In the waning days of World War Two, anticipating the need for inexpensive but well designed homes for the millions of returning soldiers and their new families, Art and Architecture magazine began to solicit plans from some of the leading architects of the day for a project they called the Case Study Homes. Between 1945 and 1966, architects such as Richard Neutra, Pierre Koenig, Ray and Charles Eames, and A. Quincy Jones (as opposed to the Quincy Jones, ha ha) planned and in many cases built these model homes using the new materials the war had made plentiful: plywood, corrugated steel, concrete, and plate glass. Of the thirty six Case Study Houses that were planned, two stand head and shoulders above the rest, #8, the Eames House (which we’ll visit in a future installment of this series), and #22, the Stahl House.
You know this place even if you’ve never been to Los Angeles. It’s a symbol, an icon, of Mid-Century domestic architecture. It’s been seen in films, in TV shows, in video games. Perched in the Hollywood Hills, with a view that spans from Griffith Observatory to the Pacific Ocean, Case Study House #22 is the second most recognizable house in America, and a vision of what the good life looks like (at least for me).
An L-shaped structure built by Pierre Koenig, the only architect willing to take on the challenge of designing and constructing a home on a lot thought too small and precarious to be usable, the Stahl House (named for the family that has owned it since it was built) popularized the open floor plan found even today, and acted as an antidote to the cheap sterility of the homes of the East Coast’s post war housing experiment, Levittown. Where Levittown apotheosized conformity and an inward facing domestic ideation, Stahl House looks out, to a diverse megalopolis, and forward, to a future of ease and cool style.
It’s an astonishing place, especially when the Southern California sunset paints the sky reds and purple and blue. The Stahl House was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1999, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Despite being a private residence, it can be visited by purchasing a timed admission ticket from its website (the wait is about three months).
Next time we meet, we’re going to take a look at a bank building that’s just down the hill from here. It’s a sterling example of Googie architecture, and it’s about to be torn down to make room for a Frank Gehry project that looks like something Frank Gehry would come up with 15 years after anyone would get excited about a Frank Gehry project. Until next time, be good to each other and have fun posting in this Day Thread.