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Richard Neutra home in Beverly Hills: Just another tear-down?

A Neutra home's demolition is delayed, but don't expect that to get in the way of profit.

August 06, 2011|By Sam Watters, Special to the Los Angeles Times
(Julius Shulman / J. Paul…)

Attention, hedge funders, oligarchs, princes and billionaire kids who own private jets. Here's a deal only for you. The Kronish House at 9439 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills, is now for sale for about $14 million.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the bad news first.

The Modernist villa is cramped for your taste, just under 7,000 square feet. Six bedrooms, 5 1/2 baths. No room for servants. And it's old and neglected, built in 1955 for a local developer, Herbert J. Kronish.

Some call it understated and classic. A lot of glass, steel and that indoor-outdoor thing. Standing in the empty living room, you could imagine modernistas lounging in chrome and leather chairs, drinking martinis and smoking unfiltered Camels. There's a big pool, but it's retro blue. No vanishing edge or spa.

The architect is another problem, an Austrian emigre named Richard Neutra. Some think he's important. Some say brilliant. Check him out on Wikipedia. Nerds and preservationists get heated about this guy. They say he changed the course of California architecture. But who cares what they say. They're not rich like you. Neutra's dead, but his son Dion is alive. He was project architect when his father designed the house, so he wants it saved.

Now the good news.

The lot is big, flat and private, almost 2 acres, at the end of a long drive shaded by trees. You'll want them stumped. In 1967, one fell in a storm and broke a man's neck, paralyzing him for life. Who wants that liability?

Sunset Boulevard needs no introduction. One of the most famous streets in the world. Your friends and stars already have mansions nearby. As a matter of fact, Shirley Temple lived at 9439 Sunset before Kronish leveled her house to build his own.

You might conclude that the Kronish House is a mixed bag, an old and small house that's got to go if you want to maximize the value of a ritzy lot. But here's the clincher. It's in Beverly Hills, Southern California's gulag of culture, where real architecture is sentenced to anonymous death by a city that caters to citizens and investors crying, "Protect our property rights."

Have a Wallace Neff or Richard Neutra house you'd like to level? Text the mayor. Own a Lloyd Wright you think is ugly? No problem, it's down by tea time at the Peninsula Hotel. Bring on the beveled glass, the stucco, the atrium and the limestone. You want history and fine architecture that make a city vital and real? Get in the Hummer and go downtown.

As for the future, no need to worry. Beverly Hills is not Rancho Mirage. That city heard outraged cries after a Midwestern couple bulldozed Richard Neutra's 1962 Samuel Maslon House, and now building restrictions are in place. Beverly Hills Mayor Barry Brucker and his City Council suggested this week that perhaps the time had come to reconsider their cold shoulder to historic buildings too. But we've seen in the nation's capital and on Wall Street how receptive the rich are to meddling in their investments. So shop and lunch at leisure. Your home is safe with the Beverly Hillbillians.

As for the price, you've already missed the killing. The L.A. investor group Soda Partners picked up the Kronish House in foreclosure in January for $5.8 million. But this means there's room for negotiation.

And in Soda, you have an ally. Its broker first listed 9439 Sunset as a lot where you could "build your dream home" — after the Neutra is gone. Soda's not worrying about razing a classic. So why should you?

The partners have paused in a nod to public pressure to save the house. They have agreed to a hiatus until Oct. 10 in case Dion Neutra can miraculously raise $14 million from a preservationist buyer or develop some alternative scheme. Move the house from its site? Salvage parts for installation elsewhere? So much for that Modernist credo that house and site, conceived together, are inconceivable apart.

Meanwhile, the partners have a permit to cap the sewer line, a prelude to demolition.

With their nod to Dion Neutra, the partners are paving the way to your pain-free purchase of an empty lot and their $8-million profit. They will trash the house and take the heat for destroying another slice of Modern L.A. Your new neighbors along Sunset won't blame you for the craven deed.

Just business as usual in Beverly Hills.

Watters' column appears on the first Saturday of every month.

home@latimes.com

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