Growing up in the home of a renowned architect — one who designed four Case Study Houses for that landmark program — was akin to living in a model home, at least for the children of Edward Killingsworth.
With his office less than a mile away, Killingsworth would invite clients to the family’s 1961 Long Beach home, which served as an ineffable exemplar of glass, light, air and space.
“My dad would call: ‘I’m bringing a client for lunch,’ and in walks Conrad Hilton or John Wayne,” said his son, Kim Killingsworth. “We learned to be immaculate children.”
The younger Killingsworth recently led a private tour around the 3,400-square-foot two-bedroom home — a rare look at a legacy property just sold by Crosby Doe Associates for the pedigree price of $3.3 million. Killingsworth’s actress mother, Laura, deemed “the grande dame of Long Beach musical theater,” lived in the home until her death in June at age 95. Edward Killingsworth died in 2004.
He bought the Virginia Country Club lot for $6,500 in 1953, turning it into a family project — sons Kim and Greg initially helped landscape the parcel (every box of pulled weeds earned them playtime). Later they did other jobs, such as laying bricks and sanding and finishing their father’s custom walnut cabinetry that warms the home.
“The house was my cathedral, my religion,” said Killingsworth, 69, who likened the home’s frequent cocktail parties to scenes out of the TV series “Mad Men.”
His father was the artist-genius behind Killingsworth, Brady & Smith Associates, with its 1955 Killingsworth-designed offices located on Long Beach Boulevard — another paragon of the fragile elegance that the architect spun from post-and-beam construction and glass-rich lines. Long Beach boasts 22 Killingsworth-designed homes.
His signature project was 1962’s Case Study House No. 25, with its soaring 17-foot-high entry fronting a canal in the Naples neighborhood of Long Beach. He also designed and built La Jolla’s 1960 “Triad” houses, Nos. 23A, B and C. Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House program ran from 1945 to 1964, an experiment in creating innovative and affordable prototypes capable of quick duplication for the masses freed from World War II’s strictures.
The Killingsworth family home presents a modest walled exterior. The only hint of the aesthetic exaltation that lies within is the set of soaring front doors (his trademark), bookended by regal lanterns bought in Copenhagen, and the yard’s 160-year-old olive trees.
Upon entry, a vast bricked courtyard unspools with wood-framed suggestions of outdoor rooms, all mirrored in a slender, 60-foot pool stretching from the entrance. Four more ancient olive trees grace the expanse, while a pair of fierce wood lions sourced in Jakarta stand guard.
Overhead, wisteria-laden laths shot through with light cast zebraic arrays of shadow, constantly shifting — another Killingsworth trademark that turns the house into a protean phenomenon. Famed Midcentury photographer Julius Shulman “loved this house because it looks different every minute with the passing sun,” said Kim Killingsworth, a retired lighting designer who lives with his wife, Kathleen, in Garden Grove.
After that entryway, a staggering universe of luminous space, the house beyond could have been a mere afterthought. But in truth it wholly complements the courtyard — a delicate, seamless flow of glass walls invite the outside in, turning the home nearly invisible.
A central garden atrium, with a translucent roof faced with more lath, is the home’s hub — all rooms pivot off that fulcrum, wreathing the space and its 12-foot-high ceilings with glass. From this core, Killingsworth flexes his power as master of the axis point. Unrestricted sight lines flow in diverse directions.
“Wherever you stand, you’re never locked in,” said Kim Killingsworth, positioned at the atrium’s edge, his bare feet sunk into white carpet edged with brick flooring. The architect’s intent was to liberate the eye and senses — even with his smallish design, given its 0.7-acre lot (the home was originally 2,700 square feet but was expanded after a 1977 fire to include a now-finished space above the garage).
“It’s a very large small house,” Laura Killingsworth said in a 2004 Times interview.
“It is a place where two people can live very comfortably and not feel overwhelmed by unused space.”
The Killingsworths also opened their home for gatherings that furthered civic projects, including Musical Theatre West and the Long Beach Cancer League, which was “founded over there in the living room,” said son Kim, pointing to a couch. “This house has raised a lot of money for Long Beach.” The new architecture-savvy owners are reported to have similar benevolent plans for the property.
Killingsworth’s other notable Long Beach projects include the 1957 Opdahl House on Naples island, Bixby Knolls’ 1957 Clock, Waestman, Clock Law Offices, the Cambridge office building and his four decades of work on Cal State Long Beach’s master plan. After 1970, Killingsworth’s focus shifted to designing luxury hotels and resorts.