The San Fernando Valley is now a hot bed for California real estate – Robb Report
Long considered the Westside’s little brother, the San Fernando Valley’s unique residential architecture and family neighborhoods are increasingly appealing. According to the Agency red paper2021 saw sales of single-family homes increase 16% year-over-year and the median sale price rose 15% in the Valley, the nostalgic location of Paul Thomas Anderson’s nominated Best Picture Licorice Pizza. “There was a huge exodus of people from other higher density population areas into the San Fernando Valley,” says Douglas Elliman’s Alessandro Corona. (In Licorice Pizza, Bradley Cooper’s character lives in a 5,400-square-foot English mansion-style residence in Encino; built in 1976, it last sold in 2019 for $2.76 million.)
Carrie Berkman Lewis of Douglas Elliman adds: “Ten years ago the Valley was maybe a concession for people who couldn’t afford to be on the Westside. Now I feel like it’s a destination.
For many in early Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley was an escape – a rural wonderland where stars like Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and Barbara Stanwyck (including the Marwyck Ranch, designed by Paul R Williams and Robert Finkelhor, is now a museum) could cosplay the lives of tough ranchers on their vast estates.
During the post-war period, thousands of working-class and middle-class families – many of whom worked in the valley’s booming aerospace industry – moved into nondescript homes built by developers as quickly as possible. The valley represented for many a further refinement of the age-old American dream – “a home of one’s own, a sunny climate, an affordable life, easy access to employment, quality schools, the promise of a better life”, notes the LA Conservancy. .
From 1940 to the 1960s, the population of the Valley grew from 150,000 to 850,000 people. (It now exceeds 1.8 million.) Developers, including Eli Broad, have learned how to build nondescript homes quickly and efficiently.
But for every “salt box house” there were also innovative attempts to reinvent the perfect suburban oasis. Local architects have expanded and remodeled the one-story ranch house — the dominant style in the valley — offering variations such as Traditional, Hawaiian, and Cinderella, which features storybook elements like curved gables. In Northridge, Palmer & Krisel showed off its “lively, air-conditioned ranch home,” featuring large clerestory windows and expansive layouts said to provide the perfect amount of space for the average Southern California family.
Perhaps the most distinctive style that arose in the Valley mid-century was the Ranch Birdhouse, designed by developer William Mellenthin. These backpacking ranch houses, thousands of which have been built, have playful touches: cottage-like roofs, cupolas and dovecotes. Thousands of birdhouses have been built in neighborhoods such as Encino, Burbank, Studio City, North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks.
Less fanciful modern masters, including Rudolph Schindler, A. Quincy Jones, Richard Neutra, Lloyd Wright, and John Lautner, designed higher-priced homes in the hills of the valley. One of the finest examples of Lautner’s work in the Valley, the Schaffer residence in Glendale, serves as a location in The stallthe new series on Elizabeth Holmes from Theranos.
These mid-century masterpieces of wood, glass and steel, some of which seem to cling precariously to the hills, have become particularly coveted in recent years. In 2021, model Anwar Hadid paid $2.5 million for a rustic 1,433-square-foot Lautner in Studio City, built in 1953, while Chip recently listed a complex in Tujunga for $9.8 million that includes a 1953 Neutra house and the later addition of a separate house by architect Michael Maltzan.
According to the Agency’s Craig Knizek, the eastern part of the valley is particularly rich in hillside mid-century moderns. “The flippers are coming, where you have these one-story houses with fantastic views,” he says. “People come in and empty them out and basically build new houses while preserving the [exterior] architecture.”
Old ranch homes are also being remodeled and renovated. In 2019, Karen and Shawn Emile visited a 1950s ranch in a Woodland Hills neighborhood with well-preserved homes designed by famed architect Charles Du Bois (famous for his homes in Palm Springs). “As soon as I walked in, I saw the windows. I saw the stone fireplace. I was like, ‘I can make this work. I can make it more like a country house,” says Karen Emile, founder of design-focused Instagram account @milkandhoneylife. “I was like, ‘I’m going to make this house shine.'”
With Karen working as a designer, her husband, Shawn, and two workers transformed the house. “When we bought it, it wasn’t updated at all,” she says. “The kitchen was old and it was really closed, but the house had such good bones.” The Emiles painstakingly transformed the house into a modern Scandinavian-inspired country ranch, filling it with light and space.
But for any loving conservationist like Karen Emile, many pinball machines simply demolish the Valley’s historic architecture, especially in highly desirable areas like Studio City and Sherman Oaks. “The pinball machines that come to these neighborhoods find the worst house on potentially the best block and they create this modern masterpiece,” Corona says.
According to Berkman Lewis, the nest boxes in Mellenthin are particularly at risk of being demolished. “Some of these post-and-beam houses weren’t well maintained,” she says. “So they have a lot of damaged wood and a lot of problems.”
In their place, many developers are building modern houses in lots, notably in the now ubiquitous modern farmhouse style. “I’m not really impressed with some of the new builds I see except at the high end – if you go up into the $8-12 million range, then maybe you’re seeing some finishes that are worth looking into. be that price,” says Berkman Lewis. “On the low end, like $2.5 [million] at $3 [million], personally I feel like most of the time the finishes aren’t that impressive. They feel really trendy to me. They don’t feel timeless.
The Agency’s Emil Hartoonian adds to this. “90% of the work right now, they’re giving the end user what they’re looking for right now. You know what I mean? They’re not really looking to create timeless pieces per se,” he says.
The developers of these new contemporary homes are in many ways continuing the Valley’s consumerist trend of on-demand architecture. Hartoonian notes that in Calabasas, homes that are already only a decade old are being transformed to meet certain trends. “It has always been a center of affluence and large, sophisticated Italianate Mediterranean mansions have been built. And now, to be frank, you almost can’t give them away,” he says. “So what’s happening is there’s a tendency to turn them into the modern Spanish style.”