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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gregory Ain and the Mar Vista Tract

Gregory Ain
Gregory Ain (1908-1988) was an American architect who worked primarily in the Los Angeles, California, area. He graduated from University of Southern California Los Angeles in 1928 and went to work for noted architects Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra.

By 1935 Ain was receiving his own commissions, and by 1937 he had developed an interest in reducing building costs for middle- and low-income families and designed Dunsmuir Flats. He was given a Guggenheim grant in 1940 to continue his work in low cost family housing, but World War II temporarily slowed his plans. During the war, he worked as Chief Engineer for the Moulded Plywood Division of the Evans Product Company of Los Angeles, where he assisted Charles Eames with his bent plywood chairs.

By the late 1940s, Ain was putting his ideas for low-cost housing into practice, designing housing tracts in Altadena (Park Planned Homes, 1946), Venice (Mar Vista Tracts, 1947) and Reseda (Community Homes, Inc., 1948), working with landscape architects such as Garrett Eckbo. Ain is said to be the first architect to design a house without servants in mind.

The Mar Vista Tract was a collaboration with Joseph Johnson and Alfred Day and was marketed as Modernique Homes. In these 52 homes, Ain used one basic house plan and was able to achieve a look of variation by rotating the plan in different directions and changing garage location.

The average house size was just over 1000 square feet, and the average sales price was about $12,000. The main selling points were the convertible features, the ultra-modern design and the color schemes.

By using folding wood panels and sliding panels, Ain achieved adaptable room spaces for families of any size. After reading a book about parenting by Dr. Benjamin Spock, Ain designed an open pass-through cabinet which allowed mothers to keep an eye on their children but which could be closed off by means of a Venetian blind hidden in a recessed area under the cabinet.

The houses were each painted in different rich color combinations, with each interior wall a different shade of the exterior theme color. There also would be a contrasting color on the entrance wall opposite the kitchen. This color stretched around the corner into the master bedroom, tying together the rooms. A dramatic effect was created by giving the "floating cabinet" a daring accent color. This color was also used on the doors to the toilet and the bathroom!There were a total of 23 different color design combinations created for the houses. This was done from 24 colors plus an additional seven floor colors.

In 2003, the Mar Vista Tract became the first Post-World War II Modern historic district in the City of Los Angeles.

Text from, and All images from

Original Modernique Homes model home
Original colors for Modernique Homes
Ad from Los Angeles Times, 1948
from the collection of Susannah Brin


  1. Very cool! That's "local" to me. I only wish the house I have was styled a tad more "modern", but I love the look of these homes. Just that little extra features in the front really makes them special!

  2. @1950sarh: I think some of these pictures are a few years old. However, everything I read indicated that this neighborhood remains very well-kept. Do you know if that's still true?

  3. lovely post..i would kill to live in a simple and modern home like this anyday :)

  4. @Sudha: These homes are about the same size of the post-war new home my parents bought. I've found that 1000-1200 square feet is all the space I need. I'm not sure when middle-class Americans started to feel they had to play the one-upmanship game with their friends about how many square feet their McMansion has, but it's costly and wasteful, in my opinion.

  5. very true Dana, Mc Mansions have been a great strain on the environment, while construction and later as well