The Fire of 1963

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, 1985

Photography Courtesy of J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute

Year 2004

In the spring of 1963 when the Neutras were in the Midwest, a fire destroyed the VDL Research House. The unexplained fire, possibly of electrical origins, started in the office on the ground floor. About midnight of March 21, Dion received a startling phone call with the news of the fire. He rushed to the scene and was able to direct the fire department in saving many valuable documents. Dion, noting the quantities of water penetrating to the basement archive, organized the movement of hundreds of drawing rolls out into the street. When all was over, the smoking ruins told a disheartening tale: the virtual destruction of a lifetime of memorabilia, books, files, drawings, work in progress, original manuscripts, and countless other materials which were virtually irreplaceable.

Returning a week later, Richard Neutra’s first comment was, “It is all over, there will be no way to reconstruct this ruin.” It was a profound and psychological problem, which faced the 71 year-old architect and his family who had lived and practiced in this house for three decades. After the initial confusion and relocation came sobering weeks of reflection together with discussion with the Los Angeles building department. Through Dion’s efforts a special code interpretation was made which allowed for construction on the original footprint. Finally it was decided to rebuild.