Passion, Artistry & Intrigue: The Captivating World of L.A. Architecture

A Buddhist monk, a millionaire hobo, a Hollywood vintage clothing aficionado and a suspect in the infamous Black Dahlia murder. Sound like the cast of a Hollywood movie? Close. These unlikely characters are actually some of the biggest superstars on the Los Angeles architectural scene, each intricately connected through a web of passion, rivalry, style and artistry that has shaped modern home design over the past century.

On October 17, 2015, the Venice Family Clinic in Southern California will offer an exclusive tour of four top-tier homes in Silver Lake, Calif. designed, renovated or owned by LA's most interesting and innovative residents. So whether you're a history buff, a design junkie or if you simply love a good story, these stunning homes and their provocative histories are for you.

First Stop: The How House

Photo by: Lelah Foster

Lelah Foster

This geometric 1925 Silver Lake home is one of the earliest International Style houses built in L.A. The original owner, James Eads How — a millionaire who donated most of his wealth to the hobo community — commissioned the building to serve as both a family home and a dormitory for the hobos that wandered up from the railroad tracks below. A separate entrance allowed access to the bottom floor where the homeless could wash, sleep and eat before hopping a train to the next city.

This home is also one of the few projects that renowned architects Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler completed as partners — Schindler designed the home while Neutra mapped out the landscaping. The pair, who met in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, invented California-modernist architecture and went on to become two of the most influential architects of their time.

Schindler came to America from Austria in 1912 to study with Frank Lloyd Wright. Neutra followed suit 10 years later, arriving at Schindler’s now-infamous Kings Road house in Hollywood with wife and baby in tow. Here they all lived, along with Schindler’s wife, Pauline, for five tumultuous years. A bitter rivalry emerged: Schindler was a free-loving bohemian who loved to party, while conservative Neutra was serious and hardworking. When Neutra was chosen over Schindler for the commission of the illustrious Lovell Health House, the architects’ separate fates were sealed. Neutra went on to enjoy a lucrative and distinguished career while Schindler remained the brilliant and tortured artist in the shadows. Years passed and Schindler divorced Pauline, was excluded from the MoMA’s 1932 “Modern Architecture” exhibition (in which Neutra and Wright were featured) and continued to design and construct his signature whimsical homes. It’s even speculated that Schindler, who had strong ties to the Communist party and more than a few loose screws, was the Black Dahlia killer, murdering the fresh-faced Elizabeth Short for spying on his ex-wife, Pauline. 

After the Neutras moved out of Schindler’s Kings Road home in 1930, the architects didn’t speak or socialize again for nearly twenty years. In 1953 when Neutra suffered his second heart attack, he was taken to Cedars of Lebanon hospital where Schindler was receiving care for prostate cancer. As fate would have it, the pair were randomly assigned to the same room. It’s said they made their peace before Schindler’s death a few months later. 

Next Stop: Tattuplex

Photo by: Taiyo Watanabe

Taiyo Watanabe

Fast-forward 50 years and you'll find Tim Tattu, a nurse and Buddhist monk, caring for patients in the same hopsital where Rudolph Schindler spent his final days. Similar to James Eads How, Tattu has devoted his life to helping the less fortunate. So, when he purchased a steep lot overlooking Silver Lake Resevoir and the Hollywood Sign, he knew he wanted to build a home that was sustainable, eco-friendly and open to housing more than one resident—an ironic contrast to opulent L.A below.  

Tattu gave his simple design sketch to accomplished architect, Tom Marble, who transformed the idea into a polished reality, building an all-steel, prefabricated duplex that's as sexy as it is minimalistic. The home features incredible views from all angles, operable windows that reduce energy consumption and a compost-fed herb and vegetable garden that provides Tattu with home-grown meals. One-half of the duplex is also listed to rent through AirBnB, which attracts travelers from all over the world to this innovative and edgy Silver Lake architectural gem. 

Next Up: The Elliot House

Photo by: Benny Chan, Tim Street-Porter

Benny Chan, Tim Street-Porter

Travel just down the road to Los Feliz and you'll find the Elliot House, another Rudolph Schindler design situated among L.A.'s most expensive historical and celebrity homes. Built in 1930, this modern, cubic home is considered one of Schindler's masterpieces, a boundary-pushing architectural experiment. Cameron Silver, clothier to the stars and founder of Hollywood's premier vintage clothing store, Decades, purchased the home with partner, Jeff Snyder, in the late 1990's, immediately falling in love with its vintage charm. The pair has since enlisted distinguished architectural firm, Marmol-Radziner—the same firm that recently restored Schindler's Kings Road house — to restore their home to its original condition.

Luckily, a substantial archive of Schindler's original plans for and photos of the Elliot House still existed at the nearby University of California, Santa Barbara, allowing the architects to draw directly from the source during restoration. The result is an incredible architectural time capsule that preserves Schindler's groundbreaking design while updating it for modern living with a few chic amenities, like the incredible Numi toilet by Kohler (it plays music) and a scattering of luxurious Hermès decor.

Last Stop: House on Six Legs

Photo by: Seth Neville

Seth Neville

The final chapter in our story rests here, at a Silver Lake home designed by two of today’s most brilliant architectural minds, Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena of Escher GuneWardena Architecture. With its sharp angles and cantilevered construction, the home is a nod to traditional midcentury modern design while showcasing Escher GuneWardena’s own sleek, industrial style .

The young, avante- garde duo has dedicated their life and work to preserving, celebrating and leaving their own mark on L.A.'s rich architectural narrative. They restored the flying saucer-like Chemosphere House by legendary architect, John Lautner, and were recently selected as the architect on the Ray and Charles Eames House conservation. However, one of their most interesting recent endeavors doesn't involve architecture at all. In 2013, Escher and GuneWardena wrote an opera commemorating the life and struggles of Pauline Schindler, Rudolph Schindler's eccentric, troubled and headstrong wife. The piece recognizes Pauline's influence on her husband's work; their Kings Road home is considered the mother of all L.A. bungalow homes — and ultimately, how her ideas and desires helped shape the course of modern architecture.

Located in Southern California and want to learn more? Purchase tickets for the October 17th tour of these homes now.

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