Crestwood Hills: Brentwood’s Secret Utopia

A new iteration of Pacific Standard Time devoted to modern architecture unearths a long-gone communitarian enclave

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In 1946, four studio musicians decided to build their own slice of utopia in Brentwood. Spread across 835 acres, the Crestwood Hills development boasted a communal nursery, preschool, and credit union. The 160 houses, designed by a team of lauded midcentury architects that included A. Quincy Jones, were modest in size, but they elevated low-cost materials like concrete blocks and plywood into sophisticated post-and-beam jewel boxes.

The far-reaching show Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990, opening today at the Getty, celebrates not only Crestwood’s co-op village, but also Richard Neutra’s glass box houses in Silver Lake and Frank Gehry’s titanium-clad Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown. Overdrive is one of 17 museum and gallery events featured in Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., a multi-institution collaboration that promises to do for midcentury structures what its similar-sounding 2011 counterpart did for art.

From the neon-drenched photos of 1940s streets in the Huntington’s online archive to a gritty mile of Beverly Boulevard projected on a wall at the A + D Museum to the Los Angeles Conservancy’s electronic guide to local gems, the shows exemplify how L.A.’s quirks influenced architecture worldwide. For pure populism there will be a dedicated CicLAvia walking and cycling tour among the mishmash of building styles along Wilshire Boulevard.

Nature was ultimately not kind to Crestwood Hills; 45 of its reasonably priced homes—they originally sold in a heartbeat for $10,000 to $18,000 each—were ravaged in the 1961 Bel-Air fire. Others underwent extensive remodels. But that forward-looking spirit is enjoying one unplanned irony: The 31 unmodified homes still left are valued at upwards of $2 million. That might be a real estate agent’s idea of utopia after all.

 

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