Valuing Architecture as Art

The Recent Sale of the Manola Apartments by Architect Rudolph Schindler defies the use of Standard Appraisal Techniques

by John C. Carlson

The terraced property at 1807 Edgecliffe Drive in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood isn’t just any apartment complex. Designed by legendary architect Rudolf Schindler with broad windows and double-height ceilings, the 16-unit Manola Court apartments is a unique artists’ community set within hillside gardens, its living spaces connected by walkways. Built in 1926 for Romanian-born artist Herman Sachs, best known in Southern California as the creator of the mural at the entry of Bullock’s Wilshire, the compound not only included Sachs’ personal residence and studio but was an artistic commune of sorts, evolving over time and occupying three adjacent lots until it resembled a European hill town. Yet, it is also a prime example of modernist architecture.

Time, however, had not been kind to the property when it went on the market this year for $2.5 million. The buildings needed substantial improvements, and the aging interiors cried out for restoration. But given the scale of the property and increasing popularity of the area, Manola Court was still likely to find a buyer quickly despite its disrepair and faded glory. But how do you put a price on a property like this—a piece of real estate that could be considered an eyesore to one person and a treasure to another? One buyer’s teardown is another’s restoration-worthy classic. “Trophy properties” like these are not only prone to creating controversy, but they completely defy the use of Standard Appraisal Techniques.

Most appraisers are lost when it comes to the valuation of architect-designed properties. In trying to apply standard valuation methods that will be acceptable to their lender clients, appraisers often miss the mark. Using comparables within “1-mile of the property” that “sold in the last year”–typical lender valuation measures–is wholly inadequate for evaluating this kind of real estate. The experienced buyer of a trophy architectural property is drawn to the “art” aspect of it along with the real estate value. But what the “art” is worth is especially difficult to measure.

Because I specialize in the valuation of architect-designed properties, I was retained by the Trust that owned the Manola Court Apartments to complete an appraisal on their behalf. Generally, I begin any valuation with researching the “Provenance” of the property, whether it is residential, or an apartment building like this. If one looks up the word “provenance.” the definition primarily pertains to art work, antiques or collectibles. Not real estate. However, I would argue that an architect-designed property is a “work of art”— which defies normal valuation methodologies. [In addition, it is possible to distinguish two meanings for provenance: first, as a concept, it denotes the source of derivation of an object, in this case an architectural property, and second, more concretely, it is used to refer to a”record” of such a derivation.]

Analyzing the provenance or pedigree of a property involves researching the name of the architect and determining the architect’s prominence, along with researching the prior ownership of the property and determining if any of the prior owners were notable with regard to the history of the building and/or the area in which the property is located. The degree of provenance has an impact upon its value as well. To measure this, I have defined three different “levels” of provenance—e.g., whether the original owner was important to the area or whether a name architect was involved even though the house may not be historically significant, whether it is historically and architecturally significant and warrants a premium based on those factors [visit my Website at: www.jccrea.com for a more detailed explanation].

Even after all of the above is evaluated, measuring the value of an architect-designed property is still tricky. The most important consideration in any valuation of this type of property is checking comparable sales in order to measure whether buyers are paying a premium, and if so, what is that premium. In general, appraisers have difficulty in measuring this premium because either they have not bothered to give the provenance any thought or because even if they have, properties of this sort are very scarce to find since few sell in a given year. In addition, current lender requirements often do not allow the time necessary for residential appraisers to complete a proper analysis like this.

The same procedures are used in measuring any premium from world-class architecture as are used in measuring the “contributory value” of any amenity. Take a pool, for instance. The appraiser who wants to measure the contributory value of a pool first finds several sales of similar properties with pools and then locates several sales without pools. The difference in the value between the two indicates the contributory value of the pool in that particular neighborhood. But if recent sales in the immediate or nearby area where an architectural property is located are not available, most appraisers just give up and report that there was no way to measure a premium. However, I would argue that there are ways to measure the Provenance of a property, they just take time. In addition, appraisers must not limit themselves to a tight geographical area to approximate an answer and so a comparable sale does not have to be so close to the architect designed property being appraised.

You can also find properties that were located at a distance from the property that’s being appraised and measure whether they sold at a premium within their market area. For instance, if an architecturally significant property in one area sold for $2 million and a more “typical” property nearby sold for $1.5 million, the architectural property sold for a 25% premium over the non-architectural property. When you can assemble several sales like this and obtain several premium indicators, this can be applied to the property you are appraising. This kind of analysis requires a larger number of comparables to develop a range in premiums – it is much better than just giving up.

So, how did I do in the valuation of Schindler’s hillside apartment complex? Despite all my experience and the thoughtful methodologies I have developed, I appraised the Manola Apartments for less than 2 million on an “as-is” basis. (I cannot divulge my actual appraised value). Appraising the building on an “as-is” basis means that I took into consideration the costs for the for the substantial work the buildings required, which is correct appraisal methodology. Yet the property was more in demand than anyone expected and sold 6-months after my appraisal for $2.9 million. There were 14 bids on the property many of which were over asking price which proves the architectural value of the property. I am delighted that it sold for a higher price because I now have a prime example of the premium for which a non-standard architect-designed trophy property would sell to add to my database of comparable sales. After all, why shouldn’t architecture sell like art?

Editor’s Note: Two Wrongs to Wright

By Crosby Doe

When I was in grade school, growing up in Pasadena, California one of my teachers told us the story of the destruction of the Royal Library of Alexandria in Egypt, one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. It was beyond my comprehension, even as a child, that any civilization would deliberately burn down such a valuable center of cultural knowledge – it was not just the building itself, but, even more tragic, a minimum of 40,000 scrolls (some scholars say 400,000) documenting the religion, philosophy, life and history of the ancient world were lost forever.

That was the first time I had any sense of the power that stupidity, ignorance and cupidity can have in destroying the cultural and historic fabric of our collective identity. But it wasn’t the last. In our own lifetime, we have been witness to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan — ancient Buddhist sculptures demolished by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. More recently, there has been rampant destruction of historic cities, sites, buildings and artifacts in the Middle East – the city of Nimrud, Palmyra’s ancient temple of Baalshamin (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), a colossal Assyrian gateway lion sculpture from the 8th century B.C.

However, this kind of malice is not just the work of crazed zealots in some far-off land. In recent decades in Southern California, we have seen the demolition of iconic architectural landmarks such as Irving Gill’s Dodge House in Los Angeles, Rudolph Schindler’s Wolfe House on Catalina Island, Richard Neutra’s Maslon House in Rancho Mirage. We have also witnessed the raiding of vintage furnishings and fixtures from historic homes. Most famously, in 1985, Texas rancher Barton English bought the Blacker House, a 1907 California Craftsman masterpiece by Greene and Greene in Pasadena, and subsequently had it stripped of 48 original Arts & Crafts fixtures, as well as some of the original leaded art glass doors, windows and transom panels. They were sold off for more than he paid for the house (which had cost him one million dollars, while some of the lamps sold for $250,000 apiece). This incident became known as the “rape of the Blacker House.” To make matters even more devastating, Barton sold the house in 1988 for $1.2 million, never even having lived in it.

Thanks to the efforts of Pasadena Heritage executive director Claire Bogaard, the incident attracted national attention. And the City of Pasadena passed the so-called Blacker Ordinance making it illegal to dismantle or destroy original artifacts in any of the Greene and Greene houses in the City.

While this law still stands, the lesson it represents has not been learned elsewhere. A current case in point: When Frank Lloyd Wright’s Storer House – one of four textile-block houses built by the legendary architect in the Los Angeles area between 1922 and 1924 — was for sale, the owners insisted on excluding the original light fixtures. Even after asking the highest price ever for a Frank Lloyd Wright house, the sellers insisted on treating the light fixtures as separate from the house. The buyer was offered the lamps for $85,000.00 apiece. Even though he could afford them, he was not willing to succumb to such extortion. Did the seller relent? At publishing time, some of these lamps are set for auction (this is all the more disturbing because one of the sellers was on the Board of Trustees of both the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy).

We seem not to learn. In April, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sturges House, in L.A.’s Brentwood Heights neighborhood, was set for auction but did not sell. Yet, all its important furnishings, including numerous pieces by Wright and John Lautner that were integral to the history of the house, and long-time owners, were auctioned off making it difficult, if not impossible to fully restore the property as the cultural icon it deserves to be. If only the furnishings were auctioned off, after the house was purchased this could easily have been avoided, as the new owner would then at least have had the opportunity to purchase the interior historic fabric.

Going forward, it might be wise for preservationists to take notes from the animal rights activists of PETA and other organizations who have changed the perception of wearing fur as a luxurious, if thoughtless, indulgence in our modern culture. If the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other conservancies were to expose the entrepreneurs, collectors, and auction houses who deal in this type of merchandise, perhaps more of our priceless collective identity could be protected and saved intact for future generations.

That is why I draw your attention to the plight and power of our existing national and international treasures, as showcased in this new issue of architectureforsale.com, Quarterly. It is important to recognize, understand and appreciate the legacy of modern masters such as Elmer Grey, Rudolf Schindler and Bruce Goff who are all featured in these pages. I hope you enjoy learning about them as much as I have presenting them.

81 Cross Ridge Road New Canaan CT 06840

Eliot Noyes, Architect

The Brown House, 1950

Eliot Noyes, Architect

 

Sculptural elements, natural light, direct views and access to the landscape give you an unprecedented experience of this exceptional mid-century modern house. True to Eliot Noyes original vision, the renovations done by builder Dave Prutting and architect Joeb Moore, kept the sophisticated approach to making spaces functional to today’s modern living. Natural material such as wood and stone add warmth while the expansive use of glass defines the proportions of the space.

Extensive landscaping by Reed Hilderbrand for the entire property, has resulted in a breathtaking, peaceful, retreat-like feel site surrounding this luxury mid-century gem with its guest and pool house. Efficiency, simplicity and transparency are key to this iconic home.

3170 Lake Hollywood Drive Los Angeles CA 90068

Gilbert Stanley Underwood, Architect

The Underwood Residence, 1946

Gilbert Stanley Underwood, Architect

 

First offering in 58 years! Acclaimed architect of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley Gilbert Stanley Underwood’s own home, 1928. For his own family’s residence Underwood enhances architect and planner Franz Herding’s original vision for the upscale Hollywood Knolls as a Mediterranean hillside community by building his house in the popular Spanish Revival style. Built around a fully walled central courtyard with a grassy children’s play yard beyond, the residence exudes a calm dignity and appropriateness to its location. Here, the charm and romance of the style is enhanced by an exposed wooden window header set into the front façade, a rear wood ceilinged verandah, a wood burning fireplace, unpainted wooden doors, and fine detailing with wide plank floors, wrought Iron, and period fixtures.

75 Upland Road Kentfield CA 94904

Jack Hillmer, Architect

Modern Bay Area Style, 1958

Jack Hillmer, Architect

 

75 Upland was designed by the late architect Jack Hillmer who was one of the founders of ‘Bay Area Style’. With his years as an aeronautic engineer, his homes feature cantilevered decks and weight baring structure that show as a piece of art. In this home the bearing structure is a fireplace. Hillmer only designed 10 homes in his career but is followed by many art and architecture enthusiasts. His homes have been featured in the both San Francisco and Dallas Museum of Modern Art.

 

Read more: http://architectureforsale.com/address/1129

1436 92nd Avenue NE, Seattle, WA 98004

Rex Hohlbein, Architect

The Hinoki House, 2007

Rex Hohlbein, Architect

 

Winner of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Seattle Merit Award, this truly special home offers the rare opportunity to own a residential piece of art in the heart of Clyde Hill. Designed by acclaimed Seattle architect, Rex Hohlbein, with interiors by Doug Rasar, exquisite landscape that optimizes privacy and the lake, city and mountain views, this in-town sanctuary is a seamless mix of form and function; blurring the lines between indoors and out, common and private spaces. 5 years in the planning and construction, this meticulously crafted home spares no attention to detail from its extensive built-in, mahogany cabinetry to the expansive disappearing window-walls. This contemporary masterpiece is as timeless as the ledge stone, fine woods, blackened steel, concrete and glass from which it is built. With easy style and grace, the spaces are as perfect for entertaining as for everyday living. Just blocks from downtown Bellevue, Lake Washington beaches, and minutes from all that the Seattle area has to offer.

A Double-Loaded House

Zoltan Pali, FAIA

by Andrea Dietz

Current Photographs by Cameron Carothers unless otherwise noted

“They just wouldn’t leave.”

In 2010, participants of a Dwell Home Tour overstayed their visit to Beverly Hills’s Caverhill House. Entranced, mesmerized, they lost themselves to what Don Caverhill, the homeowner, describes as the house vortex – the tendency of the property to lull its occupants both into and out of place. The grab of the house is unexpected. It moves with a slow creep, smoldering from a curbside first impression and flash photoop into an afterimage burn. With longer exposure, the hook permeates deeper still, settling bodily in, until, inexplicably, hours are passed and the sale – of attraction and intrigue – is complete.

The sneaky magnetism and sly capture of the Caverhill House is, perhaps, its umbrella characteristic. Its architecture, presented through clear and rational form, is deceptively simple. It dons the appearance of a horizontal bar building – a skewed, linear box frame infilled by a parade of billboardlike baffles. The primary street volume seemingly levitates over its ground staging, visually cantilevered from a pedestal and distanced from its supports through a series of subtle offsets and material shifts. It comes across as an almost graphic, a stark white wedge that jumps off of its scenic page and packs a punch of contrast. This directness, however, is misleading. The clean, photogenic lines mask a complex of experience and intent.

It is through these hidden depths that the power of the Caverhill House’s mysteriously evolving allure is explained. After all, minimalism, a tenet to which the 2008 Studio Pali Fekete architects (SPF:a) design subscribes, is assumed to be straightforward. Here, though, it acts more like shorthand for a lengthy text. Given the precision with which the composition introduces itself, awakening to this nuance is both perplexing and wondrous.

The intricacies of the residence emanate from two sources – its deftly configured physique and the narratives around which it came to be. The house is a series of illusions and allusions. As object, it plays with appreciations of flat and deep, heavy and light, big and small, route and destination. As idea, it is an overlay of metaphors, personalities, and prescriptions.

It sits on an acrobatic site, straddling a ridge that splits Los Angeles into its poles – mountains to the east, water to the west. Through its positioning, its perceived two dimensionality expands as its signature screen façade draws and focuses the rays of the setting sun and its outline structure becomes a channel or lens for its backdrop. The house, herein, is revealed as device, a camera or window for viewing its surrounds. These same features, sliced away from the earth by an open air garage passage, also tease, with their hovering, the precariousness of the hillside. The defiance of gravity is, of course, a foil – for both mass and scale. Beneath the evident airy of the surface levels, the house digs soundly in and down; a single flying story is actually three embedded in a cradling yard. All of these discoveries are builtin, satisfying conceptional ideals for an environment of carefully crafted and cumulative approach, of gradual unveilings.

The origin tale of the Caverhill House also has its reductive and elaborate versions. In stereotypical architectural fashion, it all (sort of) comes back to a doodle on a scrap of paper. “When Zoltan [Pali] slid his sketch across the table towards me, his hands were shaking,” Don Caverhill describes. “He was nervous that I wouldn’t like it.” Instead, Caverhill was so enamored that the drawing became a project hunt. It was convincing enough that everything was measured against it and intuitive enough to posit a development quandary – pitting impulse and purity against process and reality. The leftover envelope, then, not unlike the end product it inspired, is emblematic, a guise for otherwise extensive negotiations and seasonings.

Caverhill has been collecting beautiful spaces all of his life. From his teenage interest in significant buildings as perfect spots with which to beguile first dates, to his longstanding hobby of picture clipping from architecture magazines, to his developer-lender career ambitions to bring creativity to everyday constructions, he has cultivated an eye for design. “I find good details, good interiors all of the time. But, a truly good envelope is rare,” he explains. “When I came across Zoltan’s Stone Canyon house – with its lean muscle and its disappearing foundation, I jumped.” The 2003 SPF:a Oshry House had met Caverhill’s elusive criteria for external harmony; he made immediate arrangements to engage the architect for his own dream home.

Still, it took awhile before Zoltan Pali understood what Caverhill was after. “He took me out for drinks several times before calling me up and announcing: I’ve got a curveball for you,” Pali muses. What Caverhill wanted, though – a place to love and live in – appealed to Pali. “At the time, everyone was building for the market, to flip… I prefer to design for someone.”

Pali founded SPF:a with his wife Judit Fekete in 1990. Though their work is typologically diverse, spanning the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts to the Somis Hay Barn, they have garnered the most attention from their residences. Pali prickles a little bit at this designation. “I don’t want to be typecast… I don’t want to repeat myself. I can’t even bring myself to resurrect unused schemes.” Pali sees his stance as a motivator – to always improve and grow. “I have this notion that I’m going to be good one day. The last project is never it. So, maybe it’s the next one.”

The Caverhill House, then, really spins out of the pull-and push dynamic of two perfectionists, a unique architect-client relationship. After courting Pali, Caverhill entrusted the architect with a meticulous list of expectations and limitations for replacing his existing house. The new abode, nuts and bolts, should accommodate four bedrooms – one a guest suite, one a master suite with a double bath and powder room.

Bathrooms and closets must cluster together. The street level is reserved for gathering only; bedrooms are sanctuaries and require up or down stairwell separation from the main floor. Hallways are not allowed. The structure should be both solid, built of steel, and slim, a low impact injection open to its stunning setting. Intimacy, not grandeur, is the atmospheric goal; double-heights are to be treated as climaxes or avoided as cavernous. And, above all else, quality, from faucets to mechanics, is not to be compromised. “I imagined something simultaneously classic and futurist, a Cotswold cottage for 2075,” Caverhill says of his instructions.

Caverhill analogizes the house with abandon. He likens it to the calligraphic stroke of a Japanese symbol – an elegant release that, through the barest means, conveys emotion and soul. He calls it a Swiss watch – a streamlined and fine-tuned tool uncompromising in its aesthetic and its operation. He sees in it a concentration of his life’s defining, if paradoxical, values. With equal conviction, he interchanges his advocacy for the whimsical and the rigorous, the messy and the pristine. Caverhill, also a musician of some renown, reconciles these extremes in a concept akin to the ostinato, or repetitive backbone of a song. If cogent, such a baseline facilitates the funk, is the underpinning of legendary music . . . and, in turn, of a noteworthy existence.

Pali sympathizes with this conflation of principled opposites. Through his early years working for Jerrold Lomax, a former associate of Craig Ellwood and a respected Los Angeles designer in his own right, he was instilled with a stubborn allegiance to the coincident lucidity and poetry of modernist architecture. For him, the containers in which the clumsiness of life plays out, should step away from the mayhem and, instead, act as counterpoints of calm.

Caverhill and Pali’s shared enthusiasms lent them the stamina necessary to get through an irregularly prolonged project timeline. The two began their serious conversations in 2003; the house was finished in 2008. At the initiation, the economy was climbing into peak boom. Contractors enjoyed the luxury of being able to turn down work deemed negligible. The house had to earn, in a radically competitive climate, its constructability merit through scope and involvement. Over the course of the design, approvals, and building processes, item costs would skyrocket, sometimes overnight. The house was caught in the crunch, perpetually readapting to new financial conditions.

The house also encountered its fair share of red tape. It maneuvered a series of city code, height-limit and setback, misinterpretations. The advanced technologies that it incorporates – a climate controlling AirFloor, a comprehensive home automation system, its specialty finishes and fixtures – confounded permitting officials. Tellingly, though, it also slid through its housing association review, a typically wrenching oversight hurdle, with only minor dings against skylights in the roof. Again, the integrity of the Caverhill House stands out – this time, for its resilience.

Caverhill attributes the house’s win-over charm, at least in part, to its balance of honed proportions. He and Pali both lament the current trend in residential oversizing. They diagnose today’s obsession with the grandiose and vacuous as a profound disconnect from the humane. The Caverhill House challenges such ideas of scale, demonstrating dualities of comfort and liberty in the selfsame ingredients. Each zone, because there are no conventional rooms, is an ensemble of anchors that hold and apertures that release. The effect is a sense of eddies and nooks in a landscape.

The plan, a string arrangement of this pocketed, but continuous space, is seamless and uncomplicated. Narrow to the north, wide to south, it is laid out to flow, encouraging easy and conspicuous circulation. The path, always on a mission, diverts its traversers to the eastern view. At entry, it beelines perpendicular to the mass, cutting out to a balcony overlook. Through a slip to the side, it merges dining, cooking, and lounging – interior and exterior – into a long veranda. A balustraded module of stacked stairs, coupled with kitchen disguised as bamboo wardrobe, establishes a sculptural hub and links the main communal floor with the more private levels above and below. Down leads to a quintessentially southern California entertainment patio with fire pit and hot tub. The route, then, is flanked by two minor bedroom suites and terminates in an embrace of chaparral and eucalyptus. Up carries into the main sleeping quarters and the two peak moments of place.

The magic of the Caverhill House is distilled in the far ends of its elevated, suspended volume. Past the blond paneled alcove and frosted prisms of the master bed and baths, the floor spills out to a bookmatched deck. Within the open mouth of a near-impossible ceiling overhang and upturned platform, a pair of contiguous patios lays bare the architectural agenda. The funnel-like porch curates the sweep of Los Angeles, exaggerating the optic impact by distinguishing the planar of the house from the vast and various textures of the valley below.

That vantage, though, is obvious, a full-immersion confrontation with the already given scene. In the other direction, the antechamber to the guest suite or media room is a manipulation and more stealth marvel. It is the vanishing point for the perspectival structure. From its center, space splays out along the 1250-foot corridor through the eastern curtain wall to the Hollywood Hills and the Angeles National Forest and, to the west, past the shade panel slits to the Pacific Ocean. The vista, however, is not necessarily one of the tangible, but rather of time. The fins from the elevation refract the roving beams of the sun, bouncing them off of the oblique angles of the paint-blanched facets into rhythmic patterns on the internal surfaces. Over the course of the day, the juxtaposition of direct and indirect illumination divides the spread of atmosphere into parallel hazes with alternating blue and orange, purple and yellow hues.

“I don’t like to lead with this,” Caverhill says. “But, there’s some sort of special, transportive power in this house . . . It conveys the same sense of peace as a wilderness vacation escape. Except, it’s in Los Angeles, surrounded by four million people.” In the light den, the Caverhill House does take over. It uses Los Angeles, siphoning its improvisations through a primed canvas and extracting its other-worldliness. The house plays the imagery and projections of the city, providing the conductive figure for a riff of call-and-response with the ambient inputs. As color and shadow bend and stretch over geometries and comingle in cadence with the boogie-woogie beats of an overhead sound-system melody, the inanimate comes to life. Nothing is as it first appeared to be; it’s all double-loaded – an enticing front with an embodied surprise for those patient, or delayed, enough to explore.

Temple of Steel

Daphne Residence, Craig Ellwood, Designer

by Pierluigi Serraino

Current Photographs by Scott Mayoral unless otherwise noted

Completed in 1961, this single family house designed by noted designer Craig Ellwood (1922-1992) today is as pristine as it was when first finished. Its grand presence is felt upon arrival from Madrone Place. Raised on 32 steel columns, it floats majestically on a small half acre site facing a golf-course on its north side. Each zone of this project has a specific functional and symbolic role. Approaching the front door alone is a ritual of uncommon refinement. Due to the confined nature of the narrow lot, the car is parked a few feet away from the main structure in a detached carport. From there a crescendo of discoveries builds up to an interior climax utterly undetectable while getting closer to the entry despite the stated transparency of this volume.

That industrial technology is a cornerstone of Craig Ellwood’s architecture is a known fact, and in the design expression of the Daphne Residence that reference is even more obvious. What is less so is the inherent classicism of its layout and massing. Steel is a mighty material with superior load-bearing capacities. It affords long spans, has negligible deflection, and retains its form virtually forever. Adopting it entails opening the project’s interiors – whether a house or a commercial structure- to its immediate environment. Nature and light become active agents of change in the architecture experience. Furthermore steel design typically relies on modular construction, prefabrication, and fast assembly- three critical traits of modern architecture. The Daphne Residence has all that (the steel frame was erected in just three days), but there is much more to it than either a story of technological exquisiteness or judicious adherence to a particular artistic movement. Resting on a flat site, the utilitarian association tied to the steel cage is in this project willfully purged to be replaced with a design statement of lyrical purity. This is an architecture of nobility; a place of still contemplation and nurturing silence. The mystical dimension of its interiors is unmistakably there and inescapable. Its stillness is awe-generating and emotionally impactful; its aristocratic sophistication memorable throughout the ages.

With the structural columns pulled out of the building enclosure, the eye is caught into a rhythm of mathematical sequencing that is as enthralling as it is logical. The California light does the rest. Each reveal, each joint, each fastening punctuates the building skin as the sun travels its path showcasing the unparalleled elegance of its construction.

Ellwood wrote: “. . . great architecture is primarily technique, and therefore a building must clearly reflect the order- the discipline – the measurable aspects of its being.” Order here is a spiritual affair. The aspirations of his designer are recorded in this luxurious artwork to be inhabited and internalize. Being a spatial absolute, this architecture remains self-contained, surrounded by an aura of necessity and inevitability. In modern architecture steel became white with the Farnsworth House, in Plano, Illinois, by Mies van der Rohe completed in 1951. Dark grey was the default color of the manufactured steel sections and much of the imagery of steel architecture share that manufacturing origin, evocative of steel mills located in the Rust Belt. Turning that material into white sanitized it and, even more, aestheticized it. Ever since Mies’ masterpiece painting the steel frame white has become an option among modernist hardliners and amateurs alike. For Ellwood the Daphne Residence was the first white steel house, although not the first building. The ideological appeal of Mies had become irresistible by his own admission and decisively informed his output from the late 1950s on, where the quotations of the source became at times a little too literal. But while the Miesian tribute is unapologetic, open, and unambiguous both in the tectonic principles and philosophical attitude, Ellwood took a qualitative leap in situating the abstracted space of Mies to the California condition. There are but a handful of residential designs the German master did for Northern California – all towers – and all left on paper. And even in the United States the residential examples – built and unbuilt – the venerable architect designed are confined to a few areas chiefly around Illinois and the Northeast. Ellwood took upon himself the challenge of landing the universal prototype of Mies’ architectural cosmology.

The body of water marks on the ground the underlying axis determining the internal arrangement of the house and makes a majestic space out of that symmetry. It penetrates the square along a central spine and extend out to become the plane from where the entry pavilion reposes. That extension alone is first as well in Ellwood’s design idiom: it is as paramount as a plastic object as the interior pool. While there are multiple steps to access the garden on two additional sides of the house, the rise on both sides of the elevated platform from the ground plane to the plane of the dwelling is a metaphorical threshold and invitation to become part of a world of immaculate rigor. Its formal distinction is magnified against the natural background filled with grown trees and long branches casting shadow patterns of kaleidoscopic beauty. Upon stepping beyond the glazed front door, a mute long wall with two openings at each endstill affords privacy. Only upon walking along a right along does the full magnitude of the interior void reveals itself.

Pools are standard amenities in Southern California architecture, modern and traditional alike. Much less so, though, in Northern California where the climate is temperate and outdoor living is a more measured experience. But in the Daphne Residence the pool, effectively indoor even if uncovered, is the true centerpiece, a focus never fully inhabitable unless in the water, with the eye level matching that of the ground. The presence of the pool is everywhere to be felt once inside, but invisible coming from the access road. That the pool is an interior amenity is the result of sliders closing off that area of the house from the nearby golf course.

The water plane brings further order and lightness to this architecture. Reflections reach the glazed surfaces and trigger mirroring effects of powerful luminosity in its interiors. The position of the pool presents an ambiguity of plan interpretation both when looking at the drawings and when experiencing the space: is this a square-box with a deep incision to bring light and water into the center of the house? Are these two glassed bars connected with a bridge going over the water? Maybe an H-plan? Or a binocular composition? In all cases, the perception is of a closed system of spaces. The steel columns mark each corner making clear that the glass box is neither eroded nor questioned. As abstract as it is, there is never loss of orientation as users and visitors navigate inside, its organizational principles legible at first sight. Once in the house, Ellwood’s determination to create a total work of architecture, consistent with his embrace of Mies van der Rohe’s design philosophy, is fully realized. With that objective in mind, the office designed all the interiors and the garden, thus retaining complete control of the design and execution of the project.

The articulation of the building skin is meticulously calibrated to make the load bearing role of the structure clear and the non-structural nature of the infill panels legible in the architecture. Pentelic white marble and white plaster characterize the exterior opaque surfaces, recessed 7 inches behind the columns. The limited color palette of grey glass (replaced today with clear glass) and the ubiquitous whiteness of the enclosure leaves no room for any textural effect. By showcasing the machine precision of its building components, Ellwood suspended the sense of time in experiencing the space. Just like in other projects by the same designer, the Rosen House in West Los Angeles being the closest example, the structure sits on an island of pebbles – imported from Mexico for their dark color and texture – varying from 2 to 6 inches in diameter. The floor is concrete slab on stilts and cantilevers 3 feet beyond its footing to produce the deep shadow further dematerializing the glass box.

In contrast with the even treatment of the exterior, its interior offers a detailed articulation of its functions grasped all at once everywhere within the house boundaries. They are a textbook case of how extensive the floor-to-ceiling approach to both finishes, doors and windows opening can be followed. All the walking surfaces are white terrazzo, giving a sense of flow and continuity throughout. Walnut infill panels are the only planes where the organic imagery of wood is displayed. Everywhere else, technology, spaciousness, lightness, and uncluttered void promote a soothing response not unlike a Japanese traditional house. The zoning diagram is as intelligible as exterior volume. An entire wing is devoted to the sleeping quarters- master bedroom suite at one end facing the golf course followed by an enfilade of bedrooms. The kitchen is directly in axis with the pool and right behind wall facing the vestibule at the entrance. The open plan was selected for the public wing located at the opposite side. A fireplace built out of solid tubular steel sections provide a permeable separation between living and dining areas with a small portion of the floor area devoted to a studio closed with a plastered partition. Each view is meaningful, each corner controlled, each space intentional with neither leaks nor slippages in the precise location of each element.

To many, it will come as a surprise that this was a family residence, under the same ownership for more about 50 years. Here the Daphnes raised four daughters – noticeable the absence of railing around the pool ordinarily prescribed for safety – and performed the routines of daily life. And the fact that the house did not undergo any alteration beyond basic maintenance is testimony of the felicitous union of two visionaries – Nicholas Daphne, the patron/client, and Craig Ellwood, the designer. Two willful individuals with similar convictions about what architecture can do to enhance the human condition.

Daphne was a wealthy undertaker with a passion for modern architecture. He was familiar with the Case Study House program and he personally visited some of Ellwood’s residences as part of that initiative. In the Bay Area his name is associated with the Daphne Funeral Parlor, a project initially commissioned to and designed by by Frank Lloyd Wright, but eventually planned and executed by Los Angeles architect A.Q. Jones of Jones & Emmons in the Castro district in San Francisco.

That building, opened in 1953, was at the center of a bitter controversy in the late 1990s between preservationists’ desire to rescue the structure from being bulldozed and developers’ interests in maximizing the value of the land due to changed market conditions and make room for housing units. In the end the latter won and the mortuary was demolished in 2000. But the fate was much more favorable for Daphne’s own residence. An enlightened second owner bought the property from the family in 2010, understood the value of Ellwood’s design and committed significant resources to upgrade the building systems as well as refinishing surfaces worn out by use, all this in the spirit of bringing the house back to its original glamour.

The meteoric ascent of Craig Ellwood in the elite group of the modernists took place in less than 10 years. Introduced to modern architecture while apprenticing in a contractor’s firm bidding on houses by Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, and Charles Eames, he understood the expressive potential of steel construction transcending technology to a transformational experience filled with mysticism. He opened his office in 1948 and slowly found a voice in the rising chorus of post-ward architects in the region. He made a name for himself through the Case-Study House program, where he designed three steel frames residences- #16, #17, and #18- in Los Angeles. Legendary critic Esther McCoy saw in him a leading voice of his generation. An important professional ally in the firm from 1953 till 1962 was Jerry Lomax (1927-2014), who is credited as the designer-in-charge of a number of key projects, the Daphne Residence among them. This was a golden period in this key figure of California Modernism. It is during this time in fact that the Smith House in West Los Angeles, the Hunt House in Malibu, and the South Bay Bank in Manhattan Beach, three landmark buildings in Ellwood’s trajectory, were produced while the association with Lomax was most creative. It is unclear where Ellwood’s hand ends and Lomax’s starts. Furthermore when they parted ways each personality gave a distinctive imprint different from each other in their subsequent work.

To his credit, Ellwood remained true to the same course for his entire career, where the ramifications of steel constructions were explored, expanded, and resolved in a variety of building types. And it is a curious fact that for a designer steeped into an approach to architecture design based on the invariants of the industrial world, all his output is in California. Under the southern sun, Ellwood’s work exudes Apollonian beauty, not unlike a Greek temple bathed by Mediterranean light. They stand in aristocratic isolation against the landscape, unmarred by urban blight and secure in the ordering principles underlying their very making.

Mies van der Rohe said: “Success is just the by-product of good, simple, and honest work. And this simple and honest work, I think, is the essence of civilization.” If that is true, the Daphne Residence is one paradigmatic example of the essence of 20th century civilization.

Editor’s Note

Brave New World?

by Crosby Doe

Over the years I have been lucky enough to have represented many of the greatest works of residential architecture in Southern California—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Millard House, Lloyd Wright’s Taggart House, Richard Neutra’s Singleton House, John Lautner’s Silvertop and Carling House, Harwell Hamilton Harris’s. English House, among so many others. These properties provide some of the most unique and inspiring lifestyles our region has to offer. Yet when the building inspectors come during the sale to advise the buyer, more often than not they will miss the magic of these homes, and gravely point out items that are merely “not to code.” It may be the size of a door, the rise of a step, the height of a railing (or lack thereof), the span of a beam, the height of a ceiling, or a myriad of other random issues. Never mind that the property in question has served the owners well for a lifetime. Or that these great properties with their non-conforming elements are living proof that many of today’s code requirements are unnecessary and overly restrictive. So I find myself asking this question: Are creativity and individuality being legislated out of existence? In the realm of the architecture of the single family house this may well be the case – and even more so when it comes to multi-family housing. It seems that as our culture has grown and become more complex, government has increasingly micro-managed (through so-called “Planning” and “Building and Safety” Departments) how an architect, architectural team and engineer finds a solution to relevant issues. Zoning, building, plumbing, mechanical and electrical codes, State energy and disabled access regulations — all these things have fallen under the jurisdiction and control of state and local laws for construction and maintenance of residential buildings. And for the most part, that creates a one-size-fits-all government standard. Which flies in the face of the very nature of architectural ingenuity, dictating hundreds if not thousands of details as to how a house or building must be built, and what material it must be built of.

Though creative inspiration is the spark that gives any great work of architecture its timelessness, beauty, and utility, today’s building mandates have become so restrictive that they more often than not add to the destruction of the very “quality of life” issues they are meant to preserve. Just look at how many houses built in this century, even expensive ones, are bland and boring. Mind numbing conformity has become the norm. If we are to once again break through to new concepts for building and living, the architect and the engineer must be freed from the tyranny of the building codes. They must once again assert their rightful place, and become the decision makers in regard to their creations, rather than the bureaucrats. I am not saying that all regulation is a bad thing. Much of it is necessary and appropriate. But when the architect, engineer, owner, and their insurance companies are willing to stand by new concepts, materials, designs, or exceptions, their decisions should prevail. In an era where in other countries whole houses are being 3D printed, the freedom to experiment, and try new ideas, even if mistakes may occur, must be encouraged rather than ignored. As you turn the pages of this issue of architectureforsale.com, Quarterly, it is worth noting that many of the properties offered here could not be built today: They are prohibited by some code.

Rediscovering Robert Finkelhor, Architect

by Mark Morrison

Current Photographs by Erik Grammer unless otherwise noted

“At first glance, the stately Spanish Revival home on this winding West Hollywood road doesn’t look like much. The white stucco Mediterranean sits low on a hillside above Sunset Strip, half-hidden behind wrought-iron railing, its top floor and red-tile roof poking into sight above the front walk. Surrounded by flashier, sleeker, grander homes, this 1926 relic would be easy to overlook. But walk down a flight of concrete stairs to a cozy courtyard for a closer peek at its two-story turret entry, deep-set arching doorway, ornamental iron work, upstairs balcony with French doors and breathtaking skyline-to-coastline views, and you know you are in the presence of something special.

“It is a little unassuming from the street,” admits its current owner, architectural historian, preservationist and writer Beth Harris. “But the contrast between that and the experience when you go through it is kind of nice. It creates a bit of a surprise when you walk in the front door and immediately look out the back and there’s a sweeping view of Los Angeles. That’s part of its appeal.”

Indeed. Here on this steep slope above Sunset Boulevard, the three-story, four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath house seems to cling to the hillside—an otherwise seemingly standard-issue Mediterranean that Harris bought in 2008 and restored in 2009 to reflect the dreamy romanticism of the post-war 1920s and the fancy-free escapism of the Hollywood dream machine. “It was a pre-modern period,” says Harris, who ought to know — twenty years ago, she (along with her then-husband) hired young L.A. architects Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner to help them bring Richard Neutra’s iconic, but neglected, Kaufmann House in Palm Springs back to life (which was so painstakingly executed and subsequently widely published that it put the sleepy desert community back on the map as a mecca for mid-century modern aficionados and sun worshippers alike). The couple went on to renovate modern homes by Morphosis in Hermosa Beach, Carlton Winslow Jr. in Palos Verdes, William Lescaze in New York; Harris also spent the past three years restoring a 1947 concrete block house by John Churchill in Martha’s Vineyard and owns a vintage Donald Wexler-designed condo in Palm Springs.

“There hasn’t been as much written on the romantic architects of the ‘20s and ‘30s as on the modern architects,” Harris says. “But the overriding desire [in that decade] was for historicism and romanticism. And I would posit that a lot of that was driven by the film industry. People wanted to live these sort of fantasy lifestyles on a daily basis. If you look at Paul Williams’ body of work, there’s a whole variety of revivalist styles. Architects had to work in these different genres — whether a Normandy tower in the Hollywood Hills or Smoketree Ranch in Palm Springs.” At the time, Los Angeles was exploding in every direction. Between 1920 and 1930, the population had grown from 576,673 to more than 1.2 million, creating a historic boom for Southern California real estate.

In 1924, in the midst of it all, a young architect named Robert Finkelhor, who was born in Jeanette, Pennsylvania in 1898 and received his degree from the school of architecture at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), moved to L.A. and worked for local builder Paul C. Whitice. Records from 1925 show that a 10-room house in the hills above the nascent Sunset Strip was proposed by Finkelhor and Whitice for a cost of $21,000. The owner’s name was G. W. Price.

Little is known about any of these men. But it’s clear that Finklehor, like Paul Williams (who designed homes for the rich and famous, including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Cary Grant, Groucho Marx and Humphrey Bogart), was soon working for himself in a variety of styles ranging from American Colonial to Mediterranean Revival, commonly incorporating motifs such as stone veneer walls, false half timbering, multiple gabled rooflines and wood shake roofs.

Over the ensuing years, four of his homes were featured in Architectural Digest—including residences for such Hollywood players as screenwriter Norman Krasna (who penned such popular films as “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and “Let’s Make Love” with Marilyn Monroe) and producer David L. Loew, who along with twin brother Arthur was the son of MGM founder Marcus Loew, and who resigned from the board of directors of Loew’s Inc. to form various production companies with director Stanley Kramer and actor John Garfield. Finkelhor also designed an estate on Mapleton Drive in Holmby Hills for MGM executive Hunt Stromberg that was inspired by anEnglish farmhouse (1932); a home for Harpo Marx at 701 N. Canon Drive in Beverly Hills (1938) and a Cape Cod-style residence in Bel-Air for MGM writer Irving Brecher (1941). Other homes designed as English country estates included the residence of motion picture executive Henry Ginsberg at 918 Whittier Drive in Beverly Hills, and an 18-room showplace across the street from Harris’ West Hollywoodhouse that was once home to Liberace.

Curiously, Finkelhor is also listed as an architect for Alan Ladd’s Los Feliz home, though he seems to share credit with the more famous Gerard Colcord on the house (meanwhile, an April 1950 House Beautiful article about Ladd’s kitchen names Finkelhor as architect).

Perhaps most auspiciously, Finkelhor designed the storied Bob Hope estate built in 1939 in suburban Toluca Lake. Most recently, the late comedy legend’s rambling 15,000-square-foot mansion on 5.21-acre property with one-hole golf course has been on the market for $12 million—reduced from $23 million. Yet again, the architect often credited for the classic Hollywood home is architect-to-the-stars John Elgin Woolf, who reportedly only redesigned the living room in his signature Hollywood Regency style during the 1950s.

This kind of specious reporting seems to have plagued Finkelhor’s career. Another instance of such credit-robbing involves a pair of stellar 1937 commissions — adjacent San Fernando Valley properties for Barbara Stanwyck and Zeppo Marx — and this time sources credit the design to the more prestigious Paul Williams. Stanwyck, who was then riding high following her first Oscar nomination for “Stella Dallas,” had become business partners with her then-agent Zeppo Marx, who had dropped out of the Marx Brothers movies in 1933 to pursue careers as an engineer and theatrical agent.

Together, they turned 130 prime acres in Northridge into a ranch for breeding, boarding and training thoroughbred horses. They aptly named it “Marwyck” and each commissioned Finkelhor to build large Hollywood-style ranch houses on adjoining 10-acre parcels at the northern edge of the horse property. Built on a knoll overlooking the 130-acre horse ranch, Stanwyck’s 6,500-square-foot two-story stone-veneer home with a multiple gabled roofline had five bedrooms, eight bathrooms, four fireplaces, a three-car garage, tennis court and large swimming pool.

But in 1940, after marrying Robert Taylor, she sold her share in Marwyck to Marx and sold the house to comic character actor Jack Oakie who renamed it Oakridge. Though the surrounding neighborhood has since been developed, the Stanwyck-Oakie house remains there today on 9.47 acres with restoration plans in progress. And while Finkelhor’s name is listed as architect of record on the original building permit filed with the City of Los Angeles, Mrs. Oakie had the property declared a historic monument in 1990 when she was a widow, naming the ever-popular Williams as architect. Which seems to have stuck.

It is suspected that Williams may have created designs for proposed renovations and additions to the property. Friends of Oakridge, a volunteer group that helps manage the property, which is officially controlled by the L.A. City Recreation and Parks Department, has tried to verify the home’s actual architectural pedigree – without success. Since Finkelhor had no children, there was no family to protect his legacy. And after he died in 1957, his widow moved to Europe. So the residence remains the subject of a historic preservation dispute, its provenance shrouded in mystery – not unlike Finkelhor himself. Despite his low profile today, the architect was once the winner of the Beaux Arts Award, a yearly prize given by the Beaux Arts Institute of Design honoring fine examples of architectural work done in traditional styles. Leo Marmol, like most modern architects, had never heard of Finkelhor before Harris again reached out to him and Radziner to help her complete the renovation of her hillside home. “The corollary [to Finkelhor] is Paul Williams,” he says. “They were both working with a socialite client base in a number of stylistic languages — they didn’t focus on one particular period. And a lot of that I’m sure came from the client. He was open to their particular desire — if they wanted a Spanish Mediterranean home, they would get it. But, for whatever reasons, Finkelhor didn’t have that kind of [lasting] impact on the architectural hierarchy [like Williams].”

Yet, his work is equally refined. Step through the front doorway into the majestic rotunda of the hillside Mediterranean and you are instantly transported to another time — the sweeping stairway, the original wrought iron railing and hexagonal chandelier, the archways and wooden moldings, the strips of stained glass window with touches of purple, gold and white that flood the entry with light, the domed ceiling and gracious wraparound landing above. The elegance and allure does not stop there. Picture windows with the original old glass frame 180-degree views of the L.A. basin. “On a clear day you can see from the ocean and Palos Verdes to downtown, the Griffith Observatory and the mountains that run along Claremont,” says Harris. On the east side of the 4,332 square-foot house, on both stories — i.e., in the spacious living room and huge master bedroom — Finkelhor created adjacent step-down sunrooms with picture windows framing dramatic views on three sides (Harris used one as an office and one as a library). “You sit in those little rooms and it’s like [being in] a little fish bowl hanging on top of the world. [The windows are] also a good way to get really great ventilation.”

“It’s a very effective use of the hillside,” Marmol says of Finkelhor’s overall design. “All of the major rooms have a great relationship to the view, which is extremely powerful. That is its greatest strength. It is a very vertical house but it took a very modern planning perspective. And the house is low enough on the hillside that you really feel a part of the city — you feel like you’re in the city even though you’re hovering above it. You’re not way up high, you’re down a bit so you feel more connected to the city.” Also, despite the power of its setting, the house is still modest in scale — which is another part of its appeal. According to Harris, Finkelhor designed it as a guest house for a larger estate house that sat at the base of the hill where the Andaz Hotel is today; the space in between was presumably gardens with a pathway connecting the two properties. “Clearly what he did was maximize the views and create interesting spaces,” she says. “The ceilings are coved, nothing’s particularly typical. And even though the spaces are large, they have a kind of intimacy.”

One of the other key things that sold Harris on the house was that “it was amazingly intact.” After years of tackling major restorations elsewhere, she needed a break; by contrast, she considers her main challenges here to have involved mostly “minor stuff”. For instance, though more than a dozen wrought-iron sconces once graced the walls, there were only four hanging; but she found the rest in the basement, had them reconditioned, rewired and re-installed. For added authenticity, she replaced plastic light switches with vintage push button plates. And she brought back the original oak floors, removing Saltillo tiles that covered certain areas, replacing or restoring wood as needed.

Outside, she also removed Saltillo tiles on the front courtyard and back terrace and opted for patterned concrete which she deemed truer to Mediterranean style. She wrapped the entire house in gardens so you see less of the neighbors while capturing all of the view. But the most dramatic change she made was adding a stunning city-view swimming pool (designed by William Kopelk of Palm Springs), which meant sinking 13 steel pylons into the hillside, extending the terrace, and shoring up the foundation. It was then Marmol Radziner’s job to design a music room beneath the pool and integrated the entire addition into the hillside.

“Our main role was the swimming pool [addition] and garden,” says Marmol. “We executed the design — just because Beth asked us to do it.” Reconsidering the Finkelhor property now, he says, “There’s elegance, drama, and more than anything, it’s very smart from a planning perspective. I was surprised and not surprised when Beth bought it. Surprised because it’s so traditional, knowing Beth. But not surprised in that it’s just a good house.” Which echoes Harris’ sentiments exactly. “My philosophy has always been I just want a good house,” she says. “Style is not as important to me as quality and livability. There are a lot of windows and openness between the rooms. It flows really well and still has that beautiful courtyard. I loved the way it cascaded down the side of the hill. All of the qualities that you might like about a modern house exist in this house.”

And no house could have a better friend than Harris, whose commitment to any renovation project is absolute. When she discovered that a closet that had been added in the master bedroom was hiding a transom window, there was no doubt in her mind which was more important: she knocked out the closet. “I would rather get rid of my clothes than not have an extra window,” she says. “I wanted to see the house as it was originally built.”

Somewhere, hopefully, Finkelhor is smiling.