Elmer Grey

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Elmer Grey
Elmer Grey.jpg
Born (1872-04-29)April 29, 1872
Chicago, Illinois
Died November 14, 1963(1963-11-14) (aged 91)
Pasadena, California
Nationality American
Occupation Architect
Buildings Beverly Hills Hotel
Huntington Art Gallery
Pasadena Playhouse
Wattles Mansion

Elmer Grey, FAIA[1] (April 29, 1872 – November 14, 1963) was an American architect and artist based in Pasadena, California. Grey designed many noted landmarks in Southern California, including the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Huntington Art Gallery, the Pasadena Playhouse and Wattles Mansion. He is credited with being one of the pioneers in the development of the new American architecture in the early 20th century, with a focus on harmony with nature and eliminating features not belonging to the local climate and conditions. Grey was also a noted artist whose paintings are in the permanent collection of the Chicago Art Institute.

Architectural career[edit]

Career in the Midwest[edit]

Henry Huntington House in San Marino, designed by Hunt and Grey

Grey was born in Chicago and educated in the Milwaukee public schools. He did not attend college and worked for the Milwaukee architectural firm of Ferry & Clas from 1887-1899.[2][3] In 1890, the 18-year-old Grey won first prize in a competition for the design of a water tower and pumping station sponsored by a New York architectural publication.[3] While at Ferry & Clas, he assisted in the design of the Milwaukee Central Library and the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin.[3] When Grey went into practice on his own, he first attracted attention for his design of a summer home he built for himself on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan at Fox Point, Wisconsin.[4] Grey's Fox Point house was a great hit, being published widely in magazines and leading to Grey's elevation to Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.[4]

Health problems[edit]

Another major commission during his years in Wisconsin was the Christian Science church in Milwaukee. It was shortly after those plans were finished that Grey later recalled that "my health broke down completely."[4] Grey wrote that his health problems had more to do with "nerves" rather than anything purely physical.[4] Grey abandoned his Milwaukee practice and traveled to Florida, Philadelphia and then to Las Vegas, seeking to regain his health. He took up work on a ranch, hoping the hard work would build his strength. He eventually moved to California, spending time swimming, rowing, playing tennis and fishing on Catalina Island. When he read of a job working on a Hollywood citrus ranch for $25 a month plus board, he took the position.[4]

Partnership with Myron Hunt[edit]

Throop College, as featured in The Architectural Record

In 1904, Grey became friends with a fellow Midwestern architect, Myron Hunt.[1] The two rode horses together on Sunday mornings in Pasadena and formed a partnership in that city as Hunt and Grey. Grey later wrote that he began by working only a short time each day "until my nerves got in better shape."[4] Grey's health again failed during the early years of his partnership with Hunt, and he took a long trip to the South Sea Islands.[4] Yet, it was during his partnership with Hunt that Grey produced some of his finest work. The two designed fine residences for the wealthy of Pasadena and also worked on larger projects, including schools, churches and hotels. In 1905, The Architectural Record published articles on both Grey and Hunt, noting: "Both Mr. Hunt and Mr. Grey stand for the attempt to naturalize in this country the best traditions of European architecture. Mr. Grey, for instance, believes that a very genuine American style is in the process of making; but that as yet it is only in its infancy."[3]

From 1907-1908, Hunt & Grey designed a Beaux Arts mansion for railroad and finance magnate, Henry Huntington, in San Marino. The mansion, built with reinforced concrete, tile walls and a slab roof, was not completed until 1911.[5] In his book, "Houses of Los Angeles," Sam Watters wrote that the Huntington structure was "unique in Los Angeles for the ambition of its house."[5] While a French influence was requested by Mrs. Huntington, Hunt & Grey also added elements of a new California architecture by including a red-tile roof, unornamented plaster walls, and sage green window trim.[5] The Huntington mansion was later converted into the main art gallery of the cultural center built around the Huntington Library.

Hunt & Grey's larger commissions included work for Throop Institute in Pasadena, the school which would soon become California Institute of Technology. In 1911, they began plans for the new campus of Occidental College in the Eagle Rock district of Los Angeles. They also designed a dormitory and other structures for Claremont College and a master expansion plan for Pomona College.[6]

Association with the Arts and Crafts movement[edit]

Hunt & Grey's design of Cochran House was praised by Gustav Stickley's The Craftsman

In 1906, Hunt & Grey designed a home for Dr. Guy Cochran near Downtown Los Angeles that Gustav Stickley's The Craftsman magazine dubbed the "very best" of their work, with enormous windows "looking out upon the terrace and garden, giv[ing] such a sense of relationship between the two that there is almost no feeling of being enclosed within walls."[7] The Craftsman referred to Hunt & Grey as "pioneers in the development of the new American architecture," which was "but a series of individual plans adapted to the climatic conditions and to the needs of daily living" and in harmony "with the natural environment and contour of the landscape."[7] The house reflected Grey's vision of California bungalow architecture, which he described in 1907 as follows:

"The best California bungalow schemes involve a garden or large outdoor living space, incorporated as an integral part of the plan. By this we mean that the main rooms of the house are arranged to face this out-of-door living space ... It was once considered absurd to plan a house with the kitchen toward the street, but now not so in California ... the street side of [a man's] domicile is merely the side through which he enters."[7]

In 1910, as the American Craftsman movement was in full bloom in Southern California, Grey wrote that California architecture was distinctive because local architects were simply trying to be "natural"—not so much "because our architects have striven to be unique in their designing as because they have tried to eliminate features not belonging to this climate and to local conditions."[8] Grey also emphasized simplicity, once writing that "the greatest fault that can be found with the architecture of Southern California is that which may be found with all American architecture to a greater or lesser extent, namely, a lack of simplicity."[9]

Though often associated with the Craftsman movement, Grey's structures reflect a wide variety of styles, including Beaux Arts, Mission Revival and English Tudor. One Grey biographer wrote: "While Grey shared a number of beliefs with Stickley and the Arts and Crafts movement, his catholic, traditionalist taste and disposition would not allow him to become an exponent of any one movement. The woodsy, informal image of the Arts and Crafts house was simply one of many that he might employ. Like Charles and Henry Greene, he transformed the low-art Arts and Crafts dwelling into a sophisticated high-art object."[1]

Later career[edit]

Beverly Hills Hotel, 1911 drawing

After his partnership with Hunt dissolved in 1910 or 1911, Grey went on to design the Pasadena Playhouse, the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Lincoln Shrine in Redlands, three buildings for the First Church of Christ Scientist, and many residences. After completing his first Christian Science church, Grey published an article about church design in which he wrote:

"The commercial spirit of our age is so inclined to be a mad race for the 'almighty dollar,' and commercial structures are so often built with the idea of obtaining the most show for the least money that when religious organizations build they should show that their aims are higher. The trend of preachment or sermon in all churches is for the things of lasting value, the real as against the seeming; so when a church builds, it should show that it believes in putting such preachments into practice, that it demands the real in architecture instead of that which only seems so."[10]

The church Grey designed for the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Los Angeles was later used by Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple immediately prior to the 1978 Jonestown tragedy.

Artist and author[edit]

Grey was also an artist who painted in both oils and watercolors. He painted Southern California landscapes, and his watercolors are on permanent exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute.[11] Grey also wrote numerous articles on architecture and philosophy.[11]

For several years in the 1920s, Grey's nervous condition again forced him to cease working as an architect, though he rturned to his practice in 1929. During the 1930s, he also tried to obtain work as a set designer in Hollywood.[1]

Grey moved his practice to Florida in 1941, where he was an instructor in mechanical drawing and also painted a 35-foot frieze at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, depicting five episodes in the history and development of Florida.[12][13] Grey later returned to Pasadena in his retirement; he died in November 1963 at age 91 in the Pasadena mansion he had built for himself.[11]

Grey's architectural works[edit]

Throop Hall, Pasadena
Wattles Mansion, Hollywood
Architectural drawing of the side view at First Church of Christ, Scientist. Los Angeles
Spier House, Pasadena
McKee House, Monrovia

Grey's major works include:

To 1906[edit]


  • Paine House, Pasadena, CA (1907) (with Myron Hunt)[20]
  • L.H. Nares House, Beverly Hills, CA (1907) (with Myron Hunt)[21]
  • Wattles Mansion, 1824 N. Curson Ave., Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA (1907)[22][23]
  • Valley Hunt Clubhouse, South Orange Grove and Palmetto Avenues, Pasadena, CA (1907) (with Myron Hunt)[24]
  • Walter Ransome Leeds House, Berkeley Square,[25] Los Angeles, CA (1907) (with Myron Hunt)[26]
  • Chester Montgomery House, Berkeley Square, Los Angeles, CA (1907) (with Myron Hunt)[27]
  • William R. Burke House, Berkeley Square, Los Angeles, CA (1907) (with Myron Hunt)[27]
  • Polytechnic Elementary School, Pasadena, CA (1907) (with Myron Hunt) and addition (1912–1913)[1]
  • Arthur Herbert Woodward House (now the Zane Grey Estate), Altadena, CA (1907) (with Myron Hunt)[28]


  • William R. Nash House, N. Orange Grove Blvd. near San Rafael Bridge, Pasadena, CA (1908) (with Myron Hunt)[29]
  • A.S. Gaylord House, San Rafael Heights, Pasadena, CA (1908) (with Myron Hunt)[30]
  • Throop Polytechnic Institute, Campus Plan, Pasadena, CA (1908) (with Myron Hunt)[31]
  • Dr. J.A. Scherer House (Pres. of Throop Polytechnic), Pasadena, CA (1908) (with Myron Hunt)[32]
  • Men's Dormitory and other buildings at Claremont College, Pomona, CA (1908) (with Myron Hunt)[33]
  • Henry Huntington House, later converted into the Huntington Library and Art Museum, San Marino, CA (1908) (with Myron Hunt)[34][35][36][37][38]
  • Throop Hall, Pasadena, CA (1909) (with Myron Hunt)[39]
  • Throop Polytechnic Institute, Pasadena Hall, Pasadena, CA (1908–10)
  • Edward D. Libbey House, Ojai, California (1909) (with Myron Hunt)[1]
  • Edward M. Taylor House (aka "Ferndale"), Altadena, CA (with Myron Hunt) (destroyed by fire in 1943)[5][40]
  • Gartz Court, Pasadena, CA, (1910) (with Myron Hunt) on the NRHP in Pasadena
  • E.M. Neustadt Mansion, West Adams St. and Western Ave., West Adams, Los Angeles, CA (1910) (with Myron Hunt)[41]
  • Dormitories at Occidental College, Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, CA, and Throop Polytechnic (1910) (with Myron Hunt)[42]
  • J.N. Burnes House, El Molino and Pinehurst, Oak Knoll, Pasadena, CA (1910) (with Myron Hunt)[43]


1921 on[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Robert Winter (editor); David Gebhard (author) (1997). Toward a Simpler Way of Life, pp. 159-168. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20916-8. 
  2. ^ "Artist Biographies: Elmer Grey". Edan Hughes. Archived from the original on 2011-07-10. 
  3. ^ a b c d "An Architect Who Writes". The Architectural Record. February 1905. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Elmer Grey (Nov 1932 – Aug 1933). "Vicissitudes of a Young Architect". The Architect and Engineer. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Sam Watters (2007). Houses of Los Angeles, 1885-1919, vol. 1. Acanthus Press. 
  6. ^ "Accepts Keys Three Times: Repetition Pleases Pomona College President; Fine New Buildings Are Formally Dedicated; Ceremonials Mark Twentieth Anniversary". Los Angeles Times. 1908-11-22. 
  7. ^ a b c "The California Bungalow". The Craftsman. October 1907. 
  8. ^ "Fact and Comment". Los Angeles Times. 1910-07-31. 
  9. ^ Elmer Grey (January 1905). "Architecture in Southern California". The Architectural Record. 
  10. ^ Elmer Grey (December 1913). "On the Design of Certain Modern Church Edifices". The Architectural Record. 
  11. ^ a b c "Elmer Grey, Architect, Dies". Los Angeles Times. November 15, 1963. p. I-30 – via Newspapers.com. 
  12. ^ "Elmer Grey, California Architect, Paints Oil Frieze Depicting Early History of Florida". Architect & Engineer. October 1943. 
  13. ^ "ArchitectDB: Elmer Grey". University of Washington Library. [permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "By Builders and Architects: Observatory Buildings". Los Angeles Times. 1904-07-03. 
  15. ^ "By Builders and Architects: Building Notes". Los Angeles Times. 1905-02-12. 
  16. ^ "Among Builders and Architects: A Santa Barbara Mansion". Los Angeles Times. 1905-07-23. 
  17. ^ "Big Works Planned: Mammoth Family Hotel for Orange Street". Los Angeles Times. 1906-01-07. 
  18. ^ "Luxurious: All Comforts Great Style; Fashionable Hotel Will Add Apartment Houses". Los Angeles Times. 1908-03-08. 
  19. ^ "H.E. Huntington's Cottage". Los Angeles Times. 1906-07-01. 
  20. ^ Ruth Ryon (2007-05-27). "Home of the Week: Portico with a pedigree". Los Angeles Times. 
  21. ^ "On Beverly Hills: Bungalow of L.H. Nares and view overlooking the valley". Los Angeles Times. 1907-03-10. 
  22. ^ Susan Moffat (1993-02-18). "An Elegant Piece of Hollywood's Past Is Given Monument Status History: The designation helps preserve the 1905 Wattles Mansion. It is the last vestige of the resort community that flourished before the movies came to town". Los Angeles Times. 
  23. ^ Nikki Usher (2004-06-24). "Surroundings - Hollywood Hills: Historic Home Evokes Era Before the Age of Glitz; Wattles Mansion comes from a time when movie industry wealth had yet to make its mark on L.A.". Los Angeles Times. 
  24. ^ "Los Angeles Counties - Its Cities and Towns: Let Clubhouse Contract". Los Angeles Times. 1907-08-02. 
  25. ^ Berkeley Square is situated on the west side of Western Avenue, near Adams. The houses on Berkeley Square were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the 10 freeway.
  26. ^ "City Attracts Home Builders: Fine Residence Multiply in Past Year; Development of Berkeley Square Rapid". Los Angeles Times. 1908-11-29. 
  27. ^ a b "Among Builders and Architects: Buys in Berkeley Square". Los Angeles Times. 1907-08-11. 
  28. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  29. ^ "Overlooks the Arroyo Seco: House Occupies Old Valley Hunt Club Site; Building Pure Colonial in Design". Los Angeles Times. 1908-01-05. 
  30. ^ "Pasadena Home Set Amid Park of Live Oaks". Los Angeles Times. 1908-03-22. 
  31. ^ "Magnificent: New Throop Plans for Finest School: Designs for Plant in Pasadena Costing Millions to Be Discussed Tonight -- Working on Part to Start at Once -- Dream Coming True". Los Angeles Times. 1908-02-29. 
  32. ^ "Among the Architects". Los Angeles Times. 1909-12-06. 
  33. ^ "To Build Fireproof Concrete Structures About Campus at Claremont College". Los Angeles Times. 1908-06-14. 
  34. ^ a b "Action Started to Designate 2 Houses in Pasadena as Historic Landmarks". Los Angeles Times. 1979-09-23. 
  35. ^ "$3.25-million home features French details". Los Angeles Times. 1986-10-12. 
  36. ^ Cecilia Rasmussen (2000-08-27). "L.A. Then and Now: An Allure That 2 Tycoons Found Irresistible". Los Angeles Times. 
  37. ^ "Houses, Lots and Lands--Saturday Review of Building and Development; Huntington's Beautiful Palace Taking Shape on Site of Old Shorb Place". Los Angeles Times. 1908-10-11. 
  38. ^ "Thousands Visit Exhibit: Architectural Display, Purely Educational, Is Achieving Its Object by an Increased Public Attendance". Los Angeles Times. 1911-01-22. 
  39. ^ "Central Building on New Campus of Greater Institute Started". Los Angeles Times. 1909-05-09. 
  40. ^ Bettijane Levine (2007-10-04). "History: Chronicler of L.A.'s lost houses; In his two-volume book, Sam Watters conjures the ghosts of great early estates". Los Angeles Times. 
  41. ^ "Palatial Home Has Ideal Site: West Adams Mansion Is Set in Fairy Gardens". Los Angeles Times. 1910-05-29. 
  42. ^ "New "Dorms" To Be Attractive: Undergrad Homes for "Oxy" and Throop "Quads"; Large Building for academy Students to Accommodate Sixty Boys. Early Structures on Occidental Campus to include Two Fireproof College Dormitories. Dormitories Which Will Be Centers of Campus Life in Two Southland Schools". Los Angeles Times. 1910-06-26. 
  43. ^ "New "Show Place" for Oak Knoll: Site of Mansion Is Part of Old Alandale Ranch". Los Angeles Times. 1910-07-10. 
  44. ^ "Artistic Side Appeals Here; Home Builders Insist on Real Beauty in Houses; Good Taste in Architecture a Local Characteristic; Three Notably Fine Dwellings Started This Week. A Trio of Beautiful and Artistic New Southland Homes". Los Angeles Times. 1911-02-12. 
  45. ^ "Beverly Hotel To Be Wonder of Southland; Magnificent Mission Hostelry Half Way Between the City and the Ocean to Rival Greatest Tourist Resorts in the United States--Half-Million to Be Expended in Building Alone. Magnificent Tourist Hostelry to Crown Commanding Knoll Between the City and the Sea". Los Angeles Times. 1911-05-14. 
  46. ^ "Work Starts With Rush on Monster Hostelry: Great Tourists Hotelry for Beautiful Site Between the City and the Sea". Los Angeles Times. 
  47. ^ "Hotel Near Completion: Beautiful Mission Hostelry at Beverly Hills Promises to Be One of the Southland Show Places. The Latest of the Great Tourist Hostelries of the Southland". Los Angeles Times. 1912-02-25. 
  48. ^ "Costly New Church for Christian Scientists". Los Angeles Times. 1911-09-20. 
  49. ^ "Fine Church for Scientists: Followers of Mrs. Eddy to Have Hundred Thousand Dollar House of-Worship on Alvarado Terrace. Beautiful Edifice for West End Worshipers". Los Angeles Times. 1912-02-25. 
  50. ^ "Stately Edifice for Scientists: Plans Out for Long Beach House of Worship; Structure Will Follow Italian Renaissance Lines and Will Be of Brick Construction -- Special Attention to Be Given Problem of Accoustics [sic]". Los Angeles Times. 1913-01-26. 
  51. ^ "To Rear a Mansion on Canyon's Edge: Palatial Santa Monica Villa for Los Angeles Capitalist". Los Angeles Times. 1913-02-06. 
  52. ^ "Beautiful Dwelling of Thatched Roof Type: Follows English Types; New Altadena Home Has Thatched Roof of British Country Places -- Occupies Beautiful Foothill Site". Los Angeles Times. 1913-02-02. 
  53. ^ Ruth Ryon (2001-04-08). "Home of the Week: Old World Craftsman". Los Angeles Times. 
  54. ^ "Fine Home for Hillhurst Park: Hollywood Foothill Place Will Be Noteworthy Contribution". Los Angeles Times. 1914-09-06. 
  55. ^ "Notable Homes Overlook City: New Residents Add Charm to Local Architecture; Owners Select Foothill and Canyon Sites; Extensive Improvements for Beverly Estate. New Foothill Residences of Beautiful Design". Los Angeles Times. 1919-12-28. 
  56. ^ Deidre Woollard "The Harvey Mudd Estate" Oct, 2008
  57. ^ "Plan for Library Is Accepted: New Branch Will be Built for Pico Heights; Another Near Echo Park". Los Angeles Times. 1923-02-18. 
  58. ^ "Pasadena's Playhouse Under Way: Construction Begun on New Community Theater; Finest Plant in Country". Los Angeles Times. 1924-09-28. 
  59. ^ "R.H. Cromwell Residence in Bel-Air Area". Los Angeles Times. 1925-08-30. 
  60. ^ "Bank Official Building Fine English Home". Los Angeles Times. 1925-10-04. 
  61. ^ "Manor Type Home Will Be Erected: Large Residence Designed For Wilshire Area to Be Built at Once". Los Angeles Times. 1930-05-18. 
  62. ^ "Grey To Design Shrine: Pasadena Architect Invited by Redlands to Give Idea for Proposed Lincoln Memorial". Los Angeles Times. 1931-02-21. 
  63. ^ "Plans Soon To Be Ready for Shrine: Structure to House Bust of Lincoln and Books on Great Emancipator". Los Angeles Times. 1931-05-17. 
  64. ^ Ed Ainsworth (1963-03-25). "On the Move: Lincoln Shrine Gains Popularity". Los Angeles Times. 
  65. ^ Charles Hillinger (1972-02-12). "Everyone Turns Out: Lincoln's Birthday -- It's a Redlands Must". Los Angeles Times. 
  66. ^ a b Elmer Grey (Oct 1932). "The Lincoln Shrine and Two Other Buildings, pp. 11-20". The Architect and Engineer. 
  67. ^ "Fine Studio Nears Completion: Semi-Public Pasadena Unit Proves Unique". Los Angeles Times. 1933-06-11. 

Further reading[edit]

More detailed biographical information about Grey can be found in a ten-part series published by Architect & Engineer magazine from November 1932 through August 1933 under the title, "Vicissitudes of a Young Architect." See also Robert Craik McLean, "The Work of Elmer Grey, Architect, FAIA," published by The Western Architect in August 1916.

External links[edit]