Most of the buildings in which we work and live have been influenced in some way by Irving Gill's architecture. Although he had little formal architectural education. Gill pioneered innovations such as tilt-up concrete construction, undecorated wall surfaces, sky-lit bathrooms, built-in closets, and low-maintenance interiors. He did this at a time when popular architecture featured plenty of detailed ornamentation.
In 1890, at the age of 20, Gill set out from Syracuse, New York, for the architectural offices of Adler and Sullivan in Chicago. He was familiar with Sullivan's work and perceived this office as the best architectural training available. Three years later, Gill started his own practice in San Diego, California. Although his first buildings gave little clue of how his style would evolve, they did reveal his love for columns.
Gill had a passion for dancing and often went to dances at the Del Coronado Hotel, where many Easterners came for the winter. There he met Fredrick Law Olmstead, Jr. and his brother, Albert. Olmstead, a prominent landscape architect whose father designed New York's Central Park, hired Gill in 1902 to build his home in Newport, Rhode Island. The house, which contained thousands of feet of California redwood, as well as a tile roof and arches, created a sensation.
After his success in the East, he was in great demand back in San Diego. During this time, his style started to emerge and is evident in structures such as the Christian Science Church in San Diego (1904) and the Dodge House in Los Angeles (1916).
The Dodge house, once believed to be his last large residential commission, was destroyed in the late 1960's. The City of Santa Fe Springs' recent discovery of the Clarke Estate in its own backyard has been an exciting event for architectural historians.
Irving Gill's homes were planned with maintenance in mind. He often spoke of the practical details of housework and how they could be eliminated through planning. His serious interest in sanitation led him to eliminate ornamentation on his buildings such as moldings, wainscotings, and surface sculpture. Even the doors are flat surfaced so there is no place for dust to collect. His buildings, both large and small, also show a concern for lighting. The bathrooms and hallways in Gill's structures are always beautifully lit by skylights. Gill also helped popularize the idea of closets to eliminate the need for a piece of furniture to store clothes. The closets in the bedrooms of the Clarke Estate are luxurious even by today's standards.
Although Gill was a modest man, he was aware of his influence on other architects. While he was enormously popular with women, he didn't marry until he was 58 years old. Soon after his marriage, the stock market crashed, resulting in a serious setback to his fortunes. he died on October 7, 1936, almost forgotten. Fortunately, interest in his work has been rekindled in recent years. The Clarke Estate contains many Gill innovations that are common in our homes and work places today.