Flickr Widget

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Craig Ellwood

Craig Ellwood (1922-1992) was born Jon Nelson Burke in Clarendon, Texas. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1937, and he graduated from Belmont High School in 1940 as Johnnie Burke. After World War II, he and his brother Cleve, along with two brothers named Marzicola, opened a contracting business they named the Craig Ellwood Company after a liquor store called Lords and Elwood, which was across the street from their office. (They added an L because they thought it sounded "swankier," and the name Craig just sounded cool to them.)

He later worked as a building cost estimator for the construction company Lamport Cofer Salzman in Los Angeles while attending night classes at the University of California Los Angeles, but he never completed his studies.

Burke legally changed his name to Craig Ellwood and opened Craig Ellwood Associates in Los Angeles in 1951. A real-life Don Draper, "Craig Ellwood" was a complete construct; Burke literally reinvented himself to become an architectural superstar, relying on charm, an eye for good design and sheer ambition. Since he was not formally trained as an architect, he provided the commissions and the vision, while he had to employ licensed architects to sign off on designs.

By 1952 he was chosen for the Case Study House 17B. His firm's designs were well received by the trade and clients, and he often received favorable coverage in influential publications like John Entenza's Arts & Architecture. He is also credited with Case Study House 18B and one done in 1953, which has no number.

Ellwood promoted himself like a Hollywood star. He had been an assistant publicist at the Hollywood Bowl, as well as a print model, continuing to appear in ads even after having some success with his architectural firm. He hired models and photographers to do photo shoots of his completed houses, and he marketed those photos worldwide.

Ellwood understood Hollywood and the value of promotion, because his wife Gloria had been a Hollywood studio actress. After their three children were born, she went back to work, playing the mother in the television series Dennis the Menace. In true Hollywood form, Ellwood drove Ferrarris and Lamborghinis and sponsored a race car in the Long Beach Grand Prix. Some called him "the Cary Grant of architecture."

Though never a licensed architect, he became a sought-after university lecturer, giving a series of talks at Yale University and teaching at University of Southern California and California State Polytechnic University.

Ellwood's firm expanded but was never particularly profitable, even though it was responsible for the master plan for the Rand Corporation headquarters in Santa Monica, California, as well as a number of Xerox and IBM offices. After closing his office, Ellwood retired to Italy.

From greatbuildings.com, arcspace.com, sduptownnews.com and wikipedia.org


Johnson/Stone House
homeasart.com

Interior of Johnson/Stone House
latimes.com

Kawahara Residence
la-curbed.com

Lipetz Home
takesunset.com

Rosen House
all-art.com

Bobertz Residence
modernsandiego.com
Moore House
latimes.com


Update (9-7-12): According to biographer  Neil Jackson in The Architecture of Craig Ellwood, Ellwood received his license from the State of California Board of Architectural Examiners on January 1, 1986.  His license number was C-16206. He obtained it as the result of a law passed on July 30, 1985. The law was intended to clarify the two-tier registration system by terminating the classification of Registered Building Designers and licensing all those thus registered as architects. As a result, Ellwood became an architect after he retired without ever passing the exams.

12 comments:

  1. ohhh! Great article! Those homes are dreamy...loving your blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Daphne! I think I enjoyed researching this post more than any other I've done. You never know what you're going to find out about people.

      Delete
  2. Amazing what a good eye, drive and chutzpah can do! The houses all look swell!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found it interesting that for all his fame and apparent success, his business never made much money. Of course, it sounds like his lifestyle may have eaten up all the profits.

      Delete
  3. They should make a movie about this guy, very interesting. He's very handsome too. I don't know anything about Don Draper because I don't have a tv, but I like Craig Ellwood better...he's got a little gangsta in him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd sure pay to see a movie about his life. Apparently the drama continued till he died. From what I read, he wrote his kids out of his will, so you know there's a story there. The guy must have been a real character.

      Delete
  4. p.s. I lived in L.A. in the 80's and that second white house totally brings back memories. I'm sure many of the dated buildings I remember have been since demolished and rebuilt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I'm sure many of them have been razed...all in the name of "progress."

      Delete
  5. james b michael, aiaSeptember 6, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    Ellwood did actually receive his architectural license ironically after his retirement.
    He was a hero to all the architects who came of age in the 60's and 70's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the information. I was able to find a passage in Neil Jackson's biography of Ellwood confirming that he was grandfathered under a 1985 law.

      Delete
  6. I had no idea. That's incredible. Thanks for writing the post.

    ReplyDelete