Second Act

One of SoCal’s most celebrated projects gets brought back from the past.

Architect Jeff Fink unearthed Schindler’s original plans for custom furniture that had never been realized—until now.

The restored unit includes a rooftop deck that was previously enclosed.

When busloads of visiting architecture students descend on San Diego, the first stop is La Jolla. No, not the Salk Institute. Nor the Neurosciences Institute. It’s a beeline to Gravilla Street to El Pueblo Ribera, the much-studied, much-storied compound designed by Rudolph Schindler in 1923 near Windansea Beach.

The 12-unit concrete icon is a study in indoor-outdoor interplay, proving Schindler’s visionary status—not to mention his giddy excitement over sunny SoCal, according to L.A.-based architect Jeff Fink, who recently remodeled a Ribera unit for an L.A. homeowner.

“He came from Vienna and he was blown away by the climate,” says Fink, a restoration architect who has renovated 13 Schindlers from Silver Lake to Echo Park and Hollywood to Studio City. “He recognized the ability to live outside year-round at Pueblo. It was liberating to come from Europe to a freedom of architecture and freedom of climate.”
Every inch of the design speaks to that.

When Fink was tapped for the renovation, the homeowner, a modern furniture aficionado, wanted to bring the two-story unit back to its original state, including the sleeping porch, a signature Schindler amenity featured in several of his early houses. “We revived the sleeping porch as the upper level was enclosed. Now it’s a deck and it feels like camping out at the beach,” he says.

For the redesign, Fink went one step further, unearthing Schindler’s original plans to create custom furniture, including a kitchen table and benches, bookshelves, chairs, a daybed, nightstands and a sleek bedroom vanity. Those original furniture plans, marked “void,” were cut due to cost when the house was built.

“We built pieces that were never constructed,” says Fink, who enlisted Santa Monica master craftsman Ed Moosbrugger. “Of all the Schindlers I’ve done, this house represents the pinnacle.”

And painstaking attention went into integrating every last detail, says Fink. Take, for example, the sliding door track, made of molded concrete rather than aluminum. “There’s no interruption between the inside and the outside. There’s no threshold,” says Fink. “It’s a beautiful detail even though it’s on the floor.”

When Fink’s client bought the house more than four years ago, it was in near-complete disrepair, yet unlike the neighboring units, it boasted the most original details. “We called it the hippie crash pad. But it was one of the only 12 that had not been burned down, rebuilt or dramatically altered,” says Fink.

Today, it’s a weekend beach retreat where you can check the surf from the rooftop, and once inside, the space commands tranquility. It almost orders you to light a fire or grab a book. Or even better, a sleeping porch nap.

“It’s very Japanese. It’s a stripped down-primitive hut,” says Fink. “There’s a serenity and calmness to it.”

In Santa Barbara, where Schindler’s archives are housed, Fink stumbled upon the drawings for Pueblo. Some of the plans feature the essential horizontal bands that line the house, where the furnishings are meticulously matched. One look at the vanity set against the measured concrete wall can take away the breath of any Schindler die-hard. It is that exacting.
“In the early days, there was less of an interest. It was less intense,” says Fink of the restoration process. “Now there’s a recognition of the legacy of this Southern California architecture. The value has peaked and so there’s a knowledge and willingness among owners, which wasn’t always the case.”

In Schindler we trust.