These Are the Architects Whose Houses Set off Insane Bidding Wars in L.A.

Big names, vintage houses, frenzy, and yearning

THE RESIDENTIAL ARCHITECTS working in Los Angeles in the early 1900s found the holy trinity—clients who dreamed big, all manner of building materials, and a climate where anything was possible. By the middle of the century a pantheon had formed: native son Paul Williams, known for his elegant Tudor Revival, Regency, and occasional Mediterranean designs; Gordon Kaufmann, creator of such private gems as the Doheny Mansion when he wasn’t building public landmarks; Wallace Neff, whose Mediterranean homes exemplified the new California look; and John Byers, master of the up-and-coming Spanish Colonia Revival.

These days their homes are just as prized as when studio chiefs and business titans vied for their attention. Perhaps the most sought-after architect of that golden age? Roland Coate, says Bret Parsons, Director of Coldwell Banker’s architectural division and coauthor of a book out this month on the father of Monterey Colonial Revival. There’s also been a surge of interest in Gerard Colcord, who satisfied Angelenos’ yearning for “country” homes of all genres from the 1920s into the 1980s. “I have one client who’ been texting me daily since she heard that a Colcord I sold three years ago might be going back on the market,” parsons says. “The people who like Colcord, they’ll do anything to get one of his homes.”

La Cañada Flintridge home by Paul Williams

JERRIANN FLEMING WAS elated in June when she and her husband, Quentin, landed a 1936 John Byers in Pacific Palisades. The six-bedroom home had been owned by the same family for 56 years. “There are so many cool elements still in the house,” says Fleming. “There’s a door for milk deliveries—the children love that—and a kind of lazy Susan in the kitchen.” What’s more, the 81-year-old house passed its inspection without a hitch. “We’ve had so much bad building recently,” says Eleanor Schrader, a longtime instructor of architectural history at UCLA Extension. “People find a Paul Williams or a Wallace Neff, and they see instantly that they are well put together and they are certainly not garish.”

In the housing boom that followed World War II, a cadre of L.A. architects emerged who were intent on experimenting with space-age materials, Cubist forms, and a connection to nature, with few more masterful than Gregory Ain, Richard Neutra, and John Lautner. Their legacies endure: When a “lost” Lautner in Echo Park surfaced in 2014, it set off a bidding war despite the home’s near-teardown condition; fashion designer Trina Turk and photographer husband Jonathan Skow were the victors. That seemed the apex of Lautner sales until late this past summer, when actor Ed Norton made national news with his purchase of Lautner’s Stevens House in the Malibu Colony for $11.8 million. The structure, which famously resembles a crashing wave, had been painstakingly restored by architecture “collector” Michael LaFetra.

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