A Finding Aid to the Esther McCoy Papers,
circa 1876-1990
,
bulk 1938-1989
, in the Archives of American Art
Digitized Content

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.mccoesth
Creators:
McCoy, Esther
Dates:
circa 1876-1990
bulk 1938-1989
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
43 linear feet
Repository:
The papers of Southern California architectural historian, critic, and writer Esther McCoy measure 43 linear feet and date from 1876 to 1990 (bulk 1938-1989). The collection documents McCoy's career, as well as her family and personal life through biographical material, extensive correspondence, personal and professional writings, project files, Southern California architects' files, clippings and other printed material, a large collection of photographs and slides, and taped interviews of Southern California modern architects.

Scope and Content Note
Scope and Content Note
The papers of Southern California architectural historian, critic, and writer Esther McCoy measure 43 linear feet and date from 1876 to 1990 (bulk 1938-1989). The collection documents McCoy's career, as well as her family and personal life through biographical material, extensive correspondence, personal and professional writings, project files, Southern California architects' files, clippings and other printed material, a large collection of photographs and slides, and taped interviews of Southern California modern architects.
Biographical and family material consists of awards, resumes, identification documents, and other documentation of McCoy's personal life. Included are a transcript of a 1984 interview of McCoy by Makoto Watanabe and material relating to her friend, Theodore Dreiser.
Correspondence focuses on her personal relationships with family, friends, and lovers, and general correspondence relating primarily to her work as a writer. McCoy's personal correspondence is valuable to researchers who are interested in her personal life, her struggles as a young writer, and the way in which her family, friends, lovers, mentors, and colleagues helped to shape her work and career. As documented in this correspondence, her life offers a glimpse into twentieth-century American social and political history, especially the radical leftist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. Researchers interested in the roots of feminism in the United States should also find these papers useful in documenting the life of a creative and productive woman who was successful in a field then almost entirely dominated by men. Correspondents of note include her husband Berkeley Tobey, lovers Geoffrey Eaton and Albert Robert, writers Ray Bradbury and Theodore Dreiser, and artists and architects, such as Dorothy Grotz, Craig Ellwood, A. Quincy Jones, Hans Hollein, and J. R. Davidson. General correspondence is primarily with researchers, professors, architects, publishers, and professional organizations.
Personal writings include McCoy's diaries, notebooks, and memoirs, and writings by others including friends, lovers, and colleagues. Also included are drafts of McCoy's fictional works, both published and unpublished, including short stories, teleplays, and novels.
The collection contains in-depth documentation of McCoy's pioneering study of the modernist work of twentieth-century architects in Southern California. The bulk of her papers consist of her writing files for books, exhibition catalogs, articles, and lectures on architecture. Because many of the architects about whom McCoy wrote were her contemporaries, she developed personal relationships with several of them through her research and writing. Her writing files include drafts, notes, research material, photographs, and correspondence. McCoy also traveled extensively, particularly in Italy and Mexico, and wrote about architecture, craft, and culture in those countries. Project files document McCoy's other activities related to architectural history, such preservation projects, juries, grants, the Dodge House Preservation Campaign and related film project, her work for the Society of Architectural Historians and the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), and her work at the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning, compiling a slide library and cataloging the Richard Neutra's papers. McCoy also maintained architect files which may contain correspondence, notes, photographs, research material, interview transcripts, about architects and their works. Among these extensive records, the files documenting the careers of R. M. Schindler, Irving Gill, Richard Neutra, and Juan O'Gorman are particularly rich.
Printed material in this collection documents McCoy's career as well as her personal interests. Included are books, clippings, magazines, newsletters, press releases, as well as publications arranged by subject such as architecture, art, Italy, and Mexico. McCoy also collected literary and leftist publications. The small amount of artwork in this collection consists of artwork sent to her by friends, including a drawing of her by Esther Rollo and etchings by various artists including Thomas Worlidge.
There are personal photographs of family and friends and of McCoy at different times in her life, as well as photographs gathered during the course of her research on architecture. Found here are photographs of architects and their works, including a large number depicting the work of Gregory Ain, Luis Barragan, J. R. Davidson, Irving Gill, Bernard Maybeck, Juan O'Gorman, R. M. Schindler, and Raphael Soriano. Many of these photographs were taken by notable architectural photographers Julius Shulman and Marvin Rand. Also found are photographs of architecture designed for the Case Study House program of Arts & Architecture magazine; exhibition photographs, primarily for the exhibition "Ten Italian Architects" in 1967; and other research photographs primarily documenting architecture and craft in other countries and the history of architecture in California. This series also includes approximately 3,600 slides of architecture.
Audio and video recordings include a videocassette of McCoy's 80th birthday party and 55 taped interviews with architects, people associated with architectural projects, and artists.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into 10 series:
  • Series 1: Biographical and Family Material, 1881-1989 (boxes 1, 48; 0.6 linear feet)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, 1896-1989 (boxes 1-6, 4.9 linear feet)
  • Series 3: Personal Writings, 1919-1989 (boxes 6-14; 8.1 linear feet)
  • Series 4: Architectural Writings, 1908-1990 (boxes 14-24, 42, 49, 50; 10.2 linear feet)
  • Series 5: Projects, circa 1953-1988 (boxes 24-26, 47, FC 53-56; 2.5 linear feet)
  • Series 6: Architect Files, 1912-1990 (boxes 26-28, 42; 2.2 linear feet)
  • Series 7: Printed Material, circa 1885-1990 (boxes 28-31, 42; 2.9 linear feet)
  • Series 8: Artwork, 1924-1967, undated (box 31; 0.4 linear feet)
  • Series 9: Photographs and Slides, circa 1876-1989 (boxes 31-38, 41-46, 51; 8.7 linear feet)
  • Series 10: Audio and Video Recordings, 1930-1984 (boxes 38-40, 47; 2.5 linear feet)

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
Esther McCoy (1904-1989) is remembered best for her pioneering work as an architectural historian, critic, and proponent of Southern California modern architecture of the early to mid-twentieth century. Although her professional interests ranged from writing fiction to studying the folk architecture and crafts of Mexico, McCoy achieved her most notable success for her numerous articles, books, and exhibitions about Southern California architecture and the architects associated with the modernist movement.
Born in Arkansas in 1904, Esther McCoy grew up in Kansas and attended various schools in the Midwest. In 1926 she left the University of Michigan to launch a writing career in New York, where she moved in avant-garde literary circles and conducted research for Theodore Dreiser. She began writing fiction in New York and continued to write after moving to Los Angeles in 1932, working on short stories, novels, and screenplays. She published numerous short stories between 1929 and 1962, with works appearing in the New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, and university quarterlies. Her short story, "The Cape," was reprinted in Best Short Stories of 1950. Many of the novels that she wrote from the mid-1960s through the 1980s were related thematically to architects and architecture.
During the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, McCoy participated in the politically radical movements of the period and wrote for leftist publications. Her interest in the lowcost housing projects of modern architects was prompted by one of her articles about slums for Epic News. During World War II she entered a training program for engineering draftsmen at Douglas Aircraft and in 1944 was hired as an architectural draftsman for the architect R.M. Schindler. As she became increasingly interested in modern architecture and design, she combined her two major career interests and began to focus her energies on architectural research, writing, and criticism. Her first article on architecture, "Schindler: Space Architect," was published in 1945 in the journal Direction.
McCoy began writing about architecture in earnest in 1950 as a free-lance contributor to the Los Angeles Times. From then until her death in 1989, she wrote prolifically for Arts & Architecture magazine, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Architectural Record, L'Architectura, Zodiac (Italy), Progressive Architecture, Lotus (Italy), and Architectural Forum. In addition to her numerous articles, McCoy wrote several books on Southern California modern architecture and architects. Her first major work, Five California Architects, published in 1960, is now recognized as a classic work in modern architectural history. It promoted a serious study of modern architecture in Southern California and introduced to the world several leading California architects and their work: Bernard Maybeck, Irving Gill, Charles and Henry Greene, and R.M. Schindler. That same year, she published another important book focusing on the work of the California architect Richard Neutra. Other books by McCoy include Modern California Houses: Case Study Houses (1962), Craig Ellwood (1968), Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys (1979), and The Second Generation (1984).
In addition to these books, McCoy organized and wrote catalogs for several significant exhibitions focusing on contemporary architects. Her first was the R.M. Schindler Retrospective, a 1954 exhibition at the Landau Art Gallery in Los Angeles. Her other exhibitions and accompanying catalogs include Roots of California Contemporary Architecture, 1956, Los Angeles Municipal Art Department; Felix Candela, 1957, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; Irving Gill, 1958, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Juan O'Gorman, 1964, San Fernando Valley State College; and Ten Italian Architects, 1967, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Moreover, McCoy contributed numerous essays to other exhibition catalogs and publications, lectured at the University of Southern California, participated in preservation projects, organized tours for the Society of Architectural Historians, and contributed to a number of documentary films. Her energy and interests also led her to catalog and transcribe Richard Neutra's papers at the University of California Los Angeles Archives.
McCoy received national recognition from the American Institute of Architects for her seminal and prolific work in the field of Southern California modern architectural history and criticism. Her interests, however, were not exclusively bound to California. She traveled the world and was interested in both Italian and Mexican architecture as well as the folk art and crafts of Mexico and South America. She made five extended trips to Italy during the 1950s and 1960s, publishing regularly about the architecture there and curating the exhibition Ten Italian Architects. She was a contributing editor to two Italian journals, Zodiac and Lotus, and was awarded the Star of Order of Solidarity in 1960 by the Republic of Italy for her research and writing.
Esther McCoy died of emphysema on December 30, 1989, at the age of eighty-five. Her last contribution was an essay for the exhibition catalog Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study House. The show opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles one month before her death.
1904
Born November 18 in Horatio, Arkansas. Raised in Kansas.
1920
Attended preparatory school at Central College for Women, Lexington, Missouri.
1922-1925
College education: Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri; University of Michigan.
1924
Visited Theodore Dreiser in Michigan.
1926-1938
Began writing in New York City.
1926-1938
Researched and read for Theodore Dreiser.
1926-1938
Worked for editorial offices and publishers.
1926-1938
Traveled to write in Paris (1928), Key West, Florida (1930), and Los Angeles, California (1932-1935).
1938
Moved to Santa Monica, California.
1941
Married Berkeley Greene Tobey.
1942-1944
Employed as engineering draftsman at Douglas Aircraft.
1944-1947
Worked as architectural draftsman for R.M. Schindler.
1945
Began architectural writing career.
1950
Wrote script for film Architecture West.
1950
Joined editorial board of Arts & Architecture.
1950-1968
Worked as free-lance writer for the Los Angeles Times.
1951-1955
Traveled to, researched, and wrote about Mexico and Mexican art and architecture.
1954
R.M. Schindler Retrospective exhibition at the Landau Art Gallery, Los Angeles.
1956
Roots of California Contemporary Architecture exhibition, Los Angeles Municipal Art Department.
1957
Felix Candela exhibition, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
1958
Irving Gill exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Traveled to Italy.
1959-1968
Contributing editor to Italian periodicals Zodiac and Lotus.
1960
Five California Architects (New York: Reinhold).
1960
Richard Neutra (New York: G. Braziller).
1960
Awarded Star of Order of Solidarity by the Republic of Italy for reporting on arts and crafts in Italy.
1962
Death of Berkeley Greene Tobey.
1962
Modern California Houses: Case Study Houses (New York: Reinhold) (reprinted as Case Study Houses, Los Angeles: Hennessey and Ingalls, 1978).
1963
Resident Fellow at Huntington Hartford Foundation.
1964
Juan O'Gorman exhibition, San Fernando Valley State College, Northridge, Calif.
1965
Consultant for the California Arts Commission.
1965-1966
Wrote and produced the film Dodge House.
1965-1968
Lecturer at University of California at Los Angeles, School of Architecture and Urban Planning.
1966
Resident Fellow at MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire.
1967
Ten Italian Architects exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
1967
Honorary Associate of the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
1967
Regents' Lecturer at University of California, Santa Barbara.
1968
Craig Ellwood (New York: Walker).
1968
Distinguished Service Citation from the California Council of AIA.
1969-1970
Lecturer at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
1969-1989
Contributing editor of Progressive Architecture.
1971-1978
Graham Foundation Grants.
1974
Regents' Lecturer at the University of California,Santa Cruz.
1979
Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys (Santa Monica, Calif.: Arts & Architecture Press).
1979
Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.
1981
Los Angeles Chapter Women's Architectural League Honorary Member.
1982
Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Modern and Contemporary Art Council Award for Distinguished Achievement.
1983
Home Sweet Home: The California Ranch House exhibition at California State University.
1984
The Second Generation (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books).
1985
American Institute of Architects, Institute Honor.
1986
High Styles exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
1987
Vesta Award for outstanding scholarship.
1989
Award from the Historical Society of Southern California.
1989
Award from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.
1989
Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study House exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Died in Santa Monica, California, December 30.

Administration
Alternative Forms Available
This site provides access to the papers of Esther McCoy in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in
2010-2011
, and total
920
images.
Many of the sound recordings of interviews were digitized in 2009 and are available for use by appointment. McCoy's film Dodge House 1916 was preserved in 2011; a video copy is available for research access, and a projection print is available for loan according to the Archives of American Art's loan policies.
Processing Information
A generous grant from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation supported the initial organization and description of the papers in 1993. Additional processing and description was completed by Stephanie Ashley in 2005. The arrangement and finding aid was further refined by Erin Kinhart in 2009-2010 and the collection was fully digitized in 2010-2011 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Motion picture film reels were inspected and re-housed in 2016-2017 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.
Author
Stephanie Ashley and Erin Kinhart
Sponsor
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Provenance
The collection was given to the Archives of American Art by Esther McCoy in 1986. Before her death in 1989, McCoy assisted in the organization and identification of the papers. Original pre-print film elements for Dodge House 1916 were donated to the Archives of American Art by the Academy Film Archive in 2018.

Using the Collection
Restrictions on Access
Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of audiovisual recordings without access copies requires advance notice.
Ownership and Literary Rights
The Esther McCoy papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
Preferred Citation
Esther McCoy papers, circa 1876-1990, bulk 1938-1989. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Related Material
Also in the Archives of American Art are eight sound cassettes of a transcribed interview with Esther McCoy conducted by Joseph Giovannini, June 8-November 14, 1987.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Diaries Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Etchings Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Architecture, Modern -- 20th century -- Mexico Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Architectural historians -- California Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sound recordings Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interviews Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Architects -- Italy Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Architecture, Domestic -- California Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Authors -- California Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Architecture, Modern -- 20th century -- California Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Video recordings Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Architecture, Modern -- 20th century -- Europe Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Slides (photographs) Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Architects -- California Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Transcripts Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Drawings Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art critics -- California Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Memoirs Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Feminism Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Rand, Marvin Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Grotz, Dorothy Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gill, Irving, 1870-1936 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jones, A. Quincy (Archie Quincy), 1913-1979 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Historic American Buildings Survey Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Barragán, Luis, 1902- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Dreiser, Theodore, 1871-1945 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Bradbury, Ray, 1920- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hollein, Hans, 1934- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ain, Gregory, 1908-1988 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ellwood, Craig Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Davidson, Julius Ralph, b. 1889 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Watanabe, Makoto Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
University of California, Los Angeles. School of Architecture and Urban Planning Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Society of Architectural Historians Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Maybeck, Bernard R. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Neutra, Richard Joseph, 1892-1970 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Worlidge, T. (Thomas), 1700-1766 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Schindler, R. M. (Rudolph M.), 1887-1953 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Shulman, Julius Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Soriano, Rafael, 1920- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
O'Gorman, Juan, 1905- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Art
750 9th Street, NW
Victor Building, Suite 2200
Washington, D.C. 20001
https://www.aaa.si.edu/services/questions
https://www.aaa.si.edu/