I’ve been living and working in Los Angeles for the past 17 years. I’ve dined at some of the finest restaurants, visited some of the best places the city has to offer and taken in some great shows that come through town. Few things tend to surprise me these days – until my recent tour of the Stahl House in the Hollywood Hills.
The Stahl House is one of the most famous architectural homes in Los Angeles and was immortalized in a photograph by renowned architectural photographer Julius Shulman in 1960. Designed by architect Pierre Koenig, the Stahl House is a Case Study House that was built in 1960. The Case Study Houses were experiments in residential architecture sponsored by Arts & Architecture Magazine, which commissioned major architects of the day to design and build inexpensive and efficient model homes for the U.S. residential housing boom caused by the end of World War II and the return of millions of soldiers. The program ran intermittently from 1945 until 1966.
While doing some marketing research for the Julius Shulman film documentary Visual Acoustics, I stumbled on a Web site for the Stahl House that is run by the family and offers architectural enthusiasts the opportunity to join a Stahl House e-mail newsletter list as well as signing up for a tour of the home. After I had a conversation with Mark Stahl, the youngest Stahl sibling, about working on the Shulman documentary, he invited me up to visit the home for one of their tour events.
I arrived at the Stahl House early one Friday night very excited to visit the house I’ve seen in so many pictures. What I was in store for went far beyond a traditional tour of an iconic home.
While waiting outside the home before the start of the tour, I met a Swiss couple who were so excited to see the house too. Both had been in the country for three weeks, and visiting the Stahl home was the high point of their trip to the states.
Before we entered, Mark came out to greet the guests and gave us some background information about the home. Mark resides in Idaho but regularly comes in to help with the tours, to work on restoring the home and to watch over his mother, Carlotta. In addition to Mark and his mom, Shari, the middle sibling was also at the house.
As you enter the home in the evening, you are automatically taken by the view of the city from this hilltop house perched in the Hollywood Hills. The view is beautiful, relaxing, indulgent and serene – even with the traffic noise below coming from Sunset Boulevard. It’s breathtaking as you visually inhale the beauty that the family patriarch, Buck Stahl, saw on this piece of property that once served as a dumping ground for excavated dirt during the development of the hill when he purchased the parcel in 1954. The elder Stahl’s presence is still felt in this home, even though he passed away in 2005. Mrs. Stahl and the children, who bear a striking resemblance to their father, fondly remember him during conversations with guests as they roam in and out of the home.
And, this has to be one of the most endearing parts of the tour itself: Instead of being led around by docents giving you facts about the home and tidbits about the family, you have access to the family themselves.
Mrs. Stahl, who is 80 years old, is still able to capture your imagination with tales about this magnificent home. She has such affection for her late husband and becomes teary-eyed as she describes how he loved to use the fireplace in the house and how she hadn’t used it since he passed away.
The Stahls are such an easygoing, regular American family, and you can just about ask them anything. I felt so comfortable hanging out with all of them as they told us story after story. For such an iconic home, you might expect some pretentiousness with the owners, but that is not the case at all.
I said to the siblings, “You must have had some great parties here back in the day when the parents were out of town.” And, you could see the gleam in their eyes as they described some Halloween parties that included guests falling over the ledge of the home because they were so intoxicated. [Please note, all guests survived and only fell into the bushes below the home.]
Also, Shari mentioned that as small children, they had to put on life vests every morning when they got up because none of them knew how to swim just in case they fell into the pool. The Stahl boys enjoyed playing on the side of the cliff so much that their father had to put up a fence around the cliff so they wouldn’t fall. Another interesting story was how the Stahls would put up masking tape on the windows of the house in the spring because birds would fly into the glass.
On a kitchen counter, there is a photo album of the family and the home during and after the construction. There are some amazing, never-before-seen photos that are going to be used in an upcoming book. Also around the house are pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Stahl when the home was built. Both remind me of a couple of Hollywood stars from the past lounging around the house.
The Stahl children worked out a deal with Design Within Reach to furnish the home. All areas of the house are accessible with the exception of the family bedrooms, because the family still lives there. However, you can view the bedrooms from the outside. What is particularly interesting about the home is that you can see what is going on throughout the entire house by pretty much any vantage point within it.
The house itself is still in good condition but needs a lot of renovation work to bring it back to its original integrity. Mark and his siblings, Bruce and Shari, have been doing a lot of this work on their own. The cost of the tour, $40 per person, goes into the cost of the renovation.
My lasting impression of the Stahl House will not be of the home itself but of Carlotta Stahl standing on the outside patio overlooking the city.
I said to her, “You probably have seen a lot of changes in this town over the past 50 years.”
And with a smile, she replied, “Yes, oh yes.”
For more information, visit stahlhouse.com/tours.
Article posted on 3/10/2010
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