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Catalog Data

McCoy, Esther  Search this
Rand, Marvin  Search this
Grotz, Dorothy  Search this
Gill, Irving  Search this
Jones, A. Quincy (Archie Quincy)  Search this
Barragán, Luis  Search this
Dreiser, Theodore  Search this
Bradbury, Ray  Search this
Hollein, Hans  Search this
Ain, Gregory  Search this
Ellwood, Craig  Search this
Davidson, Julius Ralph  Search this
Watanabe, Makoto  Search this
Maybeck, Bernard R.  Search this
Neutra, Richard Joseph  Search this
Worlidge, T. (Thomas)  Search this
Schindler, R. M. (Rudolph M.)  Search this
Shulman, Julius  Search this
Soriano, Rafael  Search this
O'Gorman, Juan  Search this
Historic American Buildings Survey  Search this
University of California, Los Angeles. School of Architecture and Urban Planning  Search this
Society of Architectural Historians  Search this
Sound recordings
Video recordings
Slides (photographs)
Place of publication, production, or execution:
United States
Physical Description:
44 Linear feet
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; 8.3 linear feet) Series 10: Audio and Video Recordings, 1930-1984 (boxes 38-40, 47; 2.5 linear feet)
Access Note / Rights:
Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of audiovisual recordings without access copies requires advance notice.
The papers of Southern California architectural historian, critic, and writer Esther McCoy measure 44.0 linear feet and date from 1876 to 1990 (bulk 1938-1989). McCoy was interested in both Italian and Mexican architecture as well as the folk art and crafts of Mexico and South America. 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.
Esther McCoy papers, circa 1876-1990, bulk 1938-1989. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Additional Forms:
This site provides access to the papers of Esther McCoy in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2010-2011, and total 920 images.
Many of the sound recordings of interviews were digitized in 2009 and are available for use by appointment. McCoy's film Dodge House 1916 was preserved in 2011; a video copy is available for research access, and a projection print is available for loan according to the Archives of American Art's loan policies.
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Use Note:
The Archives of American Art makes its archival collections available for non-commercial, educational and personal use unless restricted by copyright and/or donor restrictions, including but not limited to access and publication restrictions. AAA makes no representations concerning such rights and restrictions and it is the user's responsibility to determine whether rights or restrictions exist and to obtain any necessary permission to access, use, reproduce and publish the collections. Please refer to the Smithsonian's Terms of Use for additional information.
Related Materials:
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.
Biography 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. McCoy was interested in both Italian and Mexican architecture as well as the folk art and crafts of Mexico and South America. 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.
Language Note:
English .
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.
Digitization Note:
This site provides access to the papers of Esther McCoy in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2010. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 75,523 images.
Location Note:
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 750 9th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
Architecture, Modern -- 20th century -- Mexico  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 and art  Search this
Latino and Latin American artists  Search this
Latino and Latin American  Search this
Architecture & Design  Search this
Research and writing about art  Search this
Record number:
Latino and Latin American
Architecture & Design
Research and writing about art
Data Source:
Archives of American Art