Janey got the weekend before my birthday off we decided to do something special just in case she had to work during my birthday. We decided to take a tour of the most famous of the Case Study houses, #22 the Stahl House. Unlike most of the other Case Study houses the Stahl House was made famous by this Julius Shulman photograph, which depicts two women sitting and talking while appearing to hang in midair over the LA skyline. Among the Case Study houses the Stahl House has by far the best story.
In 1954 “Buck” Stahl was driving through the hills above Hollywood when he saw the site which was being used as a dumping ground for dirt and concrete. He saw the developer who owned the plot and bought the land on the spot for $13,500, about the price of a small house at the time. Over the next two years Buck and his wife Carlotta hauled dirt and concrete to the spot and an idea for a house began to form. Buck made a small model and began to show it various architects who all told him it couldn’t be built.
Finally in 1957 Buck found Pierre Koenig, who was designing the glass and steel Case Study House #21 and took on the task of turning Buck’s dream into a reality. In early 1959 Koenig suggested the Stahls submit the house to the Case Study program. The story goes that they crumpled up the application and threw it away only to pull it out of the trash and smooth it back out again. Later in 1959 just before groundbreaking the house was accepted into the program, but not because it was affordable (it cost $37,500 to build) or easily reproducible (the house is incredibly specific to the site) but because it pushed Modernist architecture to its limits and showed what was truly possible with the best materials and design of the day.
The house is all glass on three sides and every room has a sweeping view of LA below, every architectural design decision has been made to increase the view as much as possible to the exclusion of everything else. Nothing is load bearing except for the posts between the enormous panes of glass which were the largest available at the time of building. Koenig was also extremely clever with the designs, maximizing morning sun to warm the house and providing long eves on specific sides to keep in cool through the afternoon.
In 1960 Julius Shulman’s photos of the house appeared in Arts & Architechure as a part of the Case Study House program and launched the house into the spotlight. In 1962 an article appeared in Life, “Way Up Way of Living on California Cliffs” that featured several photographs of the house including one of Buck Stahl dangling off the edge of the cliff with a rope around his waist planting ivy to reenforce the hillside. The house has been used in dozens of movies, tv shows, commercials, and photo shoots since then.
In some ways I think the Stahl house captures something uniquely American, that Buck Stahl, a sign painter and graphic artist could devote 6 years to an idea and create it from literally the ground up. His famous quote “Nobody famous ever lived here” really sums up something about the classic American dream.
The Stahl House is open for tours on a regular basis and is one of only 2 that you can take a tour of. I really recommend the evening tour if you can make it, since you get to see the house in daylight, sunset and night. They let you take photographs only with cell phones and photos are for personal use only.