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BTTF# 16: Josef Von Sternberg House by Richard Neutra

Image courtesy Not PC Blog
Image courtesy LAPL by Luckhaus Studio
Welcome aboard the Delorean! Marty McFly here to take you on a journey to Josef Von Sternberg by Richard Neutra which was later owned by Ayn Rand in Northridge. The Delorean has the required plutonium plus some random garbage in the Mr. Fusion reactor ready for this trip. The time circuits are set to sometime in 1935 and the flux capacitor is......fluxxing. The engine is running (not stalled this time) so we need to hurry. Hang on, as the ride can be a little bumpy as we travel back in time to explore the Josef Von Sternberg House at 10000 Tampa Avenue Northridge which is not too far from the former Louella Parson's home and Marson's farms.

Both images courtesy LAPL by Burton O. Burt top and bottom
Josef Von Sternberg was a Hollywood Director born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary in 1894. He is mostly known for collaborating with Marlene Dietrich and turning her into an international sensation after the film, The Blue Angel, was released.  Afterwards, Von Sternberg and Dietrich would continue to work on six more films in the early 30's. Von Sternberg died from a heart attack in 1969 at the age of 75.
Image courtesy Triangle Modernist Houses
In 1935, Von Sternberg commissioned architect Richard Neutra to build a ranch home in the mostly undeveloped area of Northridge. The Chatsworth/Northridge area was also the location of many celebrity "ranch homes" during that time including Lucille Ball, Jackie Oakie, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, James Cagney, and Zeppo Marx. This area was labeled "Valleywood" by Kevin Roderick, author of America's Suburb: San Fernando Valley, because of the many celebrities who built "vacation" ranch houses to get away from the Hollywood/Beverly Hills surroundings.
Image courtesy CSUN Digital Library
The house location was decided based on its distance from Hollywood as described in an article from Architectural Digest by Thomas S. Hines, Richard Neutra: Rediscovering the Architect's Vision for Josef Von Sternberg in the July 2001 issue:
“I selected a distant meadow,” von Sternberg recounted later, “in the midst of an empty landscape, barren and forlorn, to make a retreat for myself, my books, and my collection of modern art.”
Image courtesy Mid Century Modern Home
The design of the home as described by Wikipedia:
The design of the Von Sternberg House contrasts with the typical homes built at the beginning of the 21st century. The Von Sternberg House had a very small number of rooms and a relatively small surface area which played up its unique design features. While it did have a few features of ostentatious display, such as a separate, larger and higher garage bay for a Rolls-Royce in addition to the two other garage bays for lesser automobiles (in an era where even rich homes had only one or two garages) most of its characteristics were original and discrete, showing Neutra's attention for the integration of custom details.
The exterior look of the house and of its landscaped surroundings was made of sinuous lines, yet the interiors were orthogonal, making furniture placement simple and easy. As in many others of his domestic designs, Neutra made heavy use of industrial windows and sidings, fulfilling both aesthetic and practical functions, such as making privacy screens and windbreaks.
Neutra was mindful of his customer's desires even when he found them absurd. He would later regale his friends with the story (among others) of Von Sternberg asking that none of the bathroom doors have locks, in order to prevent his party guests from locking themselves up in there and threatening to commit suicide. As a movie director Sternberg was well acquainted with the theatrical behavior of many Hollywood actors, while Neutra had a social life which kept him in touch with artists in other domains.
Image courtesy Not PC blog
 Also from America's Suburb: San Fernando Valley (page 93):
...a house fashioned of glass and steel and surrounded by a 16-foot moat with drawbridge. Modernist architect Richard Neutra designed the house in 1935 so that hte master bedroom opened onto a rooftop pool stocked with tropical fish, and a drip system cooled the living room with "aritifical rain." Von Sternberg could look from his bedroom through glass to the open living room below, and enjoyed views of the Santa Susana Mountains and across the orchards and horse ranches of the west Valley.
He cluttered his home and 36-acre estate with paintings, drawings, sculptures, and lithographs. When his collection later went on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it included works by Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Renoir, Seurat, and Gaugin. 
Also from the America's Suburb: San Fernando Valley website on the Josef Von Sternberg house:
All-steel and glass with rounded edges and a moat, it drew raves for Neutra and also made an inviting landmark for World War II pilots to buzz during training flights over the Valley.
Image courtesy Uncle Eddie's Theory Corner
Unfortunately, Josef Von Sternberg moved on from his masterpiece home prior to the start of WW2. The home changed through several different owners before eventually becoming the home of Ayn Rand and her husband, Frank O'Connor which they purchased for $24,000 (Wikipedia). According to an article from the Northridge-Chatsworth Patch by Anna King, Chatsworth Shrugged: Remembering Author and Screenwriter Ayn Rand on July 27, 2011:
Jeff Britting, archivist at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, recounted to Patch the details of the author's stay in Chatsworth.
According to Britting, Rand and O'Connor moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1943, after she had sold the movie rights to The Fountainhead. While they were staying in apartments in Hollywood, her husband was scouting for a possible house when he found the Von Sternsberg house in Chatsworth.
"He [O'Connor] came up with the idea that this would be a good investment property," said Britting, "he anticipated the growth of Los Angeles into the Valley and into the Western end of the Valley."
Britting said that O'Connor had peacocks that roamed freely in the land that surrounded the home, and cultivated alfalfa and hybridized gladiolas for commerical sale. Rand, meanwhile divided her time between writing screenplays and fiction. She wrote the scripts for three produced films and a number of unproduced ones during her time on the ranch, according to Britting, and it was there that she began work on her novel Atlas Shrugged.
Ultimately, said Britting, the couple left the house because "she [Rand] didn't care for California particularly, she really wanted to go back to New York. She was looking for a point in the novel [Atlas Shrugged] where she could stop writing and consider a major move."
Image courtesy The Hollywood Reporter
Neutra was known for visiting his homes after they were built and visited the Josef Von Sternberg House when Ayn Rand was living there which also unsurprisingly coincided with a visit by Julius Shulman who was capturing images of the home. Rand would later admit that she thought the home "unbelievably wonderful" and had used Neutra as an inspiration for the character Howard Roark in the film, Fountainhead. Rand sold this home to move to New York for $175,000 in 1963 (Wikipedia).

Images courtesy The Hollywood Reporter top and bottom
Now its time to jump back into the Delorean and go Back To The Future starting in 1952, 1959, 1969, 1972, 1980, 2003, and today. Unfortunately  this site was torn in 1972 (see video below) to make way for housing tracts which was two years after Richard Neutra's death. The fact that this home was demolished to make way for housing tracts was not surprising given the extensive list of significant buildings, homes, and businesses that no longer exist that have been discussed in the Back To The Future series. (Update January 23, 2013, This home was not demolished due to housing development but rather because of the homeless occupying it and the owner not hiring security. See comment below).
Image courtesy; showing 1952 with orange groves surrounding home
Image courtesy; showing 1959 with nearby areas slowly being developed
Image courtesy; showing 1969 with Von Sternberg home still present but Nobel Jr. Middle School built and surrounding areas being developed
Image courtesy; showing 1972 with Von Sternberg House demolished
Image courtesy; showing 1980 with former Von Sternberg  Housing being developed
Image courtesy; showing 2003 with housing tract fully developed
Former Josef Von Sternberg House today replaced by the Buckingham Estates at the corner of  Tampa and Mayall. Nothing of its existence remains today.
Going back to Richard Neutra, he was known for his Modernist architecture and designed many architecturally significant homes throughout the L.A. area and other parts of the world. The website Triangle Modernist Houses organization has provided an exhaustive collection of Neutra homes (not including businesses, schools, etc). There are roughly 22 Neutra buildings (including homes, schools, etc.) just in the San Fernando Valley with only a handful that have been altered or demolished. These buildings are located  throughout the entire Valley and can be found in the upscale and trendy Studio City to the equestrian friendly blue collar Sylmar which can be viewed in a post solely dedicated to Neutra works in the SFV.

You can read more historical posts of the SFV at the Back To The Future Series.


Triangle Modernist Houses organization by George Smart containing photos of Neutra homes around the world

Neutra In The 818 by Rachel Heller at Our Ventura Blvd Magazine; July - August 2011

Ayn Rand, Barbara Stanwyck, and Wally Wood by Eddie Fitzgerald at Uncle Eddie's Theory Corner on March 26, 2008

Ayn Rand Institute: photos of Ayn Rand at home with photos taken by Julius Shulman

See A Vanished Gem by Kevin Roderick at The Valley Observed on August 20, 2006

Richard Neutra: Rediscovering the Architect's Vision for Josef Von Sternberg by Thomas Hines at Architectural Digest Magazine; July 2001 also includes slideshow of Julius Shulman photographs

Pacific Coast Architechture Database for Josef Von Sternberg House

Destruction (Andy Moore); Video of Josef Von Sternberg Home being destroyed

Chatsworth Shrugged: Remembering Author and Screeenwriter Ayn Rand by Anna King at Northridge-Chatsworth Patch on July 27, 2011

Von Sternberg House - Richard Neutra by Peter Cresswell at Not PC on May 27, 2009

Wikipedia - Marlene Dietrich

Wikipedia - Josef Von Sternberg

Wikipedia - Richard Neutra

Wikipedia - Von Sternberg House

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Marty Mcfly

Anything and everything about the San Fernando Valley. This blog will take you back in time when the valley was covered with dirt and orange groves to a leader in the space race to its current status as America's suburb. Come along and join me on this adventure, I guarantee you have been influenced/impacted by the San Fernando Valley in one form or another even if you have never visited or heard of the SFV.

6 comments to ''BTTF# 16: Josef Von Sternberg House by Richard Neutra"

  1. We've learned that the house was NOT destroyed for the new development; the development came independently later. According to Dion Neutra, the house was destroyed because the homeless had taken up residence. The owner refused to hire security, and in the late 1960's gave Dion a week to find a solution to move it. Then she went ahead anyway, without further notice, to destroy it. A housing development was built there several years later.


    George Smart
    Triangle Modernist Houses

  2. Thanks George for the clarification. I will correct in my post. The homeless must have really enjoyed living in that masterpiece.

  3. Curious about the homeless, since Ruth Beebe Hill, apparently the house's last occupant (though not an owner - she'd rented from Ayn Rand and then, without a break, the next owner), claimed that the bulldozer was coming as they drove off from the house the last time.

  4. Hi Michael. Thanks for the comment. I will check with George Smart to get further clarification.

    1. I lived across the street from this house from 1961 to 1974. No homeless ever lived there. The Hills left to go to Washington the day that the demolition started. I still have one of the floodlights that was mounted on the house. Here is a Super-8 film of its demolition:

  5. Thanks for your hard work on this. I went to school at Nobel Jr. High and Google was putting the Von Sternberg house at 10000 Tampa blvd right on the school. I came across yearbooks before the 1972 destroy date of the house and was puzzled but your site cleared it all up. Thanks again.


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