Llano Del Rio and the Architect Who Tried to Design Away Housework

llano del rio 2This Saturday, May 3rd, Union Station celebrates a big birthday. So too does another LA landmark, albeit it is a place that has faded from public memory and it represents a very different set of ideals from the rapacious rail companies — ideals that might have resonance during this time of a growing economic divide.

Llano Del Rio was a 1000-strong socialist “colony” founded on May Day 1914 in the Antelope Valley, near Palmdale. It was founded by Job Harriman, a lawyer and socialist leader who ran for LA mayor and lost. But he drew people from across the country to his dream, including a woman architect named Alice Constance Austin.

Austin, a radical feminist, was invited by Harriman to design the city in a way that would make a statement against the subdivisions created by land speculators in LA.

KCRW’s Avishay Artsy reports on Llano Del Rio and the art happening on May 3 that honors Alice Constance Austin.

Lifting Women Out of the “Procrustean Bed”

In her socialist city, Austin anticipated labor-saving devices in the home and an underground central laundry and kitchens where hired chefs and workers would relieve women “of the thankless and unending drudgery of an inconceivably stupid and inefficient system, by which her labors are confiscated.”

She arranged administrative buildings, restaurants, churches, schools, markets, and so forth in a circular plan. Houses would be made of concrete, laid out in rows, with alternate facades based on individual taste.

She created communal daycare areas and designed furniture that would be easy to clean, with no crevices for dust, roll away beds and heated tile floor rather than carpet, all to cut down on housework.

As it turns out, Austin’s ideas were not embraced, not even by her fellow socialists who rejected what they saw as prison-like buildings. The community lived, until it folded in 1917, in tents or basic structures, most of which were demolished or destroyed by storms, leaving only a cistern and couple remaining buildings.

But Austin did not give up on her ideas, later publishing a book entitled The Next Step; How to Plan for Beauty, Comfort, and Peace with Great Savings Effected by the Reduction of Waste. Here she wrote that the traditional home serves as a “Procrustean bed,” to which “each feminine personality must be made to conform by whatever maiming or fatal spiritual or intellectual oppression.”

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Find out more here about the art happening on May 3, honoring Alice Constance Austin.