Chances are you have seen this house. Chances are that if you searched the inner reaches of your mind for what ideas it formed when it heard the words "California Modern", you would find an image of this house permanently occupying that space. It is so quintessentially modern that it has seeped into our collective consciousness in ways we do not even know.
So when Buck Stahl and his wife, Carlotta, decided to buy that precipice of a lot on the spur-of-the-moment that day in 1954, he may have been the only one who saw the vision of what would one day stand there.
On the day I visited, I was fortunate enough to be guided by Mark Stahl, Buck's son. He grew up in this modernist dream, climbing the cliffs of LA as though they may have been any far away childhood play-world. There were no fences to keep the kids secure, no tethers, airbags, protective equipment, etc. Just a family living in the vision their father, and the architect he hired to realize it, Pierre Koenig had created.
What can I tell you about the place? It's breathtaking. It juts out over the hills above Sunset Boulevard in perfect balance. You can see forever, which in LA terms means at least to downtown in one direction and, sometimes, out to the coast in another.
As I stood watching afternoon turn to dusk and then to evening and then dark night, the transformation was electric. All the topography of the day drops away by night, leaving you floating high above a sea of urban stars in a galaxy far, far below.
The home is situated in an "L" shape with a sleek pool as the centerpiece. Glass is everywhere in the home providing clear vistas from all over the house. One end of the "L" is the public space, this is the side that hangs out over the cliff. The other end of the "L" comprises the bedrooms and private spaces.
So, how do you know this place so well? Yes, it's been on television, in movies, books, and magazines. But it's larger-than-life status in the world of modernism owes greatly to one other man - and one photo. That photo.
The photographer Julius Shulman, who himself played a major part in stoking the love affair between America and the new modern aesthetic of the 1960's through his work in architectural photography, took that photo on that night.
He was there for a photo shoot, it is true, but as he staked out the exterior, he noticed some women - wives, companions of those in attendance that night. They were just sitting and talking. Such a casual and normal scene unfolding in such a stunning setting that Julius realized that this was the moment he wanted. This was the moment modernism wanted. And he took the picture.
The other details seem somewhat less important, but of course they are part of the story as well. The house was built in 1960. It was labeled Case Study House #22 in the Arts & Architecture series and measures 2300 square feet. There is a lot of technical detail and engineering feats of strength that are part of this story as well, but I am focusing on the end product and the feelings it creates. By all means read more about all the crazy math in the numerous articles that concern this property, or you can even read the original write up in Arts & Architecture.
But I will always remember this visit as a perfect birthday present from my wife and an opportunity to see what great design can really do.