How Charles & Ray Eames Found their Land: A Bluff for a New Housing Program

Ray Eames and John Entenza standing on the plot of land where the Eameses built their home, Case Study House #8.

John Entenza, the editor of the modernist publication,Arts & Architecture, purchased a five-acre plot of land neighboring the sea in the Pacific Palisades in 1941. This property—essentially a failed eucalyptus harvesting project by Abbot Kinney from the 1890s—was largely undeveloped and an impossibly far distance from the Los Angeles city center.

Entenza’s intent for this eucalyptus grove was initially unclear; however, when plans to solve a post-war housing crisis began to swirl in his mind, the grounds became the perfect place for the start of something monumentally “modern:” the Case Study House Program. Entenza envisioned the program as the perfect post-war housing solution accessible to middle-class America. The house designs would utilize industrial grade off-the-shelf or catalogue-ordered building materials in a residential context, showcasing a modern aesthetic that was still quite unusual for the time.

The Entenza House, known as Case Study House #9.
As the program began in 1945, Arts & Architecture Magazine proposed two designs for this meadow: Case Study #8 for Charles and Ray, and Case Study #9 for John Entenza himself. The Eameses collaborated with Eero Saarinen on both structures.

At that time, World War II was winding down, and the U.S. was experiencing a shortage of steel. This meant the structural material for the two homes was temporarily unavailable for residential use. As a result, Eames and Saarinen postponed their building plans for nearly three years. Charles and Ray used that time to redesign the Eames House while other Case Study homes were being built.

Left: Case Study House #20.  Right: Case Study House #18

The first structure to break ground was Case Study House #20 by Richard Neutra. He designed the home for the Bailey family: a young dentist and his wife. The couple planned to have children in the future, so Dr. Bailey commissioned Neutra to plan an additional walkway and wing of the home to be built in later years. /p>

Next came Rodney Walker’s Case Study House #18. They built the home for the West family in 1948 on the northeast corner of the five acres. Another Neutra design of the late 1940s was situated in between #18 and #20, but the Case Study Program later disavowed it due to a change in design and materials.

Charles and Ray’s home and studio, or Case Study House #8

The year 1949 marked the start of construction on the Eames and Entenza houses. The structures, described as “technological twins, but architectural opposites,” utilize similar materials that are standard to the industrial building industry; however, they feature drastically different forms and serve very different needs.

Due to Entenza’s close friendship with Charles and Ray, it was natural to share their three acres more fluidly; they left little division between the separate properties on this Case Study bluff, allowing the residents to share the eucalyptus grove and the scenic Pacific Ocean view below the cliff’s edge. Still, the designs were intentional in preventing dwellers from peering into the private areas of the neighboring house.

Today, all five homes are still remarkably intact, and some boast more historic materials than others. While the Eames House is now a non-profit and national historic landmark that’s open to the public by appointment, the other homes remain as cherished private residences.

Despite their lack of public access, one can still take a pleasant walk up the driveway, passing Neutra’s original, curved weeping mortar wall and the other properties on the way to the Eames House.

To learn more, read the Arts & Architecture Magazine briefings here.