December 6, 2018–The portfolio of Escher GuneWardena Architecture includes the 1998-2000 restoration/remodel of John Lautner’s Chemosphere, and the duo were project architects for Phase I Conservation on the Eames House (2011-2014).
Their new commission the restoration and rehab of the Church of the Epiphany which is a designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument was the recent recipient of $150,000 in preservation funding from the 2018 Partners in Preservation.
An advance of the tour they’ll lead of this more than one-hundred-years-old space, we caught up with them for a quick interview by email to find out more about their experience restoring Lautner’s Chemosphere and why the Church of the Epiphany is so important to Los Angeles architects.
Why is the Church of the Epiphany important to Los Angeles architecture?
The Church of the Epiphany is important to Los Angeles both for its historic architecture, being the oldest surviving Episcopalian Church in Los Angeles (built in 1888 and expanded in 1901 and 1913 by two important architects: Ernest Coxhead and Arthur Benton), but also because of its cultural history in being a base for the Chicano Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
In this next phase of restoration what are 1 – 3 key elements that will be insinuated.
In the next phase of the restoration will be the restoration of the historic basement, where many events shaping the identity of Mexican Americans took place, including the publishing of the bilingual journal La Raza. The space will continue to be used for the planning of social justice actions and community services. Upgrades to the building envelope and infrastructure will also be implemented.
Is there a cultural moment or story as related to the church that surprised you or that particularly speaks to the landmark’s significance to its community?
The church became a center of social justice in the mid 1960s hosting activities for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers union, La Raza, the Brown Berets, the East L.A. Walkouts, and the Chicano Moratorium, eventually earning its designation as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument no. 807 in 2005.
Can you provide a couple of highlights from you participation on the restoration/remodel of Lautner’s Chemosphere?
Some significant moments in the Chemosphere project were when the beauty of the curved glulam beam structure was revealed by removing the extraneous window mullions, and when wood paneling on the living room wall was installed in keeping with Lautner’s original intent. The Chemosphere was our first restoration project of a significant work of Los Angeles’ modernist architecture canon. Other projects include Phase I of the Eames House Conservation (in collaboration with the Eames Foundation and the Getty Conservation Institute), the A.Q. Jones Tyre House, an addition to Neutra’s 1961 Loring House and the restoration of the Jones and Smith Pilot House, in Mt. Washington.
Your website cites a collaboration with the late artist Mike Kelley. What was the project and from your point of few, what’s important to remember about Kelley.
Following an introduction by his gallerist and long-time partner Emi Fontana, we collaborated with Mike Kelley on three projects: Petting Zoo for the 2007 Skulptur Projekte Münster; A Voyage of Growth and Discovery, 2009 for SculptureCenter, New York installation; and Mobile Homestead at Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit in 2012. While Kelley often revisited certain ideas from earlier works, each iteration added new meaning and narrative to the previous body of work.