Julius Ralph Davidson was born in 1889 in Berlin. Beginning at the age of 18, J.R. Davidson worked in architectural offices in Berlin, London at the office of Frank Stuart Murray, and Paris. During the years 1919 to 1923, Davidson had his own practice in Berlin before relocating to Los Angeles in 1923, at the age of 34.
In Los Angeles, Davidson went to work for the office of David Farquhar, then worked as a set designer under contract with Cecil B. De Mille, and then begun remodeling houses for a firm of builders. In 1927, Davidson opened up his own office in Los Angeles, though he never became a licensed architect. His commercial buildings of the 1920s, for which he often designed the interiors, fixtures and furniture, were widely published, including those for the popular Coconut Grove restaurant/nightclub and the High Hat restaurants. Davidson’s house designs date primarily from the late 1930s through the 1940s.
Invited by John Entenza, editor of Arts and Architecture magazine, Davidson designed Case Study House 1, which was finally realized in 1948. He also designed Case Study House 11, the first of the Case Study houses to be built, and Case Study House 15. Although many of Davidson's designs were published during his lifetime, Esther McCoy helped bring international attention to his work when she included him in her book, The Second Generation. Davidson died at his home in Ojai, California on May 2, 1977.
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