First Drafts is a series exploring the early work of our architectural icons, examining their careers through the lens of their debut projects. Occasionally unexpected but always insightful, these undertakings represent their initial, finished buildings as solo practitioners. While anecdotes accompany the work of all great builders, there’s often more to learn about their first acts.
Built in 1958 in Idyllwild, California, the David Cabin has been renovated significantly by past owners, and is rarely mentioned in books about Gehry’s career. Photos by Steve Taylor.
David Cabin in Idyllwild, California
Date completed: 1958
Getting the Gig:
A pink bungalow wrapped in distorted planes of sheet metal and chain link fence, Frank Gehry’s remodeled home on Santa Monica Boulevard was a provocation and prediction when it was unveiled in 1978, the equivalent of dropping Pee Wee’s Playhouse in the middle of the critical discourse. Celebrated and praised by the cognoscenti—some in a backhanded manner, like Philip Johnson, who said Gehry’s work doesn’t please the eye but provides a “mysterious feeling of delight”—it’s the first Gehry project many think about when they trace the evolution of his unique, sculptural style. But it’s far from his first project. That distinction belongs to a small summer home he built in the town of Idyllwild, California, a project rarely noted and largely forgotten. The David Cabin, named after client Melvin David, came at a time when Gehry was beginning to shift directions, starting an evolution that would turn him into one of the defining architects of his time.