By Lynne T. Jewell
Several years ago LFIA conducted oral history interviews with the Bogen siblings–Judy, Myron and Barbara–who reminisced about growing up in Los Feliz in the 1930s and 1940s. They mentioned that they had attended a progressive nursery school “up the hill” at the now-legendary Lovell Health House.
Finding out more about this little-known school wasn’t easy. However, Ken Topper whose mother, Betty, has owned the house since 1960, referred us to Raymond Neutra, son of the late architect Richard J. Neutra. The older Neutra designed the monumental steel-frame residence for naturopathic physician and health-food guru Dr. Philip Lovell and his wife, Leah Lovell.
It turns out Raymond Neutra has done extensive research on the outdoorsy hillside school. Raymond, who lives in Northern California, is the youngest of the famous architect’s sons. Coupled with his wealth of information and the LFIA’s Archives, we’ve been able to piece together a glimpse of Los Feliz history.
Leah Lovell, a trained educational expert, actually created the school for her three sons, David, Hap and Gary. The school was in operation for about five years in the 1930s with no more than 15 students at a time. Architectural historian Thomas Hines, in his biography on Neutra, labeled the apartment under the garage “Leah’s kindergarten rooms.”
In a 199l LFIA Observer article, Doug Goodan, the grandson of Harry Chandler, a nearby neighbor and Los Angeles Times publisher, talked about attending school from kindergarten to third grade in what he called the “wonderful house” at the end of Dundee Drive. His classmates were the Lovell brothers and several neighborhood children. “Mrs. Lovell was a wonderful teacher,” he recalled.
Leah Lovell endorsed educator Angelo Patri’s learn-by-doing approach and trained with him in New York City. Her student-centered progressive program combined woodworking, theatrical plays, paintings and pottery with academics and athletic activities. Home movies viewed by Raymond Neutra show youngsters splashing in the swimming pool and playing in Griffith Park. Not surprisingly, snacks were healthy, usually dried fruits and nuts.
Raymond Neutra conducted several interviews with the Lovell’s last surviving son, Hap, who was educated in the school until the sixth grade. Hap told Neutra that when he entered public school, he was much better prepared than the other students and ultimately graduated from John Marshall High School (JMHS) at age 16.
The Bogen siblings went on to Franklin Ave. Elementary, Thomas Starr King Middle School and JMHS. In an interesting twist of fate, the youngest of the three, Barbara (nicknamed Bobby), reconnected with Gary Lovell in high school. They later married and lived in the R.M. Schindler-designed Lovell Beach House in Newport Beach.
Eventually, Leah Lovell’s small open-air school “under the garage” at the Lovell Health House changed locations and moved close to the JMHS campus. No one’s quite sure why. The school closed once Gary, the youngest of the three Lovell boys, finished grade school.