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Thorough restoration—not demolition—underway on Case Study House No. 21

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One of the most important homes in Los Angeles was starting to slip downhill

Case Study House No. 21, photographed in 2006.
Flickr / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Built between 1956 and 1958, Case Study House No. 21, also known as the Bailey House, features walls of glass, reflecting pools, and sliding doors. The boxy residence was designed by Stahl House architect Pierre Koenig and, seen from the street, the landmarked dwelling resembles a quintessential midcentury modern home.

But it was one of a just a handful of houses in the influential program orchestrated by Arts & Architecture magazine. So when neighbors and onlookers noticed drastic work underway on the site in Laurel Canyon, they feared for the future of the iconic home.

“Drove by the Bailey House and only found her bones,” one Instagram user who photographed the construction site posted on Monday.

Far from being harmed, the house is actually being rescued, says designer Mark Haddaway. He was hired by the new owner—a trust linked to Alison Sarofim, a film producer and daughter of billionaire Fayez Sarofim—who purchased the property in February for $3.26 million.

Case Study Houses were meant to be inexpensive, reproducible homes for the middle class—a solution to the postwar housing shortage. The Bailey House was built out of prefabricated steel and topped by a corrugated metal roof.

But as Haddaway told the the city’s cultural heritage commission in June, “because the budget for the project was small, the foundations for the house were minimal.”

Those foundations are now an issue.

Haddaway said that when contractors lifted up the concrete slab over the living room floor, they found an 18-inch gap between the ground and where the room’s floor had hovered. The soil had subsided, sliding out under the rest of the foundation.

In other words, it appeared Case Study House No. 21 was starting to slip downhill.

Case Study House No. 21, as photographed by Julius Shulman in the late 1950s.
Julius Shulman, J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

The solution Haddaway’s team has come up with involves inserting a grid of “helical anchors” under the living room with the goal of stabilizing the house and preventing any further slippage. In some places, Haddaway says, the house has moved two inches off its original elevation. The anchors wouldn’t undo that, but they would halt any new movement.

In a phone interview, Haddaway says the improvements are needed to ensure the home’s survival for decades to come.

In addition to the foundation work, Haddaway also plans to restore the original yellow kitchen (the one in the house now is from 1997), reform and waterproof the pools that make up the original water features, and replace the original white vinyl tile with white terrazzo—a switch that would leave the door open for a future owner to put the vinyl tiles back in if they wanted to, Haddaway told commissioners.

Speaking at the June meeting, Lambert Giessinger of the city’s office of historic resources, told the commissioners that the project had initially sparked concern in the community because work had begun on the removal of the 1990s-era kitchen—before the city had been given a chance to weigh in. Now, however, the two groups are working together, Giessinger said.

Haddaway has worked on the house before and was, for a time, its owner. He has restored a number of other midcentury homes and is also working now on John Lautner’s Elrod House in Palm Springs.