No sooner can you get out the words "best houses in Southern California" than hands will go up asking what that means, reflecting the subjectivity for compiling such a list. Clearly, there's more than one way to measure the beauty, utility and significance of any house, but the architects, preservationists and professors who took part in our survey were allowed to apply the term however they felt was appropriate -- weighing combinations of personal taste, originality, historical importance and iconic clout.

Panelist Hitoshi Abe, the Japanese-born chairman of UCLA's department of architecture and urban design, explained: "I tried to select the houses that reflected the life of Los Angeles to a foreigner or traveler, not as a person living in them." So, Abe put at the top of his ballot not John Lautner's Chemosphere or Silvertop, but the architect's Elrod House in Palm Springs. As displayed in the 1971 James Bond film "Diamonds Are Forever," the home's massive concrete roof encasing a view of mountains, desert and pool helped define Southern California to a young man on the other side of the Pacific.

If there is a theme to the top 10 list, it is Modernism in its various forms, an acknowledgment of the important role that Southern California has played in the history of modern architecture, beginning with the Craftsman homes of Greene & Greene at the start of the last century, continuing with Irving Gill's take on the Pueblo past and Frank Lloyd Wright's Maya-flavored textile block houses, then followed by the space-shifting inventions of Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra. Later, the influential post-World War II Case Study houses commissioned by Arts & Architecture magazine produced lasting democratic visions of glass and steel wrought by Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, Craig Ellwood and others.

The houses in the top 10 offer a reminder that Los Angeles -- and Southern California -- have served as a prominent laboratory for new ways of living for the last 100 years. Architects, many from other parts of the country and the world, took on the role of social engineers, not only adapting to the climate and topography but also configuring the human connection to nature, exposure to the (once, at least) salubrious open air and the psychological impact of floor plans and interiors

The houses profiled here are all famous to one degree or another, but arguments will ensue about omissions. For instance, there's a house on the list by Ray Kappe but none by Frank Gehry.

"Ray is a quiet talent," said Stephen Kanner, who has jointly curated shows of Kappe's work at the Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles. There are no ranch houses by Cliff May or anything more recent than 1968. Missing is Neutra's International-style landmark Lovell Health House in Los Feliz, the first all-steel-frame house anywhere, an inspiration to a generation of architects.

Also missing are examples of two styles that symbolize Los Angeles to many: Spanish Colonial Revival and the beach house.

"I wanted to have one Spanish on the list, but I couldn't think of one," Culver City architect Steven Ehrlich said.

"I think there's a sense that the Spanish Colonial is so ubiquitous, it's a group, not one individual house," said panelist Linda Dishman, head of the Los Angeles Conservancy, who nevertheless put actress Diane Keaton's house, a 1920s Spanish Colonial by Ralph Flewelling, on her ballot.

"It's incredible to me how few good beach houses there are," said Los Angeles architect Ron Radziner, singling out Richard Meier's Malibu house as an exception. Schindler's Lovell House in Newport Beach would be another.

Several on the panel said their choices were based on the emotional but unmistakable feeling that certain houses are "timeless," accomplishments of design that transcend fashion and professional whim. Who can say for sure what makes a house timeless?

"The sense for the perception of architecture is not the eyes," Schindler once said, "but living." Still, Ehrlich reminds us that architects as judges are likely guided more by aesthetics than marketable features. "As architects," he said, "we are not focused on the size of the kitchens or closets."




1 Kings Road House

Rudolph Schindler

West Hollywood, 1921-22

If you imagine what most houses looked like in Los Angeles in the 1920s (Spanish, Victorian, shingle), the Schindler house would have been pretty exotic. "A radical rethinking of the man-made environment," as Schindler biographer David Gebhard put it, the house that the German-Austrian immigrant and Frank Lloyd Wright associate designed for himself and another family in the flatlands west of Hollywood forged a template for the now familiar indoor-outdoor lifestyle of Southern California. The house was really a duplex with a common kitchen, in keeping with its avant-garde communal premise. "The distinction between indoors and outdoors will disappear," Schindler wrote in a manifesto describing his experiment, using tilt-up concrete walls and bands of floor-to-ceiling windows that made the one-story residence intentionally light on the land. Sliding canvas screens enabled large apertures to fuse the indoors and outdoors at will, with outdoor "rooms" designed for sleeping and dining. The architect did underestimate the winter chill factor of the local climate that rendered part of his idea impractical. "I'd rather live in my house today," panelist Steven Ehrlich said, "but the Kings Road House is the big-bang moment of Modernism."


2 Kaufmann House

Richard Neutra

Palm Springs, 1946

Neutra, the Rudolph Schindler colleague who designed a colony of homes in Silver Lake, including his own, saved his finest flat-roofed creation for Palm Springs, at least according to our panel. "Horizontal planes resting on horizontal planes hover over transparent walls," is the way historian Esther McCoy summed up the Kaufmann House. It was built as a winter home for the same family that hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design his signature Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. "What makes the house so interesting," panelist Linda Dishman said, "is the way it relates to the desert, the marriage of the pool to the house, which is appropriate for the desert. And it takes advantage of the desert light, especially the winter light." Comparing it to Fallingwater, Dishman said, "Both houses, considering they were built for a wealthy family, are intimate spaces, not grand, but places to live."


3 Ennis House

Frank Lloyd Wright

Los Feliz, 1924

The largest and loudest of Wright's four concrete-block houses in L.A., the Ennis House suggests what the greatest of Modernists would have done with a commission from the Maya Empire 700 years earlier. A heavy, elongated mass constructed of 16-by-16-inch concrete blocks (most textured with an ornate pattern) and sited majestically on a hilltop overlooking Griffith Park, the building appears to be more than a house -- an elegant fortification, perhaps, or a temple. It's a house very much designed for the site, with consciously framed views of Los Angeles built into its plan. A nod to Wright's genius is that "It doesn't feel oversized," said Dishman, whose organization is helping to restore it. In spite of its grandeur -- or because of it -- you might wonder what it would be like to live in the Ennis House, especially if you've ever been there at night. The design is timeless enough that Harrison Ford's character could call it home in the futuristic 1982 film "Blade Runner."


4 Eames House (Case Study House No. 8)

Charles and Ray Eames

Pacific Palisades, 1949

Tailored to its bucolic lot in Rustic Canyon and deliberately built by the husband-and-wife design team with off-the-shelf components that could be packaged as a kit, the boxy Eames House was yet another postwar experiment that influenced the midcentury Modern style across the country. What's compelling about the home, said architectural writer and former Dwell editor Karrie Jacobs, is that it was more than a precursor to prefab. The home, now managed by the Eames Foundation, was filled with furniture the couple designed. "All their stuff is still in it," Jacobs said. "If you peek in the door, it's as if they were just sitting there 10 minutes ago." The primary color exterior panels that suggest a Mondrian painting remain striking. Said Jacobs, "It's like a big art print sitting there in this big green yard."


5 Stahl House (Case Study House No. 22)

Pierre Koenig

Hollywood Hills, 1960

Whatever the historical and intrinsic values of the other houses on this list, probably none is more famous in the public imagination than Koenig's 20th century glass-and-steel house. The iconic photograph of it taken by Julius Shulman shows the sleek living room seemingly flying off a cliff in the Hollywood Hills, the romantic nighttime grid of the city flickering far below. Where else could such a photograph have been taken? This was more than just a home. It was a vision of Los Angeles as the future. "It's a pleasure to be in that house," said David Travers, formerly editor of Arts & Architecture magazine. "I don't know what it's like to live there, but the pleasure principle is heavy in my list."


6 Gamble House

Charles and Henry Greene

Pasadena, 1908

One of the so-called "ultimate bungalows" by the influential brothers Greene and perhaps the ultimate bungalow, this wood-shingled shrine and monument to the Arts and Crafts movement in America was built as a California retirement home for a descendant of Proctor & Gamble's co-founder. By Southern California standards an "old" house, it still belongs to the beginnings of Modernism for its free-flowing floor plan, horizontal lines, broad eaves, exposed beams and Japanese rhythms -- which, along with the dove-tailed, pegged and burnished interior woodcraft make it a masterpiece. At 8,200 square feet, the house sorely stretches the term "bungalow," yet the architectural historian Reyner Banham, after living there for a time, described its distinctive ambience as "close and domestic in spite of its large horizontal dimensions."


7 Chemosphere

John Lautner

Hollywood Hills, 1960

Another L.A. icon, Lautner's "spacecraft" house -- a seemingly airborne octagonal pod supported by a single concrete column rising from a steep hillside -- is immediately recognizable for its improbable daring and novelty. Many have described it as optimistic and exuberant. An engineering feat that looked like a marriage between the local aerospace industry and the topography, the house, for all its enduring influence, has never been successfully imitated. (Lautner's 1949 design for the Googie coffee shop at Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards, by contrast, spawned a Jet Age commercial style still revered by diner enthusiasts.) The Chemosphere site was thought to be unbuildable before Lautner came up with the concept. Rakish, in a science-fiction way, and featured in movies such as Brian De Palma's voyeuristic "Body Double" (1984), the house doesn't seem to beckon to a family. "If I were a bachelor," architect Steven Ehrlich said, "I've love to live there."


8 Kappe House

Ray Kappe

Pacific Palisades, 1968

Even though the rules of this survey prevented panelists from citing their own projects, Ray Kappe's house garnered enough votes from other judges to land at No. 8. Though less known to the general public than such contemporaries as Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne, Kappe and his house are icons among the architect's peers. "Ray Kappe's house may be the greatest house in Southern California," said Stephen Kanner, past president of the L.A. chapter of the American Institute of Architects. "It's so creative, not only in the way he's sited it and the floor plan but the way light moves through the space, the way it hovers up and isn't pushed into the ground like most houses on slopes." Kappe used large rectangular concrete pillars to support the wood foundation beams, and the 4,000-square-foot house seems to float. "It constantly relates back to the hillside outside," panelist Ron Radziner said. "It's the quintessential tree house." Kappe, a founder of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, said: "I always appreciated Wright, but I didn't try to copy him. We were lighter on the landscape than that."


9 Dodge House

Irving Gill

West Hollywood, 1916 (demolished 1970)

Hard to believe this Modernist treasure was torn down to make way for apartments, but it happened 38 years ago, when historic preservation was still an exotic notion here. The Dodge House was visible on the other side of Kings Road when Schindler built his residence and studio (see No. 1). Nowadays, Gill's historic home survives only through photographs, memory and reputation. Panelist Crosby Doe put this one at the top of his list "to underscore the importance of architecture and what we've lost." Having grown up in L.A., Radziner remembered driving down Kings Road and seeing a lot of decrepit buildings, then seeing the Dodge House, which was clearly unique with its broad, white-stuccoed, two-story facade. "What Gill did so beautifully was to reach back to Mission and Mediterranean ideas and connect them to a modern aesthetic," Radziner said. "You could feel it by looking at that house."


10 Hollyhock House

Frank Lloyd Wright

Hollywood, 1921

Frank Lloyd Wright's first L.A. commission, designed for heiress and arts patron Aline Barnsdall, sits on a hill (now Barnsdall Art Park) at the east end of Hollywood. Representing Wright's attempt to create a style particular and appropriate to Southern California, the reinforced-concrete structure drew on his long-lined Prairie School past but acknowledged the Mediterranean climate by incorporating the gardens as part of the house, with glass doors and pergolas connecting interior space to outdoor space. "Spellbinding," concluded David Travers, the former editor and publisher of Arts & Architecture magazine. The house's name comes from a favorite flower of Barnsdall's that is reproduced in stylized form on the roof line, wall columns and planters. Also worth noting is that the house brought Rudolph Schindler to L.A.: He was summoned by Wright to oversee construction while Wright was busy in Japan designing Tokyo's Imperial Hotel. Barnsdall did not live here long, deciding when it was finished that Hollyhock was more a monument than a home, but she might have approved its use today as a public arts center.


Our panel of experts

When we set out on this exercise, we sought a panel whose credentials, experience and interests represent a range of residential architecture -- historic and contemporary, high-end and affordable, including green design and prefab. We defined Southern California as Santa Barbara to San Diego, including Palm Springs and the desert. We told panelists they could include homes that have been demolished but could not cite projects they designed themselves -- or, in the case of the real estate agent in our group, homes on the market that they're currently representing.

Panelists agonized over their lists, often complaining that it was an impossible task not only to cite just 10, but to rank them as well. Minds changed. Votes were revised and resubmitted. After the final top 10 lists came in, we used a weighted point system. Every time a house was ranked No. 1 on someone's list, it earned 10 points; if it was ranked No. 2, it earned 9 points, and so forth. Points from all eight panelists were added up to create the combined top 10 list published today.

Each judge's top 10 list is revealed here. Send your opinions to

Ray Kappe


1. Gamble House, Greene & Greene

2. Storer House, Frank Lloyd Wright

3. Kings Road House, Rudolph Schindler

4. Lovell Health House (Los Angeles), Richard Neutra

5. Lovell Beach House (Newport Beach), Rudolph Schindler

6. Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra

7. Chemosphere, John Lautner

8. Case Study House No. 21, Pierre Koenig

9. Rosen House, Craig Ellwood

10. St. Ives House, Carl Maston

Note: Kappe expressed disappointment at being limited to 10 picks, noting he wished there had been room to note contemporary homes by Larry Scarpa, Stephen Kanner and fellow panelist Steven Ehrlich.


Hitoshi Abe

Chairman, architecture and urban design department, UCLA

1. Elrod House, John Lautner

2. Stahl House (Case Study No. 22), Pierre Koenig

3. Gehry Residence, Frank Gehry

4. Eames House (Case Study No. 8), Charles and Ray Eames

5. Kappe House, Ray Kappe

6. Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra

7. Ennis House, Frank Lloyd Wright

8. Kings Road House, Rudolph Schindler

9. Carlson-Reges House, Roto Architects (Michael Rotondi)

10. Bloom House, Greg Lynn


Ron Radziner

Design principal, Marmol Radziner & Associates, Los Angeles

1. Kings Road House, Rudolph Schindler

2. Ennis House, Frank Lloyd Wright

3. Kappe House, Ray Kappe

4. Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra

5. Dodge House, Irving Gill

6. Frey House II, Albert Frey

7. Chemosphere, John Lautner

8. Horizon Avenue House, Frank Gehry

9. Malibu Beach House, Richard Meier

10. Stahl House (Case Study No. 22), Pierre Koenig


Steven Ehrlich

Design principal, Ehrlich Architects, Culver City

1. Kings Road House, Rudolph Schindler

2. Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra

3. Chemosphere, John Lautner

4. Eames House (Case Study No. 8), Charles and Ray Eames

5. Kappe House, Ray Kappe

6. Ennis House, Frank Lloyd Wright

7. Stahl House (Case Study No. 22), Pierre Koenig

8. Albert Frey House, Palm Springs

9. Gamble House, Greene & Greene

10 (tie). Gehry Residence, Frank Gehry

10 (tie). Myers Montecito Residence, Barton Myers

10 (tie). Carlson-Reges House, Roto Architects (Michael Rotondi)


Karrie Jacobs

Architecture critic, author of "The Perfect $100,000 House" and founding editor of Dwell magazine

1. Eames House (Case Study No. 8), Charles and Ray Eames

2. 3530 Moore St., L.A., Gregory Ain

3. Ennis House, Frank Lloyd Wright

4. Kings Road House, Rudolph Schindler

5. Off-grid IT House, Taalman Koch

6. Frey House II, Albert Frey

7. Chemosphere, John Lautner

8. Jamie Residence, Escher GuneWardena

9. Stahl House (Case Study No. 22), Pierre Koenig

10. Bass House (Case Study No. 20), Buff, Straub & Hensman

Note: Jacobs said her No. 2 pick is a nicely restored example in Ain's historic 1950s Mar Vista tract. Her No. 5 pick, by the L.A.-based firm Taalman Koch Architecture, is an aluminum-frame glass box completed in 2007 near Joshua Tree.


David Travers

Editor and publisher of Arts & Architecture magazine, 1962-67

1. Hollyhock House, Frank Lloyd Wright

2. Eames House (Case Study No. 8), Charles and Ray Eames

3. Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra

4. Stahl House (Case Study No. 22), Pierre Koenig

5. Rabinowitz House in Bel-Air, J.R. Davidson

6. Shulman House, Raphael Soriano

7. General Panel House, Walter Gropius/Konrad Wachsmann

8. Rosen House, Craig Ellwood

9. Van Patten House, Rudolph Schindler

10. Silvertop, John Lautner

Note: Travers calls his No. 5 pick on Stradella Road "a lovely example of the work of one of the architects who revolutionized the single-family dwelling." He calls his No. 7 pick, on Nichols Canyon Road in the Hollywood Hills, a "failed industrial experiment, but oh, what could have been."


Crosby Doe

Real estate agent

1. Dodge House, Irving Gill

2. Gamble House, Greene & Greene

3. Silvertop, John Lautner

4. English House, Harwell Hamilton Harris

5. Adamson House, Stiles Clements

6. Parkinson House, Donald Parkinson (demolished)

7. Kings Road House, Rudolph Schindler

8. Wrigley Mansion (now headquarters for Tournament of Roses Assn. in Pasadena), G. Lawrence Stimson

9. Hollyhock House, Frank Lloyd Wright

10. Bass House (Case Study No. 20), Buff, Straub & Hensman

Note: Doe initially listed Frank Lloyd Wright's Millard House in Pasadena at No. 3 and Richard Neutra's Kaufmann House at No. 4. But because he is representing both properties on the market, we asked him to suggest alternates. It's worth noting that had his original list counted, Kaufmann House would have leaped into the No. 1 position.


Linda Dishman

Executive director, Los Angeles Conservancy

1. Ennis House, Frank Lloyd Wright

2. Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra

3. Stahl House (Case Study No. 22), Pierre Koenig

4. Casa de las Campanas, Lester G. Scherer

5. Diane Keaton's house, Ralph Flewelling

6. Gamble House, Greene & Greene

7. Kings Road House, Rudolph Schindler

8. Chemosphere, John Lautner

9. How House, Rudolph Schindler

10. VDL Research House II, Richard and Dion Neutra

Note: Dishman was distressed by the task at hand, worried that any list of 10 homes would invariably leave off landmark achievements not only in architecture, but in preservation as well. "You know you are asking me to make some enemies," she said. Ultimately she compiled her choices guided by personal experience and homes with compelling stories.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Thursday, January 01, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 85 words Type of Material: Correction Favorite homes: Saturday's Home section cover package, which featured a panel of experts' favorite houses in Southern California, included an incorrect photograph to represent the 1968 Kappe House in Pacific Palisades. The photo was of another Ray Kappe-designed house, the 1973 Katzenstein House, also in Pacific Palisades. The 1968 Kappe House is at right. Elsewhere in the package, a caption described Rudolph Schindler's Kings Road House in West Hollywood as the first residence built in the Modern style, a subjective observation that some experts contest. For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday, January 03, 2009 Home Edition Home Part F Page 4 Features Desk 2 inches; 89 words Type of Material: Correction Favorite homes: The Dec. 27 cover package, which featured a panel of experts' selections of their favorite houses in Southern California, included an incorrect photograph to represent the 1968 Kappe House in Pacific Palisades. The photo was of another Ray Kappe-designed house, the 1973 Katzenstein House, also in Pacific Palisades. The 1968 Kappe House is at left. Also in this cover package, a caption described Rudolph Schindler's Kings Road House in West Hollywood as the first residence built in the Modern style, a subjective observation that some experts contest.
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