Esther McCoy (1904 - 1989)


Written by Esther McCoy

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Happy Birthday, R.M.S.

It took some courage to go ask for a job. I selected from among a dozen or so engineering drawings the two most precisely drawn, then I cleaned up the drawings of the house and rolled them. I dressed in something that made me look serious and dependable. What did I expect? A cool dismissal. My wildest hope was to be in the office long enough to study a set of drawings of the Kings Road house.

At eleven one morning, I went along the row of wild eugenias to his door, a heavy redwood swinging door with a small glazed peephole in which was a sign reading by appointment only.

The door was ajar. I entered. […] Schindler was sitting at a drafting board with his back to me. When I spoke, he spun around, annoyed at being disturbed. It seems that I had come at a bad time. "I came to ask about a job—maybe I should come back some other time."

He didn’t look up from the drawing he was working on when he asked me what I had done. I took out the two engineering drawings and told him I had been at Douglas two years. He brushed them aside. "Aircraft draftsmen never know anything about the plane except the part they’re working on," he said. Then, indifferently, he unrolled my drawings of the house.

I dreaded his judgment. I hoped he would only say, "You need more experience," and I could get out. Instead, he anchored the drawings to the board with a drafting brush and studied them. He turned the pages, once returning to page one to have another look at the plan.

"The glass," he said.

I had put a strip of glass between door height and window height in all the rooms — a transom trip. I waited; I was ready with my reasons for using the glass — to bring south light into north-facing rooms, and to see the treetops when the curtains were drawn. And another reason I wouldn’t have the nerves to tell him; to make the house fly, which was, I suppose, a result of working so long on airplane wings.

But he wasn’t curious about why I used the transom strip, just how I had used it. The glass was broken up by the rhythm of studs. "You could have used a longer span," he said, adding almost belligerently, "You know that."

That was the most encouraging thing he could have said—that I should have known something. But the architectural-standards book I have studied contained no variation on the two-by-four stud system sixteen inches on center. There were other pieces of advice, and with each one I became more confident. Why hadn’t I put the sofa out of the circulation flow? And why had I broken into my sheer wall?

I wanted to thank him and go home and rework the drawings. In a few days I could take them to another architect. I said in apology, "I tried to get into USC but they discouraged me."

"The less to unlearn," he replied. "Come in tomorrow at eleven. Can you work from eleven to five or six? A dollar an hour."

I was stunned. It had happened so fast. Seasoned draftsmen were getting around $2 an hour, and now I was a learner at $1 an hour…

 

© Esther McCoy, unpublished memoir (n.d.), McCoy papers, in Susan Morgan (ed.), Piecing together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader, Los Angeles: East of Borneo Books, 2012

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