Lloyd Pietrantonio Ruocco

Architect | 1907-1981
Lloyd and Ilse Ruocco in their 'Il Cavo' house in La Mesa (ca. 1949) Photograph by Edward Sievers

As a young man Lloyd Ruocco worked alongside Richard Requa, William Templeton Johnson and Lillian Rice. His early designs (1937-52) were almost without fail exposed redwood with flat but primarily shed roofs. These designs, organizations he fostered, and talent he mentored led him to garner respect as a key figure in 20th century modernism in the region.

Lloyd and Ilse Ruocco in their 'Il Cavo' house in La Mesa (ca. 1949) Photograph by Edward Sievers
Ruocco Residence #1 'Il Cavo' Maynard L. Parker, photographer. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

By Todd Pitman, edited by Keith York

Lloyd Pietrantonio Ruocco was born in Maine, in 1907, only a handful of years prior to his family relocating to San Diego County in the early 1920s. Following stops in Hillcrest and City Heights, they settled near Santee on what would become family ranch land.

After competing in the home design competition for Kensington Heights, young Lloyd started working in the office of architect Richard Requa (while attending San Diego High School). Shortly thereafter, Ruocco took drafting courses from architect Lillian Rice (who was on staff with Requa) at San Diego State College and worked with her on the Ranch Santa Fe Master Plan. Both Rice and Requa compelled Ruocco to transfer from San Diego State to Berkeley and major in architecture. Following graduation from Cal, he returned to San Diego, and gained valuable experience in the offices of architects Richard Requa and William Templeton Johnson.

Just two years following his partnership with Kenneth Messenger displaying modern home designs at the California Panama Exposition in Balboa Park in 1935, he produced a key home often referenced as in the “international style” in South Park in 1937 - the Clitsome Residence.

During World War II, Ruocco served as the US Navy’s head draftsman in the 11th Naval District. He married Ilse Hamann, an art and interior design instructor at San Diego State College, in 1944. And built the first home for themselves in 1946 in La Mesa’s Briercrest neighborhood.

Growing increasingly dissatisfied with the rehashed revival styles that prevailed through the thirties, Ruocco opened his own offices in hopes of bringing a more modern style of architecture to San Diego. He along with his wife Ilse Hammon Ruocco, an interior designer and artist, would go on to become San Diego’s pioneering post-war modernists. Designing
well over 100 projects throughout San Diego County, Lloyd is responsible for several projects that are considered by many, to be some of the area’s best examples of the period.

“Good architecture should call for the minimum use of materials for the most interesting and functional enclosure of space” - Lloyd Ruocco FAIA

An early tour de force, Ruocco’s Design Center (1949) on Fifth Avenue was both a retail outlet and interior design firm run by Ilse, his own architecture practice as well as hosting office space for publishers, artists, designers, and landscape architects for decades. An example of what writer Jim Britton deemed his “phantom architecture” the building is nearly invisible to the passerby in contrast to the bulking heavy buildings of the downtown-to-Hillcrest corridor.

Ruocco’s influence would lead to a number of architecture commissions, and be shared across a number of his visionary gatherings and presentations. He and Ilse would lead artists, architects and urban planners across in helping establish the Allied Artists Council and Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 organizations. He mentored a significant number of architects including Homer Delawie that would launch his own multi-decade practice in the early 1960s.

Ruocco’s public projects for the San Diego Zoo, as well as San Diego Civic Theater, and the IGPP building at Scripps Institution of Oceanography have put his ideas in public spaces. While public commissions are often where regional architects cement their legacy – we experience their articulation of a number of ideas through their residential commissions.

Universally respected as one of San Diego’s fathers of the post war modern architectural movement, Ruocco was equally devoted to the art community as well as the city itself. His ultimate goal was to better the lives of the people of San Diego through his tireless efforts to promote and encourage art, architecture and design; many would say that he achieved his goal. Instrumental in founding several community design organizations, Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, Allied Artists and Allied Craftsmen. Lloyd Ruocco laid the foundation for architects, artists and designers to come.

“He was the person to whom you turned for inspiration. He was the modernist.” - Bob Mosher FAIA

Early designs (1937-52) were almost without fail exposed redwood with flat but primarily shed roofs. Ruocco made use of indirect lighting above interior soffits, built-in bookshelves frequently running the length of the floor. Fireplaces were built-in and typically stone. Most of the designs of this period made use of concrete floors and in many cases used organic materials in their natural form. Boulders are found piercing glass walls; unmilled lumber is used lavishly in some early designs. In the case of his first residence, ‘Il Cavo’, driftwood is used as towel hangers, hardware on doors and in various other forms. Ruocco’s later work although extremely progressive by San Diego standards was similar in design to many other architects practicing throughout Southern California. The early designs seemed indigenous; they were his own. His designs of this period were far less influenced by the design trends occurring in Europe and Los Angeles.

“There is this term, ‘a Ruocco house’. There are a few architects who get to that point but not many” - Leonard Veitzer FAIA

In the early fifties and following the completion of his second home ‘Solari’ Ruocco seemed to depart in some part from is early more organic designs and began to favor a sleeker style. Possibly inspired by the case study program coordinated by then editor of Arts and Architecture John Entenza, Ruocco began designing glass, wood, steel, and concrete homes based on modular design. This style minimized construction costs as it utilized lumber in standardized dimensions. Designs from this period became architecturally less complex, offering open and often flexible floor plans. Ruocco often included homes with walls that could be moved on tracks to allow space to be modified to accommodate the changing lives of their inhabitants. These homes nearly all were equipped with radiant heat in the floor, ceiling or both. They most often contained metal prefabricated fireplaces rather than the elaborate stone of his earlier designs. Glass was used even more lavishly than before, exposed wood beams and ceilings were used less often, as plaster ceilings became far more prevalent. Based on post and beam construction methods, these homes are almost always rectangular in design and although many contain extensive built in cabinetry of Ash and Mahogany they seem much simpler and more open as compared to the earlier organic designs.

Elements of Ruocco's Design

Buildings were primarily redwood and glass. Preferred concrete floors most notably in early designs. Homes were always sited to maximize views. Home sites were nearly always proposed just below the crest of a slope offering the inhabitant the optimum privacy. This type of siting is what Wright referred to as high braw siting. Preferred Re-sawn lumber for its more natural appearance. Used redwood, red cedar and ash for most of his designs. Post and beam construction provided maximum spaciousness and eliminated the need for load bearing interior walls. Frequently limited interior walls to door height (6’ 8”) and made up difference with fixed glass transoms or clearstory windows. Often worked with difficult sites requiring unique footing and foundation designs. Homes rarely found on flat lots. Red Cedar tongue and groove ceilings and exposed redwood beams were common. Rough sawn redwood board on board siding. Glass panes tend to be sandwiched between post and exterior siding. Showers located at corners of residence allowing for garden views from glass wall enclosures. Use of ‘Suntile’ line of ceramic unglazed tiles made by the Cambridge Tile. Crane and American Standard bathroom fixtures. Some early designs utilized indigenous rock mixed with concrete mortar to produce exterior as well as interior walls.

The Ruocco Office in Transition

As Mr. Ruocco planned for extended international travel in 1960-61, he and Homer Delawie agreed to join in partnership (Homer was a registered/licensed architect so he could run the firm in Ruocco’s absence). The Ruocco & Delawie, AIA office came together and began securing commissions, such as the Senterfit Residence, as Ruocco firmed up his trip. During part of 1960 and 1961, Ruocco was on travel and Delawie began making plans for his own firm. By the time construction began on Senterfit Residence (circa July, 1961), Homer left the partnership along with Ruocco & Delawie, AIA employees Bill Fisher, Frank White, Jack Matteson, and Al Macy among others. The Chernoff Residence was initiated under the Ruocco & Delawie, AIA office and completed by Ruocco. Delawie clearly gives credit to Ruocco for the project in his FAIA nomination. Some of Ruocco's original employees, like Jack Matteson and Bill Slatton, would later return back to his employment after stints in Delawie's office.

Partial Project List

Allan, Mr. & Mrs. John N. Residence (Jan. – Feb. 1961)
8080 El Paseo Grande, La Jolla
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects. Unclear if it was built on this site

Amrein Residence (1956)
5020 Yerba Santa Drive, Alvarado Estates

Arenson Residence (1970)
4727 Avion Way, Alvarado Estates

Avocado Professional Group Medical and Dental Center (1971)
230 Avocado, El Cajon

Baranov, Nate Residence (1948)
Del Mar

Baranov, Sylvan Residence I (1949)
736 Armada Terrace, Point Loma

Barwick Residence (1955)
3260 Kenora Drive, Spring Valley

Beaudette, Mr. & Mrs. Residence for McKellar & Wyer (February 1960)
8348 Paseo Del Ocaso, La Jolla
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects. Unclear if it was built on this site. There appear to be other projects nearby that may have been built by McKellar and Wyer. Mckellar’s family owned many of the parcels in this area.

Beers, Mr. & Mrs. Wm. N. Residence (built in 1954; remodeled in 1964)
631 N. Crescent Court, Mission Hills

Bleecker, Frank E. and Mae I. Residence (1942-49)
9830 Edgelake Drive, La Mesa
*Published as the 'Three Wishes House' by Good Housekeeping; Designated as the Burton I. Jones House (1950). Jones was the second owner.

Boss Residence (1968)
9434 Sierra Vista Avenue, La Mesa

Boughman, Mr. & Mrs. Henry Residence (1955)
5615 Dorothy Way, College Area

Burke, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Residence (1960)
2322 Hartford Street, Bay Park
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Burke, Mr. & Mrs. J.L. Residence (January, 1960)
8364 Paseo Del Ocaso, La Jolla
*Designed for Lot 10, Block 25 of El Paseo Grande by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects; possibly a McKellar & Wyer project

Burnett Residence #1 (1949)
2417 Pine Street, Mission Hills

Burnett, George Residence (1960)
3223 Zola Street, Point Loma

Burnett, William Residence (1971)
3576 Via Flores, Point Loma

Burnett’s Furniture Chula Vista (1955)
345 E Street, Chula Vista

Burnett’s Furniture San Diego (1955)
633 University Avenue, Hillcrest

Burton House (1959)
2180 Calle Frescota, La Jolla

California Steel Building (1965)
Main Street, San Diego

Charles Hair Stylist Beauty Salon (1960)
College Grove Shopping Center, Space B-20
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects for Blough & Bradshaw, Owners

Chernoff, Howard Residence (1960)
4522 Trias Street, Mission Hills
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

City Concourse Plaza (1964)
1964 Front Street, San Diego

Civic Theater (1963-1964)
1100 Third Avenue, San Diego
*With William Rosser and Seldon Kennedy

Clitsome Residence (1938)
2228 33rd Street, South Park

Cole Residence (1952)
5628 Nokomis, La Mesa

Commercial Building (1951)
145 Washington Street, Hillcrest

County Administration Building (1933)
1600 Pacific Coast Highway, San Diego
*With Richard Requa, William Templeton Johnson and Sam Hammill

Crates, Dennis Residence (1948)
4436 Lister Street, Bay Park

Creel Residence (1950)
1149 Franciscan Way, University Heights

Cunningham Residence (1959)
445 Hidden Pines Lane, Del Mar
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Design Center, The (1949)
3611 5th Avenue, San Diego

Dodd Residence (1952)
8520 Boulder Drive, La Mesa

Douglas, A.J. Residence (1947-48)
La Mesa

Edel, Dr. Residence (1962)
1317 Windridge Drive, El Cajon

Feller Residence and Addition(1960)
3377 Charles Street, Point Loma
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Foodmaker Restaurants (1964)
Location(s) not known

Fortiner, Samuel & Charlotte Residence (1949)
811 Di Giorgio Road, Borrego Springs
*Published in Redbook in 1951

Foster, Mr. and Mrs. Robert N. Foster Residence & Landscape (1960)
3343 Poe Street, Point Loma
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects. Published in Arts & Architecture as 'Hillside House'

Freedman Residence (1952)
620 Albion Street, Point Loma

Frivaldsky, Residence for Mr. & Mrs. Joseph (1959-61)
1945 Balboa Avenue, Del Mar
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Garden Villa Model Home (1953)
Balboa Park
*Temporary exposition house, later disassembled and used in construction of Solari.

Garland Residence(1960)
1910 South Juniper, Escondido
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Gilchrist Residence (1959)
2021 Rodelane Street, Mission Hills

Goldberg, Edward & Betty Residence (1957)
2614 Ellentown, La Jolla

Goodman Residence (1953)
2414 Marilouise Way, Mission Hills

Gray, Garland Residence (July, 1960)
Juniper Street at Eldorado Drive and E. Vermont, Escondido
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Green Residence (1949)
2847 Arnott Street, Bay Park

Greene, Ethel Residence (1946)
2940 Helix Street, Spring Valley

Herrera Residence (1970)
1108 Dawnridge Avenue, El Cajon

Holmgren, Richard Residence (1948)
10037 Ward Lane, La Mesa

Institute of Geophysics & Geoplanetary Sciences (1964)
8602 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla

Ishikawa, Wesley & Margaret Residence (1968-69)
9141 Wakarusa Street, La Mesa
*Demolished. AKA Grossmont Spec House

Jacobson, Mr. & Mrs. Isadore Residence (1949)
9175 Lavell Street, La Mesa

Jackson, Marvin Residence (1949)
4421 Mayapan Drive, La Mesa

Jackson Scott Tract Designs (1949)
Various Streets, Point Loma

Johann, Dr. and Mrs. O.P. Residence (1956)
4511 Miramonte Street, La Mesa

Johnston Residence (1961)
8272 El Paseo Grande, La Jolla
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects. Built by McKellar Wyer

Judd Residence (1952)
3527 Lark Street, Mission Hills

Kaye, Peter Residence (1957)
240 Ocean View Avenue, Del Mar

Keller Residence #1 (1944)
3039 F Avenue, National City

Keller Residence #2 (1947)
1433 Puterbaugh Street, Mission Hills

Keller Residence #3 (1963)
9405 La Jolla Farms Road, La Jolla

KOGO-AM/FM/TV (1958)
4600 Air Way, San Diego

Lamplighter, The (1955)
827 Washington Street, Mission Hills

Lange, Mitchell & Marian Residence (1948)
6051 Folsom Drive, La Jolla

Lard Residence & Additions (Wexman)(1961)
2218 Vallecitos, La Jolla
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects. Built by McKellar Wyer

Lee Geier Ski Lodge (1951)
Aspen, Colorado

Lemon Avenue Elementary (1957)
8787 Lemon Avenue, La Mesa

Leon Lane (1950)
8371 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa

Libby Residence (1969)
7846 Esterel Drive, La Jolla

Lillie Residence (1958)
4410 Carmen Drive, La Mesa

Linton, Russ Residence (1955)
2524 44th Street, City Heights
*Partially destroyed by fire in 1978

Luci Residence (1966)
1649 Lugano Lane, Del Mar

Lutz Residence(1950)
1360 Pine Drive, El Cajon

Marshall, Dr. & Mrs. Adrian Residence (1961)
2767 Hidden Valley Road, La Jolla
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Martin Residence (1955)
4472 Arista Street, Mission Hills

McKellar & Wyer Duplex – AKA Rucker Smith Duplex (February 1960 – November 1961)
8015-8017 El Paseo Grande (Lot 18, Block 7), La Jolla
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Medical Center for Gifford Enterprises (1960)
El Cajon Blvd & 71st Street, La Mesa
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Miller, Mr. & Mrs. David Residence & Addition (1961)
2591 Via Barletta, La Jolla
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Mills Office Building (1964)
408 Nutmeg, Bankers Hill

Mira Mesa, Inc., Six Unit Apartment Building for (1961)
6557 Tait Street, Mira Mesa
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Mitchell, Alfred Residence (1937)
1506 31st Street, South Park
*With Richard Requa

Moats Residence (1952)
2833 Three Peaks Lane, Julian

Model Home for Southern California (1925)
*May not have been built

Monteverde Residence (1960)
9155 Wister Drive, La Mesa
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Montgomery Memorial Park (1962)
3020 Coronado Avenue, San Ysidro

Nelson Residence (1958)
630 N. Crescent Court, Mission Hills

Niewenhous, Dr. T.H. Medical Building (1959)
104 I Street, Brawley, California
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Northcutt Residence (1950)
805 1st Street, Coronado

O'Conner-Robertson Residence (1942)
4245 Randolph, Mission Hills

Palisades Restaurant (1935)
Del Prado, Balboa Park
*With Richard Requa

Park Garden Apartments (1959)
1740 Upas Street, Hillcrest
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Phil Swing Memorial Fountain (1964)
Front Street, San Diego

Pioneer Congregational Church (1966)
4905 Jellett, Bay Park

Private Residence (1945)
7100 Lakewood Drive, La Mesa

Private Residence (1950)
10315 Lariat Lane, La Mesa

Private Residence (1951)
9208 Madison Avenue, La Mesa

Private Residence (1954)
Harbison Canyon, Alpine

Rabinowitz Residence (1956)
2034 Sunset Boulevard, Mission Hills

Ricketson Residence (1960)
11819 Johnson Lake Road, Lakeside
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Robertson, Tom Residence (1947)
3920 Pringle Street, Mission Hills

Rucker Smith, Mrs. Ruth Duplex AKA McKellar & Wyer Duplex (February, 1960 - Nov '61)
8015-8017 El Paseo Grande , La Jolla
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Ruocco, Lloyd & Ilse Residence #1 'Il Cavo' (1946)
1900 Lakewood Drive, La Mesa

Ruocco Lloyd & Ilse Residence #2 'Solari' (1956)
5481 Toyon Road, Alvarado Estates

Ruocco, Rafael Guest House #1 (1939)
8707 Ruocco Drive, Santee

Ruocco, Rafael Guest House #2 (1939)
8707 Ruocco Drive, Santee

Salik, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Residence (1957)
2110 Guy Street, Mission Hills

Sanborn Residence (1949)
765 Bangor Street, Point Loma

Sandell, Dr. & Mrs. James Residence (November, 1959)
2030 Sunset, Mission Hills
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

San Diego Medical Center (1959)
1959 Frost Street
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

San Diego Zoo Projects include:
Ape House (1958)
Children’s Zoo (1957)
Children's Zoo Entry Geodesic Dome (1957)
Giraffe Mesa (1958)

Schrock Construction ‘Garden Villa’ (1958)
5861 Box Canyon, La Jolla

Schulman Residence (1950)
4351 Ridgeway Drive, Kensington

Security First National Bank (1961)
9250 Mission Gorge Road, Santee
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Senterfit Residence (1959)
1414 Franciscan Way, University Heights
*Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Shaw Residence (1966)
7245 Rue de Roark, La Jolla

Shelton Residence (1964)
Coast Walk, La Jolla

Silver Wing Monument (1946)
3737 Arey Drive, San Ysidro

Southwest Onyx & Marble Co. (1966)
Crosby Street, National City

Srull Residence (1955)
2156 Mergho Impasse, Mission Hills

St. Andrews Episcopal Church (1963)
1050 Thomas Street, Pacific Beach

St. Phillips Episcopal Church (1962)
2660 Hardy Road, Lemon Grove

Techbilt Inc., A Residence For (June, 1960)
Various Locations throughout San Diego
*Designed by Ruocco & Delawie, Architects

Tighe, Dr. W. J. House (1951-52)
3252 Hawk Street, Mission Hills

Trail Residence (1954)
1440 Puterbaugh Street, Mission Hills

University City Civic Center (1961)
University City

US Navy Concrete Ship Constructors (1951)
National City

U.S. Navy E Street Pier (1949)
E Street, San Diego

U.S. Navy Lounge & Bar (1966)
Ream Field, Imperial Beach

Watts Office Building (1964)
2970 Main Street, San Diego

Wexler, Sidney & Henrietta Residence (1962)
10088 Sierra Vista Avenue, La Mesa

Wilken Residence (1950)
5031 Colina Drive, La Mesa

Wolf Residence (1961)
Milbrae, California

Yates Residence (1959)
15187 Las Planideras, Rancho Santa Fe