California history, marketed as a teardown home


There’s a house for sale in Pacific Palisades, one of the most exclusive communities in the Los Angeles area. It’s located at 1550 San Remo Drive, just a two-minute drive from the house at 1669 San Onofre Drive, where esnl interviewed Nancy Reagan in 1979 as her husband was running for president.

The home on San Remo is now up for sale and the asking price is a mere $14,995,000. Here’s how the broker, Coldwell Banker, describes the property [emphasis added]:

First time on the market in almost 65 years! Park-like grounds with lush forest solitude on almost a full FLAT ACRE on one of the most desired streets in the Pacific Palisades Riviera. Extreme privacy surrounded by mature trees and landscaping provides amazing serenity coupled with incredible city lights views. Create your dream estate or remodel and expand the existing home in the ultra-exclusive upper Riviera neighborhood. It’s like living in your own private reserve!

There’s only one thing missing from the enthusiastic sales pitch.

Unlike the Reagan’s home, which was a gift from General Electric, given to the future president in 1955 as a reward for Reagan’s role as a corporate shill after his cinematic career hit the skids, the home on San Remo was built and paid for by the labors of Thomas Mann, the Nobel Prize-winning author of some of the most important works of fiction of the 20th Century.

The artist in exile

Mann had fled Hitler’s Germany to take up residence in the United States, settling into his new home in the Palisades to do what he did best, write.

It was within these walls that he created what may be arguably his finest work, Doctor Faustus, a powerful novel encompassing the trends of the early 20th Century that gave rise to fascism.

As playwright and poet Sean O’Brien wrote in an essay on the novel for the Independent:

It is a novel of ideas of a kind rarely found in English, but sees thought and art as inseparable from character. It is in a sense the story of the early 20th century in the light of Fascism and modernism, yet neither history nor the individual is sacrificed to allegory.

Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study. Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study, via the Literaturarchiv und Bibliothek in Munich..

Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study. Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study, via the Literaturarchiv und Bibliothek in Munich..

The media take note

But now Coldwell Banker is peddling it as a teardown, valuable mainly for the land it occupies.

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Although the language in the listing — “Create your dream estate or remodel and expand the existing home in the ultra-exclusive upper Riviera neighborhood” — hedges its bets a bit, Joyce Rey, the agent representing the seller, was more direct in a phone interview, saying she had a hard time imagining that any potential buyers would be interested in its history.

“The value is in the land,” she said. “The value is not really in the architecture, I would say.”

>snip<

The house is not one of L.A.’s official historic-cultural monuments, though it is listed as a “historic resource” in a larger inventory called SurveyLA. A new citywide ordinance requires that owners seeking to demolish houses older than 45 years provide notice to neighbors and the local city council office at least 30 days in advance. But in general there are limited protections for most residential buildings in Los Angeles, even those with notable architectural pedigrees.

Rey said the seller, whom she declined at least for the time being to identify, was not interested in opening the house to preservationists or journalists.

The home is notable in its own right, designed for Mann by fellow German emigre J.R. Davidson, one of the seminal figures in creating the L.A. style of architecture that resulted in some of the region’s most influential designs of the mid-20th Century.

He was first to create homes with floor to ceiling windows and sliding glass doors, features that would become virtually standard in California’s temperate climate.

Mann and his family outside their San Remo Drive home. Source.

Mann and his family outside their San Remo Drive home. Source.

Reaction from Germany comes fast and furious

Needless to say, the German cultural community is outraged. All of Mann’s European homes have been spared the wrecking ball and are revered as national landmarks, a designation which somehow was never sought for his home on the California coast.

Deutsche Welle reports:

Despite the home’s outward appearance, Jürgen Kaumkötter, curator of the recently founded Center for Persecuted Arts in Solingen#, says the villa should be saved at all costs. He’s gone so far as to demand that the German government buy the property in order to prevent the demolition of this historical house.

“The building could serve as a meeting ground for young writers,” Kaumkötter said, “perhaps in combination with the Villa Aurora (the former home of German-Jewish novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger)” If Germany wants to have an international outlook, it should also provide some room for critical thinkers.

That view is echoed by Jürgen Serke, a Hamburg-based collector of art and literature and the author of “Die verbrannten Dichter” (“Burned poets”). He thinks German Culture Minister Monika Grütters should give the idea some thought; in his view, there is plenty of money to finance this proposal. He believes a demolition of the villa would be a great shame for Germany, with Mann being the most significant German author of the 20th century.

>snip<

The lawyer who purchased the house from the Mann couple when they returned to Europe in 1952 knew quite well that what he had bought was an important site for German culture and intellectual history. He marked the spot with a bronze plaque featuring a profile of Thomas Mann, explaining in English and German the significance of the home.

In Los Angeles, land in rich enclaves like the Palisades is often “worth: more than the homes occupying it, and some of the city’s greatest and most significant houses and other buildings have fallen to the wrecking ball.

To allow Mann’s home to follow that same tragic trajectory would nothing less than sinful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s