Brief Historic Background

Toward the end of the 1920s, when the building boom had engulfed the Los Angeles central district, the work of more forward-thinking architects turned away from the Beaux Arts tradition and Revivalism, which characterized that decade, and began to “break with the past and to experiment with the modern idiom of the period. The sizeable number of transitional Deco-Moderne buildings that were built in Los Angeles during the late Twenties and early Thirties is one of the noticeable architectural characteristics of the central city.

The Garfield Building designed by Claud Beelman (1884-1963) is a fine example of the fusion of features from three short-lived design styles of the early 20th Century to the periods between Wars (the earlier sensual fluidity of L’Art Nouveau, the subsequent geometry of Art Deco and the stripped classicism of the Moderne).

The Garfield Building was built by the Sun Realty Company, which developed numerous projects during this period in downtown Los Angeles. The Sun Realty Company building (now the Los Angeles Jewelry Center), also designed by Beelman, was completed at the same time as the Garfield Building. 

In 1905, Beelman received the Harvard Scholarship from the Architectural League of America. Following his formal education, he worked in the Midwest and the South. Beelman arrived in Los Angeles in 1921 just as the building boom of the Twenties was gaining momentum. He obtained his license and soon went into partnership with Alexander Curlett (1880-1942), whose father, William Curlett (1845-1914), had already established a significant architectural practice in the city. Curlett and Beelman completed numerous commercial and public projects including the Elks Building, the Pershing Square Building and the Union Bank Building in Los Angeles, the Pacific Coast Club and the Security Trust and Savings Bank in Long Beach and the Pacific Southwest Bank in Pasadena. Their commercial buildings were designed in the traditional Beaux Arts style, still preferred at the time. 

Although Curlett and Beelman continued to be identified as partners until 1929, the plans for the Garfield Building (dated November 15, 1928) only carry Beelman’s name. Whatever the legal circumstances of their partnership, it would appear that the two men were diverging in their design philosophies by 1928. Curlett continued to employ traditional architectural vocabulary in his projects while Beelman embarked on an excursion into the language of Art Deco. Of the three buildings completed by Beelman in 1929 – the Garfield Buliding, the Sun Realty Building and the Eastern Columbia Building – only the Garfield exemplifies the transition between the traditional Beaux Arts style of the late 19th and early 20th Century commercial buildings, which he designed with Curlett, and his flamboyant geometric Art Deeo designs for the Eastern Columbia and the Sun Realty buildings.

Other notable designs in the Los Angeles area by Beelman after 1929 included the Thalberg Building at MGM Studios, the Willys-Overland auto plant, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Factory, the remodeling of Philharmonic Hall and the Hollywood Post Office carried out in conjunction with architects Allison and Allison.

Art Deco

This historical style which reached its zenith in the Jazz Age of the late Twenties, quickly faded in the next decade under the harsh economic reality of the Depression Thirties and the newly developing Streamlined Age of Flight. Its distinguishing characteristics were opulence, rich and novel use of colors and surface decorations, unusual juxtaposition of materials, design details – unrooted in the past – that combined the florid sensuality of L’Art Nouveau style of the previous decades with a new interest in geometric abstractions. The results of this sudden and brief stylistic trend are what we now term Art Deco. Deco can be directly traced to the 1925 Paris Exposition , whose roots can be traced, in turn, to the 1909 Paris production of Les Ballets Kusses.

Art Deco was essentially a design movement of surface decorations, searching for new means of expression. It was doomed by the depressed economic conditions of the Thirties (which couldn’t support the lavish use of ornament, the high cost of skilled artisans and quality materials intrinsic to Art Deco as well as the challenge from two other contemporary design movements – the Streamline Age of Speed, and (the eventual victor of both), the Bauhaus Movement of Germany – which developed into the International Style of Post War II.