Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader

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9780615528236: Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader
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Esther McCoy (1904–1989) is one of the twentieth century’s foremost architecture historians, and one of the greatest chroniclers of the architecture of midcentury southern California. Her 1960 book Five California Architects has long been acknowledged as an indispensable classic, and as Reyner Banham famously observed of her, “no one can write about architecture in California without acknowledging her as the mother of us all.” Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader is the first anthology of McCoy’s writing. It features a selection of some 70 pieces--ranging from her 1945 article “Schindler, Space Architect” to “Arts & Architecture: Case Study Houses,” a 1989 essay commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. From fiction for The New Yorker to seminal essays on new architectural forms, McCoy charts the progressive edge of American idealism, from the collective utopian spirit of Jazz Age Greenwich Village, through the Depression and the war years, to the optimism of the 1950s and 1960s. In preparing this volume, writer and editor Susan Morgan extensively researched the McCoy papers at the Archives of American Art. Her editorial decisions were based, in part, on McCoy’s original selections for an unrealized anthology solicited by W. W. Norton in 1968. Expanding on that project, Morgan has included essays, articles, lectures, correspondence, memoirs and short stories that illuminate the breadth and complexity of McCoy’s writing and the southern California region that inspired her groundbreaking work.

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Affection isn’t a word often used to describe architecture criticism, but that’s the ruling emotion of Piecing Together Los Angeles, the first collection of the writings of California historian and critic Esther McCoy (1904-89). There’s McCoy’s affection for Los Angeles superstars like Charles Eames, Pierre Koenig and John Lautner when they were young and needed books like McCoy’s Five California Architects (1960) to give their work a backstory―and when they were old, and the world needed a reminder of their talents. Reyner Banham called McCoy “the founding mother” and said, “She has the gift of friendship...and is profoundly concerned about people... and that is one of the special strengths she brings to her architectural writing.” This book, which collects McCoy’s never-finished memoirs, essays on three generations of California architects, fiction, and retrospective essays from the 1980s, is the product of editor Susan Morgan’s affection for McCoy’s whole project. (Alexandra Lange Architectural Record)

McCoy has long been a hero among students of modern architecture in southern California, a subject scarcely defined until she came along. What has not yet been sufficiently recognized is the subdued power of McCoy's prose. There is an extraordinary delicacy in the way McCoy moves from the idea of architecture to the reality. Now, with the publication of Piecing Together Los Angeles, we can see deep into McCoy's complex imagination. (Jed Perl The New Republic)

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