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‘Essential’ midcentury modern by Craig Ellwood burns in Getty Fire

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It’s unclear how much damage the fire unleashed on Crestwood Hills, which is filled with midcentury architecture

The Zack House burned on Tigertail Drive.
AP

A Crestwood Hills post and beam designed in the 1950s by Craig Ellwood, one of the masters of midcentury modern architecture, was gutted by the Getty Fire.

The Zack House, photos show, is now a skeleton of steel beams, charred concrete, and brick walls.

Photo journalist Christian Monterrosa captured the wreckage and confirmed that the residence at 1036 Tigertail Road was among those destroyed.

Southern California architectural historian Alan Hess called it a “real loss to the architectural heritage of Los Angeles.”

“It was an early Ellwood design, but demonstrated all his distinctive and influential ways of interpreting modernism,” he said. “Though it remains in photographs, the loss of the actual building to experience makes us poorer.”

In an Instagram post, Previous Partners, a firm that had been in the beginning stages of a renovation on the rear of the house with Ellwood restorer Barton Jahncke, said that the home’s longtime owner alerted them to the property’s devastation. “This morning our client on Tigertail Rd. in Crestwood Hills let me know she tragically lost the Craig Ellwood Zack House,” the post said.

Calls to Previous Partners were not answered, and the home’s longtime owner, Melanie Regberg, did not immediately return messages.

The 656-acre blaze ignited near Getty Center Drive and the 405 Freeway early Monday morning and swept west across the hills above Brentwood.

Many residents fled and remain under mandatory evacuation orders. It’s unclear how much damage the fire unleashed on Crestwood Hills, a cooperative community that formed in the 1940s, prioritizing high design and affordable construction.

But fire officials and news reports have said that multiple homes on Tigertail Road—which serves as the eastern boundary of the community—were overcome by flames.

Photos taken by Julius Shulman of the Zack House in 1954 show how its wedged into the hill, cantilevering over Kenter Canyon (left) and its original facade on Tigertail Road (right).
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

The Zack House was built into a hillside in 1952 and took advantage of that position, cantilevering over Kenter Canyon and incorporating walls of glass that afforded stellar views. It was first listed for $119,500 and marketed as being surrounded by foliage and fruit trees.

The house was not a designated landmark, but a historical survey conducted by the city in 2013 credited the home with retaining “essential character defining features of midcentury modernism.” It cited the home’s clerestory windows, flat roof, and “unornamented wall surfaces.”

“As an aesthetic, the Zack House represented the combined expression of two ideas: firstly, disparate floating planes, and secondly, extreme structural fragility,” wrote Neil Jackson in California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood. “They were never again repeated in such a combination.”

Hess said the rectangular residence, with its long narrow plan, was the perfection expression for a post and beam structure.

“With a series of spare, carefully composed planes—roof, wall partitions, interspersed with enormous planes of glass–Ellwood captured our delight in modern engineering and technology and our open lifestyle,” he said.

Its design was also the work of Emiel Becsky, a licensed architect who worked with Ellwood on at least a handful of commissions.

Ellwood never earned an architecture degree, but he was named one of “three best architects of 1957”—along with Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, according to California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood. He built an impressive roster of award-winning buildings, designing the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena and three homes for the pioneering Case Study program.

Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, called the Zack residence a “great example” of midcentury modern architecture in Brentwood.

“The loss... is tragic, both for the family whose home was destroyed and for Los Angeles,” he said.