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Germany saves Thomas Mann’s LA house, buying it for $13.25M

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The plan is to turn it into a cultural center

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This article was updated at 2:16 p.m., November 18.

The German government has stepped up to save the Pacific Palisades home of German author Thomas Mann from the possible threat of demolition by buying the house, which it aims to transform into a cultural center, reports the New York Times.

When the one-time home of the German author came on the market in August, a flurry of concern was whipped up that the house, positioned on nearly an acre of land in the tony Riviera section of Pacific Palisades, might be sold to a buyer who was more interested in the value of the property and not of the house itself.

At the time, co-listing agent Joyce Rey told the Los Angeles Times, “The value is in the land. The value is not really in the architecture, I would say." (Stephen Apelian was also co-listing agent on the property.)

Many disagreed. The house was designed by by architect J.R. Davidson—a Neutra contemporary who designed three Case Study Houses. Like Mann, Davidson was a German transplant to Southern California. The two men worked together to design the house where Mann lived from the early 1940s to 1952. It’s where he wrote the novel Dr. Faustus.

The house was more than just a place where Mann lived, said the Los Angeles Times. It was “a portrait of his artistic temperament and a measure of his relationship with Southern California.”

The house was originally listed for $14.995 million. The German government purchased it $13.25 million. The sale closed on Wednesday. The seller, Tim Lappen, tells Curbed that his family bought the house from the Mann family back in 1953, after Mann had moved to Switzerland. The Mann house became the Lappen family home, and Lappen’s parents were very proud of their residence’s connection to the Nobel Prize-winning author, even if it meant frequent visits from Mann devotees from abroad, asking to see the property.

Lappen said that a previous offer on the house had gone into escrow, but the buyer had wanted to build a new house on the lot and, after surveying the property, discovered it wasn’t going to work out. Then, the German government made an offer, and though it was for less money than the previous offer, their intent to preserve the house tipped the scales in their favor for Lappen. He says he’s “delighted” that the house will now be under the stewardship of the German government.

According to the New York Times, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement today that the plan was to convert Mann’s house into “a cultural center for debate over major trans-Atlantic issues, including migration, exile and integration.” It will eventually offer residencies for “artists and intellectuals,” in the same way that the nearby Villa Aurora, once home to German author Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife Marta does.

“In a conflict-laden world, which is no longer sure of its own order, we need more than ever places in which cultural and social exchanges take place free from external pressure,” said Steinmeier in his statement.