Preserving Our Architectural Masterpieces
by kathy a. mcdonald
An A. Quincy Jones-designed house on Rochedale Lane.
It’s often said that LA’s best architecture is found in its grandest private homes. These ultra-spendy estates reflect the changing tastes and styles of the last 130 years, from the Victorian-era mansions of Angelino Heights to Pasadena’s Arts & Crafts masterworks by Greene & Greene to the red-hot Trousdale Estates, where classic midcentury showplaces dot the stepped hillside streets.
Homes by name architects (both past and present) attract attention in the market, and if sensitively updated can command a premium sales price. Courteney Cox and David Arquette’s 5,500-square-foot, A. Quincy Jones–designed, 1959-built stunner in Trousdale Estates, complete with circle pool (impeccably restored by the former couple and architect Cory Buckner) was listed recently for $19.5 million by Jonah Wilson at Hilton & Hyland. “It’s not an easy calculation to determine the premium for an architectural or historic property,” explains broker Brian Linder of Deasy/Penner & Partners. “It’s part of a complex, linear algebra equation with a lot of variables, rooted in the neighborhood,” explains Linder, who recently sold a more modest A. Quincy Jones design in Crestwood Hills for more than $1,000 per square foot.
The Ennis House sold for $4.5M in 2011.
Actress and author Diane Keaton has restored homes by Lloyd Wright and Wallace Neff; her remake of a Ralph Flewelling 1927-built, hacienda-style, seven-bedroom, nine-bath manse in Beverly Hills is now owned by TV maestro Ryan Murphy of Glee and American Horror Story (listed for $10.95 million in 2010, the final sales price was not disclosed). “It’s fascinating that we’ve got all these milestones of the future that are now part of the past,” notes Keaton.
Patrons of architecture need deep pockets when it comes to buying, restoring, and maintaining an architectural gem. In 2011, billionaire Ron Burkle bought the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Ennis House for about $4.5 million when the nonprofit established to restore it lacked the resources to finish the task.
The Brody House in Holmby Hills.
Although superlative residential architectural works are elegant mirrors of their times and an important aspect of the city’s cultural heritage, the pressures of property values, changed styles of living (the craze for open kitchens and great rooms have doomed many period homes), and property owners’ rights often outweigh the glories of the past. The demolition of amazing, one-of-a-kind architectural homes is an all too frequent occurrence in LA, despite epic efforts by preservationists. Passions run high in these battles; when a razing permit for a prime Spanish Revival by Wallace Neff in Beverly Hills was proposed, some argued that it was like scraping the paint off a Monet canvas to replace it with another artist’s work.
However, there are heroes out there, and as Linda Dishman, executive director of the nonprofit Los Angeles Conservancy, contends, luxury real estate and historic preservation can absolutely coexist. “We are seeing a growing interest in the thoughtful purchase of homes that are beautiful and have meaning,” says Dishman. The organization champions LA’s architectural past and spotlights outstanding residential architecture (the group’s October fundraiser brought supporters to the 1951-built Brody House—an “amazing” restoration of an A. Quincy Jones masterwork in Holmby Hills, notes Dishman).
Keaton has an optimistic view: “I believe that our architecture is the most significant thing about California. People don’t realize that we have this amazing architecture to offer that no one else does.... Not even New York.”
photography by kathy mcdonald (ennis house); brian thomas jones (a Quincy Jones house); Larry underhill (brody house)
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