Daily Beast senior writer Andrew Romano recently switched coasts from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, thus indulging a newfound enthusiasm for California modernist architecture. Besides working on his own Alvin Lustig-designed home, he spends many afternoons “house stalking” throughout the hills. Here, he maps out a modernist architecture tour that will indulge the most diehard fanatics and casual design buffs alike.
I fell in love with California modernist architecture when I started shopping for a house to buy in LA. Through a friend, we stumbled across R.M. Schindler’s last design and came very close to purchasing it. The deal fell through, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I got when I first stepped inside that house–that every inch of the place was thought out, that everything made sense, that light and flow mattered more than fancy bathroom fixtures. It was a revelation, and I’ve been hooked ever since. A few weeks later, we bought our own modernist home–a lost design by Alvin Lustig from 1946–and have spent the last seven months restoring it to its original luster.
Before we start, I should say that there are a lot of very important modernist homes in Los Angeles that you can actually go inside of—and you should, because that’s the best way to experience architecture. The Kings Road house by R.M. Schindler is the first modernist home in the world, and for $7 you can hang out there all afternoon if you’d like. You can tour Richard Neutra’s own home (The VDL House). You can explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House up on Olive Hill. You can visit the Eames House in Pacific Palisades. These are the greatest of LA’s greatest hits. Make sure you check them out.
But once you do… that’s when the real fun begins. I call it house stalking: snaking your way through hills and canyons of Los Angeles in search of modernist homes that aren’t in all the guidebooks. That most normal people have forgotten. That are occupied not by models in magazines or tsk-tsk-ing docents, but rather real people living real lives—which was always the point, right?
Here are five of my favorite finds. They’re all located in beautiful neighborhoods, and they’re all visible—and photographable—from the street.
1) The Lovell Health House by Richard Neutra (Los Feliz, 1928, 4616 Dundee Drive): Perched on the side of a hill with sweeping views of the Griffith Park observatory, this is the first steel frame house in the US. It looks so fresh it’s impossible to believe it was built before the Great Depression.
2) The Droste House by R.M. Schindler (Silver Lake, 1940, 2025 Kenilworth Ave): In my opinion, Schindler was the greatest genius of LA modernism. His houses aren’t steel and glass boxes; they’re expressive, organic, even funky forms designed to bend interior space to the purposes of indoor-outdoor living. Many of them cling to hillsides and are hard to see from the street. But the Droste House is an extrovert. The view is as good as it gets here: hills, reservoir, mountains. Before the house was finished, Schindler asked the original owners to sit where they planned to put the dining table. He wanted to adjust the lintel of the picture window so they wouldn’t miss anything in the view.
3) The English House by Harwell Hamilton Harris (Beverly Hills, 1950, 1261 Lago Vista Dr.): Harris worked under Schindler and Neutra for a time, but soon branched out on his own, becoming one of California’s most sensitive and distinctive modernist architects. The English House ranks among his best works, plus it’s been beautifully restored. High above Coldwater Canyon on a promontory with unobstructed 270-degree views of the city.
4) The Mar Vista “Modernique” Tract by Gregory Ain (Mar Vista, 1948, 3500 Moore Street and thereabouts): A planned neighborhood by the most egalitarian of LA’s modernists. Ain was a socialist who eschewed big commissions and instead focused on cooperative projects that would bring great design to the masses. Mar Vista is his most fully realized achievement: 52 beautiful, affordable, modest modern houses—most of which have either been perfectly preserved or lovingly restored—clustered on a couple of quiet tree-lined streets near the coast, with graceful plantings by legendary landscape architect Garrett Eckbo. Visiting is like going back to the future, as imagined in 1948.
5) The Lipetz House by Raphael Soriano (Silver Lake, 1936, 1843 Dillon Street): The first residential commission by LA’s master of steel-frame modernism, and one of only a dozen Sorianos still intact. The star of the show is the curving, prow-like living room room, which was designed for piano playing. The view isn’t bad, either—sited on a ridge high above Silver Lake, with casement windows on all sides, the house looks out over the towering San Gabriel Mountains. Recently—and gorgeously—restored.