The iconic Brentwood home of Modernist master William Krisel is in the process of being demolished. Renowned as a midcentury masterpiece, the property, built in 1955, was not protected by local landmark measures, although the Los Angeles Conservancy had been investigating safeguarding it.
After first giving the home, located at 568 North Tigertail Road, to his children, the architect recently sold it to Nancy Heller and a company called Tigertail Project LLC, who pledged to restore it. Heller in turn flipped it, selling it to the new owners, Darya Family LLC, who, Krisel said, also promised a restoration.
“He assured me he wasn’t going to demolish it,” said Krisel, of one of the new owners, Joe Safai.
On the property yesterday bulldozers were taking apart the house at a rapid pace, crunching steel and glass and hauling it off the site. Safai, standing at the scene, told AN that the house was not salvageable due to an assortment of age-related problems, including termite infested wood and mold.
“It’s beyond repair,” said Safai, who paid $4.26 million for the property. “We originally wanted to restore it, but we couldn’t afford to keep it at the price we paid. There was absolutely no promise given to Mr. Krisel by me or my folks that this house would be restored."
“The house was definitely not ‘beyond repair,’” countered Krisel. “I am convinced that he purchased the property in order to demolish the existing house.” Krisel added that other teardowns on the block have sold for between $10 and $17 million.
Julius Shulman / Courtesy William Krisel
The home was the epitome of Krisel’s “Modernism for the Masses,” in which he employed simple, understated techniques that suffused homes with light, warmth, and elegance. Clerestory windows, continuous sliding glass doors, and an interior courtyard all connected the home to the Southern California surroundings. Exposed columns and beams, long-span ceilings, and period built-ins gave it a sense of midcentury style.
Krisel, whose archives are maintained at the Getty Research Institute, built thousands of modernist buildings, including hundreds of homes in Palm Springs, the San Fernando Valley, and elsewhere.
“It’s a huge loss for Los Angeles and for Modernism in general,” said Adrian Scott Fine, Director of Advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy. “It’s an important house. It talks to what he was about and what his design aesthetic was.”
Fine said that the Conservancy only found out about a possible threat to the house last month, after the owner received a demolition permit from the city. The group was investigating the severity of the situation. “We didn’t have much to go on,” said Fine. “We were just in the early stages of figuring out how real this was in terms of a threat.”
He added that with more time advocates could have gotten the home designated as a historic cultural monument, at the very least putting any demolition on hold.
“Once a good steward sells the property to someone who you don’t know what they’re going to do, it’s really challenging,” he said. “We’re in a reactive mode then which is always a difficult thing to do.”
“We’ve lost a number of these residences by big name architects and each time we’re hoping it’s a wake up call,” said Fine, pointing out the destruction of John Lautner’s Shusett house nearby as an example. “I’m hoping this may resonate with owners of similar properties in realizing their houses could just as easily end up like this.”