For decades, the California Dream meant the chance to own a stucco home on a sliver of paradise. The point was the yard with the palm trees, not the contour of the walls. Julius Shulman helped change all that. In May 1960, the Brooklyn-born photographer headed to architect Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House, a glass-enclosed Hollywood Hills home with a breathtaking view of Los Angeles—one of 36 Case Study Houses that were part of an architectural experiment extolling the virtues of modernist theory and industrial materials. Shulman photographed most of the houses in the project, helping demystify modernism by highlighting its graceful simplicity and humanizing its angular edges. But none of his other pictures was more influential than the one he took of Case Study House No. 22. To show the essence of this air-breaking cantilevered building, Shulman set two glamorous women in cocktail dresses inside the house, where they appear to be floating above a mythic, twinkling city. The photo, which he called “one of my masterpieces,” is the most successful real estate image ever taken. It perfected the art of aspirational staging, turning a house into the embodiment of the Good Life, of stardusted Hollywood, of California as the Promised Land. And, thanks to Shulman, that dream now includes a glass box in the sky.
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The homes in the Case Study House Program were built between 1945 and 1966 when Arts & Architecture magazine commissioned the major architects of the day to create inexpensive and replicable model homes to accommodate the residential housing boom in the United States caused by the flood of returning soldiers at the end of World War II.
The resulting experiment in American residential architecture involved many of the great architects of the day such as Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, and Eero Saarinen—and had a major impact on modernist residential architecture.
Of the 36 houses and apartment buildings that were commissioned, only a couple dozen were built, with around 20 still standing today. Eleven were added to the National Register in 2013. While most of the homes are still private residences, the Eames and Stahl Houses—are open to the public for tours. Here is a look at 10 of our favorites.
Cover photo taken by @christineevi of the Stahl House
The Stahl House, Case Study House #22, 1959
This home embodies Pierre Koenig’s iconic representation of modernist architecture in L.A. It's been featured in numerous films, fashion shoots, and advertising campaigns over the years since it was built in 1959. Perched high in the Hollywood Hills, its floor-to-ceiling glass windows allow for stunning panoramic views of the city.
The Eames House, Case Study House #8, 1949
Located in Los Angeles' Pacific Palisades neighborhood, The Eames House—also known as Case Study House #8—is a landmark of midcentury modern architecture. Constructed in 1949 by husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames, the house consists of two glass-and-steel rectangular boxes: one served as their residence, while the other was their studio. The facades consist of black-painted grids with different-sized inserts of glass (clear, translucent, or wired), gray Cemesto panels (both painted and natural), stucco (off-white, black, blue, and orange/red), aluminum (silver or painted), and specially-treated panels (gold-leafed or with a photographic panel). In reference to the Eames’ work, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History blogged, "In all of their projects, color was a strategic tool; never did they apply hues indiscriminately. Rather, their brilliant palette spotlighted salient points of information that they wanted to convey, capturing both the eyes and minds of viewers."
The Bass House, Case Study House #20B, 1958
The Bass House, which is known as Case Study House #20B (there were two Case Study Houses numbered 20), was constructed in 1958 in Altadena, California. The home differs from the other Case Study homes in that it was built primarily out of wood, instead of steel. It was designed by architectural firm Buff, Straub, and Hensman, who worked closely with the owners, renowned graphic illustrator Saul Bass and his wife biochemist Dr. Ruth Bass. The architects were interested in the possibilities of wood as it pertained to mass production in home construction.
Case Study House #1, 1948
Despite its numbering, Case Study House #1 was not the first house to be completed as part of Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House program. Designed by Julius Ralph Davidson, the 2,000-square-foot house was completed in 1948. Situated on a gently sloping lot in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the house introduced architectural elements that came to characterize the program, including floor-to-ceiling glass, a flat roof, and an open floor plan.
Case Study House #16, 1952
Designed by Craig Ellwood, Case Study House #16 was the first of three houses in Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House program. Ellwood—who had been trained as an engineer—was a contractor without formal architectural training. Today, it's the only surviving, intact example of Ellwood’s designs for the program. His passion for industrial materials is evident in the use of of steel, glass, and concrete.
The Entenza House, Case Study House #9, 1949
Designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen and completed in 1949, the Entenza House is situated on a flat bluff in the Pacific Palisades overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The modular home features a steel frame construction, which has been concealed with wood-paneled cladding. Entenza frequently entertained, so the house consists of mostly public space.
The West House, Case Study House #18, 1948
Constructed in the Pacific Palisades on a bluff overlooking the ocean, the West House was designed by Rodney Walker and completed in 1948. It was the first of four adjacent houses on Chautauqua Boulevard that were built as part of Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House program. Note that the neighboring Case Study Houses #8, #9, and #20 were completed within the next two years. The 1,600-square-foot home takes full advantage of panoramic ocean views with floor-to-ceiling glass panels.
The Stuart Bailey House, Case Study House #20, 1948
Built in 1948, the two-bedroom Stuart Bailey House was designed by Richard Neutra and is currently one of two residences on the Sam Simon Estate, the Pacific Palisades property that recently sold for $14.9 million. Neutra employed a classic, open midcentury layout and large, floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors. It was the only Case Study home designed by Neutra that was actually built.
Triad Case Study House #23A, 1960
As the largest of three adjacent single-family residences that form the Triad grouping, Case Study House #23A was completed in 1960. The three homes were planned to be the pilot project for a large tract of houses in the La Jolla district of San Diego, but these three were the only ones that were built. The goal for the Triad homes was to design in a manner that created a close relationship between the houses, while still maintaining privacy. All three homes were designed by Edward Killingsworth, Jules Brady, and Waugh Smith.