Friday, June 20, 2014

the ain renaissance continues...

Slowly but surely, we're seeing some changes on the street.  If you've not been around in a while, please come take a look as there are lots of upgrades and restorations to the original Gregory Ain designs currently at play.  New driveways have been paved (getting rid of the poorly maintained asphalt and even older concrete), new gardens have been planted (maybe not Garret Eckbo, but certainly inspired by our current water situation and the aesthetics of a modern garden), and fresh sanding and painting are happening up and down the street.  And you know what, it's a great place to live.  I can't believe how many kids are resident on Highview now, but it's great.  The pride is emerging in fun and unpredictable ways, and I'm so proud to be a ten-year member of Park Planned Homes. Time flies!

Since I can only manage to make a post once a year now (last time was nearly to the day!), I might as well make it somewhat worthwhile, right?  Well, unfortunately the posting theme seems to be bittersweet again, as this time I'm writing about losing another beloved member of the street. Thankfully, we're not losing this family the same way we lost Mr. Mims.  Rather, our neighbors on the northeast end of the street at 2858 Highview Avenue are headed back east to be closer to family and start a whole new career chapter. We are all going to miss them, and wish them a very fond farewell.  (Oh, and by the way, the driveway kegger sendoff party we had for them a couple of weeks ago was such a success, there has been a lot of chatter about making it a monthly haps... I say YES and I'm sure Gregory Ain would approve!)

Gregory Ain Park Planned Homes Altadena 2858 Highview Avenue walkway detail (not original)
Gregory Ain 2858 Highview Avenue - modified exterior walkway detail
So, of course with a move, that only means one thing: another of our Ain homes has hit the market. And this time it's a great one!  Though unable to finish the restoration work they had started on, our neighbors managed to make lots of improvements over the brief time they were with us (did you know that bottles from the 1970s were found in the ivy that was removed in front of the house??), but didn't get to realize their total vision.  That means of course that it's in nice shape, but still in need of some TLC as are all of our little 1946 experiments.  There are lots of pictures on the Curbed LA site, which is always a fun place to go see what's happening in the world of architecture for sale in Los Angeles, and of course you can get to it too on the listing agent Deasy/Penner's site as well.  And, if you clicked the link to the Google map above, you'll see the exterior from a couple of years ago.  Contrast with this:

Gregory Ain Park Planned Homes Altadena 2858 Highview Avenue exterior
Gregory Ain 2858 Highview Avenue - exterior

The curious thing about this home is that not only is the present resident an architect, but the prior owner was also an architect and a bit of an artist as well.  There are still vestiges of the previous owner's handiwork, both with little sculptural pieces around the house as well as some aesthetic uses of wood to create a feel of a larger home and some privacy too.  There is always that question of "do we keep what's been done already" or "do we restore back to original" and you never know what the next owner will decide.  For many of us, the decorative elements were always curious and tasteful, so never really felt like a distraction from the original simplicity of the house.  To each his own of course.  If you're interested in the house and want to know more about what was added or is slightly different from the original, I'm always happy to provide what I know.  Drop me a line.

Gregory Ain Park Planned Homes Altadena 2858 Highview Avenue walkway detail
Gregory Ain 2858 Highview Avenue - front walkway detail

Being one of the four corner lot properties on the street, it does have a larger footprint for the yard, including the nice entry way that is much wider than the rest of us.  The backyard is really quite large, even with the modest pool (a must in the Altadena summers!), and makes me a bit envious that there are so many trees.  You know, as Alec Baldwin said in Glengarry Glen Forrester, "Always Be Planting More Trees."
Gregory Ain Park Planned Homes Altadena 2858 Highview Avenue doorways
Gregory Ain 2858 Highview Avenue - front door, inside and out

Not much to say other than it's a killer property and one I'd snatch up if I felt it necessary to own two houses on the same street.  Hmmmmm...

We're going to miss you guys and good luck to the new homeowner - welcome to Park Planned Homes in advance!!

Friday, June 14, 2013

just listed gregory ain home demands a tribute to original owner

One of our most beloved neighbors (and unofficial street historian), Joe Mims, passed away early in 2012, and his widow and children have decided to put the house on the market.

2823 Highview Ave is listed for $675,000, and word is there have already been a number of appointments made and it has not even been active for one day.  It's a fantastic house, with many original features, but obviously ready to be updated and restored accordingly for the right buyer.  It's a bit of a sad day for me that this house is going for sale because I have so many great memories associated with it and with Joe.  We used to stand outside forever and talk about everything under the sun.  He was a more than just a great neighbor (like all of our neighbors on the street), Joe was the embodiment of the spiritual quality that Gregory Ain imbued upon this Park Planned neighborhood.

Gregory Ain 2823 Highview Ave Altadena - listed for sale today

I came to know Joe almost as soon as I moved in back in early 2004.  I quickly discovered his quiet charm and wit that endeared him to me from the start.  Joe was born and raised in Pasadena, and had gone to John Muir high just down the street.  He'd grown up knowing and playing with Mack and Jackie Robinson (yes, that Jackie Robinson), even running track and boxing Golden Gloves with them.  He used to tell me about his jobs all across town that he'd ride his bike to everywhere, even as far as Chapman Woods, all the way from Altadena and back (it's a bit of a haul, especially back up the hill).  Joe served in the army during WWII and was a member of the 1-130th Combat Engineer Battalion.  And although I cannot find much information on them online, I do know that he and his troop served at D-Day at Normandy.  Joe once told me it was their responsibility to clear the beaches of all land mines before the actual onslaught invasion hit the next morning.  I remember being awestruck and quite moved at the same moment when he first mentioned this to me after knowing him for a few years. You don't get to meet many people like this in this day and age, and I always have considered myself so fortunate to have shared in these stories first hand. 

Joe made it through the war unscathed, and after returning home to the states, he enrolled in the Art Center School in downtown Los Angeles in a program designed to teach technical illustration and design to returning war veterans.  Of course Art Center College of Design, as it's now known, is considered one of the top schools in the world, especially for art, graphic and industrial design.  It's another of my favorite places in Los Angeles because of it's bucolic Pasadena hills setting designed by Craig Ellwood in the early 1970s.  And though you may think I've digressed, I mention this because art and design were a huge part of Joe's life.  He worked as a designer for the Avery Corporation in Pasadena since graduating from Art Center in the early 1950s all the way through to retirement.  Joe lived through the zeitgeist of the mid-century modernist boom of southern California, and continued to have a passion for good design throughout his life.  Joe was a great fan of art and architecture, and we used to talk about everything from Le Corbusier to Charles Eames with as much passion as we did about baseball and basketball.  

The Mims family was officially formed in 1956, after Joe married his sweetheart Marceline, whom he'd met in 1954.  They moved purchased and moved into the Ain home on Highview in 1961, where then eventually raised three children.  I'm not 100% sure, but I know Joe's family was perhaps the first African American family to move on to the street.  There are rumors that Lena Horn also lived on the street for a time, but that has never been validated.  I do know that graphic-design legend Saul Bass used to live on the street, and I know which house.   I know because Joe casually said to me one day, "Saul Bass used to live right there," pointing directly across from where we were standing.  I knew that Saul Bass did actually live in the neighborhood, but a few blocks away at Case Study No. 20 on Santa Rosa.  I sort of thought Joe maybe didn't have it right because the Bass house is so well known around here, but at the same time I knew that it was highly, highly likely.  Well, to my amazement and dismay, I got a note from Saul Bass' son here on the blog not long after that, recounting the fact that he had grown up in the house Joe indicated.  (We exchanged  a few email where he told me stories of his father and Gregory Ain sitting out on the lawn talking about the street landscaping, hands gesturing, laughing, planning and just having a great time...  but of course I digress...).  

Joe stitched all of these pieces of my passions together through our conversations.  Knowing about the same design and architectural things I obsess about; living during a period of time that will continue to fascinate me until I leave this planet; believing in being a great neighbor and a watcher of the block; being a great father and a friend.  That's the spirit of what this Gregory Ain street means to me, and Joe Mims is one of the pillars of this community that helped make it the unique, beautiful place that it continues to be today.  

I am wishing the Mims family great love and success in their difficult decision to let go of the family home after nearly 55 years.  You will be missed, but always here with us on Highview.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

ain home tour coming up: orans home in silverlake

Well, it's been a whole year, but we're still around.  Lots and lots of street progress to post, but nothing today.  Who has time anymore??

I just wanted to pass along a quick mention of a great Gregory Ain home tour coming up the weekend of April 7, 2013.  Located on Micheltorena Street amongst several seminal architectural works by Ain, Richard Neutra, Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Lautner, the Orans House from 1941 is one of Ain's lesser well-known designs, but it's a stunning property.

And for those trivial pursuitists out there, the restoration/renovation work done on the Orans property was led by local architect Antony Unruh, who runs his practice out of the old Ain office (click on the street view) in Silverlake on Hyperion Ave.  I trust the tour will reveal a respectful eye for detail in this rarely seen property, but also know there are new editions and modifications that include an extended kitchen.  You can read a little more here, which is where I clipped the following pic...

Gregory Ain Silverlake - Orans House
Gregory Ain - 2404 Micheltorena Ave, Silverlake - Street View / U-shaped Driveway

Check out the tour specs over here at the Los Angeles AIA site.  Hope you can make it.

...and stay tuned for updates soon!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pasadena Heritage Modern Homes Tour for 2012 Featuring Ain Park Planned Home

So, indeed it's true, a revival is taking place.  It's happening so fast, life is passing me by!  I can't believe my last post was in October.  A grand welcome to all of our new neighbors!

Since that beefy post so many months ago, both 2787 Highview and 2853 Highview sold almost as quickly as they came on the market.  And 2768 Highview, which had changed hands just prior to the post, has gone through an incredible transformation both inside and out.  So dramatic in fact, the house has been included on the 2012 Pasadena Heritage Spring Home Tour, American Modern: USC Style and Beyond.  Though I'm a bit late to post about it (it is tomorrow, Sunday, March 25 after all...), I'm hoping this post will help get the word out.  You can also check out the Heritage Society's facebook page, which includes several images of each house on the tour.

Of the five homes on the tour, our dear little 1946 Park Planned Home is probably the most modest and least expensive of the bunch. That said, it most certainly has its place amongst the set because of Ain's profound influence on so many of the architects of southern California, not just through his association with USC.

gregory ain park planned home altadena - 2768 highview ave - driveway and garage
Gregory Ain - 2768 Highview Ave, Altadena - Driveway / Garage 

Originally just 1,350 square feet of indoor living space, 2768 Highview is the only house on the street that has an addition that goes above the original roofline.

gregory ain park planned home altadena - 2768 highview ave - expanded bedroom
Gregory Ain - 2768 Highview Ave, Altadena - Expanded Bedroom (1950s addition)

What we generally understand is that an artist who lived in the home in the 1950s had a desire for a greater workspace, so he designed an extension of the one courtyard-side bedroom that extended the back of the house to the side of the garage.  The extension was designed with the pitch-line of the roof in mind, and included a reference to the Ain-designed clerestory windows found throughout the rest of the house.  The effect was an expansion that paid homage to Ain's vision, and did not dramatically alter the character of the street.

gregory ain park planned home altadena - 2768 highview ave - kitchen
Gregory Ain - 2768 Highview Ave, Altadena -  Kitchen Clerestory View

Over the years, the home has had several owners, and our most recent neighbors have done a splendid job of bringing much of the original character back, while updating with contemporary solutions at the same time.  And while they were so generous to let me snap a bunch of pictures prior to the tour, I've not posted everything as the last minute preparations were taking place to get ready for the show tomorrow.  Many thanks for sharing your wonderful home!

In addition to the humble little Ain on the tour, this drive-yourself experience includes some spectacular houses.  Just over the arroyo in the San Rafael hills Poppy Peak area, another modest home: 1936's deSteiguer House, was designed by Ain's friend and contemporary, Harwell Hamilton Harris.  Local Pasadena stalwarts Buff, Straub & Hensman produced 1957's Thomson Residence, also in the Poppy Peak area.  A great modernist rancho designed by Harold B. Zook in 1951 for his own family is nearby.  And possibly the most recognizable yet unknown at the same time is the incredibly beautiful John Galbraith Cox House from 1959.  This Miesian-esque box sits unassumingly at the south end of the lower Arroyo, and may be familiar to some from it's appearance in numerous television and print ads.  An unofficial local nickname for the Galbraith design is the "tree house"because of the conifer growing through the front entry way.  All homes very much worth the price of admission.

It should be a great tour, with lots of styles and design solutions to take in.  I'm looking forward to it.  Hope to see you there!  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Is there an Ain revival in Altadena...?

Gregory Ain (hands folded) with Charles Eames (left), Harry Bertoia (next to Ain), Ray 
Eames (next to Bertoia), and rest of the Eames Office (ca. 1943).

I've been remiss with my postings since May, and with so much action on the street, I'm really behind!  It's been a lot of fun getting to know new neighbors and to see the Park Planned community starting to come together again after so many years of uncertainty of whether or not we'd see buyers realizing the amazing living experience on Highview Avenue.

Since my last two posts from February and May, each home I mentioned sold very quickly.  The good news is two more houses have moved back to the late 40s modern Ain look and feel, giving the street more of the original look again. The great news is we all have some very friendly and enthusiastic new families in the neighborhood, and nobody could be happier - welcome again!

And regarding the sale of the home I posted about for sale in February, all I can say is, bravo.  This home really was disaster, in so many ways that I can never begin to describe on this blog.  Ask me in person some day...  :)  What it took was a buyer with a serious eye, and a commitment to doing the right thing to make the purchase worth it.  And, incredibly, after just a few months of total gutting and rapid renovation, the once-beast is now one of the jewels of the street.  Crossing my fingers, but the owner has indicated some willingness to do a before and after series on the blog, so I expect we should see some more images of the finished product coming soon.

With these recent sales and all the attention to detail, are we in some sort of revival at last?  Not sure we've reached that status, but since Anthony Denzler's book came out a couple of years ago, and more and more news articles and listings on Ain's work in Los Angeles have started to appear, perhaps the stage is set for Highview to move into the renaissance akin to the Mar Vista Modernique project explosion in the mid 90s.  One thing is for sure, if you know and like Gregory Ain's work, you love these homes.  And...  if you are not familiar with his architecture, but appreciate modernism, you too have great sentiment.  But, if you are a real estate agent, or perhaps working with one, that has no clue about post-war development in So Cal and the pre-Eichler vision of Neutra's most well-known employee,  you may want to stay clear of this street.

Which, so ineloquently brings me to the new listings...

One is a real project, and the other, though essentially a flip job, has actually been done with attention to the right details so that it will likely appeal to folks interested in the Ain Park Planned aesthetic.  Both homes for sale today have had long-time owners living in them.  Each family has loved living on Highview for many, many years, and shall be missed by those of us old, new and in between.  But...  life changes.  We age, kids move on, we scale down, finances change, the grandkids are far away - it's that kind of evolution on the street.  Thus, opportunity is born.  A new audience of enthusiasts are helping shaking off the years of neglect and well-intentioned-but-misguided modifications, and it just feels good.

Gregory Ain - 2787 Highview Ave, Altadena - Front of House

The problem with marketing a home to the right buyer is that you have to know what buyer is best suited to your home.  The agents selling 2787 Highview Ave are very well intentioned, and actually quite nice and genuine people.  But they don't understand the history of the street, nor the potential audience that would most likely purchase this home.  And, because it's in such rough shape, they've not chosen to call a spade a spade.  This house should be marketed as a restoration project because that's what it is.  As much as I'd love to see a home on our street sell for more and more money, the market is not frivolous enough today to let something get by for this amount.  The house needs work, and it should be openly disclosed as thus: "This original Gregory Ain has seen some wear and tear over the years, including some awkward modifications and odd decisions.  BUT the bones are there and many original features are still present, just hidden behind superfluous camouflage of decisions once made for a different lifestyle and a different set of needs.  This house is the exact same house as the other 27 on the street, and it has just as much potential to look like those that have been lovingly restored and/or modernized.  Make an offer with a plan to put a few months worth of work into it, but know that there are several experienced owners on the street that can help guide you through purchase and rennovation decisions without hesitation.  The home looks daunting, but it's not.  It's an Ain, and it's built to last."  You know... something like that.  I wish them luck, and if you are at all interested, know that it is possible with a little sweat equity and not that much out of pocket to get it back in shape.

Gregory Ain - 2853 Highview Ave, Altadena - Living Room / Entryway

Gregory Ain - 2853 Highview Ave, Altadena - Courtyard

On the other side, 2853 Highview Ave is an attempt at making the right appeal to the Ain enthused buyer.  This home as gone through extensive reworking to get it back to it's original footprint and general look and feel.  Not all decisions made are original, but in general they are very tasteful.  It's certainly been turned into a move-in-ready home, and I would argue much of your attention would be spent making the back yard a bit more private and luxurious.  With the big set of open windows looking out to the west, the backyard is in nice shape with grass and some fruit trees, but it needs a back wall treatment with some giant bamboo or small fence extension.  Other than that, it's a job well done, and it's from the same owner that did the flip sale on the house I mentioned in May.  Largely the same choices were made, though I think they had different issues to deal with so they tried some new stuff as well.  If you've seen the open house or know of an upcoming one, it's worth making the trip to see one of the Park Planned Homes without the need of a guided tour.  And, it appears that they've just dropped the price by about $20k, so they are interested in seeing it move.  Having the other house on the street priced a bit too high may be scaring people.  Who knows.  Check it out...

Gregory Ain - 2768 Highview Ave, Altadena - Front Entry

And finally, one more home has changed hands in the last couple of months, quicker than you can blink your eye.  I don't know if this one was every really available to anyone because it seems it was in escrow as soon as it was listed.  2768 Highview is one of two homes on the street that have had more "extreme" modifications made over the years, but this one was done in the 1950s at the hand of an artist and designer that worked in the spirit of Ain's original vision.  The extension of the courtyard bedroom into an artist's studio took up a small portion of the courtyard, but it was done so with the sensibility of the home.  Clerestory windows were added above the original roofline, so a cascading effect takes place.  The addition has always seemed "in place" on the street, and it's a welcome extra set of square feet for those needing a room larger than the 12x12 basic footprint.  Our neighbor and her dog will be missed, but welcome to the new neighbors too!

Until next time...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Gregory Ain's 2769 Highview - Another Park Planned Home Listed

Gregory Ain Altadena - 2769 Highview Ave - backyard view

I don't have time to post much these days, but it seems like every time I sit down to write something about Park Planned Homes, another house has been listed or has just recently sold. The most recent Ain listing on the block is 2769 Highview, which apparently is already in escrow. That didn't take long...

I know the owners took their time to upgrade and restore much of the 1946 experimental home, while adding several upgrades in an attempt to appeal more broadly to the less extreme modernist fan. As a member of the extremist end of the spectrum, I was pleasantly surprised by many of the choices. It's not a fully faithful restoration, but nobody's perfect - there are only a few obsessives out there like me. Ha!

Most notably the choice on the custom windows being a combination of aluminum and vinyl was an interesting decision. It's of course very cost effective, and in the end, it will very likely prove to be more heat/cool efficient. I suspect it's the type of material Ain would have likely experimented with today. They were all manufactured to order, not unlike many of the prefabricated materials that went into the original construction of the 28 homes. And, most importantly to me, although not the original wood frame sliders, the windows pretty much faithfully maintain the modular footprint of the home. This even includes the clerestories! From this punter's position, I believe it's such a critical decision to keep the same framing lines, as it really provides some sublime symmetry that really helps the home feel very open. And at roughly 1350 square feet, keeping in the spirit of the home goes a long way in making it feel much larger than it actually is.

And to this last point, having attended some recent open homes in the area (La Canada, Glendale, Altadena, Pasadena) built during various points of the mid-century, I was shocked to discover how much larger my Ain home felt than houses that were actually much larger. I realized the vaulted/pitched ceiling with the clerestory framing on both sides does an astonishing job of giving so much more space than one could imagine. In many of the houses I visited, I was surprised to feel so claustrophobic. Even with a growing family, this sense of space we have in our modest home really is an asset that will likely dissuade us from ever wanting to leave.

And, now bringing it all back home... Highview is changing. More young families. More people taking the time to care for the home. More people putting their hearts into the upkeep and restoration of this little post-war experiment. I'm excited to live here. It's a great street. And even if most families are not aware of the Gregory Ain and Garret Eckbo heritage, they definitely know this is a wonderfully peaceful and relaxing place to live.

Good luck to the sellers and welcome to the new folks!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Another Ain Park Planned Home listed... seeking serious restorationist

Gregory Ain Altadena - Park Planned Home - 2835 For Sale

Of the 28 homes on Highview that have yet to be restored, a few of them are probably more daunting as projects than others. One of these "this takes some commitment" homes just got listed last week, and we are all crossing our fingers the right buyer with the right eye can see how to take this place back to its original footprint and open aesthetic. It's hard to know if the price is right, but it is a foreclosure, so some negotiating is very likely possible. I'd say bring your contractor and snatch this puppy up before somebody who thinks they can Home Depot it comes in with a "flip" vision in their head. And besides, there are several neighbors very willing to help answer questions and open their homes to show you how it CAN be versus how it is right now. If you are interested, feel free to send me a message and I can tell you what I know about the work involved in this.