Koenig's Case Study House No. 22 as home
The Stahl children recall growing up in the iconic glass-and-steel structure, which is marking its 50th year.
OUTCOME: Koenig straightened out the curve in Stahl's model and reworked the carport and the roof, among other redesigns. (Julius Shulman Photography Archive / J. Paul Getty Trust)
FOR THE RECORD:
Stahl house: A June 27 story on Case Study House No. 22 said 1956 news coverage of architect Pierre Koenig's work was most likely in a pictorial section of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. The coverage was likely in a pictorial section of the Los Angeles Evening Herald Express. —
For the Stahl children -- Bruce, Sharon and Mark -- who grew up roller skating on the concrete floors of Case Study House No. 22, the glass-and-steel pavilion perched in the Hollywood Hills has always been more than a landmark. It has been more than the house in Julius Shulman's famed 1960 photo of two pretty girls suspended in time, floating above the twinkling lights of the city -- arguably the most iconic image of midcentury L.A.
For the children of C.H. "Buck" Stahl and his wife, Carlotta, the house was and always will be "just home."
As the Stahl house celebrates its 50th birthday and opens for public tours this weekend, perhaps what's most remarkable is how little people know about the property, despite its fame. The house has appeared in more than 1,200 newspaper and magazine articles, journals and books, not to mention a slew of films, TV shows and commercials.
"When you're a kid, you don't think of the house you live in as being anything unusual," says Mark Stahl, 42, whose family still owns the home. "I first began to think of it as something special in junior high when film companies rented the house to shoot movies. Then later, after bus tours of architects from all over the world began coming, the architectural importance of our home began to sink in."
Three sides of the home were made of plate glass -- the largest available at the time -- that made for fabulous views. But the windows were not the tempered safety glass used today, and they could shatter into a thousand jagged pieces if anyone were to walk -- or roller skate -- into one accidentally. The radiant-heated concrete floors were sleek, but they were hard and unforgiving for toddlers who fell a lot. Then there was the cantilevered living room that extended 10 feet over the hill -- so dramatic, but just how did one wash all those windows or put up Christmas lights under the eaves?
Eldest son Bruce Stahl, a 2-year-old when the family moved into the house in the summer of 1960, recalls his dad putting up a chain-link fence under the house where the children used to play, simply to keep them from falling down the hillside.
The floors have since been covered with wall-to-wall carpet, the windows have been replaced with shatterproof glass and the cantilevered living room has been given a narrow walkway around its perimeter for window washers.
To many, though, the house will be forever frozen in 1960, the moment when those two pretty girls sat for Shulman's photo. Nevermind that they were not members of the Stahl family -- just two students that the photographer used as models. And all that glorious midcentury furniture in the living room? Every piece was brought in by casual furniture maker Van Keppel-Green to decorate the house for its premiere in the pages of Arts & Architecture magazine as part of the Case Study House Program.
Begun in 1945, the program aimed to introduce the middle class to the beauty of modernism: simplicity of form, natural light, a seamless connection between inside and out. Owners agreed to open up their homes as part of the program, but after the public tours wrapped at the Stahl house, every stick of furniture was hauled away, daughter Sharon Stahl Gronwald says.
"My mother always said she wished they would have left it," says Gronwald, 49. "They were given the option to buy the furniture, but my parents didn't have the money at the time."
Indeed, over the years the house has been appointed with contemporary furnishings with nary a midcentury chair in sight.
Perhaps the most surprising fact is that the original inspiration for the design may not have come from architect Pierre Koenig but rather his client, Buck Stahl.
Before the children were born, the house was the dream of Buck Stahl, a former professional football player, his children say, then a purchasing agent for Hughes Aircraft. In 1954, he and Carlotta were renting a house in the Hollywood Hills when he spotted grading equipment on an empty lot nearby.
"My dad told me he went down to see what was happening, and the owner just happened to be there," Mark Stahl says. "Two hours later, he shook hands on a deal."
Sale price: $13,500.