The Horatio West Court Apartments represents architect Irving J. Gill’s approach to small-scale, low-cost housing development. Built in 1919 for Horatio D. West in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica, the project unites Gill’s longtime interest in social housing and the development of more affordable alternatives to the single-family house and the “bungalow court,” which saw booming development across Southern California in the 1910s and 1920s. Along with Lewis Court in Sierra Madre (1910), Horatio West Court is one of the few remaining examples of Gill’s approach to quality living environments for low-income families, including labor-saving kitchens, day-lit interiors, and outdoor “garden rooms.”
The project is executed in Gill’s abstracted and stylized language of Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival forms using the typical bungalow court configuration of small individual houses around a central court or drive. Gill’s approach was radical for the time, when most house courts were being built in more traditional Craftsman or Spanish Revival styles. With its flat roofs, plain white walls, unadorned archways, and continuous ribbon of casement windows, Horatio West Court prefigures International Style modernism of the 1920s and 1930s. Gill believed in simplicity and eschewed ornamentation, focusing rather on the straight line, the cube, and the arch as the most dignified “architectural language.” These elemental forms are then softened, not with fussy architectural details but with exuberant climbing vines, colorful flowers, and shady eucalyptus trees.
Horatio West Court arranges four two-story apartments symmetrically around a central courtyard with shared vehicular and pedestrian access. The town house units are essentially freestanding, connected only by walled patios, service porches, and garden spaces, so that they have access to light and air on all four sides yet remain private. Unit entries are located off the landscaped central courtyard and are defined by covered porches. The interior space of the apartments was originally inverted so that the living areas were on the second story and the sleeping areas below. Second-story spaces used ribbon windows to capture views of the ocean, half a block away, and the mountains in the distance. This second-story living space, however, was originally a large outdoor balcony that was enclosed during construction. Ground-floor living spaces have generous corner windows and access to ample private outdoor space. All apartments have fireplaces, originally their only source of heat. Attached garages are located in the rear on either side of the driveway, providing one parking space per unit, separated from the front courtyard by a simple archway. These were renovated in 1922, adding two apartments, one atop each garage structure, and an additional two parking spaces between them.
Atypical of most housing in Southern California, the project makes innovative use of “fireproof” concrete construction. Sliding formwork was used to build reinforced concrete foundations and bearing walls that were then covered in white stucco. Both first and second floors are constructed of concrete slabs, with the concrete exposed on the underside. Non-load bearing partitions are plaster on wood frame.
At the time of Horatio West Court’s completion, the Ocean Park neighborhood was largely developed with a range of housing types and small-scale commercial structures. The community was established in the 1890s and was originally known as South Santa Monica. Abbott Kinney began the development of a beach resort community in the early 1900s, with amusement parks, piers, bathhouses, and boardwalks, as well as small cottages, bungalows, and apartment courts. Ocean Park was incorporated in 1904 and was annexed by the city of Santa Monica in 1907.
The name of the court was changed to El Consuelo Apartments in 1927, and it is speculated that at this time the four town house units were split into two separate apartments, one up and one down. In 1968, the building was documented by the Historic American Building Survey’s Los Angeles Project. It was deteriorated by the time it was surveyed, but its concrete construction meant that it was still structurally sound. The building was operated as income-producing apartments until the early 1970s when a partnership of six people, half architects, bought the property and restored it for their own use, living in the four town house units and renting out the two apartments in the back. The project was converted to condominiums in 1979. Horatio West Court was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and was designated as a local landmark by the City of Santa Monica in 1979.
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Gill, Irving. “The Home of the Future: The New Architecture of the West: Small Homes for a Great Country,” The Craftsman30, no. 2 (May 1, 1916): 140-151.
Marple, Albert. “The Modern Bungalow Court, A Well Balanced and Attractively Designed Group of Bungalows in Southern California That Possesses Many Features at Attract the Home-Maker.” Building Age (1910-1922)(March 1, 1920): 19.
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PCR Services Corporation. City Landmark Designation Evaluation – Christie Court. City of Santa Monica, 2004.