Why list Case Study houses on the National Register?
Ten Case Study houses from Los Angeles, Ventura and San Diego have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Los Angeles Conservancy announced last week.
The listing includes homes designed by household names of California modernism, such as Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra and Pierre Koenig. All were part of the Case Study program organized by John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture magazine, in 1945. The magazine commissioned architects to develop prototype modernist housing for a post-World War II America, and in doing so, the program popularized a sleek aesthetic that endures today. The program encompassed more than three-dozen designs, but not all were actually built and some have been demolished or significantly altered.
The L.A. Conservancy’s Modern Committee spearheaded the National Register nomination, a nearly decade-long effort that culminated with the National Park Service formally listing 10 houses on July 24.
Adrian Scott Fine, the conservancy’s director of advocacy, spoke with us about the importance of this national recognition, what it means for the historic houses and why an 11th home, Case Study House No. 23A, was deemed eligible to be listed but wasn’t because of the owner’s objection.
Question: Why did the L.A. Conservancy go through the trouble of getting these Case Study houses listed?
Answer: It was such an innovative program, instrumental to influencing the design of residences, not just in Southern California but also all over the country. Listing them was to give them the recognition they so dearly deserve.
How did the conservancy choose which homes to nominate?
It was a long process done mostly by volunteers. We focused on properties in Los Angeles County, since we’re an L.A.-based organization. We also looked outside of the county. We eventually trimmed down the list once we met with the owners or saw the property and realized it had too many changes already.
What protection does this listing offer the houses?
It’s pretty limited. Any building on the National Register could, in theory, be demolished. There are different types of designation for historic buildings from the national level down to the local level. It’s most often the local designation that provides real protection. However, we hope that knowing these houses have achieved this level of distinction, homeowners wouldn’t do something that would be detrimental to the home.
To what extent does the National Register listing protect the design?
Being listed doesn’t mean you can’t change anything on the house. You certainly can. The nomination calls out character-defining features. Case Study House No. 18 and No. 22 have innovative glass walls. Case Study House No. 28 has a great interior courtyard. Hopefully, owners wouldn’t change features like that. It would compromise the integrity of the house.
One home that the conservancy nominated was found eligible for designation but wasn’t included in the final listing. Why would an owner object to adding a home to the register?
Some owners were just uncomfortable with people knowing about their house. The other factor was the perceived level of government bureaucracy, which isn’t the case. The former [privacy] was the reason with the one owner who objected. It wasn’t that they didn’t care about the house or that they hadn’t done a good job preserving it.
What benefits are there to being designated?
They get the distinction of being able to say they live in a nationally historic property. Not every property can achieve that level of significance. The property would be eligible for a conservation easement because it’s listed. Owners would then receive a one-time charitable tax deduction for that.
There is also a federal tax credit program that credits 20% of the investment in the properties, but it only applies to income-producing properties. Most of the Case Study houses are individual residences, so this wouldn’t apply.
Considering the conservancy’s submission was a multiple-property nomination, what are the implications for the other Case Study homes not registered?
If any of the houses that were left off want to be included, it would be a really streamlined and easy process to be listed because the hard work has been done. Why these houses are important has already been established. The homeowners can do the specific write-up on their house alone. They don’t have to make a bigger case.
THE LIST: ADDITIONS TO THE NATIONAL REGISTER
Case Study House No. 1, 10152 Toluca Lake Ave., Los Angeles
Case Study House No. 9, 205 Chautauqua Blvd., Los Angeles
Case Study House No. 10, 711 S. San Rafael Ave., Pasadena
Case Study House No. 16, 1811 Bel Air Road, Los Angeles
Case Study House No. 18, 199 Chautauqua Blvd., Los Angeles
Case Study House No. 20, 2275 N. Santa Rosa Ave., Altadena
Case Study House No. 21, 9038 Wonderland Park Ave., Los Angeles
Case Study House No. 22, 1635 Woods Drive, Los Angeles
Case Study House No. 23A, 2342 Rue de Anne, La Jolla, San Diego (eligible but not added)
Case Study House No. 23C, 2339 Rue de Anne, La Jolla, San Diego
Case Study House No. 28, 91 Inverness Road, Thousand Oaks
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