Growing Up at 205 Chautauqua (Case Study House No. 9)

Posted February 17, 2014

“I always knew if Mrs. Eames liked it or gave it to me it was the ‘right’ thing.”

REFLECTIONS ON GROWING UP AT 205 CHAUTAUQUA

and some questions which have been asked with my answers

By Linda Cervon

My parents bought Case Study House #9 from John Entenza (editor of Arts & Architecture magazine), the original owner, in 1955 (for $55,000).

My mother was the very first person to go through the house when it was opened to the public. She told my dad that this was her dream house and a few years later when it came on the market they bought it! (She was Raphael Soriano’s draftsman for a few years in the 1940s, so could appreciate what she saw.)

Being a child growing up there was great as the Eames’ were wonderful neighbors, always willing to have me play in the studio or house or the grounds. Once Charles assembled a whole bunch of foot-sq cardboard boxes and 2 other neighbor kids (they lived in the Neutra, that Chautauqua cul-de-sac is a regular Case Study House hotbed) and I made forts and buildings in the studio and swung on a thick rope tied to a beam and knocked down the boxes! Can you imagine?! With all of Ray’s little stuff and collections everywhere. I was in a few of their movies and some still-photo projects.

Our house was actually not much of a house for a family. My room was the garage, made over slightly (the garage door being replaced with a sliding glass door after about 5 years). The house was sort of creepy for a kid with all those huge windows. I never really liked being home alone, even in high school. There were always architecture students walking around the grounds, taking pictures and peeking in. It was like being a movie star! I honestly had to get dressed, fix my hair, and put on makeup just to go to the kitchen.

But the house was such a great conversation piece. My mom and dad knew all the art/architecture people of the time and the house was filled with Natzler pots and Beatrice Wood stuff, Carroll Barnes sculpture, all the Eames furniture, toys, etc. I’m sure I just took it for granted at the time. I wish my mom had just taken me by the shoulders and said “LOOK AROUND AND WAKEUP!”

One really neat thing were the packing boxes the Eames furniture came in … it was printed on the outside to be used (after the furniture was removed) as playhouse modules. If you bought several pieces, you could put them together and they’d make a mini Eames-designed house! I bet there aren’t many of those crates around or even people who remember them.

After my mom died in 1970, my dad remarried the wickedest stepmother of all time and she decided to REMODEL and ADD ON!!!!!!!!! Shortly after that travesty was complete (thank goodness Charles wasn’t around to see it), my Dad died. WSM (wicked stepmother) sold the house rather than keep it in the family. I was devastated as I figured I’d be raising MY kids there. It had been designated a historical landmark and so the people who bought it had to restore it and then they built a NEW house practically on top of it. The property is about 1-1/2 acres. When they cut down all the eucalyptus trees in the meadow to have more view of the ocean they lost a lot of land when the 1994 earthquake hit. (There’s sweet justice!)

I have only seen it once since I was there having the granddaddy of all estate sales in 1991 after dad died. (He was an inventor and scientist and collector and had hundreds of square feet of wonderful stuff, which we needed to liquidate.) When I was there last in 1994, they were just beginning to build the new house and it was actually painful to watch. I live about 60 miles north of Pacific Palisades now but occasionally if I’m on Pacific Coast Highway I look up and see the new house and it’s awful!

Recently (June 2010) it sold for $10 million! There are some pics of the new house on this site.

Or Google it by the address.

Q&A

“I find it so odd that lots of other people haven’t been fascinated to hear about your past. Maybe not so odd, though, when you see what’s happened to southern California. It’s not exactly what John Entenza and the other Arts & Architecture people had in mind.”

You are so right! So Cal is the most impermanent place for architecture. The wonderful stuff they tear down for yuppie malls. I have a neat book published in the late 1920s showing all the most fabulous Los Angeles area homes of the day. So I decided to find them and photograph them. What a SHOCK! A lot had been demolished for the Santa Monica Freeway! Some had been made into apartments. Unfortunately most were in a “bad” neighborhood now, and very run down. It was a horrifying experience. Edifying, but horrifying!

“Your parents must have been pretty remarkable people to have chosen to live in what by any measure was a pretty avant garde, even radical, house.”

My dad was an inventor and designer (toys, gadgets, he had been working on an unconventional new bicycle design at the time of his death), and they both loved MODERN International style. My mom had a subscription to Arts & Architecture when she was still in high school in 1940 … how’s that for devotion.

“You said your mother worked in Soriano’s office for a while. Did she do any architecture on her own?”

No, just drafting.

“Did she continue to associate with these great California modernists while you were growing up?”

Oh, yes. Eames, Soriano, Ellwood, etc. Lots I never really connected with as a child, unless they had kids or tried to have a relationship with me. Craig Ellwood had children around my age and we went on field trips together. (After my mom died, my dad was dating Craig Ellwood’s ex-wife. She was the mom on the Dennis the Menace TV show.) I even dated 2 of Rodney Walker’s sons (at different times). Walker had designed the Case Study House next door to ours, and I understand one of the sons is living in the house his dad designed in Ojai.

“Did you get to know any of them or visit any of their buildings?”

Yes, but I’m sure I would rather have been at the beach or a Beatles concert. Funny what we take for granted as kids. Some of the people were very remarkable, and some were pretty dull. I think I realized the remarkable ones were the ones to pay attention to, Eames (both) and Raphael Soriano, in particular.

“What was the nearby Neutra house like? Was that the Bailey house?”

Yes. The Bailey’s were next door and luckily they had 3 kids near my age. The CSH tract in the Palisades was in a very secluded area, hard to find and not really a neighborhood. The Bailey house was very nice. The landscaping was lush (thanks to the kids’ job of watering it for hours it seemed on Saturday mornings when I wanted to play!), Dr. Bailey was a dentist and loved to garden with his wife. The house was rather odd as it had the bedrooms detached from the main house. Scary for sleepovers and not fun when it was raining! Also for years they didn’t have a phone in the bedroom part so it was hard to get a hold of the kids to play. The house was actually very small. The kitchen was rather tiny; nice living room with one wall, facing the garden and pool, all glass. It was a low house. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but it seemed to fit the plot so well, rather FL Wrightish. The Bailey family sold the house when Dr. Bailey died. I heard it had been “restored”.

“Did your parents know John Entenza and did he continue to have an association with the house?”

No, I don’t believe there was any association after the sale of the house was complete.

“Where did he live after CSH#9?”

He took an apartment near the magazine’s office on Wilshire in Midtown.

“Why did he decide to leave it after so short a time?”

He lived there for 5 years. Probably needed the money! My folks paid $55,000 in 1955. A few months earlier it was advertised in A&A for $65,000.

“When your parents bought the house, did it come with the original furnishings?”

He left some Eames and Saarinen furniture for us, which was photographed in the magazine.

“How did your parents have it decorated?”

Lots of Eames furniture from our previous house. A few Japanese and Chinese pieces. Saarinen pedestal table and chairs in the dining area. Some Victorian big stained glass panels hung on chains against the big windows overlooking the meadow/ocean. Quite eclectic. The house, in its simplicity, was a perfect showcase for a Thonet bentwood rocker and other antiques.

“Did they keep the original color scheme?”

Pretty much. Pale earth/nature tones. The color scheme mirrored the outside, brought the trees and landscape inside. With the huge glass windows, it was disconcerting to have bright colors on the walls. After my mom died, one of my dad’s girlfriends actually redecorated the house as her thesis for her doctorate. When you walked in you expected to hear calliope music. She loved color and the interior reverberated with circus tones. I found it jarring and much preferred the original color scheme.

“What was Ray like?”

Ray was a very neat lady. She wasn’t flamboyant nor flashy, always sophisticated in a quiet, thoughtful way. Not to say she was stuck-up or snooty, but just refined and dignified. Her fame and money (and I’m not really sure there was all that much money) didn’t affect her.

“How well did you know Charles and Ray?”

I knew Ray quite well as I literally grew up with her! I was 7 when we bought the house. Ray influenced me in lots of ways. From her wonderful sense of style and decorating, to her handwriting and her signature hearts. I even drive a Jaguar like she did and have been known to wear ballet slippers as non-dance footwear. I always knew if Mrs. Eames liked it, or gave it to me it was the “right” thing. (I never got up the nerve to call her “Ray” to her face, however Mr. Eames was always “Charles”!) I know also she influenced my mom who was a tremendous fan of the Eames’ from her high school days in the early 1940s. So buying the house AND living next door to Ray and Charles was a dream come true for my mother!

“Did Charles give Ray credit?”

I think Charles gave her a lot of credit as she was involved in a different aspect of their creations. They were a team… it wasn’t just about Charles. And he was very nice and charming and even a bit flirtatious! He didn’t mind being hugged! But I was always much more in awe of Ray than him. She was more aloof, maybe never having had any children of her own explains some of it.

“Did you get to know the Natzlers?”

Yes, they were long time family friends. In the 1940s my dad designed a kiln for Gertrud. Otto’s second wife Gail, (closer to my age) became a dear friend. When I was about 7 we were having dinner with Gertrud and Otto at their home in the Hollywood Hills. And as usual I was allowed to make something of clay in Gertrud’s studio. It was a silly thing with lots of finger pokings in it, but when she picked it up to fire it I remember she was very rough with it and changed the shape, it really hurt my feelings. Funny the things kids remember. They never had children, the story goes that early on in their marriage she wanted them and Otto didn’t … then later when he did, SHE didn’t! Gertrud, from Austria, used to make a great dessert called Nut Noodles. It was buttered egg noodles with finely ground walnuts and brown sugar.

“Beatrice Wood?”

She was a student of Otto Natzler, and never really cared much for children as I recall. My parents visited her frequently in Ojai (not far from Ventura) where she lived until her death recently.

“Raphael Soriano?”

Raphael, in his later years, lived at the end of a pier in Tiburon across the bay from San Francisco. Prior to that I believe he lived in an apartment in Hollywood. Every time we would vacation in San Francisco in the 1950s and 1960s, we would visit him. Seemed like 4 or 5 times a year. He was quite a character and even after my mom died, and I, as an adult, had moved to Carmel, we kept in touch and I’d visit him. He was charming and flamboyant, a generous and affectionate Greek. One of his designs was for Fred McNabb in Sausalito, a gorgeous home on the side of a hill. The McNabbs owned the Halliwell Seed Company in SF. That building was also designed by Soriano. Fred and Esther McNabb were long time family friends and I spent many happy days staying with them in their guest room.

“When your “Wicked Stepmother” started altering the house, were there protests?”

No, Ray Eames was too polite! But you can guess what she was thinking! There was a weird story going around about the CSH tract being cursed because my mom, my dad, my WSM all died of cancer, as did Mrs. Bailey, and Mrs. Eames. The story spreaders forgot ALL the people who lived there who DIDN’T die of cancer though!

“Do you know about Alexander Girard’s fabrics and draperies in this house?”

Only that I believe he designed the drapes which hung on the huge windows overlooking the meadow towards the ocean.

“Do you know something about the beautiful Van Keppel Green garden furniture?”

We had a bunch of it and my dad repeatedly had to RESTRING it! I guess the cotton wore out quickly being so near the sea with the salty air and sun. Finally he restrung it with nylon (actually clothes line cord). Beautifully designed pieces, but not very practical! John Entenza left it for us. I gave the few pieces that I had to Dr. Bailey a decade ago and then he was robbed and it was all stolen.

‘When I was in LA 5 years ago, I visited CSH #8 + 9, it was great!”

How lucky for you! I hope it was a wonderful experience! Growing up there, with all the land and trees and being so isolated, was a fabulous experience. I was a very imaginative child so the setting was perfect for my games. My brother wasn’t born until I was 12 years old, so I had a lot of time alone.

Published courtesy of Eclectionary.com/Linda Cervon.