He might not be as well known as some of his more illustrious contemporaries, but Mid-Century architect Philmer J. Ellerbroek F.A.I.A. (1905-1969) certainly deserves to be. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, the USC-educated Ellerbroek reigned as one of the South Coast’s premiere architectural practicioners designing schools, housing developments, apartments and commercial structures, but his most impressive legacy is in the series of exceptional homes he designed mostly in the Newport Beach/Lido Isle/Balboa area for a number of well-to-do clients including film star Ray Milland.
I discovered Ellerbroek completely by accident. One night, I found myself working my way through a big pile of Architectural Digests from the 1950’s in search of something or other (a life maybe?) and I kept pausing every time I came across a house that caught my eye, which frankly, wasn’t that often. Whenever I did though I was surprised to discover that most of them were designed by the same architect, someone I had never heard of before – Philmer J. Ellerbroek. For me, at least, they really stood out. There is none of the monotony of all the flagstone-covered flat-roofed boxes that appeared all too frequently in AD in those days. There was an excitement and a gracefulness in how he handled both the inside and outside of the homes he created with interesting angles everywhere and a great mix of natural materials like heavy wood beams and stacked stone juxtaposed with ultra-modern elements such as translucent plastics molded into room dividers or used for diffused lighting effects. Every room seemed to open up out to either the ocean, a swimming pool or a restful interior courtyard (or all of the above!) I felt more relaxed just looking at the photos. And his handling of staircases seemed masterful to me.
I really think this talented designer deserves some recognition for his work. I assembled a group of some of his designs for you to persue and see if you agree. Enjoy!
MR. AND MRS. HAROLD A. KENOYER RESIDENCE – LIDO ISLE
This charming waterfront home was the second Ellerbroek designed for the Kenoyers on Lido Isle. Built on a narrow lot, Ellerbroek masterfully made the house appear bigger with multiple changes of level, high ceilings and interesting screens used as dividers. The house opens up onto an enclosed court filled with tropical plantings and a bubbling fountain.
The interior decoration was executed by Boyd Callaghan of the venerable firm of Cannell & Chaffin, a major firm of the day that provided the interior appointments for most of the Ellerbroek designed homes.
MISS J.D. VAIL AND MRS. ALICE B. ROEMER RESIDENCE – LIDO ISLE
Like the Kenoyers, Vail and Roemer were repeat customers of Ellerbroek having originally had him design a home for them in Beverly Hills. The oceanfront facade is almost all glass and is reminicent in appearance of the prow of one of the ships passing by the house.
Boyd Callaghan of Cannell & Chaffin again did the decorating with custom furniture provided by Bert England of the same firm.
MR. AND MRS. JOHN MC WHINNY RESIDENCE – MIDWAY CITY
With the Mc Whinney house in Midway City, Ellerbroek proved he didn’t need the ocean to create great indoor-outdoor spaces. Midway City, so named because it is halfway between Long Beach and Santa Ana, claims Michelle Pfeiffer as one of its most famous native daughters.
Boyd Callaghan again provided the interiors for the home.
GEORGE T. PFLEGER RESIDENCE – HARBOR ISLAND
An almost chalet effect is achieved here by the peak roof, with windows providing a dramatic source of light to the home’s entry. The entry doors have a distinct Chinese motif with Coral colored panels.
Helen Petzelt A.I.D. took over decorating honors on the home’s interior, giving it a decidedly different look than those shown by Boyd Callaghan.
PHILMER J. ELLERBROEK RESIDENCE – NORTH TUSTIN
Ellerbroek’s own 1961-designed home recently underwent a renovation/remodeling with photos posted online by owner Garry Heath.