Summary

The Judson Studios was constructed as a school of art in 1901 and used as such until it became a stained glass studio in 1920, the use it retains to the present. The building is significant under Criterion A because it housed the College of Fine Arts of the University of Southern California, the first college of art in the Los Angeles area, until 1920. The building is also significant under Criterion B for its strong connection to William Lees Judson. W.L. Judson was the influential founder and dean of the College of Fine Arts, a noted landscape painter, and a leader of local artistic culture. The building is also significant under Criterion A in the period 1920-1940 as the site of the Judson Studios, which has become one of the nation’s most important stained glass studios. The building is also significant under Criterion C because its 1911 design embodies the distinctive characteristics of the period. The building is a unique institutional example of the local Arts and Crafts idiom, which incorporates many aspects of the Shingle Style.

Background

While the Judson Studios is a good example of an Arts and Crafts style building, its primary significance goes beyond its serving as an example of one particular style. The building embodies the phenomenon known as “Arroyo culture,” a term coined by historian Dr. Robert Winter to describe a loose artistic movement which involved a number of writers, artists, architects and others interested in molding a particular definition of life in Southern California. It is named for the Arroyo Seco, an alluvial wash which carries seasonal runoff from the San Gabriel Mountains in the north to the Los Angeles River. Along its course, it passes through the communities of Altadena, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Garvanza, Highland Park, and Mount Washington. The Arroyo Seco was the cultural center of Los Angeles in the decades around the turn of the century, and served as the geographical spine and the natural landscape from which creative inspiration was drawn. The College of Fine Arts building was arguably the most important center of Arroyo culture, since it was the only local art school, the headquarters of the Arroyo Guild of Fellow Craftsmen, and also served as a gathering place for artists and craftsmen for discussions and readings, listening to music, and attending meetings of a community poets’ and writers’ group, the Fortnightly Club.

The Arroyo Seco is characterized by its distinctive plant and animal life as well as its rugged terrain. Lined with California live oak, sycamore, and black walnut trees, the wash is dry for most of the year (the word seco being Spanish for “dry”) and at the turn of the century it was littered with smooth, rounded granite boulders and rocks of all shapes and sizes. The surrounding hills are covered in chaparral, grasses, and native walnut woodlands.

Several key figures contributed to the strength of the artistic community in the Arroyo. William Lees Judson was one of the first painters to arrive and settle in the Arroyo, coming to Los Angeles in 1893. Aside from the great artistic contribution he made through his paintings, Judson’s role in Arroyo culture was cemented by his founding and direction of the College of Fine Arts. Perhaps the most influential figure drawing people to the area was Charles Fletcher Lummis, who settled there five years later in 1898, and began to construct his own Highland Park house of stones taken from the banks of the Arroyo. The construction material and the naming of the house for the Sycamore tree around which it was built (El Alisal) are characteristic of the connection between the natural landscape and the local culture. Lummis’s intellectual ideal was carried out in the building of this house; in his founding of the Southwest Museum, based on his vast collection of Native American artifacts; and in his many writings about the West which were published and circulated throughout the country. Another major figure in the Arroyo culture and proponent of the Southwest was George Wharton James, a Methodist minister, local booster, and prolific writer. He was a co-founder of the Arroyo Guild of Fellow Craftsmen (see below), and wrote many books about the history and attractions of Southern California. In Los Angeles, Judson was friends with both Lummis and James, though the two were rather bitter rivals themselves. The connection to James is particularly significant because he is said to have personally convinced William Lees Judson, a fellow Englishman, to come to California to settle late in 1892. It should be noted that while Lummis, James, and others were important in drawing attention and inhabitants there, Judson was the Arroyo’s leading figure in the visual and fine arts.

Occidental College was also located in Highland Park from 1898 to 1914, which also attracted intellectuals and added to the cultural life of the area. Poets Robinson Jeffers and Nora May French studied at Occidental during this period.

Both James and Lummis were committed to an ideal of life in Southern California that included knowledge and appreciation of the land and its history, and belief in the therapeutic value of manual labor and natural foods. These ideals manifested themselves in many ways along the Arroyo. Plain Air painters who gathered there, such as W. L. Judson, painted directly from nature in the canyons and hills along the Arroyo. Craftspeople such as tile maker Ernest Batchelder, whose Pasadena home was also located along the Arroyo, produced items according to the same principals which were often incorporated into Arts and Crafts style residences. Print maker Clyde Browne hosted a salon for artists and writers in his Highland Park residence, Abbey San Encino. This residence is built of dressed Arroyo stone, and features a large, round window by the Judson Studios in the primary facade. In Pasadena, architects such as Greene and Greene defined the Craftsman architectural style, employing natural wood in a manner that brought out its inherent qualities, an iconographical system which made reference to the local natural environment, and building materials – notably the local Arroyo stone – that were actually taken from the land itself. Judson (in 1893), Lummis (from 1898) and Clyde Browne (from 1909) all built or embellished their residences with locally gathered Arroyo stone. In all of these ways, the various participants in the Arroyo culture lived out the ideals they had come there to cultivate.

Significant Historical Contexts of the Judson Studios

The significance of the Judson Studios is tied to two important organizations in Southern California’s early twentieth century artistic culture: the USC College of Fine Arts, and the Judson Studios, a major stained glass studio. William Lees Judson, the significant person associated with the site, figures prominently in the first context. The artistic legacy which he left for his family led to the development of the second context. The period of significance under Criterion A, including the College of Fine arts and the Judson Studios, is 1911-1940. For Criterion B, the period of significance is 1911-1928, the year Judson died. The date for Criterion C is 1911, the year the building attained its present form.

– The College of Fine Arts of the University of Southern California

The Arroyo communities, and Garvanza in particular, were beginning to attract many artists to this area of Los Angeles when the College of Fine Arts was organized. Judson was one of the earliest painters to settle in the Arroyo.

The College of Fine Arts began as a loose association of artists who provided instruction in art. It became formalized as an art school under the full name of The Los Angeles College of Fine Arts in 1895, under the direction of W. L. Judson. When it became associated with the University of Southern California in 1899 (and was then renamed the Los Angeles College of Fine  Arts of the University of Southern California), it was the first full program of fine arts instruction offered at the collegiate level in Southern California. The second oldest program, at Pomona College, was not established for credit (though art instruction had been offered) until 1905, and other major institutions of higher education established art programs significantly later. Throop Polytechnic in Pasadena, based in the manual arts and in craft, included fine art instruction in its curriculum as well, but never offered a degree in art. Nearby Occidental College first instituted a full program in art instruction for credit in 1935, and Whittier College did so in 1937. Among independent schools not connected to universities or larger colleges, the County of Los Angeles established Otis School of Art in 1918, and Art Center College of Design was established in the 1930s.

When the College of Fine Arts first constructed its own building under Judson’s direction in approximately 1901, Judson appears to have been its designer. The location chosen (most likely by Judson) was across Thorne Street from his own house, an unusual, two story, Queen Anne style residence clad in shingles and small Arroyo stones, which he situated at the edge of the Arroyo. The house, of Judson’s own design, is still extant, though slightly altered.

The College of Fine Arts was created as a college of art offering full time instruction in the fine and applied arts to undergraduate students. The degrees offered were a Bachelor of Fine Arts, a Bachelor of Arts, and, for students of architecture, a Bachelor of Science. Judson, as dean, was particularly concerned with training artists in practical skills which would allow them to make a living through their art. He felt that this market, for properly trained artists, would soon mushroom. In this respect, his thinking was in line with the tenets of the Craftsman movement and akin to that of William Morris, the acknowledged founder and leader of the Arts and Crafts movement (inspiration to, and English counterpart of, the Craftsman movement in the U.S., which was popularized by Gustav Stickley). Morris, an Englishman about one generation older than Judson, designed and manufactured such items as textiles, wallpaper, carpets, and furniture intended to be of high quality and accessibly priced.

In 1920, the College of Fine Arts moved its classes to the USC main campus and was renamed the School of Fine Arts of the University of Southern California. At this time, the W. H. Judson Art Glass Company (renamed the Judson Studios the following year) came to occupy the building.

During the building’s association with the College of Fine Arts, other uses also took place there. The building appears to have acquired its current plan and massing during enlargements for the school’s facilities in 1905 and in 1909 to include headquarters for the Arroyo Guild of Fellow Craftsmen. The Arroyo Guild was a short lived and loose association of artists and craftsmen inspired by the work of William Morris in England and Gustav Stickley in Upstate New York. The Arroyo Guild was established by George Wharton James and William Lees Judson. Judson became the first president, and James was the editor of the journal Arroyo Craftsman, of which only one issue was ever produced, in October, 1909. Although the Arroyo Guild is not known to have lasted beyond 1909 and therefore may have no direct association with the post-fire building of 1911, the Guild is still an important part of the story of what shaped the building itself and the activities that took place there. Though the formal association may not have continued past 1909, it can be assumed that its members were still associated in some way with each other and with the building. The entrance to the Judson Studios still bears the motto and insignia of the Arroyo Guild, the words “We Can” below a figure of an upraised fist grasping a hammer before the rising sun. Further research may reveal the dates of the Guild’s association and the names of more of its members, in which case this context could be more solidly connected to the building after 1911.

– William Lees Judson, founder of the College of Fine Arts

Both the early development of the College of Fine Arts and the existence of this building are due to the guidance of one person, William Lees Judson. and was most likely in the studios themselves in a teaching capacity every day. Since Judson’s home was located across the street, the college was probably rarely without his presence.

While his influence was strong in a local context and had a great impact on succeeding generations of Southern California artists, Judson himself had come to the Arroyo at what may have seemed late in his professional life. He came to Los Angeles at the age of 51, but according to Jane Apostal, he was in poor health and it was unlikely that he could have suspected that so many active and productive years were still ahead of him. By this time he had been trained in art in New York, London, and Paris; he had an established career as a portrait painter and as a professor of art; he had been decorated for his military service during the Civil War; and his wife, with whom he had seven children, had died in 1885. His poor health had prevented him from becoming involved in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, as he had planned for three years to do.

Apostal notes that according to George Wharton James, Judson’s health was restored and his work reinvigorated by his arrival in Los Angeles, where he was inspired by the natural beauty of the Arroyo Seco and became a landscape painter. Judson served for a year as the head of the Historical Society of Southern California, a group which exists to the present day. He wrote about the architecture of the missions for their journal, a continuation of his interest in depicting these monuments and the life that went on there in his paintings. Judson’s paintings are included in the collections of several museums, including the Southwest Museum and the Irvine Museum in Southern California, and the London (Ontario) Regional Art and Historical Museums.

William Lees Judson continued his integral involvement in the college as dean until his 1920 retirement. However, even after his retirement as dean and the college’s move to the main campus of USC, Judson remained actively connected with the school and continued to teach there.

Judson’s involvement with the College of Fine Arts made him responsible for the academic training of most of the professional artists educated in Los Angeles for a period of over twenty-five years. As dean of the College of Fine Arts, Judson provided the building and location for the school, was instrumental in setting the curriculum, and had a large hand in faculty selection. His direct influence was felt by several generations of students while he was active with the school, and undoubtedly continued after his death in 1928 because of the strength of the groundwork he had laid. The USC College of Fine Arts was the leading art school in the area, and there were few other opportunities to gain a degree in art in Los Angeles. Apostal quotes a 1905 article by the Los Angeles Times art critic as saying that “there is probably no art school west of St. Louis quite so complete in its equipment.”

The only other building connected to Judson during this important period of his activity in Los Angeles is his home, mentioned above, located across Thorne Street from the Judson Studios. However, the Judson Studios retains a higher level of integrity, and expresses the importance of his work and his family legacy in the visual arts.

– The Judson Studios, makers of fine stained glass

The occupant of the site to the present day is the Judson Studios, craftsmen of fine stained glass and mosaics. The operation moved to this location upon Judson’s retirement from the College of Fine Arts in 1920, at which time the college moved to USC’s main campus in Exposition Park. When the studio was first founded in Los Angeles in 1897, stained glass was usually ordered by catalogue from the East. There was, however, an increasing sophistication in local architecture, and growth in many arts allied to architecture such as woodworking, tile production, specialized masonry, and furniture production. This factor, combined with W. L. Judson’s belief that artistic products would become available to increasing numbers of people, meant that there was inevitably a place for locally-produced fine stained glass as well. Today the Judson family continues to operate the studio, which is one of only four comparable studios in the United States, and the only one located west of the Mississippi. The Judson Studios is the oldest family-operated stained glass studio in the U.S.

The current studio was established in 1897 by three sons of William Lees Judson, Walter Horace, Paul, and Lionel Judson, with the assistance and encouragement of their father. The operation was known as the Colonial Art Glass Company and was located in downtown Los Angeles. The name was changed in 1906 to the W. H. Judson Art Glass Company, then to the Judson Studios in 1921. Walter H. Judson had been an apprentice at a noted stained glass studio in Toronto, studied for two years at the Cincinnati Art Academy, and worked in the field throughout the Eastern United States before settling in Los Angeles.

In its 101 years of operation, the Judson Studios has made an invaluable contribution to the art of stained glass in the Western United States. Their pre-1940 work (see next paragraph for a discussion of period of significance) is located in several hundred churches throughout California, most notably at landmark churches such as All Saints Church in Pasadena, where Judson Studios windows are placed alongside windows by Tiffany; the First Congregational Church on 6th Street; and St. James Church on Wilshire (the latter two c. 1930) in Los Angeles. Their work is included in several mausoleums, hotels, and private houses such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House and Ennis House, which contain significant examples of art glass windows and glass mosaics. Their work is also located in a significant public building, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where a large dome skylight was installed in 1913 and restored by the studio in 1997. The post-1920 works mentioned above were created at the Judson Studios’ current site and represent their most significant commissions.

Though production continued at low levels through the Depression of the 1930s, the onset of World War II brought changes and restrictions to the business. Founder Walter H. Judson died in 1935, and subsequently his son Horace Judson, then in charge of the studio, left temporarily to contribute to the war effort, going to work for Lockheed in approximately 1940. In addition, lead, an essential component of the studio’s production, was unavailable during the course of the war. Because of this marked slowdown in production, the period of significance for Criterion A ends in 1940. It should be noted, however, that the studio’s busiest years were still ahead, when commissions for World War II memorials greatly increased the demand for stained glass windows in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The Judson Studios is an important element of the cultural history of the Arroyo Seco, and an essential link between past and present. The Judson family’s history in the art of stained glass dates back to approximately 1870, when William Lees Judson worked in stained glass fabrication among several other jobs in the field of art which he held in Ontario, Canada. There had been artists in two preceding generations of the family as well. The studios have been in continuous ownership and operation by the Judson family for five generations, and in 1997 the firm observed the 100th anniversary of its establishment.

Conclusion

This unique and unusual building embodies the early institutional history of the USC College of Fine Arts and the Judson Studios, both of which held important places in the cultural history and the early artistic life of Los Angeles and, in particular, the Arroyo Seco area. As noted above, the USC School of Fine Arts, for which the building was constructed, offered the first full time program of art instruction available in Southern California at this property until 1920. The importance of the Judson Studios in the art of fine stained glass in the Western United States cannot be overstated, as it was the only studio of its size and quality of production. Operating at this property since 1920, the studio contributed windows of a very high artistic level to hundreds of buildings. Because of these two significant historical associations, the Judson Studios is eligible for the National Register under Criterion A.

The property is also eligible under Criterion B because of its close association with William Lees Judson, a locally well-known landscape painter and prominent figure in the arts in Los Angeles. He founded the USC School of Fine Arts, and generations of art students were trained according to the practical curriculum he developed, which mirrored the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement.

In addition, the Judson Studios is a unique building which contains ample evidence of the cultural and architectural ideals of its time and place. It also stands as a rare Los Angeles example, with high integrity, of an institutional building in the Arts and Crafts style. For these reasons, it is also eligible under Criterion C.