In the East Falls neighbourhood of Philadelphia, just beyond the northern boundary of the Thomas Jefferson University’s East Falls campus, stands the Hassrick House (1958-61), designed by celebrated architect Richard Neutra, an icon of mid-century modern style. Often described as an East Coast interpretation of California Modernism, the Hassrick House is one of only three buildings designed by Neutra within the city limits. Thomas Jefferson University’s relationship with the house began in the summer of 2015 when Andrew Hart, assistant professor of Architecture in the College of Architecture & the Built Environment initiated a series of summer courses to study the house.
The first multidisciplinary group of students engaged in architectural survey, drawing, and photography. Subsequent summer courses refined the architectural drawings, following the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) standards. Yet another student cohort undertook documentary research to uncover the history of the house and its occupants.
Then owners George Acosta and John Hauser were supportive collaborators with students in this process. Neutra’s architecture and his relationship with the Hassricks – particularly Barbara who emerged as the primary client voice while the house was being designed – captured the hearts, minds, and imaginations of everyone who engaged with the house. As one student recalled, “We have all gotten swept away in the stories unfolding from our research.” In 2018, Hauser and Acosta sold the property to the university with the understanding that the house would continue to be used for educational purposes.
In George’s words, “I had come to realize that the students can be the future custodians of that home. They can be the eyes. They can be the archives.
In a way, it becomes all of ours to share.” This publication chronicles the students’ findings that shed light on Neutra’s design process, his collaboration with his clients, as well as the unsung role of Thaddeus Longstreth as Neutra’s proxy negotiator throughout the design and construction stages. During its approximately 63-year lifespan, the Hassrick House tells a saga of design, dwelling, neglect, restoration, and reinvention today as a laboratory for learning. In many respects, the history of the Hassrick House tells an important story of the modernist movement in the US, both regionally and nationally.