A Stylish and Cool Enclave in Mid-century Beverly Hills

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STEVEN M. PRICE’S NEW COFFEE TABLE BOOK Trousdale Estates: Midcentury to Modern in Beverly Hills celebrates the singular houses of an iconic Beverly Hills neighborhood. The hillside residences nestled just north of Sunset Boulevard in the world’s most famous zip code have come to embody a particular type of swinging elegance in the cultural consciousness. In part this is due to the cast of celebrities who have resided in Trousdale Estates: the neighborhood at one time made Groucho Marx and Richard Nixon neighbors, if not friends; provided refuge for Frank Sinatra as a divorced bachelor and Elvis Presley as a family man; and more recently has housed three of the six friends from Friends, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, and fashion designer Vera Wang (whose curiously named Cole Palace residence was formerly owned by Burt Reynolds). Yet, as the author notes, of all the names mentioned and omitted in the book, Sinatra’s sense of stylish cool has made his the most associated with the Trousdale enclave. Anyone familiar with the films of the 1960s and ‘70s—or, for that matter, Don Draper’s trips to Los Angeles on Mad Men—can no doubt envision the typical Trousdale house as the sprawling single-story modernist mansion with an open colonnade carport and a swimming pool flanked by sliding glass doors. If you close your eyes, you can practically taste the martinis . . . shaken, not stirred.

For all the retro glamour these houses represent today, Price notes an inherent paradox behind this perception of Trousdale Estates. Aggressively marketed to the rich and famous as status symbols, the mid-century residences have often been criticized for tacky opulence. To some degree, this idea may arise from earlier Trousdale houses featured in the book that reflect some of the 1950s American fascination with Polynesian-inspired design and Googie architecture, though both these trends now evoke charming kitsch more than flawed aesthetics. Price gives some credit to Paul Trousdale, by no means an architectural visionary, for putting faith in mid-century modern architecture as a selling point and placing zoning restrictions on the ceiling height to preserve the views from the hills. Los Angeles architectural luminaries such as Frank Lloyd Wright and A. Quincy Jones designed some of the structures, though the book also features impressive houses from such lesser-known names as Edward Fickett and Jacob Tracht. Price’s chronicle of the designs from the neighborhood’s inception in the 1950s to the present day even includes more contemporary interpretations of the Trousdale style by William Hefner and Marmol Radziner.

Many readers of coffee table books may gloss over the text in favor of the full-color photographs, but Trousdale Estates also offers an insightful history of the incorporation and development of Beverly Hills in the twentieth century. Price analyzes the development’s decline in the last quarter of the century through two disparate historical events. The climate of fear after the Manson family’s murder spree turned the open glass of Trousdale into a perceived security risk. And almost a decade later, the Iranian Revolution created an influx into Beverly Hills of wealthy refugees, who built the so-called Persian palaces that reflected the architecture of their homeland. Yet today, the 1960s nostalgia invoked by TV shows like Mad Men and continued fascination with the Kennedy era have turned mid-century modern into a signifier of cultivated chic. In making the case for preserving the mid-century residences, the book also acknowledges the market forces that have made Trousdale Estates some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Buyers with that much power want to individualize their houses, either redesigning the existing structures beyond recognition or obliterating them entirely as teardowns. Perhaps Price’s book can coax potential neighborhood patrons toward renovations or original design plans that keep the signature look of Trousdale Estates intact. After all, style is what made Trousdale Estates a desirable locale in the first place. Or to put it another way, do future residents of Trousdale Estates want to display a coffee table book filled with beautiful color photographs of homes that bear no resemblance to their own?

Trousdale Estates: Midcentury to Modern in Beverly Hills
by Steven M. Price • Regan Arts, $75.00