Reginald Johnson Exhibit Takes Shape

by Anne Petersen

The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation is pleased to announce an upcoming exhibition on the Architect Reginald Johnson’s (1882 – 1952) Santa Barbara projects, which will open at Casa de la Guerra next year.  Johnson is recognized locally for his work on several community institutions, including the U.S. Downtown Post Office, the Biltmore Hotel, the Music Academy of the West, and Lotus Land.

Rose Thomas reviews the Reginald Johnson scrapbooks at the Huntington Library. Photo by Anne Petersen.
Rose Thomas reviews the Reginald Johnson scrapbooks at the Huntington Library. Photo by Anne Petersen.

On October 16, Guest Curator Rose Thomas and I made a trip to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino to look at two scrapbooks of Johnson projects.   Our anticipation was high, because Johnson famously destroyed his work.  Researchers must rely on the material saved by his clients, much of which is in private collections, and the few archives that hold materials.    The Johnson scrapbooks at the Huntington include wonderful photographs of Santa Barbara projects such as Lotus Land and the Harold Chase House, each mounted on a page and complete with beautifully hand-lettered titles.

Village Green in 1958. Job 2592: Robert Evans Alexander, Reginald D. Johnson, and Wilson and Merrill, Architects, Baldwin Hills Village (Los Angeles, Calif.), 1958, by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust.
Village Green in 1958. Job 2592: Robert Evans Alexander, Reginald D. Johnson, and Wilson and Merrill, Architects, Baldwin Hills Village (Los Angeles, Calif.), 1958, by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust.

One of the scrapbooks includes floor plans and hand-colored elevation drawings, along with photographs, of Village Green, a middle class housing project built in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles in 1941.  The project was one of Johnson’s last, and reflects his late-career interest in public housing.

Village Green today. Photo by Anne Petersen.
Village Green today. Photo by Anne Petersen.

Reviewing that scrapbook was timely considering we had scheduled an afternoon appointment with two residents of Village Green, Gailyn Saroyan and Steve Keylon, who are dedicated to preserving their beautiful homes and passionate about Johnson’s ideals.  Village Green is remarkable for its balance of apartments (now condominiums) and park-like natural space.  Every aspect of the sixty-four acre property was designed to create beautiful comfortable and communal-based lifestyles for its residents.  It is a remarkable oasis in the city, and one that is cherished by its current residents.

We look forward to sharing more about the exhibit with you as it developes.  An opening is planned for February 2016, so stay tuned for more detailed announcements!

Anne Petersen is the Associate Director for Historical resources at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. 

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