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.