In the late 1950s, Sugar Loaf Drive in the unincorporated town of La Cañada was a nondescript country road scratched into a steep hillside overlooking the Cherry Canyon area. Scarcely inhabited, it seemed an unlikely place to showcase modernity.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened when Southern California House & Patio magazine threw open the doors of the 3,000-square-foot Midcentury Modern “1957 Research House,” a property designed to show off the latest innovations in architecture, building, design and in-home technology.
Billed by the sponsoring publication as “America’s foremost demonstration house,” the property at 1401 Sugar Loaf Drive was the brainchild of celebrity architect John C. Lindsay and builders Jack DeLonge and Jack Norwood.
“These experts, together, planned, built, furnished, equipped and landscaped the house. The products, techniques and services used for and in it were combined to provide an articulate summation of the best residential structures,” reads an article published in the Winter 1957 issue of House & Patio.
Some 250,000 visitors were estimated to have come to La Cañada to see the home — roughly 13 times the town’s population at that time, according to U.S. Census figures — to be inspired by its laminated beam construction, butterfly roof and California-shaped pool and spa and marvel at then-futuristic innovations like automated shade screens, intercom and music systems and a built-in indoor barbecue and soda fountain.
This week, visitors will once again have a chance to tour the 1957 “Research House” as it goes up for sale under La Cañada Realtor Sam Buchanan, owner of B&B Properties and longtime friend to the home’s second owner.
“In La Cañada, the majority of the homes back then were either big equestrian estates or simple ranch homes,” Buchanan said Monday during a tour of the property. “You didn’t have architecture like this.”
With a listing price of $2,995,000, the property will be shown today in a broker’s open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will then be opened up to the public on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The event is not recommended for children under 12 for safety reasons.
The house has been largely untouched since Bob New, owner of a Glendale leasing company, purchased it around 1960, Buchanan says. New died in June 2016, and his wife decided to sell. Already, a number of buyers have expressed an interest in seeing the property restored to its original glory, preserving features like a pop-out four-slice toaster and drop-down bathroom scale.
“I like to say every square inch of space was used,” Buchanan said.
In addition to checking out what would now be considered prototypes of products that would continue to evolve in the decades that followed their introduction in the 1950s, visitors can gaze at the home’s 180-degree view encompassing NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Foothill (210) Freeway and Angeles Crest Highway set against the majesty of the San Gabriel Mountains.
To help inform the sale and staging, Buchanan brought in a series of experts to take a look at the home and describe the features they saw. Among them was Pasadena architect Virginia Paca, who specializes in homes and gardens built between 1900 and 1970.
Paca said research homes were aimed at attracting more affluent families, who were moving to post-war Southern California and looking for the latest materials, features and designs. The architect said she was struck by how much of the original design of the “1957 Research House” was still intact.
“It’s sort of a little capsule in time, and that’s rare these days,” she said. “This is the real deal — it’s an elevated version of the real deal.”