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Neff (Wallace) Collection
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Custodial History
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents
  • Processing Information
  • Arrangement
  • Related Materials
  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
  • Appraisal
  • Bibliography

  • Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library Architecture Collections
    Title: Wallace Neff collection
    Creator: Neff, Wallace, 1895-1982
    Identifier/Call Number: archNeff
    Physical Description: 918.7 Linear Feet (54 boxes and 262 oversize folders)
    Date (inclusive): approximately 1910-2008
    Date (bulk): 1923-1967
    Abstract: This collection contains the professional papers and architectural drawings of Los Angeles architect Wallace Neff (1895-1982), best known for designing elegant Spanish Colonial-revival homes for famous clients in Southern California in the 1920s and 1930s. In a career spanning over 50 years, Neff designed many notable residential and institutional buildings, and innovated a low-cost, concrete housing design he called the Airform.
    Language of Material: Materials are in English.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Open for use by qualified researchers and by appointment. Please contact Reader Services at the Huntington Library for more information.

    Conditions Governing Use

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item]. Wallace Neff collection, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Wallace Neff Jr., July 2006, and 2008.
    • 17 journals (boxes 29-32), gift of Diane L. Kanner, June 2005.
    • Box 26, purchased from Hansen Photography, 2009.
    • Box 13, Rolls 7c-7h, gift of Ann B. Munger, Nora Berwick, and Maria Witte, 2014.
    • Box 12, Roll 89, gift of Stephen Goddard, 2016.

    Custodial History

    The Wallace Neff collection was initially deposited at the Huntington Library in 1987 and 1989. The formal gift of the collection was made in 2006, with a few additional materials received in 2008.

    Biographical / Historical

    Wallace Neff (1895-1982) was a Los Angeles architect who designed many residential and institutional buildings of note in Southern California from 1919 to 1975.
    Edwin Wallace Neff was born in 1895 on McNally Ranch in La Mirada, California, to Edwin Dorland Neff and Nannie McNally Neff. His maternal grandfather, Andrew McNally, cofounder of Rand McNally & Company, owned hundreds of acres of land in La Mirada, purchased in 1893. Around 1904, Neff's parents moved the family to Altadena, California, where McNally also owned several acres. In 1909, the Neff family moved to Europe, where Neff attended boarding school in Switzerland, traveled, and studied painting and drawing in Munich. At the outbreak of World War I, the family returned to California and Neff was admitted as an architecture student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which he attended from 1915 to 1917. In 1918, Neff took a job at Fulton Shipbuilding Company in Wilmington, California, where he learned details of concrete construction. He designed his first house in 1919, a Craftsman cottage for his mother in Santa Barbara. He opened an architecture office in Pasadena in 1922, and quickly gained notoriety for two designs for glassware magnate Edward Drummond Libbey in Ojai, California: Stables for Libbey's estate (1923), and the Ojai Valley Country Club (1923-1924). Neff soon had many movie industry clients, the most famous being Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, who hired Neff to do an extensive remodel of their Beverly Hills home, Pickfair, starting in 1926. In 1941, Neff created and patented a mass-produced and inexpensive house design he called the Airform (also known as a bubble house or balloon house). The idea never really took off in the United States, but was successful internationally, particularly in Africa. In 1956, Neff was awarded a Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects for excellence in design. He received seven Honor Awards from the institute during his career.
    Neff married Louise Up de Graff in 1923, and they had three children: Phyllis (born 1925), Wallace (born 1930), and Arthur (born 1932). The Neffs lived in houses he designed in Altadena (1923), and then San Marino, California (1928). Around 1933 he moved his offices to Hollywood, where he worked and often lived until his retirement in 1975. Toward the end of his life, with his health in decline, he lived for a few years in the Airform house he had designed for his brother Andrew in South Pasadena, 1946. Neff died in Pasadena in 1982.
    A Biographical Note for donor Wallace Neff Jr. appears in Series 5: Wallace Neff Jr. Papers.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection contains the papers and architectural drawings of Los Angeles architect Wallace Neff, whose career spanned 56 years, from 1919 to 1975. The collection is divided into five series: Personal papers, Professional papers, Project records, Wallace Neff Jr. papers, and Additional donations.
    The materials include over 100 sets of drawings and plans, Neff's project files, writings and correspondence, job lists, daily journals, sketches and renderings, and photographs. The majority of Neff's work was residential architecture in Southern California, but the collection also contains materials on many types of institutional buildings and other structures Neff designed. Most projects are in California, with some material on projects in Florida, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. The Airform project files discuss building in Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Portugal, and other countries.
    Residences represented include those for Edward L. and Estelle Carrie Doheny, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, Amelita Galli-Curci, Fredric March, Frances Marion and Fred Thomson, Groucho Marx, and King Vidor. Other projects include the Edward L. Doheny Memorial Library; Manresa Jesuit Retreat House; Ojai Valley Country Club; Saint Elizabeth Church; and buildings for Loyola Marymount University and Pomona College. There are many records on Neff's Airform buildings: contracts, drawings, patents, licenses, correspondence, and photographs.
    The collection also includes the research files of Neff's son, Wallace Neff Jr. (1930-2013), related to his father's career and works. Neff Jr. compiled this material while working on his 1986 book "Wallace Neff, Architect of California's Golden Age" (text by Alson Clark). Neff Jr.'s files contain many photographs, notes and articles on Neff buildings, as well as Neff family history, and transcripts of talks he gave on his father. In addition, Neff Jr. commissioned contemporary renderings of his father's buildings, which were painted approximately 1991 to 2007 and are part of this collection.
    The Additional Donations series contains drawings received from other sources after the primary donation in 2006.

    Processing Information

    In the 1990s, the Conservation Department encased many of the drawings in mylar; these are now stored in flat folders. In 2002, Erin Chase processed and housed the architectural drawings and created the initial inventory. In 2013, the Conservation Dept. de-framed and foldered the contemporary renderings commissioned by Wallace Neff Jr. In 2021, Suzanne Oatey completed processing the collection and created a finding aid.


    • Series 1. Personal papers, 1912-1972
    • Subseries 1. Student years and early drawings, 1912-approximately 1922
    • Subseries 2. Cuba sketchbook, correspondence, and other material, 1924-1972
    • Subseries 3. Journals, 1935-1963
    • Series 2. Professional papers, 1924-1975
    • Subseries 1. Correspondence, 1925-1973
    • Subseries 2. Draftsmen, approximately 1953-1969
    • Subseries 3. Awards/Writings, 1924-1975
    • Subseries 4. Reference material, 1926-1968
    • Series 3. Project records, 1920s-1979
    • Subseries 1. Job lists, 1920s-1975
    • Subseries 2. Project files, 1933-1974
    • Subseries 3. Airforms, 1934-1979
    • Subseries 4. Drawings, 1923-1975
    • Subseries 5. Oversize photographs, approximately 1924-1960
    • Series 4. Wallace Neff Jr. papers, approximately 1910-2008
    • Subseries 1. Biographical: Neff and family, approximately 1912-2008
    • Subseries 2. Research files and photographs of Neff buildings, 1920s-2005?
    • Subseries 3. Negatives/Transparencies, approximately 1910-2005?
    • Subseries 4. Contemporary renderings of Neff buildings, approximately 1991-2007
    • Series 5. Additional donations, 1925-2008

    Related Materials

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    Boxes 51-53: Photographic negatives and color transparencies housed in cold storage; extended retrieval and delivery time required.


    In consultation with the Assistant Curator of Architecture, approximately 40 linear feet of personal materials belonging to Wallace Neff Jr. were disposed of during processing: personal checks, receipts, slide projecting equipment, duplicative clippings, and several oversize collages on boards made up of reproductions of material already in the collection. Six contemporary published books belonging to Neff Jr. were duplicates of books already in the Huntington Library's general collection and were deaccessioned.


    Sources consulted:
    • Clark, Alson, and Wallace Neff Jr. Wallace Neff, Architect of California's Golden Age. Santa Barbara, Calif: Capra Press, 1986.
    • Kanner, Diane. Wallace Neff and the Grand Houses of the Golden State. New York: Monacelli Press, 2005.
    • Wallace Neff, 1895-1982: The Romance of Regional Architecture. San Marino, Calif: Huntington Library, 1989, in conjunction with exhibition at Virginia Steele Scott Gallery, Huntington Library, May 6-September 4, 1989.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Architectural drawings (visual works)
    Blueprints (reprographic copies)
    Business records
    Clippings (information artifacts)
    Journals (accounts)
    Negatives (photographs)
    Watercolors (paintings)
    Architects -- California -- Archives
    Architecture -- California -- 20th century
    Architecture, Domestic -- California -- Los Angeles
    Churches -- Design and construction
    College buildings -- Design and construction
    Concrete houses
    Housing -- Africa
    Housing -- Mexico
    Low-income housing
    Mansions -- California
    Religious facilities -- Design and construction
    Beverly Hills (Calif.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
    Los Angeles (Calif.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
    Ojai (Calif.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
    Palm Springs (Calif.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
    Pasadena (Calif.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
    Santa Barbara (Calif.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
    Neff, Wallace, 1895-1982 -- Archives
    Neff, Wallace, 1930-
    Edward Laurence Doheny Memorial Library
    Loyola Marymount University -- Buildings, structures, etc.
    Pomona College (Claremont, Calif.) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
    Doheny, Estelle, 1875-1958
    Fairbanks, Douglas, 1883-1939 -- Homes and haunts
    Galli-Curci, Amelita, 1882-1963 -- Homes and haunts
    Libbey, Edward Drummond, 1854-1925 -- Homes and haunts
    Marx Brothers -- Homes and haunts
    Pickford, Mary, 1892-1979 -- Homes and haunts
    Vidor, King, 1894-1982 -- Homes and haunts