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©2018 Trystcraft

In Color and 3D: A Lost Architectural Masterpiece by Paul Schweikher and Winston Elting in Scottsdale, AZ.

Original B/W Photo by Julius Schulman (© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10) Colorized by Tim Hills, 2019

 

One of the most eye catching and unique house designs to come out of the mid century was a vacation home built for the chairman of Whirlpool (Louis C. Upton) and designed by the architects Paul Schweikher and Winston Elting. Lived in for only two years as a home, it was a house of beautiful contrasts: At once a sprawling fortress and yet transparent and inviting.

 

The north wall of the Upton House was made of desert concrete, the kind pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright at nearby Taliesin West. It was cleverly punctuated by 6 inch wide 1/4" plate glass providing slits for light to enter, very similar to those in Rudolph Schindler's Kings Road house (1921). The deep overhangs up to six feet in places shielded interiors and walkways from the harsh sun. These too were perforated with openings to highlight the passage of the day. 

 

Original B/W Photos by Julius Schulman (© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10) Colorized by Tim Hills, 2019

 

One of the most distinctive features of the Upton House was a screened roof deck above the main living area. The screen was hung from the underside of the unique frames which appear to grow out of the structure like an architectural caterpillar. Copper pipes between the framing members were plumbed in to provide a constant waterfall into the reflecting pool below. The north side of the roof deck consisted of recessed planters for use as a vegetable garden.

 

Original B/W Photos by Julius Schulman (© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10) Colorized by Tim Hills, 2019

 

The view in the photo above is from the west and shows the master suite to the left and guest quarters at right separated by a courtyard.

 

 

Viewing The Upton House as a 3D Model

 

Below is a walkthrough of a 3D model of the Upton house that I built in Sketchup based on a floorplan and details seen in the original Julius Schulman photos. It was a challenge to figure out the modules and a fair amount of guesswork was involved but it came together nicely. Click to watch the video.

 

Below, you'll find several renders I did with nicer lighting effects from interesting angles. I would like to have a Lumion quality walkthrough eventually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The History and Origins of the Upton House

 

Read on if you are interested in finding out more about the house including how it came to be built. Then, see an earlier version of the house that was previewed in an architectural magazine and find out what happened to it after the original owners sold it on.

 

 

Background: Client / Architect Connection

 

After winning a prize in General Electric's 1935 Home Electric competition, Paul Schweikher came to Louis Upton's attention. Upton was head of what would become Whirlpool so the electrical appliance - architecture connection was a logical one. A Schweiker-designed California modern ranch house intrigued Upton, so Schweikher worked on a design for an Upton beach house in 1937 and later worked on a design for an apartment building for him and his brother Fred, both in St. Joseph, Michigan. Interestingly, their winning floorplan was copied from Harwell Harrington Harris' plan for his Lowe house (Winter, 1995).

 

 

 

 

The Upton House Commission 

 

In 1946, the Uptons commissioned Schweikher and his architectural partner Winston Elting to design a winter home on a 21 acre parcel in what is now downtown Scottsdale, Arizona. The house would replace Upton's previous home that Schweikher & Elting had also designed that burned down several years before. 

 

The lot was mostly desert with a small section of citrus grove. The house was set far back from the road for privacy and a long driveway avenue to provide a grand entrance. The address was 353 E Camelback Rd, Scottsdale, AZ.

 

 

The Upton House Design

 

The house design was previewed in Architectural Record December, 1946 under the title 'An Oasis in Paradise Valley, Arizona'. 

The published scheme differs slightly from the built home as it lacks the iconic screened framing that overhangs the reflecting pool. It also featured angled walls around the entire perimeter including the guest quarters and the main fireplace chimney. These seem to have been abandoned in the later scheme.

 

 

The Architectural Record article also includes some wonderful renderings:

 

 

 

The elevations are equally fascinating:

 

 

 

Although there were a number of design changes, the overarching concept remained the same: A winter home for enjoying the warmth and sunshine, the compound walls providing shelter from any cool winds and an excellent measure of privacy.

 

 

 

Revised Upton House Plans

 

Plan (Source)

 (switch between the two plans by clicking the arrows on the side of the image)

 

The built plan features a pared back footprint: The southern wing is now just a privacy structure and only two guest rooms remain, moved into the west wing. The chimney, carport and guest rooms have all been reorientated on a strict N-S grid. 

 

The original model of the house is part of MOMA's permanent collection.

From Douglas Syndor's Scottsdale Architecture (Source)

 

 

Praise For The Upton House

 

The house was honored as one of 43 significant examples of modern architecture 

featured in the 'Built in USA: Post War Architecture' exhibition at MOMA in New York in 1953 (Jan 20- March 15). This was probably how MOMA obtained the original model.

 

After visiting the house at the invitation of Louis Upton, the owner pressed Frank Lloyd Wright for a comment on the architecture. He was quoted as saying  'Mr. Upton you are lucky to have such a fine house by such a poor architect'. (Blum & Betty, 2000)

 

The Short Life of the Upton House

 

Louis Upton passed away on Oct 9, 1952, and the house was sold 16 months later for a reported $100,000 in 1954, approximately $940,000 in today's money, which is a lot considering the land was basically desert and Scottsdale was a single crossroad town back then.

 (Source: Arizona Republic, Feb 28, 1954).

 

The house was sold on by other investors and became a private dance/drink establishment called the Black Sheep Club in 1959.

 

(The Arizona Republic Sunday October 25th 1959)

 

 

The Gradual Demise of the Upton House

 

After a few successive operations as a themed restaurant, the house was eventually left abandoned with vandals soon playing a part in its destruction. The ruins were occasionally used for photo shoots in the late 60s but most sad is its eventual end - a case of mistaken identity led to it being bulldozed somewhere between 1976 and 1979. See it disappear in the aerial photos below:

 

 

The Lasting Impression of the Upton House

 

Despite having been demolished 40 years ago, the house and particularly Schulman's images have remained as powerful as when they were first captured. Interestingly, Paradise Valley architect Will Bruder was so taken with the design and the legend of the house that he revived the name for a townhouse project in 2007.  Certain design elements were also influenced by the 1950 design. Bruder met a retired Paul Schweikher and they became fast friends, bonding over architecture. Listen to a fascinating US Modernist podcast interview with Bruder talking about Schweikher and other Phoenix Modern topics here

 

 

 

References:

 

'An Oasis in Paradise Valley, Arizona'. Schweikher and Elting, Architects. Architectural Record, December, 1946. P76-77

 

'A Vacation Home in Arizona'. House and Garden, Dec 1950. Conde Nast Publications Inc.

 

Built in USA : post-war architecture. Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Arthur Drexler (eds.), Museum of Modern Art, NY. 1952.

 

'Arizona Has Two Examples in NY Architecture Show'. Tucson Daily Citizen, Jan 30, 1953.

 

The American House Today. Ford, Katherine Morrow. 1951. Reinhold Publishing Corp, NY. Link

 

1995. Winter, Robert. Toward a Simpler Way of Life: The Arts & Crafts Architects of California. University of California Press.

 

Oral History of Robert Paul Schweikher. Blum, Betty, 2000. Chicago Architects Oral History Project, Department of Architecture, the Art Institute of Chicago Link

 

Scottsdale Architecture. Douglas B. Sydnor. Arcadia Publishing. 2010.

'Townhouses Inspired by Upton House' Peter Corbett. Arizona Republic, 21 Jul 2007.

 

www.usmodernist.com/library  (this is an amazing resource everyone should explore. WARNING: you will lose days here!)

 

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