Ralph A. Vaughn

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Vaughn's Biographical Details

A Time-Line Overview of Vaughn's Architectural Career

1907:  Born: April 24, 1907, Washington, D.C.

1925:  Graduated from Armstrong Technical High School

Interim:* Attended Howard University

1932:  Graduated from University of Illinois (Urbana-Champagne): B.S. Degree in Aarchitecture

           Classmates: William Pereira and Charles Luckman

1933:   Became a draftsman for architect Albert Irvin Cassell, District of Columbia

Interim:*  Was a draftsman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 2 years

Interim:*  Worked for Hilyard Robert Robinson who mentored him through his participation in the emerging garden apartment movement.

1935:  While serving as assistant professor at Howard University, met architect Paul R. Williams who     was a visiting lecturer.  Williams recruited Vaughn to serve as chief craftsman for the Langston Terrace Public Housing project in Washington.

1937:  Vaughn joined William’s staff in Los Angeles.  Becoming the firm’s “efficiency expert,” he participated in the design of MCA Headquarters, Saks Fifth Avenue department store, Beverly Hills, and residences for celebrities, such as Bert Lahr, Tyrone Power and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

1941:**  Slump in business forced Williams to let Vaughn go. Vaughn became a set designer at MGM, working with Cedric Gibbons and others.  Kismet was one of the several films he worked on.

              Interm:* Opened his own architectural practice. 

1945:  Associated with architect John C. Lindsey in the design of several homes which were featured in the Los Angeles Times: the “Bermuda-Modern” style, the Recht house in Sherman Oaks (with indoor/outdoor reflective pool and lanai/den combination), the Schwab house on Catalina Island with a full wall of glass. They also designed an eye-catching modern medical building in North Hollywood.

1948:  Designed 1212 Westchester Place for Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Griffin, a dentist.  Purchased in 1961 by James and Helen Dollison, whose heirs now own the property. 

Interim:* Joined with architect Heth Wharton (1892-1958) to form Wharton & Vaughn Associates. They had met at MGM and most of their staff were former set designers.  Projects completed include North Hollywood Manor and the Chase Knolls Apartments in Sherman Oaks (1950).  

1951:  With Heth Wharton, Vaughn completed Lincoln Place apartments in Venice, California, a 35-acre complex of 795 units in 52 buildings.

Interim:*  Dissolved Wharton and Vaughn Associates in mids-50’s.  Vaughn worked out of his home, branching out into real estate, construction, and inventions.

1953:  Appointed to the Los Angeles Building and Safety Commission.

1959:  Received an award from the Society of American Registered Architects (he was a founding member) for his plans for Beth Am Synagogue in Los Angeles.

1963:  Received his architectural certification from the State of California.  He could finally take sole credit for the projects he designed.

Interim:*  Became architect for the Biff’s chain of coffee shops.  Other well-known independent projects included Schwab’s Drugstores, thje San Marcos Golf Club and the Oyster House (dates not immediately available).  Because of his reputation, many of his designs showed up throughout Southern California and in Arizona, Arkansas and Oregon.***

1970’s (late): Hired as both architect and contractor for the restoration of the Watts Towers in South Los Angeles.  Ended in a dispute over his lack of experience in conservation/preservation.

1998:  Moved to Stockton, California, to be near his family.

2000:  Passed away October 21, at age 93

 

*”Interim” lack specific dates between events with known dates

**Approximately 4.5 years after joining Paul Williams

***For a more detailed listing of his projects see African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary: 1865-1945

 All information excerpted from Tim Gregory’s Building Biography on 1212 Westchester Place and Ralph A. Vaughn

 

A Brief Biography:  Ralph A. Vaughn, Architect
 
Ralph Augustine Vaughn, one of the few early African-American architects in Southern California, was born on April 24, 1907, in Washington, D.C.  He was the son of Roscoe Ingersoll Vaughn, himself an architect and a teacher of mechanical drafting, and Mary Elizabeth Waring Vaughn.  After graduating from Armstrong Technical High School in 1925, Ralph Vaughn attended Howards University and then moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a B.S. degree in architecture in 1932.  Two of his classmates were William Pereira and Charles Luckman who would later make their mark in post-war Southern California architecture.
 
In 1933, Vaughn returned to the District of Columbia where he first became a draftsman for architect Albert Irvin Cassell.  Then, after two years as a draftsman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Vaughn went to work for Hilyard Robert Robinson who became a mentor to him through his participation in the emerging garden apartment movement.  In 1935, while serving as an assistant professor at Howard University, Vaughn met famed Los Angeles architect Paul R. Williams while the latter was visiting the campus as a guest lecturer.  he was recruited by Williams to serve as chief draftsman for the Langston Terrace Public Housing project in Washington.  Impressed with the young man's skill, William asked Vaughn to join his staff in Los Angeles, which Vaughn did in 1937.  While working for Williams, Vaughn participated in the design of the MCA headquarters, Saks Fifth Avenue department store in Beverly Hills, and residences for such celebrities as Bert Lahr, Tyrone Power, and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.  He also became known as the firm's "efficiency expert."
 
Due to the slump in construction caused by the onset of World War II, Vaughn was let go from Williams' firm after 4 1/2 years.  Probably thanks to the reputation he had gained with people in the movie business, Vaughn found work as a set designer at MGM, working with such luminaries as Cedric Gibbons.  After the end of the war, Vaughn continued his set-design work, but also opened his own independent architectural practice.  One of his best-known projects at this time was the Lincoln Place apartments in Venice, California, a 35-acre complex of 795 units in 52 buildings, built in 1951.  The success of the project was a testament to Vaughn's skill in design and his ability to make affordable housing look like luxury housing.  This site has recently gained notoriety as a target for redevelopment, much to the dismay of the historic preservation community.
 
In 1945, Vaughn associated with architect John C. Lindsey in the design of a number of homes which were featured in the Los Angeles Times.  These included a "Bermuda-Modern" style speculative dwelling; the Recht house in Sherman Oaks, which featured an indoor/outdoor reflection pool and lanai/den combination; and the Schwab house on Catalina Island with a full wall of glass.  Their design of a medical building at the northeast corner of Landale Street and Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood was also praised for its then-eye-catching modern style.
 
Still not licensed, Vaughn teamed up with architect Heth Wharton (1892-1958), whom he had met at MGM, to form Wharton & Vaughn Associates.  Most of their staff were former set designers.  Vaughn is credited with overseeing most of the design work while Wharton served as a project manager.  Completed projects included North Hollywood Manor and the Chase Knolls Apartments in Sherman Oaks (1950).  The firm dissolved in the mid-1950s, whereupon Vaughn worked out of his home, branching out into real estate, construction, and inventions.  In 1953, he was appointed to the Los Angeles building and safety commission.  He received his architectural certification from the state of California in 1963, meaning he could finally take sole credit for the projects he designed. 
 
While continuing his interest in residential design, Vaughn became equally well-known for churches and commercial projects, including restaurants and bowling alleys.  It is said his experience in set design prepared him for the creation of such specialized theme environments.  Vaughn's plans for the Beth Am Synagogue in Los Angeles (1959) earned him an award form the Society of American Registered Architects (of which he had been a founding member) and, in the 1960s, he became the architect for the Bigg's chain of coffee shops.  Some of his other well-known independent projects included Schwab's Drugstores, the San Marcos Golf Club and the Oyster House.  His reputations soon spread, many of his designs showing up throughout Southern California and in Arizona, Arkansas and Oregon.  In the late 1970s, Vaughn was hired as both architect and contractor for the restoration of the Watts Towers in South Los Angeles.  However, he was later dismissed by a citizen oversight committee who said his inexperience in such work was doing more harm than good to the historical site.
 
Vaughn was a strong believer in Modernism, adapted to the Southern California climate.  He was known not only for his abstract forms and clarity of design, but also for his attention to affordability and context.  Most of his residential designs are characterized by a transparent division between interior and exterior through the use of lush landscaping, patios, balconies and extensive use of glass.  He was also firm in his opinions that good design could solve many social problems.  A man of wide interests, Vaughn belonged to the Archaeological Institute of America, the National Society of Interior Decorators, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Smithsonian Institute.
 
After residing in Los Angeles for over sixty years, Vaughn moved to Stockton in 1998 in order to be closer to his family.  He died there on October 21, 2000, at the age of 93.  He was survived by his son Ronald Fry Vaughn who also became an architect.
 
Tim Gregory, The Building Biographer, 6726-792-7453 or timgregory@sbcglobal.net 
 
Information is provided as a convenience but not guaranteed.  Buyers must verify.

 

 
 

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