The epicenter of the American dream. A playground for the rich and (in)famous. A case study in cultural excess. An eclectic hodgepodge of the weird and wonderful. However you want to describe Los Angeles, one thing is certain: The City of Angels is never boring. Neither are its residents — or its residences, for that matter. It’s only fitting that a city that's home to screen idols and beautiful people would boast some of the most stunning houses of the 20th century. It’s also not surprising that a city where you can watch movies among deceased celebrities or buy a souvenir on your way out of the coroner’s office has its fair share of quirky abodes. We’ve compiled a list of L.A.’s most iconic residences — from the glamorous to the innovative to the downright bizarre — all of which capture the city’s eccentric charm better than words ever could.
1. The Stahl House aka Case Study House #22: 1635 Woods Drive, Hollywood Hills West
This striking modern home, designed by Pierre Koenig in 1959 for the Stahl family, was part of the Case Study House Program, an initiative of Arts & Architecture magazine in 1945 to introduce modernist style into America’s architectural landscape. It was made famous by a 1960 Julius Shulman photograph that depicts two women sitting in the living room at night, gazing out over the glittering lights of the Hollywood Hills. You may also recognize the home from the countless movies and fashion editorials that have been shot here. The Stahl House’s sleek and streamlined structure, panoramic glass walls and open-concept layout have made it a hallmark of midcentury modern design. It was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1999, made the AIA’s “America’s Favorite Architecture” list in 2007 and holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The best part is that the Stahl House is open to the public year-round for private and group tours. Visit the website to book a tour and get a little taste of architectural history.
2. The Spadena House: 516 Walden Drive, Beverly Hills
Any Real Housewives fan probably would argue that there are more than a few witches in Beverly Hills, but this one takes the cake. The Spadena House (more frequently referred to as the Witch’s House, for obvious reasons) is straight out of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, though the quaint structure — replete with bridge and moat — is more adorable than it is menacing. An exemplar of the storybook architecture style popular in 1920s L.A., the house was built by Hollywood art director Harry Oliver in 1921 for Irvin Willat’s Culver City studio, and showed up in a few films of the silent era. It was moved to the corner of Carmelita and Walden in 1934, and there it stands today, to the delight of children and adults alike. It even had a cameo in 1995’s Clueless, and if that doesn’t qualify it as some sort of national landmark, I don’t know what does. One of the greatest things about this house is the fact that it’s situated smack dab in the middle of an otherwise normal residential street (well, as normal as you can get in Beverly Hills). Not exactly inconspicuous — but Angelenos wouldn’t want it any other way. When real estate agent Michael Libow bought the house in the late 1990s and began interior renovations, he started receiving hate mail from angry locals who feared he would demolish the house. Clearly, the witch’s broom is staying parked for the time being.
3. The Hobbit House: 3819 Dunn Drive, Culver City
Lord of the Rings fans, brace yourselves: There’s an honest-to-goodness Hobbit House in Culver City. The whimsical fairy-tale cottage features roofs that look like mushroom caps, stained-glass windows, a tree shooting through the roof and an outdoor pond that’s home to a group of resident turtles. Like the Spadena House, the Hobbit House is another great representation of storybook architecture, but what makes the Hobbit House unique is its interior, which is just as fanciful as the outside. The home has its original stone hearth, ship wheel motifs on everything and trippy dimensions that would put Alice’s Wonderland to shame. You’d half expect one of Snow White’s dwarves to pop out of one of the hand-carved wood cabinets. The home is just one unit in a series of similarly styled residences completed in 1970 by former Disney artist Joseph Lawrence. The compound was designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1996, and you really should keep your eye on the MLS — occasionally you’ll find one of the units up for rent. It’s a pretty great alternative to a cookie-cutter condo.
4. The O’Neill House: 507 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills
This elaborate dwelling appears to have been designed by a cake decorator with a penchant for white fondant. In actuality, the fondant is white cement, and it wasn’t designed by a master chef but by former owner Don O’Neill. In 1978, the Beverly Hills art dealer decided to redo the home’s parlor and guesthouse in the art nouveau style. His wife, Sandy, loved it so much that they planned to extend his vision to the entire property but, sadly, Don died in 1985. In a moving tribute to her late husband, Sandy decided to continue the project they’d started together. The result was nothing short of decadent. Today, the Gaudi-esque residence still stands, its voluptuous, fluid loops and swirls evoking images of a cupcake melting under the L.A. sun.
5. The Playboy Mansion: 10236 Charing Cross Road, Westwood
Known simply as “the Mansion” to insiders, this oversized bachelor pad has hosted some of L.A.’s most notorious parties – and celebrities — since 1971, when Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner moved in. The entrance to the sprawling, 21,987-square-foot property beckons to visitors with grand gates, a road sign cautioning that “Playmates” are at play and the occasional squawk of a tropical bird — one of many that reside in Hefner’s personal zoo and aviary. (The Mansion is one of the few private residences in Los Angeles with a zoo license — not to mention the only one with a year-round fireworks permit.) Built in 1927 by architect Arthur Rolland Kelly, the Tudor-style mansion has 22 rooms, including a screening room with a built-in organ, a hidden wine cellar (left over from the Prohibition era) and the top-secret “Elvis Room,” where Mr. Presley is rumored to have spent one fateful night with no less than eight Playboy bunnies. And let’s not forget the outdoor pool and its notorious grotto. Sure, the decor inside the actual mansion may be dated (wood paneling, anyone?) but who wouldn’t give their right arm for a chance to party here? The Mansion recently made headlines when it was put on the market for a whopping $200 million, with one important stipulation: The buyer must allow Hef to continue living there for the rest of his life. (Hef's next-door neighbor, Daren Metropoulos, the 32-year-old billionaire owner of Twinkies, bought the mansion and eventually plans to join the property with his own.)
6. The John Sowden House: 5121 Franklin Ave., Los Feliz
Alternatively, and perhaps more appropriately, known as the “Jaws” House, this stately Los Feliz home is packed to the gills with morbid Hollywood history. Built by Lloyd Wright (Frank’s son) in 1926, the looming mansion resembles an ancient Mayan temple, with a front exterior that evokes the jaws of a shark. The house doesn’t exactly give off a warm or welcoming vibe. Partially screened from sight by overgrown gardens, the entryway is guarded by an imposing gate and a staircase that has been described as “tomblike.” Between 1926 and 1945, the house was a watering hole for the Hollywood glitterati friends of the original owner, artist John Sowden. From 1945 to 1951, it was home to Dr. George Hodel, whose time there has been the subject of many a crime theory. Hodel is a prime suspect in the notorious Black Dahlia murder case, which remains unsolved after 69 years. In a 2003 book that made Christina Crawford’s Mommie Dearest look like a Hallmark card, Hodel’s son publicly accused his late father of the torture and murder of Elizabeth Short – among other women – inside the Sowden House. The home underwent an extensive (and controversial) restoration by designer Xorin Balbes in the early 2000s, but its intriguing aesthetic – equal parts glamorous and ominous – has remained eerily intact.
7. The Ennis House: 2607 Glendower Ave., Los Feliz
If you’re wondering where Lloyd Wright got his penchant for Mayan-inspired dwellings, it may well have come from shadowing his father, Frank Lloyd Wright, on the famous Ennis House. Frank, with his son’s help, built the home (now a California Historical Landmark with a spot on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places) for Charles and Mabel Ennis in 1924. Its instantly recognizable exterior is composed of no less than 27,000 concrete textile blocks, each intricately patterned. Unfortunately, this beautiful structure has had a rocky past. Even during its initial construction, the walls were unstable and some of the blocks ended up cracking under the weight. In recent years, heavy rains and earthquakes did significant damage, resulting in crumbling walls and a shaky foundation. By 2005, the house was included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places. To ensure the future of this iconic building, a FEMA grant and construction loan were issued in 2006, which allowed for the extensive restoration of the property. Today, the house is owned by billionaire Ron Burkle but opens its doors to the public 12 days a year — a condition that, according to the Ennis House Foundation, must be upheld through every future sale of the property. Unsurprisingly, the annual tours sell out quickly, so keep an eye on the AIA L.A. chapter’s website for announcements.
8. The Chemosphere: 7776 Torreyson Drive, Hollywood Hills West
Before it was built in 1960, this iconic California Modernist home was considered an impossible project, but legendary architect John Lautner proved the naysayers wrong, and in the process created one of Los Angeles’ most celebrated structures. The single-story, space-agey octagonal house sits on a concrete pole nestled up high in the Hollywood Hills, overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The pole is just under 30 feet tall, and with the support of a concrete base nearly 20 feet wide, it’s been sturdy enough to withstand every earthquake that's hit Southern California to date. A funicular transports lucky guests to and from the residence. The Chemosphere has had multiple owners over the years — including one who was murdered there in 1976 — but unlike the Sowden House, the Chemosphere doesn’t seem to have retained any residual vibes of gloom and doom. Publisher Benedikt Taschen purchased and restored the house in 1998 (after years on and off the market as a rental property, it had seen one too many parties) and he has lived there ever since. In 2004, Los Angeles designated the Chemosphere as a Historic-Cultural Monument. If George Jetson were an Angeleno, we’re pretty sure we know where he’d want to live.
9. The Sheats Goldstein Residence: 10104 Angelo View Drive, Beverly Crest
There are a couple of things that can be said about John Lautner: He wasn’t afraid of heights, and he sure as hell wasn’t afraid of a challenge. Another seemingly impossible project made possible by Lautner’s brilliant vision, the spectacular Sheats Goldstein Residence takes the concept of outdoor living to the next level. Helen and Paul Sheats commissioned Lautner to build the house in 1961, and over the years it has served as the backdrop for numerous movies and photo shoots (though truth be told, it tends to steal the spotlight just a bit). Perched on a steep hill in tony Beverly Crest, the midcentury modern home is distinguished by its slanted concrete roof, floor-to-ceiling windows and seamless transitions between indoor and outdoor space. Skylights (made out of drinking glasses) in the living room’s coffered ceiling create a glittery, starlike illusion. The real star, though, is the master bedroom: it juts out over the hillside and features floor-to-ceiling glass partitions on three sides, providing magnificent views of the Los Angeles skyline, obstructed only by the lush foliage below. The house is often compared to a cave, but one could also argue that it resembles a treehouse — albeit a glamorous one. The bedroom’s partitions slide open so that you can literally turn your bedroom into your balcony if you so choose (those with a fear of heights need not apply). Millionaire James Goldstein bought the house in 1972 but he recently bequeathed it to LACMA, ensuring its future as an iconic historical landmark, as well as a source of inspiration to aspiring architects everywhere.
10. The Manor: 594 S. Mapleton Drive, Westwood
When it comes to design, is less really more? It certainly wasn’t for Aaron Spelling. The television mogul commissioned this flashy, 56,000-square-foot mega mansion in 1988, and it quickly rose to fame as the largest residential home in Los Angeles County (a record it still holds today). Few escape the spotlight unscathed, however, and the Manor is no exception. From the beginning, it’s been the target of ridicule from socially aware critics who deride its shameless display of consumerism; as well as from aesthetes, who find its gaudiness more than enough cause for concern. The gargantuan, 123-room chateau boasts a bowling alley, an ice skating rink, three designated gift-wrapping rooms and parking space for 100 vehicles (or what we assume was an average Sunday dinner at the Spellings'). Aaron died in 2006, and in 2009, his widow, Candy, put the home on the market at an astronomical $150 million. The listing didn’t budge for two years, until it sold in 2011 at far under asking (practically a steal at $85 million!) to then–23-year-old trust-fund baby Petra Ecclestone Stunt. Candy gave up the Manor — along with her personal hair and beauty salon, and the entire wing of the house dedicated to her clothes — and “downsized” to a two-story, 18,000-square-foot penthouse in Century City. If that’s considered roughing it, sign us up.
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