Created By: Friends Of Residential Treasures: Los Angeles
Raymond Kappe, Herbert Kahn, Rex Lotery
Why is it on the Trail?
Ray Kappe was an important figure in the late modern architecture scene. As a founding member of SCI-Arc in 1972, he joined his wife, Shelly Kappe, and his fellow Cal Poly Pomona colleagues in breaking away from traditional architectural education to form a new “school without walls.” SCI-Arc became a locus for experimental design during the Late Modern and Postmodern periods.
Kappe’s own house, completed in 1967, undoubtedly reflects midcentury influence with the use of large concrete towers, horizontal wood planes, and glass infill. These materials continued to appear in his projects throughout the 1970s. During this period, Kappe joined forces with a number of architects to explore urban design issues and hillside building. In 1970, he teamed with Herbert Kahn and Rex Lotery to form Kahn Kappe Lotery Architects (1970- 1973), then Kahn Kappe Lotery Boccato Architects Planners (1974-1978) and, finally, Kappe Lotery Boccato Architects Planners (1979-1981). Both with these firm and on his own, he expanded and refined his experiments in a series of houses, including solo projects like the Leonard and Judith Gertler Residence (1970) and the Hattenbach House (1972), credited to Kahn Kappe Lotery Architects, and the Henry Katzenstein House (1974) and Sultan-Price House (1976), in collaboration with Lotery. Most of these projects were featured in GA Houses, a Japanese journal that helped bring architecture from this period to international attention.
In 1973, Kappe, Kahn, and Lotery joined forces on the marvelous and sexy multifamily Elaine Stone Condominiums in Marina del Rey. The condo is divided vertically into three units, each with individual beach-level access. Both rear and beach-facing façades express the spatial division. On the alley, the design is more restrained: three floor-to-ceiling windows above three garages articulate the separate units. The beach façade, however, showcases the firm’s skill at intertwining glass, wood and concrete in a complex geometric design. A three-dimensional grid of U-shaped stucco towers intersect with wood beams and glass infill like a dynamic tic-tac-toe board. The team’s
clever visual expression of the triple height condo units (divided vertically but expressed horizontally) takes time to reveal itself. It is best viewed slowly while lounging on the sand with the surf at your back.
Wood, stone, concrete, and glass.
Emerging in the 1960, as the Mid-century modern craze was winding down, Late Modernism pushed the stylistic ideas of Modernism to extremes. This often involved a mutation, a distortion, and/or an exaggeration of modern design elements; a sculptural breaking of the box. Though still modern in terms of form, features and materials, late modern work was often more mannered.
IDEAS AND PROCESS THAT WENT INTO STRUCTURE:
This structure is divided vertically into three units, each with individual beach access. Both the rear and beach-facing façades show this division: on the alley, three floor-to-ceiling windows above three garages delineate the three units, while on the beachfront façade, stucco towers intersect with wood beams and glass infill to form a complex, three-dimensional geometric grid with three distinct sections. Each condominium features a ground floor terrace as well as a projecting balcony with a wood and glass balustrade, and a rooftop deck with a glass balustrade. Since the structure’s initial construction, the beachfront façade has been modified by various owners, losing some of its symmetry and De Stijl-inspired flair.
Inside, each condominium is different, and all three have been heavily modified by their respective owners over the past fifty years. In 2022, 3817 Ocean Front Walk was listed for sale and described in this way: the unit includes four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and open-plan living spaces. The large common room has a loft overlooking a double-height living room, which features a fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows providing ocean views. The kitchen also offers ocean views, while built-in bookcases and cabinetry throughout provide ample storage. A large tree ensures privacy on the side of the structure that borders a street enabling the public to access the beach.
BIOGRAPHY OF ARCHITECT:
Ray Kappe was born on August 4, 1927 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Romanian parents who shortened the family name from Kapelowitz to Kappe.
In 1940, the Kappes relocated to Los Angeles, where Ray attended Emerson Middle School, which was housed in a modern building with sliding glass doors and rooftop terraces designed by Richard Neutra in the late 1930s. The building made a lasting impression on Kappe, as did Neutra’s Strathmore Apartments in Westwood.
In 1945, Kappe spent one semester at UCLA before being drafted into the postwar US Army Corp of Engineers, where he served for two years as a topographical surveying instructor. After his discharge, he attended the University of California, Berkeley, receiving his Bachelor of Architecture in 1951.
After graduation, Kappe briefly worked as a draftsman for Anshen & Allen in San Francisco, where he was involved in the design of the Eichler Homes, some of the first tract housing projects built in the Modern style. The newly married Kappe then returned to Los Angeles to work for the architect Carl Maston. In 1953, Maston and Kappe each designed a multi-level apartment complex on National Boulevard, in the Palms neighborhood of Los Angeles—Kappe’s building was meant as a source of income for his parents. Both structures are classic examples of the post-and-beam technique, and feature some classic elements of California Modernism: flat roofs, exposed frames, glass walls and stucco cladding. The projects received an American Institute of Architects Design Award and were mentioned in Arts & Architecture magazine.
Following the success of the National Boulevard Apartments, Kappe left Maston to start his own architecture firm in Brentwood in 1954. Over the following decade, he designed fifty modular post-and-beam single-family residences, working towards the creation of a prefabricated prototype that could be customized to any topography and meet the needs of any client.
In the 1960s. Kappe joined the American Institute of Architects (AIA)’s Urban Design Committee with Herb Kahn and Rex Lotery (see below), with whom he undertook several large scale urban planning and residential projects. The partners were concerned with energy efficiency, and much of their work relied on steel and concrete construction. Their joint architecture and planning firm, Kahn Kappe Lotery, changed its name twice before dissolving in the early 1980s.
After 1982, Kappe returned to his interest in prefabricated modular residential design, working both independently and in collaboration with others, including his sons, Finn and Ron Kappe. In 2007, at the age of 80, he designed the first residence to be awarded the platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating of the US Green Building Council.
In addition to his architecture practice, Kappe had a long career in education, starting in the mid-1960s as a professor at the University of Southern California (USC). After serving as founding chairman of the department of architecture at California Polytechnic State University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona), he quit
in 1972 and, along with a group of young faculty members and his wife, the architectural historian Shelly Kappe, founded the experimental New School, which was later renamed the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). The school encouraged invention, exploration, and critical thinking, integrating courses in the social and behavioral aspects of architecture into the design curriculum. Kappe stepped down as director of SCI-Arc in 1987, but continued to teach there and at USC well into his later years.
Ray Kappe died of respiratory failure in November 2019, at the age of 92.
Rex Lotery was born on August 19, 1930 outside London, England. When he was nine years old, his family immigrated to New York City, and later moved to Scarsdale, New York.
Lotery received his Bachelor of Architecture from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in 1952. The following year, he married Susan Schacker, with whom he would have three children—Kent, Richard, and Gwen. Lotery worked as a draftsman for William Stevenson, and then for Barienbrock and Murry, before establishing his own firm in Los Angeles in 1957. One of his first commissions was the design of a residence for Elvis and Priscilla Presley in Trousdale Estates, a combination of the California Modernism and Hollywood Regency styles.
In 1969, Lotery launched a joint venture with Ray Kappe, Herb Kahn, and other architects. Throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s, the colleagues worked on dozens of commercial, residential, and urban design projects, both separately and as a group. Lotery also undertook several projects with the SRO Housing Corporation to rehabilitate residential hotels such as the Courtland Hotel in Skid Row, a neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles that contains one of the largest populations of homeless people in the United States.
In 1978, Lotery’s wife passed away, followed five months later by his son, Richard, who died in a car accident. After overcoming this personal tragedy, Lotery married Fran Geisler. Their son, Kevin, was born in 1982.
From 1984 to 1992 Lotery was president of the Urban Innovations Group, an office associated with the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at UCLA through which he mentored young architects. He was also an avid tennis player, photographer, and world traveler.
Rex Lotery died in 2007 in Santa Barbara, surrounded by his wife of 28 years, three children, and four grandchildren.
Born in Queens, New York, Herbert Kahn spent his youth in New York City. He moved to San Diego during the Great Depression, seeking employment in the city’s naval shipyards. After working as a mechanic in the US Army Air Corps during the Second World War in England, Kahn returned to the United
States in 1946, marrying Erika Fluss and settling down in Pacific Palisades. The couple would have three sons: Cary, Philip, and Peter.
After graduating from USC’s School of Architecture, Kahn began a prolific career in Los Angeles, working both on his own and in collaboration with Ray Kappe, Rex Lotery, and others. Though he was involved in residential designs, he specialized in corporate, civic and community projects. He also lent his support to the preservation of Sabato Rodia’s Watts Towers, and was president of the American Institute of Architects’ Southern California chapter.
In 1974, Kahn relocated to Santa Cruz, California, where he started a private practice. He went on to design the Louden Nelson Community Center, as well as multiple buildings for the University of California, Santa Cruz campus. Herbert Kahn died in Santa Cruz in May of 2005.
ELEMENTS OF STRUCTURE THAT ARE TYPICAL OF ARCHITECT'S WORK:
At the Elaine Stone condominiums, Kappe and his colleagues’ Modern and International Style influences are evident in the use of concrete towers, horizontal wood planes, clerestory windows, and floor-to-ceiling glass walls, as well as in the abundance of private outdoor spaces (three per unit) ensuring a seamless indoor-outdoor flow. These materials, techniques and ideas would continue to appear in their residential and commercial projects throughout the 1970s and beyond.
Elaine Stone, Suzanne Somers and Alan Hamel
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Elaine Stone was an artist, an avid traveler, and a supporter of liberal causes, and was proud to have been on Richard Nixon’s Enemies List. She had two children, Eric and Nancy, and she may have been married to Martin Stone, a real estate developer who worked with Ray Kappe on other projects, though it cannot be confirmed. Stone lived in Venice for most of her life, probably in one of the condominiums bearing her name. She died on September 8th, 2004, at the age of 73, after a nine month battle with leukemia.
In 1977, the actress Suzanne Somers (best know for her role in the 1970s sitcom Three’s Company) and her husband, Canadian television producer Alan Hamel, purchased one of the three condominiums. The couple initially made minor changes to the property for additional privacy. As architect Ray Kappe remembered it in a 1995 interview: “On the beach side, where there was the ground floor terrace that was walled in, she had to wall it even more… I guess there are enough crazy people who try to climb over the walls to see their favorite star—they needed that.” This additional privacy wall is still standing today.
Somers and Hamel eventually gutted and remodeled the 3,500 square foot, three-story residence, which had three bedrooms a rooftop deck. According to a 1982 profile of Somers in People magazine: “Their elegant home… has two offices, a secretary and a housekeeper, a sauna and atriums, and two preppy goldfish, Bif and Muffy. In the garage are Alan’s 1977 Cadillac, Suzanne’s 1968 Mercedes and a 1957 Rolls.”
Somers and Hamel lived in the condominium for 22 years before moving to Malibu in 1999.
TALES AND TIMELINES:
The Elaine Stone Condominiums are built.
Actress Suzanne Somers and her husband, Alan Hamel, purchase one of the condominiums, adding high walls around the ground floor terrace for privacy.
Suzanne Somers and Alan Hamel move out of their Marina del Rey condominium.
A sale of one of the condos (3817 Ocean Front Walk) is pending at almost $6 million.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Surfside 70s