Situated on a bluff overlooking the fairways of the Riviera Country Club in northeastern Santa Monica, the Strick House resembles the International Style residences built for the famous Case Study House Program, led by Arts and Architecture editor John Entenza from 1945 to the mid-1960s. The house was not designed, however, by a Southern Californian architect but by Brazilian modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer. It is the only one of his residential designs to be constructed in the United States. (The only other realized building by Niemeyer in North America is the United Nations Headquarters in New York, designed in 1947 in collaboration with Le Corbusier.)
The Strick House is located on La Mesa Drive, a secluded street lined with towering Moreton Bay fig trees, which intersects and then runs parallel to San Vicente Boulevard for six blocks. Many of the houses were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s and were designed by notable figures such as Santa Monica native John Byers, Paul Williams, Palmer Sabin, and the architectural firm Marston, Van Pelt and Maybury. Two other International Style residences were built on La Mesa Drive: J. R. Davidson’s Stothart-Phillips House (1937–1938) and Lloyd Wright’s Nables House (1949).
The house was built for screenwriter, director, and producer Joseph Strick and writer Anne Strick, his wife. At the time, the couple, who had three children, were living in a residence in the Mar Vista Tract designed by Gregory Ain, a protégé of Richard Neutra. After attending the 1963 Mar del Plata film festival in Argentina, Joseph Strick traveled to Brazil to explore buildings designed by Niemeyer. Impressed by the imaginative, curvilinear forms of the architect’s house in Canoas and the soaring designs of his monumental buildings in the newly constructed capital of Brasilia, the Stricks contacted Niemeyer. The politically progressive couple was motivated to hire Niemeyer, a member of the Brazilian Communist Party, because they felt he was being prevented from working in the U.S. due to his political views. Although he was denied an American visa because of his Communist affiliation, Niemeyer agreed to undertake the task without ever visiting the site or meeting his clients in person.
The design for the house underwent two revisions, a process that was chronicled in the September 1964 issue of Arts and Architecture magazine. The first design maximizes the site’s sweeping view of the canyon from all rooms, with the glass-enclosed living areas placed right on the lip of the bluff. Four bedrooms and a study are situated below ground. A free-form roof sits atop the living areas and as much space as possible is made available for the garden, characteristic of a number of houses designed by Niemeyer, including his Canoas house. In the house’s second design, the living areas are set back from the bluff’s edge and traverse the lot, allowing for a panoramic view of the canyon. The garden is divided into front and back lots, while the bedrooms remain underground. Both designs were struck down by city authorities, however, since local building codes prohibited below-grade bedrooms (reportedly due to the fear that the rooms would be turned into rental units).
In the third and final design of the 4,600-square-foot house, the rooms are all on ground level and arranged in a T-shape. The 14-foot-tall, glass-walled living room, kitchen, and a study comprise the base of the T and cut across the lot along the east-west axis. Running perpendicular, along the north-south axis, are the bedrooms. Extending northward towards the canyon is a wing housing a smaller study and the master bedroom, the only room in the house perched right on the bluff’s edge. On the opposite side, closest to the street, is a wing housing a playroom and three smaller bedrooms. Steel posts and beams support the 68-foot-long roof above the living room and kitchen, with a series of exterior wooden joists (initially designed in concrete) stretching across the flat roof. Glass, brick, and stucco comprise the building’s exterior.
The construction plans were drawn by local architect Ulrich Plaut, and the interior design and landscape were done by Amir Farr. Anne Strick oversaw the completion of the house (the couple separated on the eve of construction), where she resided with the children for the next few decades.
The house was put on the market in 2001 with no mention of Niemeyer. It was bought by a developer, who intended to tear it down and rebuild on the desirable site. Architects and preservationists rallied to save the house, causing the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission to issue a stay of execution so that it could review the house’s significance. Within a couple of years, the house was purchased by the collectors Michael and Gabrielle Boyd, who had recently sold Paul Rudolph’s triplex penthouse on Beekman Place in Manhattan after living in it and carefully restoring it over the course of three years.
The Boyds worked with architect Nigel Briand, with whom they had worked on the Rudolph residence, to restore the Strick House with only a few minor changes. The brick wall dividing the children’s bedrooms from the entry path was moved back a few feet from the glass wall of the living room to open up a small courtyard. The original garage and study was converted into a two-story library; adjacent to this, a new garage addition was constructed with an open balcony above it. Vertical aluminum brise-soleil salvaged from a building of the same era were added to screen the floor-to-ceiling front windows on the primary, south-facing elevation. In addition to restoring the outdoor hardscape, decorative boulders were added as well as plant species favored by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, a frequent collaborator of Niemeyer’s.
The Strick House was designated as a City Landmark in 2003.
Hess, Alan. Oscar Niemeyer Houses. New York: Rizzoli, 2006.
“Oscar Niemeyer: Project for a House in Santa Monica, California.” Arts and Architecture81 (September 1964): 20-28.
“Strick House, 1964.” Santa Monica Landmark Properties. Accessed September 28, 2018. http://www.santamonicalandmarks.com/
Webb, Michael. Modernist Paradise: Niemeyer House/Boyd Collection. New York: Rizzoli, 2007.