Designing couple Charles and Ray Eames were known for their intelligence and their joie de vivre, both of which are apparent at the Eames House nestled in the Pacific Palisades. One of Southern California’s most beloved examples of modernist residential design, with its Mondrian-style color-block exterior and environmentally-sensitive siting, this home was the Eames’ residence from the time they moved in—on Christmas Eve of 1949—until their deaths in the '70s and '80s, respectively. Visitors park a couple blocks away and walk up the hilly driveway for a self-guided tour of the exterior ($10, reservations required). Interior tours are more difficult to come by: Members are invited for an appreciation day, always scheduled near the Eames’ June 20 anniversary. Anyone can book a one-hour personal tour ($275; $200 for members), but if you’re a real Eames fan, you may want to splurge on the picnic for four in the meadow ($750; $675 for members) and recreate the opening shots of the duo’s popular Powers of Ten video.
Sleeping baskets on the roof, communal kitchens and a revolving-door salon of artists. Nope, not a Burning Man camp: This is the Schindler House, designed by Austrian architect Rudolf Schindler, who built it as a dual-family residence in which his family cohabited for a time with his frenemy and fellow influential architect Richard Neutra. A quiet, Japanese-influenced concrete building hidden behind a bamboo grove on a street of condos, this experiment in living now houses the Mak Center, a Vienna-based institute that runs a fantastic program of events in the space, including experimental fashion shows, innovative performance art and concerts of new, original compositions. During the week, visitors can wander around the empty house and imagine themselves part of the freewheeling LA bohemia of the 1920s and '30s.
Where would we be without those energetic civic boosters that built Los Angeles? The prolific Charles Fletcher Lummis founded the Southwest Museum, was an editor at the Los Angeles Times, and still managed to design this house (the name of which means “the Sycamore” in Spanish) on the banks of the Arroyo Seco. Its exterior is made almost entirely from river rock and the interior is heavily influenced by Pueblo Indian dwellings. Fans of today’s DIY movement will appreciate the rustic Craftsman charm of this home, which is furnished with hand-crafted wood pieces; it’s interesting to see how closely modern-day bohemian design mirrors that of Lummis House. The Historical Society of Southern California is now headquartered here, and it holds several Sunday afternoon programs a year, as well as an annual holiday open house in December.
This 1921, Mayan-inflected Frank Lloyd Wright house was originally built as a “progressive theatrical community” space by activist and oil heiress Aline Barnsdall. Today it’s the centerpiece of Barnsdall Park and is open for tours during the park’s popular Friday night wine tasting events. Rudolf Schindler, a protégé of Wright’s, was the overseeing architect on this project (unusual for Wright, who typically was on-site for all of his buildings) and by all reports it was a contentious building process, with the same delays and cost overruns familiar to anyone who’s attempted construction. After it was completed, frequent flooding of the living room in the short yet destructive rainy season and seismic concerns prevented Barnsdall from living in the gorgeous but impractical concrete and stucco house for long—though she did spend the rest of her life in a smaller house on the property, which the family called Olive Hill.
Master woodworker Sam Maloof and his carpenters designed and built this lovely, thoughtful home piece by piece in his on-site workshop; no two door openings are the same here, and each joint is a wonder of craftsmanship. A MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, Maloof has had his iconic rocking chairs shown at the Smithsonian; he also designed the chairs that were used on-camera at the history-changing Nixon/Kennedy debates. Visitors can see some of this furniture, as well as the wide-ranging collection of arts-and-craft pieces that he and his wife of 50 years, Alfreda, amassed together. The garden, which he tended, and the house are both open for tours; if you ask, you might be able to peek into the workshop, where he continued building until his death in 2009 at the age of 93.
Is the Greystone Mansion haunted? The society that runs it certainly wants us to think so—haunted house tours and a popular interactive play capitalize on the 1929 scandal in which the owner of the mansion, oil heir Ned Doheny, died in a mysterious murder-suicide with his boyhood friend and employee. Doheny’s father was mired in the Teacup Dome Scandal at the time, and the deaths meant that he was excused from testifying; rumors also abounded that Ned, who was married with children, was trying to cover up a same-sex affair. Either way, a tour of this 55-room Tudor estate is a good way to get a glimpse into the lives of LA’s historical 1%—costly slate clads the façade and walkways, the windows are leaded glass and guests were entertained in the bowling alley and two movie theaters. When the home was finished in 1929, it cost a reported $3M, making it the most expensive private home in the city at the time.
Pasadena may think it owes much of its traditional Arts and Crafts style to Charles and Henry Greene, the brothers and architects responsible for designing many of the city’s landmark buildings, but really, they should be honoring Thomas Greene, the architects’ father. He was the one who decided on their profession, sending them off to MIT and then demanding they move out to Pasadena once they graduated. No word on whether he determined their style as well, but no matter who the progenitor, this graceful house originally built for one of the heirs of the Proctor & Gamble fortune remains one of the best examples of their work. Programming at the Gamble House is exceptional—there are tours that focus on things like the art glass or the details and joinery in the house, as well as more casual events like Brown Bag Tuesday, when visitors bring their own picnic lunch to eat on the grounds, followed by a 20-minute tour. However you decide to experience it, don’t miss the remarkable zig-zag staircase, a joyous element that adds a bit of fun to the perfection of the house.
The original Neutra VDL Research House, a living laboratory for architect Richard Neutra’s theories on residential design, was built for $8,000 (including the site!) in 1932; it burned down in 1963 and two years later his son oversaw the rebuilding of an updated version. Neutra was something of a control-freak as a designer—he made recommendations to his clients that included the ideal flowers to display, and would occasionally make unannounced visits to see how, exactly, people were living in his homes. This remodel retains Neutra’s clarity of vision and is still a stunner. Today, this glass-walled paragon of modern design overlooking the Silver Lake Reservoir is an active part of LA’s design community and home to occasional art installations. Each Saturday, students in Cal Poly Pomona’s architecture program lead half-hour tours.
Visit this 1818 home to see what life was like in California when it was still governed by Mexico. This is the oldest standing residence in the city, built by wealthy cattle rancher Francisco Avila, whose extensive 4,439-acre land grant covered much of Beverly Hills and the Miracle Mile district. Built of tar from the La Brea Tar Pits, clay from the LA River and wood from the riverbank, this adobe structure is located near the Zanja Madre (in English, "mother ditch"), the original aqueduct that brought water to the LA River for El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles (the original name of our fair city). Though visitors only see about half of the original house, it’s well-preserved with an interesting mix of Spanish, Mission and ranchero influences.
The neighbors love to hate it, carloads of architecture students drop by to gawk at it: This unexpected intersection of chicken wire, plywood, corrugated metal and traditional Santa Monica house is famed architect Frank Gehry’s actual place of residence. This year the AIA gave it the Twenty-Five Year Award, for a building that has stood the test of time for 25 to 35 years. Rumor has it that when Gehry had a party for his firm here, design enthusiast Brad Pitt knocked on the door and invited himself in. You probably shouldn’t do the same, but you can take it in from the outside. There are no official visiting hours or tickets, but the house is very easy to view from the street.