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Arts and Entertainment

Inside The Iconic Midcentury Stahl House (Case Study House #22)

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Earlier this year I found myself lifted out of the streets of West Hollywood and into the hills above, to Woods Drive. What may appear to be a regular house in the Hollywood Hills as you drive up the winding, dead-end road, is much more spectacular than that. And unlike its neighbors, the house—now a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument—was originally built as an inexpensive, efficient model home. Over a half century later, Case Study House #22 (better known as the Stahl House) has gone on to become a property so coveted, even the tours sell out fast.

I purchased my tickets about a month ahead of time (this is when they typically sell out, so plan ahead), and when I arrived I was pleasantly surprised that not only was the tour being given by a family member (it is given by a friend of the family on some occassions), but the tour groups are kept small. This is to give you an uncrowded experience—you can spend one hour on the grounds, taking photos clean of other people in the shots, or serenely sitting by the crystal blue pool like you own the place.

There are afternoon, late afternoon, and evening tours—you can find the schedule and buy tickets here.

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History of the Stahl House

In 1960, Julius Shulman took that iconic photograph of two women sitting inside, at the corner of the home that hangs over the edge of the mountain it sits upon. The shot was something out of a surreal dreamscape—two women poised, smiling, calm, in a home that appeared to be floating there over a rocky ledge. But it was real, and it would become the ultimate representation of 20th century architecture in Los Angeles, where nothing seems real anyway.

It was the perfect image given that the vision all started as a dream, one of Buck and Carlotta Stahl, who purchased the property for $13,500 six years earlier, in 1954. The two provided inspiration for the design, which was brought to life by architect Pierre Koenig. Here’s how it went down according to the Stahl family, who still own the home, and while there are tours, some of them still live there:

The Stahl House story starts in May 1954 when the Stahls purchased a small lot above Sunset Blvd. Over the following two years C.H. ‘Buck’ Stahl and Carlotta Stahl worked weekends constructing the broken concrete wall that surrounds the buildable portion of the lot. During these working weekends, the design and vision for the Stahl House began to take shape. In the Summer of 1956, Buck Stahl constructed a three dimensional model of their dream home. It is with this model they interviewed and hired Architect Pierre Koenig in November 1957. On April 8th, 1959, the home was inducted into the Case Study House program by Arts & Architecture magazine, and assigned the number 22. Construction of the house began in May 1959 and was completed a year later in May of 1960.
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Stahl residence, 1960s. (Courtesy of the USC Libraries)

The pavilion-type house was described as "a happy combination of site, soil, height, and location combined to suggest a solution in which it was possible to take advantage of all elements without the necessity of compromising design." For all of these reasons, as well as the interior design of the space, it's been spotted used in plenty of movies: Smog (1962); The First Power (1990); The Marrying Man (1991); Corrina, Corrina (1994); Playing by Heart (1998); Why Do Fools Fall In Love (1998); Galaxy Quest (1999); The Thirteenth Floor (1999); Nurse Betty (2000); and Where the Truth Lies (2005). It's also been on the small screen, namely in Columbo. And maybe you remember the video for Wilson Philips' "Release Me"?

History of the Case Study Houses

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The Case Study Houses were beautiful experiments in residential architecture, all spawned from an Arts & Architecture project that lasted from 1945 to 1966. The original 1954 announcement (PDF) included just eight houses, and read, in part, "We are, within the limits of uncontrollable factors, proposing to begin immediately the study, planning, actual design and construction of eight houses, each to fulfill the specifications of a special living problem in the Southern California area."

The magazine commissioned some big architects of the era to design inexpensive model homes when the U.S. was dealing with a post-war housing boom. In the end, 27 structures were built, almost all in Los Angeles, and nearly all photographed by Shulman. Today, 20 remain, while 3 were demolished and 4 were altered beyond recognition. Below, you'll find a full list of those that were built, with accompanying PDFs to the original profile of each home that ran Arts & Architecture.

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Case Study House #8, the Eames House. (Photo courtesy of Architectural Resources Group)

  • Case Study House #1 (PDF) still exists at 10152 Toluca Lake Avenue in North Hollywood
  • Case Study House #2 (PDF) still exists at 857 Chapea Road in Pasadena
  • Case Study House #3 (PDF) at 13187 Chalon Road in L.A. was demolished
  • Case Study House #7 (PDF) still exists at 6236 North Deerfield Avenue in San Gabriel
  • Case Study House #8, the Eames House (PDF) still exists at 203 Chautauqua Boulevard in Pacific Palisades
  • Case Study House #9 (PDF) still exists at 205 Chautauqua Boulevard in Pacific Palisades
  • Case Study House #10 (PDF) at 711 South San Rafael Avenue in Pasadena was significantly altered
  • Case Study House #11 (PDF) at 540 South Barrington Avenue in West Los Angeles was demolished
  • Case Study House #15 (PDF) still exists at 4755 Lasheart Drive in La Canada
  • Case Study House #16 (PDF) at 9945 Beverly Grove Drive in Beverly Hills was demolished
  • Case Study House #17A (PDF) still exists at 7861 Woodrow Wilson Drive in L.A.
  • Case Study House #17B (PDF) at 9554 Hidden Valley Road was remodeled beyond recognition
  • Case Study House #18A (PDF) still exists at 199 Chautauqua Boulevard in Pacific Palisades
  • Case Study House #18B (PDF) at 1129 Miradero Road in Beverly Hills was remodeled beyond recognitio
  • Case Study House #20A (PDF) still exists at 219 Chautauqua Boulevard in Pacific Palisades
  • Case Study House #20B (PDF) still exists at 2275 Santa Rosa Avenue in Altadena
  • Case Study House #21 (PDF) still exists at 9038 Wonderland Park Avenue in West Hollywood (and it's currently for sale)
  • Case Study House 1950 (PDF) still exists at 1080 Ravoli Drive in Pacific Palisades, however it has been remodeled
  • Case Study House 1953 (PDF) still exists at 1811 Bel Air Road in Bel-Air
  • Case Study House #22, the Stahl House (PDF) still exists at 1635 Woods Drive in L.A.
  • Case Study House #23 was a triad (PDF) 23A and 23C still exists, while 23B remodeled beyond recognition. They are all in La Jolla.
  • Case Study House #25 (PDF) still exists at 82 Rivo Alto Canal in Long Beach
  • Case Study House #26 (PDF) still exists at 177 San Marino Drive in San Rafael
  • Case Study House #28 (PDF) still exists at 91 Inverness Road in Thousand Oaks
  • Case Study Apartments #1 (PDF) still exists 4402 28th Street in Phoenix, Arizona

That last one was an attempt to deliver a more appealing multi-family residential unit, which they presented in their magazine alongside a brutal takedown of the dingbat apartment model. By the time Case Study Apartments #1 was built in 1964, the dingbat was here to stay, having spread over the city during the development-driven era of the 1950s.

Their statement read: "Our intention is to overcome by example, not just precept, as many as possible of those misconceptions and prejudices which have bred the outrageous 'dingbat' apartments, the cheap and blowzy eyesores that continue to proliferate everywhere in our country." They also wrote that ground would soon be breaking in Newport Beach for Case Study Apartments #2, but it never came to be. One apartment in the #1 property sold in 2014 for under $500,000, while another was on rental market for $1200/month—it's all been preserved, and you can see recent photos here.

The Stahl House isn't the only Case Study House that offers tours, you can also visit #8 (the Eames House)—make a reservation here.