Architect Robert V. Derrah, who died far too young at the age of 51 in 1946, has nonetheless left a lasting legacy in the form of some landmark streamline moderne structures around the Los Angeles area, most notably the iconic Coca-Cola Bottling Plant (1936-7) @ 1334 South Central Avenue and Hollywood’s Crossroads of the World (1936) @ 6671 Sunset Boulevard.
Although the M.I.T. and Harvard trained Derrah is mostly known for his large commercial properties, he was also a highly capable designer of much smaller structures as evidenced by this charming Monterey-styled house he designed in 1934 for Mrs. Lillian M. Rose @ 842 South Citrus Avenue in Mid-City.
In offering Derrah the commission, Rose presented the architect with an interesting challenge – how to fit a one story, four bedroom, three bath house of approx. 2,400 sq. ft onto an extremely narrow lot with dimensions of 50 feet wide in front, narrowing to 40 feet at the rear and 150 feet deep.
What Derrah did was, in my opinion, quite ingenious. He flipped the orientation of the house sideways, placing the main entrance on the side of the property yet keeping it close enough to the street so ready access was not a problem. Then he managed to work in a two car garage right at the front of the house. Because of the narrow front, this could easily have overwhelmed the entire facade, but Derrah solved that thorny problem by giving the garage a much lower roofline than the rest of the house and setting it slightly back from the living room wing on its right. Derrah furthered the effect by adding a sunny bay window to the front of the living room, which not only extended the living room forward it drew visual focus away from the utilitarian garage. Adding to the overall charm was the whitewashed brick and clapboard of the exterior, which was set off by dark green shutters and a tall chimney with a decorative brick pattern.
The home’s interior was equally well thought out. The entrance, which could have been narrow and dark was instead anything but. Derrah pushed the entrance back into the house, which not only allowed for a warm welcoming brick terrace, but also provided ample sunlight for the rooms adjoining it. Upon entry, one stepped into a brightly lit entry hall with the dining room straight ahead and the beamed-ceilinged living room to the left. Again, the big bay window at the far end of the room provided a visual focus, drawing the eye outwards to the front garden and making the house appear bigger than it was. To the right, a doorway led to a long hallway, which divided the house in half with the kitchen and two bedrooms on one side and two bedrooms on the other side. Derrah’s brilliant layout managed to give three of the four bedrooms multiple exposures into the rear and side gardens and provide adequate separation from the kitchen and utility spaces.
The overall effect is a house of great charm that looks and feels in complete harmony with the lot upon which it stands. There is nothing boxy or squished in about this lovely house, an amazing feat onsidering the narrowness of its lot. It is concrete proof of what a talented architect can do in a challenging situation and Robert V. Derrah was indeed an architect of considerable talent.