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Quirky Studio City residence by Arthur and Nina Zwebell wins landmark designation

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Will that save it from demolition?

Albert Zwebell house
The house was built in 1937 for Arthur Zwebell’s brother, Albert.
Photos via Los Angeles Department of City Planning

An unusual home in Studio City built by husband-and-wife designers Arthur and Nina Zwebell won historic landmark designation Tuesday from the Los Angeles City Council.

The city’s Cultural Heritage Commission had found the home to be an “excellent example of American colonial revival residential architecture,” as well as a notable work of the Zwebells. The couple is best known for designing some of LA’s earliest and most elaborate courtyard apartment complexes—most of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The effort to landmark the 1930s home in Studio City began earlier this year, when new owner Kevin Schoeler applied for a permit to demolish the structure.

The home was designed for Arthur Zwebell’s brother, Albert. The couple also built a similar home for themselves next door, as well as a third for Arthur’s other brother, Willard.

Neighbors rushed to preserve the property, with support from Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian, who asked the Cultural Heritage Commission to consider making the house a city landmark.

tree in Albert Zwebell house
The pecan tree inside the house.

The Zwebells are less known for the small number of single-family homes that they created during the relatively short amount of time they spent working in real estate design.

As the landmark application for the Studio City home notes, most of the projects designed by the Zwebells were constructed in the 1920s. The Great Depression hit their business hard—and the newly landmarked home in Studio City is among the last built by the couple.

The home’s style is unique; its walls are adorned with wood paneling and an array of vintage wallpapers. Built-in storage and cubby holes abound. The most curious feature is a mature pecan tree that rises from the interior of the home, emerging through the roof above a sun room.

In a meeting of the Cultural Heritage Commission in March, Schoeler argued that this odd detail represented a health and safety issue, and was one reason why he was seeking to raze the home. He also pointed out that many elements of the home do not conform with the American colonial revival style, and that the property bears little resemblance to the Spanish and Moorish-influenced projects for which the Zwebells are best known.

The members of the commission disagreed, saying the home was a clever play on the American colonial style.

“Even if you look at the Zwebells’ courtyard buildings,” said Commissioner Barry Milofsky, “There are funny little things happening—which is what makes them so intriguing.”

With landmark status, the property can still be torn down, but city officials can delay demolition for up to a year to allow options for preservation to be considered. Any major updates to the home will also have to be reviewed by the commission.

Last month, Los Angeles Conservancy director of advocacy Adrian Scott Fine told Curbed he was hopeful that preservationists could reach a compromise with Schoeler allowing for the home to remain intact.

“Just because it gets designated doesn’t mean he can’t update it or even add on to the back of the house,” said Fine. “There’s probably a way to get there and create that kind of win-win.”