The iconic mid-century modern Stahl House located in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, California, also known as “Case Study House #22,” has been used for numerous television shows, films, ad campaigns and fashion and photography shoots. The house epitomizes the idea of success, luxury and high-class living, a life the vast amount of Americans can’t afford.
Yet, the story behind how the house was created, as told by the Stahl children Bruce Stahl and Shari Stahl Gronwald, is less about the legend of the famous Hollywood Hills house and more about the dedication and perseverance of their parents. “We were a blue collar family with a white collar dream,” said Bruce. The two decided to write a book about the house with New York Times bestselling author Kim Cross titled ”The Stahl House: Case Study House #22: The Making of a Modernist Icon.”
“When we set out to the write the book we ended up waiting a long time because we wanted a storyteller,” said Shari. “There are so many books written about the architecture that are wonderful but we wanted something in-depth about the family. We met Kim and everything clicked. She helped bring all the pieces in to tell the full and personal story; I don’t think people know that it really took a lot to make the house.”
The Stahl house also has an interesting connection to Idaho: both Cross and Stahl live in Boise. Which is good news for people interested in the book because the Boise Contemporary Theater and Rediscovered Books are hosting a release party Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. at the BCT. All three authors will be in attendance to sign copies. Tickets can be purchased at eventbrite for $40 and include a copy of the book, the chance to see never-before published photos and to see a preview of an upcoming 2022 documentary.
More than just a book about an iconic architectural marvel, “The Stahl House: Case Study House #22: The Making of a Modernist Icon,” delves into the many people that were part of the process. The book examines all of the players that have contributed to the fame of the house: architect Pierre Koenig, photographer Julius Shulman and the magazine “Arts And Architecture” — but it’s also interlaced with personal stories about owners Buck and Carlotta Stahl and the family they raised there.
Cross began researching for the book in 2019. She said that although she was unfamiliar with the house she felt that she and Shari connected on the idea of the family’s story being an important part of the book.
“I’m just a storyteller and I love a good story with an arc,” said Cross, “and when I heard the story about the family and the many people involved, I realized the house deserved its own biography. The main character is the house, with all of the people being the supporting characters.”
The account of how the house came to be is indeed a good one. Buck and Carlotta were newlyweds renting an apartment in L.A. in the Hollywood Hills. The view from their apartment consistently drew their eyes to a lot on a ridge that jutted out over the hills. One day they decided to drive up and take a look at the lot and by pure coincidence the owner was there. After some negotiations, the Stahls ended up walking away that day as owners of the lot through a handshake and a deposit of $100.
“They just had a dream and the forethought and they made it happen,” said Cross. “It took years to pay off the lot. They were just an average husband and wife. they kept looking up at the lot from their apartment and that drive changed their lives forever.”
Bruce said his father didn’t understand the meaning of the word no; it just meant to try another way. Buck was told how hard it would be to get the lot ready to build on and he spent years dry-laying donated concrete. Buck also had the first basic designs for the house. After meeting and rejecting several architects he met Pierre Koenig who built the house in 1959. He constructed it mostly of steel with glass floor-to-ceiling windows.
After construction, the house was also made famous by photographer Julius Shulman and the magazine “Arts And Architecture.” The house became known as the Case Study House #22 as part of the “Case and House Study Program by Arts and Architecture” in 1960 and Shulman’s photographs of the house are as iconic as the structure itself.
However, the famous house was also the home of a family — and Bruce and Shari didn’t really learn how important the house was until they were older.
“We would eat sitting on the edge of the pool because we didn’t want to get out,” said Bruce. “Dad was the first one to jump off the roof and now my kids and Shari’s kids and grandkids do it, it lives on.”
“Growing up, our life existed around the pool and jumping off the roof,” said Shari. “Mom brought our friends over and we would build forts in the living room. It was a great childhood.”
But the family had to work hard to keep it. There was a five year period where Buck lost his job and the family moved out and rented the home. They lived with Carlotta’s mother but eventually they saved enough and moved back into the house. The family’s owned it ever since.
People can still tour the house and it’s still maintained by the Stahl family. Bruce and Shari said it’s about honoring how hard their parents worked to have the house and share it with others.
“I want people to know who we were and take away the human side,’ said Shari. “Really letting the world see the house and maybe helping people realize they can make their dreams happen, too.”
“The dream is still there for people,” said Bruce, “you just have to get creative and that’s what our parents did. We’re also the last people to tell the story and we didn’t want it to die with us. We got lucky; we were born into it and we’re just trying to carry on the legacy.”