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They Specialize in Homes With Pedigrees

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Los Angeles architecture groupie--Found on sidewalks and hillsides where they search for Southern California architecture as defined in the three editions of Gebhard and Winter’s guides. Prevalent in Pasadena, with enclaves in Santa Monica/Venice and Hollywood/Silver Lake, they are products of university and supermarket educations, the latter from copies of Metropolitan Home perused in the check-out line. An aversion to structures that “lack integrity” could derive from a childhood spent in a tract home.

Los Angeles architecture broker or realtor--An architecture groupie trying to make a living at his/her passion.

When a realtor from one of the large local firms invokes the name of Neutra to get a potential client to look at a house, it is clear that architectural properties are hot.

This particular realtor didn’t realize that Neutra would have cringed at the house in question. He was simply trying to make a sale to a customer who wanted a house with a pedigree.

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For every buyer in Los Angeles who doesn’t know a Lloyd Wright from a Frank Lloyd Wright, there is a buyer who does, and he will pay up to $750,000 to reside in the work of the master.

These homes are being sold by half a dozen neighborhood firms whose brokers invoke “The Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles” when showing a listing.

In the mid-city area, Victorian Register is doing well. On the Westside, Mossler, Randall, Deasy and Doe have reigned for 10 years.

On Conservancy Tour

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Los Feliz has a relatively new firm, called Housing Solutions, with a few architectural listings, and Silver Lake, that bastion of ‘50s steel and glass, has become the bread and butter of Architecture for Sale.

Three of the six homes on next Sunday’s Los Angeles Conservancy tour in Silver Lake were sold by Architecture for Sale. The firm’s first architectural listing was Gordon Drake’s 1946 Presley House, and the next year, in 1985, it sold R.M. Schindler’s 1925 Howe House and Gregory Ain’s 1937 Scharlin House.

Buyers and realtors weren’t always so wise. When Jim Dunham began the Victorian Register in 1979, he couldn’t get a yuppie, let alone an 80-year-old, to recognize the work of Samuel and Joseph Cather Newsom, whose Victorian homes were the first to be declared local cultural monuments.

“I had to set up classes in preservation before they would buy,” he recalls. “Now, in addition to workshops, we sell preservation books and move houses.”

Offers Restoration Advice

Before last Thanksgiving, he picked up a listing of an Angelino Heights Craftsman house that he sold by Christmas for $149,000. The original owner, a Chavez Ravine brick manufacturer, left the plans with his daughter, who was still in residence 80 years later.

Catherine Davis offers restoration techniques when she sells a house through Housing Solutions. The firm specializes in locating short-term housing for out-of-towners, many of them in the entertainment field, but she will sell a Raphael Soriano glass-and-steel “pavilion” in Los Feliz to anyone with the $435,000 asking price. In Pasadena’s Villa Park area, Davis has a listing on a Greene & Greene bungalow for $280,000.

The sentiments of the Jim Dickson realty firm’s Altadena office are evident in its North Lake Avenue location: a 1906 brick substation of the Mt. Lowe Railway.

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Astrid E. Ellersieck, a sales associate there for 12 years, maintains the Mt. Lowe Railway museum in the office. She seems to be as involved in preservation circles as she is in selling properties designed by 1920’s classicists, such as Kenneth A. Gordon.

She said she has sold four Greene & Greene houses in the last two years.

“I’m doing my best to get them all,” she says of the several dozen by the brothers in the Pasadena area, “but they seldom get on the market. If you have one, why sell it?"Buyers who prefer the more contemporary work of Schindler, Neutra, Lautner and Ain have traditionally worked with the West Hollywood brokerage of Mossler, Randall, Deasy and Doe.

Historic Homes Rare

In 1984, this firm sold a Hollywood Hills residence, known as the Storer House, for a reported $750,000 to movie producer Joel Silver after it had been on the market for five years. With the hundreds of thousands of dollars Silver has poured into restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright textile-concrete-block home, he has become the darling of awards committees.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation finds that historic homes go on the market every 10 years or so. That puts competition for the few in Southern California in the tooth-and-nail category. Architectural realtors compete with firms like Coldwell Banker, which acquired the listing on Greene & Greene’s 1907 Blacker House in Pasadena.

After owner Marjorie Hill sold that landmark house to Texan Barton English, she was hurt by an unpleasant phone call from one of the specialists, who indicated she should have listed her home with a specialist broker. Now the reclusive Hill admits, it was one of the nicest calls she received from anyone after English removed Tiffany glass fixtures from the home. The furor still rumbles through the boards and commissions of the city of Pasadena.

“This is a tough business” was the general sentiment from architectural realtors. Mark Schaye and Tony Karnes learned the specialized trade as Crosby Doe did, under the tutelage of Bob Crane, a realtor who established an architectural division a dozen years ago.

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Untapped Architectural Market

When Schaye and Karnes started Architecture for Sale in 1984, they zeroed in on the heralded but untapped architectural market of Silver Lake. Today, their pink-and-black “For Sale” signs are stuck into lawns on both sides of the Silver Lake reservoir.

Schaye and Karnes personify the “architecture realtor” definition. Schaye studied architecture at the University of Illinois, but never sought certification after real estate sales became lucrative for him.

When architect Peter Wurzberger of Albert and Wurzberger decided to list a Spanish-style duplex that he and his wife Rebecca owned in the area, they went to Architecture for Sale, because, says Rebecca, “the kind of architecture they promote is the kind we want to be around. It was a natural marriage.”

“If we had to sell tract houses in the San Fernando Valley, it would be the pits every day,” Schaye says. “Our work is feast and famine. The most difficult part is dealing with some of the very unusual people who own these homes.”

Photograph Mailers

They take properties that do not have a history, such as an apartment building converted into an artist’s studio. Yet, they market all their listings as if they were destined to be displayed on the fourth floor of the Museum of Modern Art.

Black and white photographs, taken by architectural photographers, are mounted on post-card mailers. The property is given a name, and credit is given to the architect or builder.

For every 1950’s Silver Lake house with steel and glass, there is a neighbor of lava rock and louvered windows. Schaye and Karnes make their sales by showing buyers how to work around such dated architectural elements.

“Our hope is that as the area becomes more fashionable, neighborhoods, such as Mount Washington and Eagle Rock, will too,” Karnes says.

Know Their Clients

The firm has a listing in the Bluff Park area of Long Beach, that was given them because of their distinctive mailers. “This is a special house,” says owner Jeanne Pryharski of her 1919 Irving Gill design, listed for $650,000. “It will take a special realtor to sell it. We refuse to show to every lookie-loo in town.”

With a decade of residential sales behind them, Karnes and Schaye know their clients. “We attended the showing of a home recently,” Karnes says, “where a broker boasted that she was going to take a buyer on a tour of 14 homes. Our policy is completely opposite; we think everything blurs after three houses.”

Now that energy conservation laws have limited the square footage of glass surfaces in new homes to a small percentage of their floor area, the glassy post-and-beam houses of 30 years ago have become pricey period pieces. And now that realtors have joined preservation groups in pointing out the possibilities in the Victorian and the Post-War styles, the market for these homes, whether they come from a pattern book or an architect, should continue to grow.


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