Gordon Kaufmann was an English born architect, who emigrated to America in the early 1900s. In his early years in Southern California, he designed mostly residences, using the Mediterranean Revival Style, in affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles. As his reputation and acclaim grew, he went on to design palatial estates, university campuses, and some of the most iconic structures in Southern California.
In 1926, Gordon Kaufmann’s work came to the attention of Scripps College, which was part of the Claremont Colleges system. The founders decided early on that they wanted Scripps to be a residential college, and brought Kaufmann on to design a comprehensive plan for the campus, including living quarters, a library, and serene private gardens and courtyards shielded from the streets by the backside of his buildings. The result is a campus that has been referred to as one of the most beautiful in the country. The process of building and developing his overall design would last for the next 13 years.
His designs for the Scripps campus, and his early residential work, brought attention and prestigious projects to Kaufmann’s firm throughout the 20s. Most notable among these projects were the lavish Beverly House (occupied at one time by William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies) featured as the location in the Godfather where a horse’s head was placed in the bed of a Hollywood producer; and Greystone, a picturesque mansion featured in dozens of films. During this time Gordon Kauffman also designed the luxurious La Quinta Resort. In 1928, Caltech hired Kaufmann to design The Athenaeum, a social club on its campus, and its accompanying hotel, where Albert Einstein lived while at Caltech. All of these were a continuation of his use of the Mediterranean Revival style.
In 1935 Gordon Kaufmann created two of his greatest grand scale designs, the Los Angeles Times building in downtown LA, and perhaps his most famous work, the Hoover Dam. By this time, his focus had shifted to Art Deco themes, and both projects illustrate his new perspective. He was hired to refine the functional, but awkwardly designed, plans made by United States Bureau of Reclamation engineers. “Kaufmann simplified the design in a unifying Art Deco statement of chiseled turrets, heroic sculpture, and great smooth surfaces, quiet and majestic, that seamlessly merge the dam, intake towers, spillways and service buildings in one of the great icons of streamline design.”