Kirtland Cutter

Kirtland Cutter (1860-1939) was born in Ohio, but spent the major part of his career in Spokane, Washington.  A fire in 1889 destroyed much of downtown Spokane, so Cutter’s work in the city was especially influential in shaping a city that Elbert Hubbard praised as “the most beautiful city ever created within so short a time in the history of the world.”

Evolution of styles

img_0358Cutter won the commission to build the Idaho State Building for the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  The building gave him national exposure as part of a fair that had wide-reaching architectural influence.  The “White City” of the fair’s central courtyard, for instance, inspired cities around the country to construct neoclassical public buildings, and the Japanese pavilion was noted as a distinct influence on Southern California Arts and Crafts architects Charles and Henry Greene.

In his Idaho Building, Cutter created an enormous log cabin, held together primarily by the weight of the lumber, which included twenty-two different types of wood, all available in Idaho.  The entire building included details that showcased the natural resources of the state–volcanic rock on the ground floor, a fireplace made of rocks that contained various precious metals, and hallways of Idaho marble.

Cutter’s Davenport Hotel in Spokane was one of his most dramatic spaces.


Certain design elements are common throughout Cutter’s work.  He moved easily through various historical styles, beginning with work modeled on the Swiss chalet through the Spanish colonial revival that we know at Long Beach City College.  In every style, he returns consistently to elements that we stand out in his design for the English Building.

img_0370Cutter favored the irregularity of English medieval design and convinced patrons to incorporate these features into their plans.

When he began working in California, he adapted his preference for such irregularity into Italianate designs.

Open ceiling beams with decorative elements

img_0353Library of the Stimson house (1898-1900) (143)

The inglenook, or chimney corner–a small enclosed area around the fireplace adjoining the main room.  In the Little Theater, the surviving stage is evocative of the traditional inglenook.

img_0364Davenport’s private suite (1904) (167)


The stage of the Little Theater in the English Building, now the Marian Sims Baughn Center for the Literary Arts, is a variation on the residential inglenook.


img_0365img_0366First Church of Christ Scientist, Spokane (1907-8) was one of Cutter’s first building in the Mission Revival style.

img_0371Eucalyptus Hills (1913-14), Santa Barbara was one of his first project in a style suitable to California  (301)

Cutter moved to Long Beach (from Spokane) in 1923.  His office was in the Farmers and Merchants Bank downtown.  Jess J. Jones worked with him as a draftsman and builder and was active in the design of Long Beach City College.

Palos Verdes became a focus of Cutter’s work.  He served on the architectural jury that approved designs within the community, exerting extraordinary efforts to maintain standards of the City Beautiful movement.

img_0373He created the design for the Lunada Bay Plaza in Palos Verde, modeled on an Italian piazza.  This project was never executed.

img_0375Cameron House, Palos Verdes (1924) is one of several of Cutter’s California residential projects that incorporates a courtyard.

Buchanan House, interior (1927)

img_0378img_0377Ceiling elements (351)

Ceiling elements in the Little Theater in the English Building.
Ceiling elements in the Little Theater in the English Building
Ceiling elements in the Little Theater in the English Building
Ceiling elements in the original library
Ceiling elements in the original library


james-russell-lowell-schoolCutter’s John Russell Lowell Elementary School (1926) was destroyed by the 1933 earthquake (photo from the Orange County Register).

Abraham Lincoln School (1934)

The entry elements of Lincoln School are similar to those of the English Building:


img_0384Pacific Coast Club interior


img_0383img_0381img_0380A significant collection of Cutter’s drawings for his Long Beach work are in the collection of Richard and Phyllis Poper, housed in the Architecture Library at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Poper (1920-2009) was an architect whose firm designed a number of buildings at LBCC.

The most comprehensive study of Cutter is Henry C. Matthews’ Kirkland Cutter:  Architect in the Land of Promise (University of Washington Press, 1998).  Many of the pictures on this page are selections from this book.

A 1985 documentary, Kirtland Kelsey Cutter:  Vision of an Era, is available on YouTube.  Part four covers the Long Beach portion of his career.


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