Real Estate

The San Fernando Valley and Its Distinctive Architecture Becomes Hot Real Estate Draw

Long considered the little brother of the Westside, the San Fernando Valley’s unique residential architecture and family-friendly neighborhoods are increasingly appealing. According to the agency red paperIn 2021, single-family home sales were up 16% year over year and the median sales price was up 15% in the Valley, the nostalgic setting for Paul Thomas Anderson’s best picture nominee. licorice pizza. “There has been a huge exodus of people from other areas of higher population density directly into the San Fernando Valley,” says Alessandro Corona of Douglas Elliman. (On licorice pizza, Bradley Cooper’s character lives in a 5,400-square-foot English manor-style residence in Encino; built in 1976, last sold in 2019 for $2.76 million).

Adds Carrie Berkman Lewis of Douglas Elliman: “Ten years ago, the Valley might have been a concession to people who couldn’t afford to live on the West Side. Now, I feel like it’s a destiny.”

For many in early Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley was an escape: a rural wonderland where stars like Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and Barbara Stanwyck (whose Marwyck Ranch, designed by Paul R. Williams and Robert Finkelhor, now a museum) could cosplay living the life of rugged ranchers on their large estates.

During the postwar era, thousands of working- and middle-class families, many of whom worked in the Valley’s thriving aerospace industry, moved into nondescript housing built by developers as quickly as possible. The Valley represented for many a further refinement of the traditional American dream: “home of your own, sunny weather, affordable living, easy access to employment, quality schools, the promise of a better life,” notes the LA Conservancy. .

From 1940 to the 1960s, the Valley’s population grew from 150,000 to 850,000 people. (It’s now over 1.8 million.) Developers, including Eli Broad, learned how to build houses out of nondescript land quickly and efficiently.

But for every “salt box home” there were also innovative attempts to re-imagine the perfect suburban oasis. Local architects expanded and renovated the rambling one-story farmhouse, the Valley’s dominant style, offering variations such as traditional, Hawaiian and Cinderella, featuring storybook elements like curved gables. In Northridge, the firm of Palmer & Krisel unveiled its “fit for living” ranch, with large windows and spacious layouts that were said to offer the ideal space for the average Southern California family.

The most distinctive style to emerge from the Valley during the mid-century era was undoubtedly the aviary ranch, designed by developer William Mellenthin. These labyrinthine cottages, of which thousands were built, have fun touches: cottage-like roofs, cupolas, and dovecotes. Thousands of birdhouse ranches were built in neighborhoods like Encino, Burbank, Studio City, North Hollywood, and Sherman Oaks.

Less capricious modern masters, including Rudolph Schindler, A. Quincy Jones, Richard Neutra, Lloyd Wright, and John Lautner designed higher-priced homes high up in the Valley’s hills. One of the best examples of Lautner’s work in the Valley, the Schaffer Residence in Glendale, serves as a location in abandonmentthe new series about Elizabeth Holmes from Theranos.

These mid-century wood, glass and steel masterpieces, some seemingly hanging precariously from the hills, have become especially coveted in recent years. In 2021, model Anwar Hadid paid $2.5 million for a rustic 1,433-square-foot Lautner in Studio City, built in 1953, while Flea recently listed a complex in Tujunga for $9.8 million that includes a Neutra house from 1953 and a later addition of a separate house. house of architect Michael Maltzan.

According to Craig Knizek of The Agency, the eastern area of ​​the Valley is particularly rich in mid-century modern on the slopes. “The fins are coming in, where you have these single-story houses with fantastic views,” he says. “People are going in and gutting them and basically making new houses but preserving the [exterior] architecture.”

Old-fashioned ranch houses are also being repurposed and remodeled. In 2019, Karen and Shawn Emile toured a 1950s ranch in a Woodland Hills neighborhood with well-preserved homes designed by celebrated architect Charles Du Bois (of Palm Springs fame). “As soon as I walked in, I saw the windows. I saw the stone fireplace. I was like, ‘I can make this work. I can turn it into a kind of country cabin that feels like home,’” says Karen Emile, founder of the design-focused Instagram account @milkandhoneylife. “I was like, ‘I’m going to make this house shine.'”

With Karen working as a designer, her husband, Shawn, and two workers transformed the house. “When we bought it, it wasn’t really up to date at all,” she says. “The kitchen was old and very closed, but the house had very good bones.” The Emiles painstakingly transformed the house into a modern Scandinavian-inspired country ranch, filling it with light and space.

But for all you conservation buffs like Karen Emile, too many flippers are simply tearing down the Valley’s historic architecture, particularly in highly desirable areas like Studio City and Sherman Oaks. “The flippers who come to these neighborhoods find the worst house on the best block and create this modern masterpiece,” says Corona.

According to Berkman Lewis, the Mellenthin birdhouses are specifically at risk of being knocked over. “Some of those post and beam houses weren’t well taken care of,” she says. “So they have a lot of wood damage and a lot of problems.”

Instead, many developers are building modern, lot-filled homes, especially in the now-ubiquitous modern farmhouse style. “I’m not really impressed with some of the new builds I’m seeing, except at the high end: If you’re going up in the $8 to $12 million range, then maybe you’re looking at finishes that are worth that price,” says Berkman Lewis. . “On the low end, like $2.5 [million] at $3 [million]Personally, I feel like for the most part the finishes aren’t all that impressive. They feel very trendy to me. They don’t feel timeless.”

Emil Hartoonian of The Agency adds to this. “90 percent of the work right now, they’re giving the end user what he’s looking for right now. You know what I want to say? They’re not really looking to build timeless pieces per se,” he says.

The developers of these new contemporary homes continue the Valley’s consumerist trend of on-demand architecture in many ways. Hartoonian points out that in Calabasas, homes that are only a decade old are already being transformed to meet certain trends. “It has always been a center of wealth and great Italian-style Mediterranean mansions were being built. And now, to be blunt, you can hardly give them away,” she says. “So what is happening is that there is a movement to transform them into the modern Spanish style.”

Call it American style. As the Valley becomes more and more desirable, expect more homes to change based on the whims of consumers.

A version of this story first appeared in the March 23 issue of Newzpanda magazine. Click here for subscribe.

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