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McCoy, Esther  Search this
Historic American Buildings Survey  Search this
Society of Architectural Historians  Search this
University of California, Los Angeles. School of Architecture and Urban Planning  Search this
Ain, Gregory, 1908-1988  Search this
Barragán, Luis, 1902-  Search this
Bradbury, Ray, 1920-  Search this
Davidson, Julius Ralph, b. 1889  Search this
Dreiser, Theodore, 1871-1945  Search this
Ellwood, Craig  Search this
Gill, Irving, 1870-1936  Search this
Grotz, Dorothy  Search this
Hollein, Hans, 1934-  Search this
Jones, A. Quincy (Archie Quincy), 1913-1979  Search this
Maybeck, Bernard R.  Search this
Neutra, Richard Joseph, 1892-1970  Search this
O'Gorman, Juan, 1905-  Search this
Rand, Marvin  Search this
Schindler, R. M. (Rudolph M.), 1887-1953  Search this
Shulman, Julius  Search this
Soriano, Rafael, 1920-  Search this
Watanabe, Makoto  Search this
Worlidge, T. (Thomas), 1700-1766  Search this
44.4 Linear feet
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
Sound recordings
Video recordings
Slides (photographs)
circa 1876-1990
bulk 1938-1989
The papers of Southern California architectural historian, critic, and writer Esther McCoy measure 44.4 linear feet and date from 1876 to 1990 (bulk 1938-1989). The collection documents McCoy's career, as well as her family and personal life through biographical material, extensive correspondence, personal and professional writings, project files, Southern California architects' files, clippings and other printed material, a large collection of photographs and slides, and taped interviews of Southern California modern architects.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of Southern California architectural historian, critic, and writer Esther McCoy measure 44.4 linear feet and date from 1876 to 1990 (bulk 1938-1989). The collection documents McCoy's career, as well as her family and personal life through biographical material, extensive correspondence, personal and professional writings, project files, Southern California architects' files, clippings and other printed material, a large collection of photographs and slides, and taped interviews of Southern California modern architects. Biographical and family material consists of awards, resumes, identification documents, and other documentation of McCoy's personal life. Included are a transcript of a 1984 interview of McCoy by Makoto Watanabe and material relating to her friend, Theodore Dreiser. Correspondence focuses on her personal relationships with family, friends, and lovers, and general correspondence relating primarily to her work as a writer. McCoy's personal correspondence is valuable to researchers who are interested in her personal life, her struggles as a young writer, and the way in which her family, friends, lovers, mentors, and colleagues helped to shape her work and career. As documented in this correspondence, her life offers a glimpse into twentieth-century American social and political history, especially the radical leftist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. Researchers interested in the roots of feminism in the United States should also find these papers useful in documenting the life of a creative and productive woman who was successful in a field then almost entirely dominated by men. Correspondents of note include her husband Berkeley Tobey, lovers Geoffrey Eaton and Albert Robert, writers Ray Bradbury and Theodore Dreiser, and artists and architects, such as Dorothy Grotz, Craig Ellwood, A. Quincy Jones, Hans Hollein, and J. R. Davidson. General correspondence is primarily with researchers, professors, architects, publishers, and professional organizations. Personal writings include McCoy's diaries, notebooks, and memoirs, and writings by others including friends, lovers, and colleagues. Also included are drafts of McCoy's fictional works, both published and unpublished, including short stories, teleplays, and novels. The collection contains in-depth documentation of McCoy's pioneering study of the modernist work of twentieth-century architects in Southern California. The bulk of her papers consist of her writing files for books, exhibition catalogs, articles, and lectures on architecture. Because many of the architects about whom McCoy wrote were her contemporaries, she developed personal relationships with several of them through her research and writing. Her writing files include drafts, notes, research material, photographs, and correspondence. McCoy also traveled extensively, particularly in Italy and Mexico, and wrote about architecture, craft, and culture in those countries. Project files document McCoy's other activities related to architectural history, such preservation projects, juries, grants, the Dodge House Preservation Campaign and related film project, her work for the Society of Architectural Historians and the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), and her work at the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning, compiling a slide library and cataloging the Richard Neutra's papers. McCoy also maintained architect files which may contain correspondence, notes, photographs, research material, interview transcripts, about architects and their works. Among these extensive records, the files documenting the careers of R. M. Schindler, Irving Gill, Richard Neutra, and Juan O'Gorman are particularly rich. Printed material in this collection documents McCoy's career as well as her personal interests. Included are books, clippings, magazines, newsletters, press releases, as well as publications arranged by subject such as architecture, art, Italy, and Mexico. McCoy also collected literary and leftist publications. The small amount of artwork in this collection consists of artwork sent to her by friends, including a drawing of her by Esther Rollo and etchings by various artists including Thomas Worlidge. There are personal photographs of family and friends and of McCoy at different times in her life, as well as photographs gathered during the course of her research on architecture. Found here are photographs of architects and their works, including a large number depicting the work of Gregory Ain, Luis Barragan, J. R. Davidson, Irving Gill, Bernard Maybeck, Juan O'Gorman, R. M. Schindler, and Raphael Soriano. Many of these photographs were taken by notable architectural photographers Julius Shulman and Marvin Rand. Also found are photographs of architecture designed for the Case Study House program of Arts & Architecture magazine; exhibition photographs, primarily for the exhibition "Ten Italian Architects" in 1967; and other research photographs primarily documenting architecture and craft in other countries and the history of architecture in California. This series also includes approximately 3,600 slides of architecture. Audio and video recordings include a videocassette of McCoy's 80th birthday party and 55 taped interviews with architects, people associated with architectural projects, and artists.
The collection is arranged into 10 series: Series 1: Biographical and Family Material, 1881-1989 (boxes 1, 48; 0.6 linear feet) Series 2: Correspondence, 1896-1989 (boxes 1-6, 4.9 linear feet) Series 3: Personal Writings, 1919-1989 (boxes 6-14; 8.1 linear feet) Series 4: Architectural Writings, 1908-1990 (boxes 14-24, 42, 49, 50; 10.2 linear feet) Series 5: Projects, circa 1953-1988 (boxes 24-26, 47, FC 53-56; 2.5 linear feet) Series 6: Architect Files, 1912-1990 (boxes 26-28, 42; 2.2 linear feet) Series 7: Printed Material, circa 1885-1990 (boxes 28-31, 42; 2.9 linear feet) Series 8: Artwork, 1924-1967, undated (box 31; 0.4 linear feet) Series 9: Photographs and Slides, circa 1876-1989 (boxes 31-38, 41-46, 51; 8.7 linear feet) Series 10: Audio and Video Recordings, 1930-1984 (boxes 38-40, 47; 2.5 linear feet)
Biographical Note:
Esther McCoy (1904-1989) is remembered best for her pioneering work as an architectural historian, critic, and proponent of Southern California modern architecture of the early to mid-twentieth century. Although her professional interests ranged from writing fiction to studying the folk architecture and crafts of Mexico, McCoy achieved her most notable success for her numerous articles, books, and exhibitions about Southern California architecture and the architects associated with the modernist movement. Born in Arkansas in 1904, Esther McCoy grew up in Kansas and attended various schools in the Midwest. In 1926 she left the University of Michigan to launch a writing career in New York, where she moved in avant-garde literary circles and conducted research for Theodore Dreiser. She began writing fiction in New York and continued to write after moving to Los Angeles in 1932, working on short stories, novels, and screenplays. She published numerous short stories between 1929 and 1962, with works appearing in the New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, and university quarterlies. Her short story, "The Cape," was reprinted in Best Short Stories of 1950. Many of the novels that she wrote from the mid-1960s through the 1980s were related thematically to architects and architecture. During the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, McCoy participated in the politically radical movements of the period and wrote for leftist publications. Her interest in the lowcost housing projects of modern architects was prompted by one of her articles about slums for Epic News. During World War II she entered a training program for engineering draftsmen at Douglas Aircraft and in 1944 was hired as an architectural draftsman for the architect R.M. Schindler. As she became increasingly interested in modern architecture and design, she combined her two major career interests and began to focus her energies on architectural research, writing, and criticism. Her first article on architecture, "Schindler: Space Architect," was published in 1945 in the journal Direction. McCoy began writing about architecture in earnest in 1950 as a free-lance contributor to the Los Angeles Times. From then until her death in 1989, she wrote prolifically for Arts & Architecture magazine, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Architectural Record, L'Architectura, Zodiac (Italy), Progressive Architecture, Lotus (Italy), and Architectural Forum. In addition to her numerous articles, McCoy wrote several books on Southern California modern architecture and architects. Her first major work, Five California Architects, published in 1960, is now recognized as a classic work in modern architectural history. It promoted a serious study of modern architecture in Southern California and introduced to the world several leading California architects and their work: Bernard Maybeck, Irving Gill, Charles and Henry Greene, and R.M. Schindler. That same year, she published another important book focusing on the work of the California architect Richard Neutra. Other books by McCoy include Modern California Houses: Case Study Houses (1962), Craig Ellwood (1968), Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys (1979), and The Second Generation (1984). In addition to these books, McCoy organized and wrote catalogs for several significant exhibitions focusing on contemporary architects. Her first was the R.M. Schindler Retrospective, a 1954 exhibition at the Landau Art Gallery in Los Angeles. Her other exhibitions and accompanying catalogs include Roots of California Contemporary Architecture, 1956, Los Angeles Municipal Art Department; Felix Candela, 1957, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; Irving Gill, 1958, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Juan O'Gorman, 1964, San Fernando Valley State College; and Ten Italian Architects, 1967, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Moreover, McCoy contributed numerous essays to other exhibition catalogs and publications, lectured at the University of Southern California, participated in preservation projects, organized tours for the Society of Architectural Historians, and contributed to a number of documentary films. Her energy and interests also led her to catalog and transcribe Richard Neutra's papers at the University of California Los Angeles Archives. McCoy received national recognition from the American Institute of Architects for her seminal and prolific work in the field of Southern California modern architectural history and criticism. Her interests, however, were not exclusively bound to California. She traveled the world and was interested in both Italian and Mexican architecture as well as the folk art and crafts of Mexico and South America. She made five extended trips to Italy during the 1950s and 1960s, publishing regularly about the architecture there and curating the exhibition Ten Italian Architects. She was a contributing editor to two Italian journals, Zodiac and Lotus, and was awarded the Star of Order of Solidarity in 1960 by the Republic of Italy for her research and writing. Esther McCoy died of emphysema on December 30, 1989, at the age of eighty-five. Her last contribution was an essay for the exhibition catalog Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study House. The show opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles one month before her death. 1904 -- Born November 18 in Horatio, Arkansas. Raised in Kansas. 1920 -- Attended preparatory school at Central College for Women, Lexington, Missouri. 1922-1925 -- College education: Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri; University of Michigan. 1924 -- Visited Theodore Dreiser in Michigan. 1926-1938 -- Began writing in New York City. 1926-1938 -- Researched and read for Theodore Dreiser. 1926-1938 -- Worked for editorial offices and publishers. 1926-1938 -- Traveled to write in Paris (1928), Key West, Florida (1930), and Los Angeles, California (1932-1935). 1938 -- Moved to Santa Monica, California. 1941 -- Married Berkeley Greene Tobey. 1942-1944 -- Employed as engineering draftsman at Douglas Aircraft. 1944-1947 -- Worked as architectural draftsman for R.M. Schindler. 1945 -- Began architectural writing career. 1950 -- Wrote script for film Architecture West. 1950 -- Joined editorial board of Arts & Architecture. 1950-1968 -- Worked as free-lance writer for the Los Angeles Times. 1951-1955 -- Traveled to, researched, and wrote about Mexico and Mexican art and architecture. 1954 -- R.M. Schindler Retrospective exhibition at the Landau Art Gallery, Los Angeles. 1956 -- Roots of California Contemporary Architecture exhibition, Los Angeles Municipal Art Department. 1957 -- Felix Candela exhibition, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. 1958 -- Irving Gill exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Traveled to Italy. 1959-1968 -- Contributing editor to Italian periodicals Zodiac and Lotus. 1960 -- Five California Architects (New York: Reinhold). 1960 -- Richard Neutra (New York: G. Braziller). 1960 -- Awarded Star of Order of Solidarity by the Republic of Italy for reporting on arts and crafts in Italy. 1962 -- Death of Berkeley Greene Tobey. 1962 -- Modern California Houses: Case Study Houses (New York: Reinhold) (reprinted as Case Study Houses, Los Angeles: Hennessey and Ingalls, 1978). 1963 -- Resident Fellow at Huntington Hartford Foundation. 1964 -- Juan O'Gorman exhibition, San Fernando Valley State College, Northridge, Calif. 1965 -- Consultant for the California Arts Commission. 1965-1966 -- Wrote and produced the film Dodge House. 1965-1968 -- Lecturer at University of California at Los Angeles, School of Architecture and Urban Planning. 1966 -- Resident Fellow at MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire. 1967 -- Ten Italian Architects exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 1967 -- Honorary Associate of the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. 1967 -- Regents' Lecturer at University of California, Santa Barbara. 1968 -- Craig Ellwood (New York: Walker). 1968 -- Distinguished Service Citation from the California Council of AIA. 1969-1970 -- Lecturer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 1969-1989 -- Contributing editor of Progressive Architecture. 1971-1978 -- Graham Foundation Grants. 1974 -- Regents' Lecturer at the University of California,Santa Cruz. 1979 -- Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys (Santa Monica, Calif.: Arts & Architecture Press). 1979 -- Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. 1981 -- Los Angeles Chapter Women's Architectural League Honorary Member. 1982 -- Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Modern and Contemporary Art Council Award for Distinguished Achievement. 1983 -- Home Sweet Home: The California Ranch House exhibition at California State University. 1984 -- The Second Generation (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books). 1985 -- American Institute of Architects, Institute Honor. 1986 -- High Styles exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. 1987 -- Vesta Award for outstanding scholarship. 1989 -- Award from the Historical Society of Southern California. 1989 -- Award from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. 1989 -- Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study House exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Died in Santa Monica, California, December 30.
Related Material:
Also in the Archives of American Art are eight sound cassettes of a transcribed interview with Esther McCoy conducted by Joseph Giovannini, June 8-November 14, 1987.
The collection was given to the Archives of American Art by Esther McCoy in 1986. Before her death in 1989, McCoy assisted in the organization and identification of the papers. Original pre-print film elements for Dodge House 1916 were donated to the Archives of American Art by the Academy Film Archive in 2018.
Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of audiovisual recordings without access copies requires advance notice.
The Esther McCoy papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
Art critics -- California  Search this
Architecture, Modern -- 20th century -- Mexico  Search this
Architectural historians -- California  Search this
Architects -- Italy  Search this
Architecture, Domestic -- California  Search this
Authors -- California  Search this
Architecture, Modern -- 20th century -- California  Search this
Architecture, Modern -- 20th century -- Europe  Search this
Architects -- California  Search this
Feminism  Search this
Sound recordings
Video recordings
Slides (photographs)
Esther McCoy papers, circa 1876-1990, bulk 1938-1989. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
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Esther McCoy papers
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Archives of American Art