Richard Neutra’s Channel Heights

A second wartime housing development prominently portrayed in Catherine Bauer’s collection is Channel Heights, a 600-unit development designed by the Los Angeles-based architect Richard Neutra for defense workers at the San Pedro shipyard. Magazines such as California Arts and Architecture and L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui circulated Julius Shulman’s photographs of Channel Heights before an international viewership, making Richard Neutra’s one of the most famous examples of housing for war workers built under the Lanham Act of 1940.

Catherine Bauer’s 35-millimeter transparencies differ from Shulman’s more famous photographs. Horizons appear unaligned with the frame in Bauer’s photographs of hilly terrain. A tree and telephone pole occupy the center of the composition in a shot of row houses. Contemporary commercially successful photographers might have regarded these compositional choices as amateurish. Yet, Bauer’s notes on the slide mounts reveal that the photographer had an expert eye. Packing the tiny slides with meaning, these notes draw attention to important features of the development: the sheltered “entrances,” the spacious “school playground,” the proximity of “houses + play area.” A Kodachrome labeled “1950” shows the playground still in use.