If you were a movie star in the market for a mansion in 1930s Los Angeles, there was a good chance you might call on Wallace Neff.
Neff wasn't just an architect--he was a starchitect. One of his most famous projects was the renovation of Pickfair, the estate owned by the iconic silent film actress Mary Pickford, and her husband Douglas Fairbanks. When the couple moved into Pickfar, the house sat on a nameless street in an empty neighborhood called Beverly Hills. If you were lucky enough to be invited to dinner at Pickfair you might find yourself seated next to Babe Ruth, the King of Spain or Albert Einstein. Life magazine called Pickfair “only slightly less important than the white house, and much more fun.” Neff designed estates for Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland and Groucho Marx. His Libby Ranch is now owned by Reese Witherspoon.
But at the end of his life, Wallace Neff lived in a 1,000 square foot concrete bubble. And Neff believed that this simple dome was his greatest architectural achievements.
Los Angeles-based reporter David Weinberg spoke with historian Jeffrey Head, author of No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff. David also spoke with Kathy Miles, who grew up in Igloo Village; Steve Roden, an artist and current resident of the last remaining bubble house in the US; and architect Stefanos Polyzoides, who has his practice in a classic Spanish/Mediterranean-style Wallace Neff building.
We also hear from Dakar-based producer Juliana Friend, who was nice enough to go check on the bubbles over there.
A different version of this story originally aired on KCRW as part of their Independent Producer Project.
David Weinberg is also the brains behind Random Tape, an audio experiment in, well, random tape.
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