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Germany buys Thomas Mann's former Pacific Palisades home, averting demolition

Germany has purchased the Pacific Palisades residence once owned by Thomas Mann, averting demolition of the home where the Nobel Prize-winning novelist lived for a decade after fleeing Adolf Hitler.

The home, built in 1941 and designed by modernist architect J.R. Davidson, had been listed this summer for just under $15 million. Sitting on a flat lot measuring almost one acre, it had been labeled a tear-down.

But the prospect of the secluded five-bedroom home in the 1500 block of San Remo Drive being bulldozed generated protest. An online petition called on the German government to save the home, describing it as a monument to German exiles in California and resistance to the Nazi regime.

The mansion ultimately was purchased for $13.25 million, according to the listing page.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the residence symbolized “a home for many Germans who worked toward a better future for their country, paved the way for an open society and laid the foundations for common transatlantic values,” according to a statement posted by the German consulate in Los Angeles.

Mann fled Germany in 1933 and lived in Switzerland before immigrating to the U.S. After a stint in New Jersey, he purchased the plot in Pacific Palisades and the residence was built in 1941.

His wife, Katia Mann, told The Times in 1948 that she and her husband had originally sought a Colonial-style home, but the architect, Davidson, protested that Southern California called for a more modern approach.

“He was a man of strong will,” Katia Mann said of Davidson, “so we have a modern house. We like it, though.”

Mann, then 73, said the home’s view of the Pacific Ocean, including Santa Catalina Island, had pleased him during his self-imposed exile.

“Here, you find everything — the perfect climate, the hills, the sea, the strong contrasting colors of sky, earth and water.”

While living at the home, Mann wrote “Doctor Faustus” and “The Holy Sinner.”

The author’s stay in Los Angeles lasted about a decade. He and his wife returned to Europe in 1952, distressed by the ascendance of McCarthyism.

Upon his departure from Southern California, he told The Times that he longed for his homeland.

“I just felt that I had never uprooted myself completely and that I was still a European at heart,” Mann said.

Three years later, he died in Switzerland at age 80.

German officials said the Mann residence will be renovated and eventually used as an artists residency.

The day-to-day operations will be handed over to the staff at Villa Aurora, a government-subsidized cultural program and residency for artists and writers, which had been the home of German novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife.

Villa Aurora, also in Pacific Palisades, was bequeathed to USC by Feuchtwanger’s widow and sold to a German foundation in 1990.

“This is a major vote of confidence for the work we do in Los Angeles,” Markus Klimmer, the chairman of the board overseeing Villa Aurora, said in a statement. “We are overjoyed.”

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno


UPDATES:

Nov. 21, 8 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background.

This article was originally published at 11:15 p.m. on Nov. 20.

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