Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding Aid for the John Byers papers, 1917-1955 0000115
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (267.11 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Custodial History note
  • Preferred Citation note
  • Biographical/Historical note
  • Scope and Content note
  • Arrangement note
  • Related Archival Materials note

  • Title: John Byers papers
    Identifier/Call Number: 0000115
    Contributing Institution: Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design & Architecture Museum
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 33.0 Linear feet (5 half record storage boxes, 5 oversize flat boxes, and 8 flat file drawers)
    Date (inclusive): 1917-1966
    Location note: Boxes 1-5/ADC - regular Boxes 6-10/ADC - oversize**
    creator: Berne, Miles
    creator: Byers, John, 1875-1966
    creator: Craig, Margaret
    creator: Elda, Muir, 1906-1971
    creator: Parker, Maynard
    creator: Woodcock, W. P.
    creator: Wright, Florence


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Custodial History note

    Gift of Elda Muir (1970), Mrs. Kemper Cambell (1970), Mr. W.T. Genns (1978), and Mrs. Hanah Wright (1970).

    Preferred Citation note

    John Byers papers, Architecture and Design Collection. Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Biographical/Historical note

    Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1875, Byers studied to become an electrical engineer at the University of Michigan. He went on to complete one year of graduate work at Harvard University before leaving to work as an electrical engineer for the U.S. Commission at the Paris Exposition, from 1900 to 1901. Byers then left Europe to teach linguistics at the North American Academy in Montevideo, Uruguay. By 1910 Byers was back in the United States, employed by Santa Monica High School, as the head of the Modern Language Department.
    1919 was a pivotal year for Byers. That year Byers was asked to supervise the construction of an adobe house for his wife’s cousin, Harry Johnson. After Johnson had observed a crew of Mexican craftsman build an adobe church in Ojai, California, he had hired the same builders to construct a house for his family in Brentwood, California. Not being able to speak Spanish posed a challenge for Johnson, so he asked John Byers to oversee the construction. Byers agreed, oversaw the project, and became fascinated with adobes. After this project, at the age of 44, Byers took a leave of absence from Santa Monica High School and began devoting all of his time and energy to studying and building adobe structures. That same year Byers established a kiln and work yard on the Johnson's property in Brentwood, California. There Byers and his crew of craftsman (the same men who built the Johnson adobe) manufactured floor and roof tiles as well as iron and woodwork - all products that were then used in the houses he designed and built. Byers named this operation the John Byers Mexican Handmade Tile Company. By spring of 1922, Byers had officially stepped down from his position at Santa Monica High School and began pursuing architecture full time, advertising his services as John Byers Organization for Design and Building of Latin Homes. That same year, some of the adobe houses he and his craftsman had designed and built were featured in an article entitled "A Revival of Adobe Buildings" published in the April 1922 issue of The Architect and Engineer.
    Between 1923 and 1925, Byers enlarged his staff, hired a construction manager and promoted Elda Muir to draftswomen. Elda Muir had been working with Byers since the age of 13, starting as his secretary and as time progressed worked her way up, eventually becoming Byers' associate. By 1926, Byers had earned his architectural license, dropped all building activities and concentrated only on design. To compensate for this shift in responsibilities, Byers enlarged his staff again. At this time Byers residential design also became more diversified. He began to design period homes, such as Spanish Colonial Revival, Monterey Colonial, and French Provincial, among others.
    By 1934, Elda Muir, after receiving her license, became Byers' associate. Between 1934 and 1942, the two worked together as Byers and Muir Associated Architects. For the duration of the firm, according to Muir, Byers kept strict control over all design but did little drawing. Usually Byers would execute the preliminary sketches, and after approval from the clients Muir and the rest of Byers's staff completed the rest of the plans. Over the course of his career, Byers designed and built over 200 homes in the southern California region, many in Santa Monica. Before his death in 1966, according to Elda Muir, Byers burned most of his papers and drawings in the early 1960s. What remained was given to the Architecture and Design Collection by Elda Muir.

    Scope and Content note

    The John Byers papers span 33 linear feet and date from 1917 to 1960. This collection documents over 200 of Byers' architectural projects in the form of architectural drawings, photographs, negatives, slides, letters, postcards, magazine and newspapers articles, as well as clippings. The majority of architectural drawings in the collection are original renderings of residential designs. Many of the drawings take the form of interior details, most of which are drawn at full scale. The collection also contains articles written by Byers regarding the history and influence of adobe houses in California. Byers's reference material takes the form of clippings, entire articles, photographs (originals and those clipped from magazines), original sketches, and pamphlets, all organized alphabetically by subject. Some of the subjects represented in Byers' reference material are gardens, farm houses, balconies, interior color, among others.

    Arrangement note

    The following arrangement scheme for this collection was imposed during processing in the absence of a usable original order. The collection is organized in three series: scholarship, reference materials, and projects. The contents of the scholarship series is arranged chronologically by date of article or photograph published. The reference material series is arranged alphabetically by subject. The project series is organized alphabetically by client's last name. The content that pertains to each project is subsequentially organized by format (for example: drawings, photographs, magazine clippings).

    Related Archival Materials note

    Elda Muir papers, Architecture and Design Collection. Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa Barbara.
    photCL MLP, Maynard L. Parker negatives, photographs, and other material.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Byers, John, 1875-1966
    Muir, Edla, 1906-1970
    Adobe houses
    Architectural drawings
    Architecture -- California -- Los Angeles -- 20th Century
    Architecture, French colonial
    Architecture, Spanish Colonial -- California, Southern
    Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.)
    Color slides
    Photographic prints
    Reprographic copies
    Spanish Colonial Revival