Written by Hiroyuki Kushida
Crosby Doe — A realtor who knows everything about and deals only in modern vintage homes.
Over the past few years, we’ve introduced you to several modern vintage homes for sale in this magazine. All of them are masterpieces that make people that are into this kind of thing drool. So when it comes to this kind of property, I went to visit the only real estate agency you should call, a little place in Beverly Hills called Crosby Doe Associates. This is where I found out about all the other properties previously featured here.
“I sold my first Neutra house in 1974. Since then I’ve sold about 300–all of them from modernist architects–homes that you are calling ‘modern vintage,'” says Crosby Doe. “I’ve even sold the same house 5 times.”
First, let me explain a few differences between the American and Japanese ways of doing business. In America, real estate transactions are performed by an agent called a ‘realtor,’ an individual who is licensed to do so. The various functions that need to be done rest not on a company, but on the individual realtor. In return, they share a commission of 6% on the purchase price, but the individual realtor is responsible for expenses such as flyers and newspaper advertisements.
But a realtor can only go so far alone. It is, therefore, not uncommon for several realtors to band together and form a company. Crosby Doe Associates is home to 15 such realtors. One of them, Crosby Doe, is a realtor I got to know before the vintage home craze. He drives a 50’s era vintage car, and he only sells modern homes such as Neutras, Schindlers or Case Study Houses (CSH).
“It’s been 10 years,” says Crosby. “Around 1995, museums and galleries started exhibiting retrospectives on mid-century architects and CSH’s, so people have really been getting into them. Before then, the term ‘mid-century’ didn’t exist, and very few people were following it.”
Over those 10 years, America has experienced the Tech Bubble, the tragedy of 9-11, and the era of prosperity that followed them. Thanks to strong demand for housing, real estate values have steadily risen during the most recent boom of the last few years. According to, the National Association of Realtors pre-existing home sales numbers are one of American’s most important economic indicators. Lately, there are reports that America’s real estate bubble has finally burst and that a catastrophic drop in prices has begun.
Lautner is famous as an architect and a student of Wright’s and has produced very few works. The house Blair mentions, which overlooks the ocean from the Malibu cliffs, was built in 1974 and is a Lautner masterpiece. Its current owner is Hollywood actress Courtney Cox, and it is said to have been used as a location for the movie “Charlie’s Angels.” But does that justify a not-so large house costing over 3.5 billion yen?
Of course, Malibu is a high-rent district. More than anything, location is the number one factor influencing real estate prices. At the time of their completion, this area of so many CSH and modern vintage homes was a sparsely populated suburb that has been transformed into a city of high-class homes. The history of California modernism is the history of a city whose development is linked to motorization.
“Given the same location, a house designed by an architect will be worth about 25% more than an average house,” says realtor Prem Joshi, who looks more like a designer than a real estate agent. “But if, on top of that, it’s a vintage home designed by a famous architect, it could go for easily twice as much. Especially if the house has been properly maintained.”
When it comes to maintenance, the important thing to consider is how close to the original state it has been preserved. That’s why it’s necessary for parties concerned to be knowledgeable about the architect. You have to be smart about it.
It’s rare to find a vintage home that has not been added to or remodeled over the years. Recently, certain developers have appeared who buy such houses cheaply, restore them to as close to the original condition as possible, then sell them at a higher price. Joshi, while giving advice to others who did so, invested in those kind of deals himself.
So I asked Crosby what type of people buy these super high-end vintage homes. “People in the entertainment industry. Producers, writers, TV producers. Lately, there have been a lot of Japanese coming to buy. It seems they are interested in buying and renting them out.” Just as with vintage guitars and vintage denim, as the prices of West Coast Vintage homes go up, the Japanese are right there behind them. How about getting one for yourself?
In the American northeast, the Pew House is a symbol of Madison, Wisconsin. Built on Lake Mendota, it is a F.L. Wright masterpiece. Built of red tide water cypress and local limestone, the house is cantilevered over a natural ravine and is often compared to Falling Water. Updated and refurbished for modern living but not changed from the original, this is a rare jewel that has had only two owners in 70 years. Walking distance to shopping, downtown and Wisconsin State University nearby, you couldn’t ask for more.
John Entenza House
Completed one year before he took on the publisher’s mantle of arts + architecture, Entenza’s first house evokes the Bauhaus as much as it inspires the magazines later Case Study series. CSH #8 “Eames” famous house is right nearby. An award-winning restoration by architect Michael Folonis outfits the space in maple, concrete hearth and stainless kitchen, which is well-unified with the living room, bedrooms and bathrooms. It’s not spacious, but as an architecturally important house, it was a bargain in 2002. It’s worth about $1.8 million now.
Case Study House #20 / 1946
Of the CSH houses that Neutra designed, this and #8, #9 and #22 are the most representative. It’s not a stretch to say that this home is an icon of California mid-century modern architecture. Located just above Santa Monica’s beach, part of the home has been remodeled, but the current 2005 buyer is in the process of restoring it to its original form. The next time it’s up for sale, it’s sure to be even more expensive!?
Case Study House #20 / 1937
Like the item above, this house is also a CSH #20, but with a completely different plan. Why it’s considered the same is a mystery, but perhaps it’s because both have a very grand American style. Architects Buff, Straub & Hensman were studying for teaching credentials at USC when they designed it. Buff and Hensman also workied on CSH #28. This home is located to Los Angeles like Saitama or Ibaraki is to Tokyo. And can you believe this 2003 price for a famous historical building!?
Milton Goldman House / 1951
Neutra designed this peaceful bungalow home with family in mind. Built in 1951, it’s located north of Los Angeles, in the park-filled suburb of Encino. Topanga State Park is just a quick car ride away. In 2001, architect Roberta Weiser finished her restoration which brought the home’s original concept to life. Later, the former owner further remodeled it to a practically new state. You can’t tell from the map, but this home is on a spacious 4 to 5 acres. With its oak studded 3/4 acre garden site, the residence reflects Neutra’s philosophy of “living with nature.” Sorry, it was already sold in 2006 for $3 billion.
Residence in Beverly Hills / 1973
He’s not the music producer. In architectural circles, Quincy Jones is known as a quintessential mid-century architect. He was born in Kansas City, MO in 1913, keeping active from his first job at an architect’s office in 1945 up to his passing in 1979. He also had his hand in some public works. Herman Miller’s headquarters–the epitome of mid-century design–was designed by Jones, whose distinctive style shows in this model vintage home. Located in Bel Air, the ultra-tony area of Beverly Hills. Sorry, this property is already taken.
This 1966 Neutra is in such a great location, at such a great price! That’s because this was, in fact, a Neutra addition–a chic penthouse was built on top of a 1940’s wooden duplex of 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms each. If you rent them out, you can count on a little rental income. Feel like making an investment?
The residence of Robert Skinner, an architect since the 1950’s, has won awards and been featured in countless architectural and design magazines. Built in 1959, it has been completely updated by noted architect Don Umemoto. Landscape architects Eckbo, Dean & Williams were behind the landscaping and gardens. Located in a first-rate area of Beverly Hills, it is a little piece of luxury.
Roxy Roth Residence
Viennese architect Rudolph Schindler is on par with the masters of West Coast modernism. When the Roxy Roth residence was built, the surrounding area was a verdant suburb just over Laurel Canyon from West Hollywood, but now it is in the center of a high-class city neighborhood. Recently fully restored, its condition is nearly mint. The dreamy view of the mountains and valley is amazing. There is also a fireplace made of stone. The way the undulations of the mountain are used against the Los Angeles flatlands below evokes a priceless sense of peace.
El Pueblo Ribera
Rudolph Schindler got his American start in Chicago, where he’d come to work for Frank Lloyd Wright. He moved to California in 1920, so this home could be one of his first works here. The 12-unit complex uses an unusual mixed construction reminiscent of the Pueblo Indians, hence called Pueblo Style. Each unit has a courtyard and is planned in a way that ensures privacy for each tenant. These cottages are just steps from the beach and have been designated a historical site by the city of San Diego.
Charles F. Glore house
One block from the western shore of Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago, this fine 1950’s Frank Lloyd Wright construction has been seamlessly integrated with the 21st century. The glass-walled living room is bright and open, and the spacious 1.8 acres of land affords plenty of privacy. The lavish mixture of mahogany, glass and brick creates a home that is culturally significant in defining American elegance. It has, in fact, been designated a historical building, so you can take advantage of a tax break. It might be cheap at $3 million!
E. Stewart Williams is a virtual unknown in Japan, but his debut work was the home of Frank Sinatra, and you can see from the pictures what a great sense of style he has. The effective use of corrugated aluminum and rough-hewn natural stone transforms European modernism into something very American. It seems there are a few vintage homes hidden away in Palm Springs, too. Mid-century architecture runs deeper than we thought.
Alfred Newman Estate
Tucked into the greenery of Sunset Boulevard, the mansion of music and movie producer Alfred Newman is for sale. The vast 10,000 sq.m estate contains a running stream and natural spring. Lloyd Wright, son of the famous architect, designed it. As you know, the Wright family has 3 generations of architects, and his, the second, is very well-respected. Compared to his father, Lloyd produced more works overall, especially in California. At $1.4 billion, how about one for yourself?
The geometric forms of this home bring the constructionism of Otto Wagner or Adolf Loos to mind. That’s why it’s called “Austrian House.” A duplex, each floor has a separate entrance, and the designer is CSH architect Raphael Soriano. The exact year it was built is unknown, but it was certainly during the latter half of the 1930’s. This fixer opportunity comes with two different sets of architect’s plans and renderings for a gracious and modern 3 bedroom home with views of downtown and expansive garden surroundings. In a good location, it is walking distance to the Silver Lake reservoir.
This mansion was designed by Neutra for Henry Singleton, a business celebrity who was featured on the cover of Forbes Magazine in 1968. Although the 5 acres of land is impressive, the property’s allure comes from the panoramic view from the Stone Canyon Reservoir to the north to the city of Los Angeles as far as Catalina Island to the south. In 2007, it sold for $700 million, but probably could fetch $100 million today. There is also a separate studio on the land.
Translated by Cricket Yee