anniversary of Langston Terrace, Robinson recalled to a group of residents the Queen of Holland had visited Langston Terrace and paid it the highest compliments, saying in substance he recalled, "Your Langston Terrace project pays high compliment to my country.  It is a most orderly, practical and beautiful project in every respect.  I must say it reminds me of some of our very best community housing in Holland.  Let me thank and congratulate you."

Ralph Vaughn, the designer of Lincoln Place and at the time of Langston Terrace, a recent architecture school graduate, worked together with Robinson on the Langston Terrace project serving as the chief draftsman.  A model of the development was exhibited at New Yorkís Museum of Modern Art.  Louis Mumford, another founding member of the RPAA, writing in The New Yorker magazine in 1938 wrote that Langston Terrace set a high standard of design.  It was described in a tribute to Robinson published in the Washington Post after Robinson died in 1986 as "elegant architecture and landscape, state of-the-art amenities, meticulous upkeep, lively architecture and warm, community living." 

During the time that Vaughn  worked for the RA with Robinson,  the RA provided funding for the world-renowned Greenbelt Project in Maryland, a cooperative residential development designed by Clarence Stein and his RPAA colleagues.  Today, Greenbelt is in the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

From Stein to Hilyard Robinson to Ralph Vaughn and others, we see the evolution of Garden City planning principles. In his influential book, Toward New Towns for America, Stein emphasized that the Garden City principles would evolve over time to respond to new conditions.  Stein was the consulting architect on the leading garden apartments in Los Angeles, the Baldwin Hills Village, now known as Village Green, today a National Historic Landmark.  In Los Angeles, Stein noted the principles would be adapted to respond to the dominance of the automobile.  He also noted that given the past control of housing by speculative subdividers and speculative builders throughout Los Angeles, it was not always possible to avoid the more gridiron pattern of streets favored by city officials in spite of dangers to pedestrians.  He also noted that the sunny temperate climate of Los Angeles invited outdoor living, which would dictate closer contact between the inside and outside of the house and a freer and more informal lifestyle.  Village Green built in 1942 is a marker in that history.

Allen Mock, tells how Vaughn took the design team working on Lincoln Place over to Village Green on a number of occasions so that they could have "a sense of the type of design that we were aiming for.  He felt it was the best-designed and ?conceived garden community project in Los Angeles and he wanted us to try to duplicate the feeling and atmosphere and even better it.  He wanted to capture the same space, air and light."  And so went the further reflection of the guiding principals of the Garden City Movement as filtered through years of evolution.

In addition to the influences of Clarence Stein and Hilyard Robinson reflected in the design and site planning of Lincoln Place, we see Vaughnís "Hollywood styling" sensibility at work in the design of Lincoln Place.   In 1937,Vaughn had moved to California to work with Paul Williams, who was known as Hollywoodís A-list architect.  During this time, Vaughn was a designer for a number of important Williams projects, including the MCA Building, a Saks Fifth Avenue store addition in Beverly Hills, and residences for many Hollywood celebrities, including Charles Correll (Amos on the radio show Amos ën Andy), Bert Lahr (the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz), comedian Grace Moore, actor Tyrone Power, and tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.  A house Vaughn designed appeared in the  September, 1941 edition of California Arts and Architecture with pictures depicting the house taken by famed Modernist photographer, Julius Shulman. This design put Vaughn into the mainstream of the progressive architectural community in southern California during the time. 

During the War years, Vaughn became a senior set designer at MGM Studios, among the first African Americans in this field.  Vaughn worked for the multi-Academy Award winning set designer, Cedric Gibbons.  In addition to war movies, Vaughn also worked on The Last Time I Saw Paris, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, A Guy Named Joe, and Kismet.  In the book, African American Architects:  A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945, Dr. Wesley Howard Henderson writes that Vaughn had told him that the movie industry was a strong influence on his work, as well as on the work of other architects in Los Angeles.  This influence is seen in the richness of the façades of Lincoln Place.  Just as we see with the set designs in Hollywood films from the period, the façades of Lincoln Place include plane upon plane of textured surfaces.

During his collaboration with Wharton, Vaughn worked on North Hollywood Manor, Chase Knolls apartments, and Lincoln Place, among other projects.  He went on to design several restaurants and bars, hotels and residences in Arizona, Arkansas, California and Oregon.  He also designed several congregations, including Congregation Beth Am Synagogue and an addition to the Mogen David Synagogue, both in Los Angeles.  He received architectural awards for his work on Beth Am Synagogue and for the design of his own residence in the West Adams District of Los Angeles.  Before he received his architectural license in 1963, he was the designated "designer" or "stylist" for projects.  After receiving his license, he received credit as the architect on the projects he designed.
 

References

Ralph A. Vaughn (1907-2000):
 

African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945. London:  Routledge and imprint of Taylor & Francis, Inc. 2004.

Note:  The entry on Ralph Augustine Vaughn is written by Dr. Wesley Howard Henderson and appears on pages 413-417. The entry includes a Building List of Vaughnís works.
Arvey, Verna "Negro Architect Wins First Prize" Unknown Chicago Newspaper  (1945). Chicago Historical Society, Charles Barnett Collection.

"Bermuda House: Hollywood House for D. Smith, R. A. Vaughn, Designer." California Arts and Architecture (Sept 1941):  32.

"The Negro Nevertheless a Factor in Architecture." The Negro History Bulletin (April 1940): 101-102.

"Practical Miracle Postwar Home, First Prize Winner Ralph Vaughn, Architect, Los Angeles, Calif: Multi-Use RoomsóOutdoor Living"  Practical Builder (Feb 1945): 6, 12-13.

"Prize Home Features Ample Living Space." Magazine article  (ca. 1952, no date): 36-37.  Personal collection, Ronald Fry Vaughn, 2447 Hidalgo St., Los Angeles, CA 90039. 

Note:  The article features Ralph A. Vaughn's home, for which Vaughn won two awards, under the rubric "Modern Home." 
"Ralph Vaughn Succumbs," obituary, L. A. Sentinel (April 19, 2001). 

Robertson, L.O. We Want Roosevelt Again Because of Facts and Figures.  Washington, DC:  Colored National Democratic League, ca. 1936, no date):  11.

Note:  This booklet cites Ralph Vaughnís appointment to the Resettlement Administration as an architectural draftsman.
Vaughn, Ralph A.  Letter from Society of American Registered Architects Vice-President and Chairman Awards Committee Marion J. Varner, F.A.R.A. (April 24, 1967). Personal collection, Ronald Fry Vaughn, 2447 Hidalgo St., Los Angeles, CA 90039.
Note: The letter notifies Vaughn that he has won the "President's Award" Design Citation for his design of Beth Am Temple in Los Angeles.
Vaughn, Ralph A. "The Oyster House: A Restaurant at 666 No. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles." 1965. Personal collection, Ronald Fry Vaughn, 2447 Hidalgo St., Los Angeles, CA 90039.

Vaughn, Ralph A., Resumes (4), ca. 1966-1970. Personal collection, Ronald Fry Vaughn, 2447 Hidalgo St., Los Angeles, CA 90039.

Vaughn, Ralph A. " The Vaughn Saga, Pts. I and II". Unpublished Memoir. 1991. Personal collection, Ronald Fry Vaughn, 2447 Hidalgo St., Los Angeles, CA 90039.

Vaughn, Ralph A. U.S. Government Architect-Engineer Questionnaire, filled out by Ralph A. Vaughn Assocs., circa 1966, with record of projects completed, and partially completed with dates. Personal collection, Ronald  Fry Vaughn, 2447 Hidalgo St., Los Angeles, CA 90039.

Heth Wharton (1892-1958):

"Apartment Housing Project (Venice District)." Southwest Builder and Contractor (7 October 1949):  55.

"Bond's Girl: Antonia Hutt Brings Residential Flair to Los Angeles Offices for Fountainbridge Films," Interior Design 69/3 (March 1998): 150.

Foster, Harriet. "On the Air: A Home of Rare Charm by Heth Wharton."  West Coast Builder (April 1930): 6+.  Also broadcast on KNX Home Builders Hour (April 1930).

"George Piness Residence by Heth Wharton."  West Coast Builder (August 1930): cover.

"Granted a Certificate to Practice Architecture in California." The Architect and Engineer (January 1928): 106.

"Heth Wharton to Give Exhibition of His Work."  Southwest Builder and Contractor (1 August 1930):  37.

"Heth Wharton Prepares Plans for W. W. Marser Residence in Upland."  Southwest Builder and Contractor (12 September 1930):  52.

"Models for George Piness Residence by Heth Wharton."  Pacific Coast Architect (January 1929): 42.

Official Register of Harvard University School of Architecture 1916-17. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University, 1916. HUE 4.106.11

Official Register of Harvard University School of Architecture 1917-18. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University, 1917. HUE 4.106.11

"Residence of Mr. and Mrs. M.  Lockhart, Heith Warton [sic], Architect."  Architectural Digest (1 August 1930): 154-157.

"Store Building in Hollywood by Heth Wharton."  The Architect and Engineer (April 1931): 54.

"A Weekend Retreat for a Busy Man: Residence of Sol Lesser by Heth Wharton in Santa Monica."  California Arts and Architecture (August 1930):  22-24.

Wharton, Heth. "This Month's Radio-Planned Home." West Coast Builder (March 1930):  6+.

Interviews:

Bialac, Jerry. Interviewed by Laura Burns, August 30, September 11, September 25, 2001.  Interviewed by Laura Burns and Michael Palumbo, September 5, 2001. Personal collection, Laura Burns, 1000 Doreen Pl. #1, Venice, CA 90291.

Cassell, Charles, AIA.  Interviewed by Gail Sansbury, November 2001. Personal collection, Gail Sansbury, 42 Bonview St, San Francisco, CA 94110. 

Note: Charles Cassell is the son of Albert I. Cassell, for whom Ralph Vaughn worked in the 1930's at Howard University.
Gonzalez. Edmund, General Manager, North Hollywood Apartments. Interviewed by Laura Burns, October 7, 2001. Personal collection, Laura Burns, 1000 Doreen Place # 1, Venice, CA 90291.

Hovey, Tamara. Interviewed by Laura Burns, August 27, 2001. Personal collection, Laura Burns, 1000 Doreen Pl. #1, Venice, CA 90291.

Hovey, Esther. Interviewed by Laura Burns, August 28, September 6, 2001. Personal collection, Laura Burns, 1000 Doreen Place #1, Venice, CA 90291.

Mock, Allen. Interviewed by Laura Burns, October 17, 2001. September 14, 2002, February 1, 3, 2003, November 1, 2003.  Interviewed by Laura Burns and Michael Palumbo, November 2, 200l. Personal collection, Laura Burns, 1000 Doreen Pl. #1, Venice, CA 90291.

Note: Architect Allen Mock was a draftsman at Wharton & Vaughn Assocs. from 1948 to 1951 and worked on the Lincoln Place and other projects. 
Oakley, Fred. Interviewed by Laura Burns, October 18, 2001. Personal collection, Laura Burns, 1000 Doreen Pl. #1, Venice, CA 90291.
Note: Fred Oakley  was a draftsman during the summers 1947-1950 at Wharton and Vaughn Assocs. and worked on the Lincoln Place and other projects. He became Heth Wharton's son-in-law and worked for him on architectural projects for two years after returning from the Korean War.
Oakley, Mary Wharton. Interviewed by Laura Burns, November 5, 9, 11, 2000;  September 26, October 2, 11,  November 3, 2001.  Personal collection, Laura Burns, 1000 Doreen Pl. #1, Venice, CA 90291.
Note: Mary Wharton Oakley is the daughter of Heth Wharton and worked in the office of Wharton and Vaughn in the summer of 1948.
Vaughn, Ronald Fry. Interviewed by Laura Burns, October 17 and 23, 2001;  April 7, 2002. Interviewed by Laura Burns and Michael Palumbo, November 14, 2001. Personal collection, Laura Burns, 1000 Doreen Pl. #1, Venice, CA 90291.
Note: Architect Ronald Fry Vaughn is the son of Ralph A. Vaughn.
Letters:

Letter of Gerald Bialac to Office of Historic Preservation, State of California dated September 14, 2002.

Letter of Professor Diane Favro, President, Society of Architectural Historians, to Office of Historic Preservation, State of California. (letter undated). 

Letters of Allen Mock to Office of Historic Preservation, State of California dated February 5, 2003 and October 21, 2002.

Letter of Julius Shulman to Office Historic Preservation, State of California dated September 23,2002.


 
 
 
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