Thu, 8 March 2007
Few people know of one of the best modern houses in the United States, and even fewer have ever seen it. The designer of Richard Halliburton's house (1938) in Laguna Beach, William Alexander Levy, would never again produce such an exceptional building nor work for such an eccentric client. He met Paul Mooney in 1930 and the two men became lovers. By that time, Mooney had a prolific professional and personal relationship as editor and ghostwriter to Richard Halliburton, the world-traveling adventurer, who at the time was as famous as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. Alexander was only 27 years old when he received the commission for the Halliburton's house. Alexander drew upon European contemporary architecture and created flat-roofed boxes of concrete and glass in a clear expression of the International Style of modernism. He hoped to create a house that soared like the modern spirit of Halliburton. Mies van der Rohe's work and his experimental concrete buildings of the 1920s, along with Le Corbusier's L'Esprit Nouveau Pavilion (1924-25) and his famous Villa Savoye (1928-29) would influence Alexander. In 1936, the first major and well-publicized concrete dams, Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam were built, securing concrete as a practical and modern material in the United States. Frank Lloyd Wright, Alexander's teacher, had used concrete at the Larkin Building (1904) and Unity Temple (1905-07), but Wright most exploited its structural characteristics in the cantilevered concrete decks at Fallingwater (1936-37). At the Halliburton House, simple rectangular boxes of reinforced, poured-in-place concrete define the house. The boxes' two open sides facing the ocean and the canyon are filled with thin steel frames of industrial windows. Cantilevered concrete stairs wrap the exterior's southwest corner to the entry door. The interior contains a gallery, the living and dining rooms, a small kitchen, two bathrooms and three bedrooms one each for Halliburton, Mooney, and Alexander. The roof is a deck with unobstructed views in all directions. Mooney named it Hangover House because of the dramatic setting overlooking the canyon. The words are impressed into the concrete retaining wall near the entry. The three men were aware of the obvious pun. Later, Alexander assisted Arnold Schoenberg, the composer, with the redesign of Schoenberg's Brentwood studio. Alexander befriended Ayn Rand, and provided quotes for her book, The Fountainhead (1943). Some of Rand's descriptions in the book of the Heller House are thinly disguised references to the Halliburton House. Alexander continued to practice architecture and interior design and by 1950 had moved permanently to West Hollywood. He died in 1997. For more information see the book, Horizon Chasers: The Lives and Adventures of Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney, by Gerry Max. It's the story of Halliburton, the quintessential world traveler of the 20th century and his gifted editor and ghost writer, Paul Mooney, with first hand accounts by William Alexander and others.The book is published by McFarland & Company, April 2007. Download the podcast below.