Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Over the Hills and Far Away...

Our last leg of the Case Study Rides within the LA County Basin proper brought us through familiar neighborhoods and to visit some familiar faces. We've been here before. A few times actually. But the difficulty of the climb and the quality of the work (not to mention the views) is really unparalleled by anything else the city has to offer.

We started the ride winding up the narrow passes of Laurel Canyon. The sounds of German tuned flat sixes mixed with cries of curiosity and fears of liability flew by our ears as we made the climb up to Lookout Mountain Pass, our access to Pierre Koenig's first Case Study endeavor. A quick left and the climb continues, but no mas, we've done this climb before. Unfortunately that doesn't make it any easier, or any less confusing. The terrain is steep, but what's worse is the lack of clear signage, and roads that don't make any distinct breaks from one another, they just sort of veer off and merge back up again later on, like the streetscape was formed by some sort of twisted urban stream of consciousness designed to confuse and disorient amateur passersby. Admittedly, we lost a few people, but with a little good luck, and a few phone calls, we all made it to the right spot, thankfully, because the Bailey House, or Case Study House #21, as it stands to today, is probably the most unique of all the remaining Case Study Homes.

Case Study #21 is in impeccable condition. Fresh paint, a totally manicured landscape, furniture which looks like it belongs in a museum, and glass, huge expanses of glass so clean you can eat off of them. The home as it stands today is the product of meticulous care. You can see all the fine details in pristine condition, up close and personal. From the exposed H-shape steel frame, to the corrugated wall and roof panels, to the carefully placed tiny waterspouts which allow the roof gutters to drain to the pool below, everything is right there in front of your eyes without any rust or signs of aging. Fine details aside, though, the most interesting aspect of CSH #21 is that it's basically public domain. Wonderland Park Drive is very much a public street and 9038 Wonderland Park Drive is very much a public house. Unlike other homes which engage the entirey of one dimension of their lot (making it impossible to get more than a front elevation's understanding of the building) CSH #21 has space all the way around, so you can actually see every angle, every facade, every detail of the house. And whats more, theres rarely anyone there, so you can actually see it. Head up with a camera and snap the same angles that Julius Schulman did, its well worth the hike.

After CSH #21 we finished our climb up to Mullholland Highway where we broke off to Woodrow Wilson Drive towards Rodney Walkers CSH #17, the second home on the tour. First though, we decided to stop off at Schindlers Fitzpatrick-Leland House which is basically at the corner of Mullholland and Woodrow Wilson just as Laurel Canyon Blvd reaches its apex. Although the facade facing Laurel Canyon is now slightly obscured by a grove of Eucalyptus trees, the home still has a commanding presence over the hillside, and is not only a fantastic example of Schindler's high modern terraced style, but also in amazing condition thanks to the care and hard work of its previous owner Mr. Russ Leland. Like the Wolfe Residence and Bubeshko Apartments, the Fitzpatrick House is a series of terraces which allow for a cascading of space from one level to the next. Looking up from Laurel Canyon, the home begins as a three storey structure and peels away, right to left, until all that is left is an outdoor balcony. Each space is framed in white stucco to create shelter and privacy and then is wrapped in floor to ceiling glass allowing for views all the way out across the LA basin. Unfortunately, the Fitzpatrick House is not nearly as much of a public space as CSH #21 is, and so you'll be able to see it, but not up close and personal. We attempted to take a seat on the stacked stone wall along the Woodrow Wilson side of the property to get better views of the property, but were quickly reminded by a neighbor that trespassing meant a quick call to the cops, so we decided it might just be better to head out.

Rodney Walker's CSH #17 is just a short ride along Woodrow Wilson Drive heading east but is incredibly difficult to find unless you know what you're looking for. The house, as it was originally designed, is setback from the street quite a distance, and unfortunately has undergone major renovations (read: basically demolished). 7861 Woodrow Wilson Drive was originally a small modernist cottage. Long Roof overhands shading sliding glass doors which allowed interior living spaces to flow freely outdoors. What stands now is more or less a contemporary steel and glass stealth box, hidden from plain sight. We stopped to observe the historic location and moved on heading east for J.R. Davidson's Case Study House #1 near Toluca Lake. First, though, we decided to stop by another familiar face, John Lautner's Malin Residence, aka the Chemosphere House.

Lautner's Chemosphere, if nothing else, is the most unique hillside home in the city if not the world. Perched atop a solid concrete pillar, hovering amidst the tree line, the home soars above Mullholland drive more like a spacecraft than a home. It takes a funicular and a sky bridge to get inside the home, but getting up next to it, only takes a quick climb up the hillside, which is well worth the lack of sure footing. Getting up next to the home, you really get a sense of the home's personality. It seems to look back at you with a slightly comical gaze, while keeping an eye off to the distance. We ended our ride here partially because the trek up had left us all totally void of energy and looking for the first road downhill, and partially because its difficult for anything to follow the Chemosphere. The next ride however, will take us beyond the hills and up into the Arroyo for the final ride to cover the remaining Case Study Home.

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