Less than two years after architect Thom Mayne tore down Ray Bradbury’s California house to build one for himself, preservationists worry that the former house of another well known writer could disappear next. This time it’s the former home of Thomas Mann, author of the 1912 novella Death in Venice and other classics.
The house was designed by the noted midcentury architect J. R. Davidson for Mann and his wife, Katia, and completed in 1941. It has been called “The House that Death in Venice built,” because Mann was able to commission it with the royalties from his written works.
Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne writes in The Los Angeles Times that Mann’s former home, which occupies about an acre including the grounds, has been put on the market for $14,995,000 and the listing by Coldwell Banker provides no information about its architectural or literary significance.
Hawthorne is afraid that it will suffer the same fate as the bright yellow house owned by Bradbury for more than 50 years. “It is being marketed as a tear-down,” he writes. “There is no mention in the listing of its connection to Mann, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929, or Davidson, a fellow German émigré.”
Hawthorne quotes listing agent Joyce Rey as saying she doesn’t think any potential buyers would be interested in the house’s history. “The value is in the land,” she is quoted as saying. “The value is not really in the architecture, I would say.”
The four-bedroom house is located at 1550 San Remo Drive in Pacific Palisades and is not visible from the street. Hawthorne argues that it is morearchitecturally significant that Bradbury’s because it was designed by Davidson, an architect who designed three post-war houses for the Case Study program sponsored by Arts and Architecture magazine.
According to Hawthorne, Mann wrote Doctor Faustus and The Holy Sinner while living in the house. He says the property is listed as a “historic resource” in an inventory called SurveyLA but is not one of the city’s official historical or cultural landmarks and has limited protection from demolition at best. Hawthorne notes that Los Angeles is a city filled with houses that have cultural significance but no landmark protection.
“The uncertainty surrounding the house is a reminder of how unusually fragile the cultural patrimony of Los Angeles remains, since so much of it is contained not in public spaces or buildings but in the private realm,” he wrote. “To a degree rare among major world cities, L.A.’s civic heritage is a scattered collection of (official and unofficial) house museums often vulnerable to the whims of their owners.”