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Tremaine Houses: One Family’s Patronage of Domestic Architecture in Midcentury America

Volker M. Welter

From the late 1930s to the early 1970s, two brothers, Burton G. Tremaine and Warren D. Tremaine, and their respective wives, Emily Hall Tremaine and Katharine Williams Tremaine, commissioned approximately thirty architecture and design projects. Richard Neutra and Oscar Niemeyer designed the best-known Tremaine houses; Philip Johnson and Frank Lloyd Wright also created designs and buildings for the family that achieved iconic status in the modern movement.

Focusing on the Tremaines’ houses and other projects, such as a visitor center at the meteor crater in Arizona, this volume explores the Tremaines’ architectural patronage in terms of the family’s motivations and values, exposing patterns in what may appear as an eclectic collection of modern architecture. Architectural historian Volker M. Welter argues that the Tremaines’ patronage was not driven by any single factor; rather, it stemmed from a network of motives comprising the clients’ practical requirements, their private and public lives, and their ideas about architecture and art.

Volker M. Welter is a professor in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“An important book on many levels, and as such, it makes invaluable contributions to the literature on American architectural modernism.”
—Lauren Weiss Bricker, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

“Treating architecture from the perspective of the client is a hole that certainly should be filled and Tremaine Houses is one commendable addition to this small architecture-book niche.”
—John Hill, A Daily Dose of Architecture Books

“With the imaginative rigor he exerted in his books on biologist/urbanist Patrick Geddes and architect Ernst Freud, Volker Welter narrates the fascinating dealings of the Tremaine family in Southern California at midcentury. Welter examines the Tremaine’s relationship with Vienna-trained architect Richard Neutra, which yielded one of the most widely discussed postwar American houses, as well as the Tremaine’s patronage of the young Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who designed a stunning beach house for the couple. Grounded in meticulous archival explorations, the book brings to light a saga of faith in the virtues of modern architecture.”
—Jean-Louis Cohen, professor atNYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and author of Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes and The Future of Architecture Since 1889: A Worldwide History

“Welter’s comprehensive history of the Tremaines’ campaign to build in several locations, with both established and avant-garde architects, provides the most detailed cultural history I have read concerning the motivations, social dimensions, and architect-client relationships behind their strikingly original residences and unbuilt projects. Moreover, the author has penetrated the largely opaque world of a post-war oligarchy that was at once struggling to establish its relevance to a new, more liberal era, yet still maintain its status in a turbulent, capitalist economy, driving the richest country in the world… The extensive illustrations, many from the UCSB Architectural Archives, are rich and evocative of the period.”
—Mark A. Hewitt FAIA, Mark Alan Hewitt Architects

“In studies of the history of modern architecture, one of the most underexamined aspects has been the role of enlightened clients and patrons—an issue that Volker Welter addresses in this welcome book on the two Tremaine brothers and their wives, Warren and Katharine Tremaine and Burton and Emily Tremaine, who commissioned designs from Richard Neutra, Oscar Niemeyer, Philip Johnson, and others for sites as varied as Southern California, Arizona, Connecticut, and Ireland. The book should furnish indispensable examples and ideas for any future studies of modernist architectural patronage.”
—Thomas S. Hines, author of Architecture of the Sun: Modern Los Angeles Architecture, 1900-1970 (2010) and Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art: The Arthur Drexler Years, 1951-1986 (2019)

"With its focus on one family’s commissions, Tremaine Houses presents a rich body of domestic architecture and discusses/looks at its wider cultural and socioeconomic significance for modernism of the postwar period. Utilizing a wealth of archival material, Welter makes a vital contribution to understanding the role of patronage in modernism, shedding new light on how design processes unfolded. This rigorous study, encompassing the close analysis of interiors, art collecting, landscape design, and vernacular building, offers a timely examination of modernism at midcentury."
—Robin Schuldenfrei, The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London

224 pages
9 1/2 x 10 inches
50 color and 67 b/w illustrations
1 Gantt chart
ISBN 978-1-60606-614-0

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Research Institute