Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 30, 2018

International Style Modernism Revisited

Recently I wrote about the 1952 Redondo Beach, California Civic Center.

Redondo Beach Civic Center Brad Nixon 0660 640

Comments from readers indicated that not many of you were impressed with this example of mid century International Stye modernism. Let’s drive a mile south of the Civic Center to see how you like another iteration of the style. I’ll choose not a civic but a religious structure. After all, we travel the world to see remarkable churches, temples, synagogues and chapels. We even pay admission fees and stand in lines to gawk at St. Peter’s Basilica, Hagia Sophia, Bath Cathedral or the Scrovegni Chapel. Not only that, I’ll make it one designed by an architect whose name figures large in Los Angeles, Richard J. Neutra (NOY-truh). That ought to do it.

RB Methodist Brad Nixon 0823 680

That’s the Riviera United Methodist Church, built in Redondo Beach in 1958. By that time, Neutra’s reputation was firmly established, and he’d designed innumerable projects, the bulk of them in southern California. You’re almost certainly familiar with one of his landmark designs, the Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs, from 1946. There are more iconic views of it, but this is the portion I was able to capture from the street.

Kauffman House Brad Nixon 2373 (640x383)

Likewise, I have only exterior views of the Riviera United Methodist Church for you.

RB Methodist Brad Nixon 0822 680

Inside is a large, soaring sanctuary lit by the glass of the eastern wall you see, and by stained glass in the opposite wall.

In An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, Gebhard and Winter describe the building this way:

“An openwork Constructivist post-and-lintel composition of steel and wood emphasizes the entrance to the sanctuary.”*

RB Methodist Brad Nixon 0831 680

I wasn’t familiar with the “Constructivist” attribution, and after looking it up, I’m only confused. A movement from Russia in the 1920s and ’30s, it doesn’t seem to bear directly on this building. However, Neutra (1892-1970) was born and educated in Vienna, and worked in Europe for a number of years before emigrating to the U.S. by 1923. It’s possible that Gebhard and Winter consider that Constructivist movement to be part of his early influences. Today he’s primarily known for his influential role in adapting International Style modernism to an open-air look suited to southern California. He helped shape the mid century modernist aesthetic along with his slightly older contemporary and onetime employer in Los Angeles, R. M. Schindler (also originally Viennese).

By ’58, Neutra was in the final year of a nine-year partnership with Robert E. Alexander, and the Riviera United Methodist is rightfully credited to the Neutra-Alexander firm.

RB Methodist Brad Nixon 0825 680

There are a lot of Neutra’s buildings standing and in use today, including a significant number of residences within easy reach of me. The challenge is photographing them, because many are in heavily landscaped, reclusive settings. I’ll track down a few more over time.

Meanwhile, there’s one additional detail from Riviera Methodist to note. Look more closely at the background of the above photo. That’s the Pacific Ocean visible beyond the tall palm tree. Brunelleschi did all right with the dome for Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, but he didn’t have an ocean view to pose it in front of.

What’s your opinion? An impressive modern design? Leave a comment.

Licensable, high resolution versions of some photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018. * Quotation and other information © Gebhard, David and Winter, Robert, An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, Gibbs Smith; Layton, Utah, 2003.


  1. I admit that I have never seen a cathedral like this one. So, some credit for originality, tho’ not exactly stunningly beautiful.

    Perhaps I’m too much of a traditionalist, but this one’s too boxy and leggy for my taste.


  2. Interesting architecture and quite different than buildings in the midwest!


  3. Oddly, the two details that caught my eye have nothing to do with the building itself. One is the fireplug that’s painted to match the planter in the courtyard. If it’s functional, I don’t think it would be legal here, as the point of the usual red or blue is to have them stand out from their surroundings.

    The other interesting detail is the diamond shape embedded into the concrete in the next-to-last photo. It could have a functional purpose, but it looks rather like the Eye of God or Eye of Providence that appears, for example, on the dollar bill. If that’s what it is, it’s more Masonic than Methodist, but the building itself seems more Masonic lodge than Methodist church. Even the cross seems an afterthought, as though someone said, “But, wait. We’ve got to have a cross. Throw one up somewhere.”

    I will say that this example’s much more appealing than the previous one. I like the openness of the courtyard, which is softened a bit by the landscaping. On the other hand, those tall supports evoke mostly long-legged things: spiders, War of the Worlds creatures roaming the land, Liberian bush devils on stilts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I certainly have to agree with you on the how the cross looks like it’s an afterthought. The Redondo Masonic Lodge is a typical fortresslike block from 1927, and, as a non-Mason, I can’t penetrate the inner sanctum to report on the place because I don’t know the words of passage. In some parts of the world, telling someone they look “more Masonic than Methodist” might be fightin’ words.
      I’ll find an opportunity to go look at that paving some time. It looks like there’s a medallion of some sort in the center of the diamond. Maybe a donor acknowledgment. Maybe a drain. As a onetime Methodist myself, I view the denomination as sorely lacking in mystical doo-dah.
      I just stepped out the door and looked up the street to check. Our nearby fire hydrant is about the same color. I think that’s standard here. Probably supposed to be a somewhat more brilliant “safety orange,” faded by sun.
      As for the landscaping, I gave some thought to mentioning it. Neutra’s first American gig was primarily in landscape architecture, including some of the landscaping at Hollyhock House for Wright, under the supervision of Schindler, his future collaborator. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that the current landscaping more or less reflects Neutra and Alexander’s original design, but it would take a lot of deep digging to determine that. I think it is attractive, though.
      I didn’t know about Liberian bush devils, but looked them up. Thanks for expanding my horizon.


  4. Nice building and spacious facade. Both buildings were impressive from an architectural standpoint/ style. I just thought the civic center was small. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t great architecture.


    • Thanks for the comment. What I like primarily about both buildings is that they’re such exemplars of a style of the era. If one built a structure like that today, no one would like it, particularly. Everything has a time, but buildings often outlast their own design, and become quaint or even thoroughly unattractive to a later era. The Civic Center, particularly, which is one year younger than I am, looks quite dated. I hope I’m holding my own better than that!


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