A Short Guide To
Architectural Guidebooks


As with so much else, the West Coast followed its own drummer in guidebook production when David Gebhard and Robert Winter produced their first "Guide to Architecture in Southern California" in 1965. First of all, it carried the gloss of scholarly cachet, spurred by a 1964 College Art Association/Society of Architectural Historians conference in Los Angeles--an architect by training, Gebhard was also a sometime SAH president and scholar specializing in the Prairie School and West Coast Modernism. In the grand Pevsnerian tradition, it was an attempt torationalize and make sense of surroundings--which took on a brave new dimension in the dispersed, auto-oriented environs of Los Angeles--and inevitably, the book reflected the authors' biases (which, in the nuclear shadow of Esther McCoy, John Entenza, et al, was not entirely adisadvantage). But the Gebhard-Winter touch was lighter than in the typical AIA Guide; and moreover, the authors refused to rest on their laurels. By the second (1977) edition, their once slightly rareified perspective had been thoroughly, and in some ways even obsessively, imbued by a new breadth in architectural taste and scholarship, self-consciously embracing on the one hand once-unfashionable (or ill-understood) vernacular and Arts & Crafts and revivalist and Moderne styles, and on the other hand the new perspectives on the "Pop" environment offered by Reyner Banham, Robert Venturi, and others. If that wasn't enough, Gebhard also in this period co-authored a sister guide to Northern California, and another to his home state of Minnesota, and his distinctive motivating influence can be felt in other guides produced from the 70s onward--indeed, the general Gebhard guidebook formula, a looser, less dense version of AIA-NYC's key-entered-text-with-random-illustrations format (and venturing a stage further in its coverage of rural and small-town America), became the most popular and versatile American standard for the genre.

gebhard's LA guide

In spite of Gebhard's status as a veritable king of the architectural guidebook in America, his own touch was, at least initially, less easy than that of Pevsner or White & Willensky; the 70s Gebhard guides, especially, tended to be strained and even sloppy (or perhaps, to be Californian, "laid back"). Subsequent (1985, 1994) editions for LA and LA County (by now scaled back from the original Southern California-wide scope) are much more cohesive, though still marked by curious Gebhardian idiosyncracies such as an almost fetishistic obsession with the idea of "High Art" (whatever that is). In the end, even with their too-often clumsy writing, or vestigial biases and lacunae that verged on the primitively anachronistic in the Access era, they fulfilled that eternally Pevsnerian function--of providing a legible, sophisticated matrix for generating (even among non-architects) appreciation of and interest in the regional architectural milieu, wherever the region might be. By the 90s Gebhard (who died in 1996) had earned his due as the godfather of the Buildings of the United States series, the long-awaited American counterpart to the Pevsner series.


Pevsner and WPA

America: the first wave

AIA Guide to New York City

David Gebhard: America's Pevsner

Goldberger, Banham, and Moore (and more).

Buffalo: Vindication

Chicago: Maturity

The Buildings of the United States series

London + Vienna + Berlin = Cartesian Europe

One Vancouver, many Montréals

Toronto: Opportunity

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