We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.
This week, Johnny Tran relates deeply to the joy of a family gathered around the dinner table and considers the importance of beautiful public housing to Black Angelenos in the 1940s. He discusses a photograph of architect Paul R. Williams’s Pueblo del Rio project from Leonard Nadel’s unpublished book Pueblo Del Rio: A Study of a Planned Community. To learn more about this photograph, visit: rosettaapp.getty.edu/delivery/Deliv…s_pid=FL218644.
Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every other Tuesday.
JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.
JOHNNY TRAN: Hi I’m Johnny Tran from the curatorial department of the Getty Research Institute.
Due to COVID-19, I decided to move back to my childhood home, in Anaheim, California to be with my parents and sister. And moving back I realized just how lucky I was to have the option of going back home to be with family in these difficult times. That’s something my immigrant parents didn’t really have a chance to do, and it got me thinking about what makes a home a home.
I work primarily with our architecture and design collections. And in these recent months, I find myself coming back to this unpublished book that we have in the archives called Pueblo Del Rio: A Study of a Planned Community. There are stunning photographs in this book, but there is one in particular, of a woman named Bessie Samuel and her family and that just pulls me back every time.
It’s an image of a Black family sharing a meal in their new modern kitchen. It’s an sort of everyday sort of scene. However, for the Samuel family, it takes a lot of effort to get to this moment.
The Samuels called Pueblo del Rio their home. It’s a public housing project in the South Central area of Los Angeles, and the designs were led by actually the most renowned African American architect, Paul Williams. Built in the early 1940s, it was primarily for African American defense workers. This was a time when LA was highly segregated, there are very few housing options available, particularly for people of color.
By the late 1940s Leonard Nadel, an American photographer, was hired to document the public housing projects like Pueblo Del Rio. You see Nadel’s skill and not only documenting the really beautiful functional modernist design of the house. But you see the everyday life, the people who live in these buildings, like the Samuel family.
It makes me appreciate the steps that my parents took to have a home, and these little family moments that I get to have with them. Like every night when we have dinner.
It also makes me realize just how far we still have to go and the enormous changes and challenges we face to provide housing for underserved communities. Pueblo del Rio was a positive step forward, and I realize it takes community engagement and government action to achieve this.
I love this quote that Nadel ends the book with, from Franklin Roosevelt: “We have accepted a second bill of rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all. Regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are the right of every American for a decent home.”
CUNO: To view Leonard Nadel’s photographs of Paul R. William’s Pueblo del Rio from the late 1940s, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on primo.getty.edu