How the Eameses Found their Land: A Bluff for a New Housing Program

John Entenza, the editor of the modernist publication Arts & Architecture, purchased a five-acre plot of land neighboring the sea in the Pacific Palisades in 1941. This land—formerly part of a failed residential development project by Abbot Kinney in the late 1890s— was mostly undeveloped and an impossibly far distance from the Los Angeles city center. Entenza’s intent for this eucalyptus grove was initially unclear; however, when plans to solve a housing crisis post-war began to swirl in his mind, the grounds became the perfect space for the start of something monumentally modern: the Case Study Program. This program intended to be the ideal post-war housing solution accessible to middle-class America. The house designs would utilize industrial-grade off-the-shelf or catalog-ordered building materials in a residential context, showcasing a modern aesthetic that was still quite unusual for the time.

Ray Eames and John Entenza surveying the site, early 1940’s

As the program began in 1945, two designs proposed for this meadow were published in Arts & Architecture Magazine: Case Study #8 for Charles and Ray Eames and Case Study #9 for John Entenza himself. Both structures were a collaboration between Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. A shortage of steel (as World War II was winding down) meant that the structural material for these two homes was temporarily unavailable for residential use. Plans for the building were postponed for nearly three years, and in the meantime, redesigning of the Eames House and the building of other homes on-site began.

The first structure to break ground in 1946 was Richard Neutra’s Case Study House #20 for the Bailey family: a young dentist and his wife. Dr. Bailey commissioned Neutra to plan an additional walkway and wing of the home to be built in later years, as the couple expected to have children. Next came Rodney Walker’s Case Study House #18 for the West family in 1948, constructed on the northeast corner of the five acres. Situated in between #18 and #20 is another Neutra design of the late 1940s, but this one was disavowed by the Case Study Program due to changes in design and materials.

Case Study #20, Bailey House

Case Study #18, West House

The year 1949 hosted the construction of the Eames and Entenza houses, both described as “technological twins, but architectural opposites.” They utilize similar materials standard to the industrial building industry with drastically different forms and client needs. Due to Entenza’s close relationship with Charles and Ray, it was natural to share their three acres more fluidlythe designs were intentional in preventing the dwellers from peering into the neighboring house’s private areas. Overall, there was little division between the separate properties on this Case Study bluff, allowing the residents to share the eucalyptus grove and the scenic view of the Pacific Ocean below the cliff’s edge.

Case Study #9, Entenza House

Case Study #8, Eames House

Today, all five homes are still remarkably intact and some boast more historic materials than others. While the Eames House is now a non-profit house museum visitable by appointment, the other homes remain as cherished private residences. Despite their lack of public access, one can still take a pleasant walk up the driveway, passing Neutra’s original, curved weeping mortar wall and the other properties on the way to the Eames House. 

Read the Arts & Architecture Magazine briefings here.

Published by: Kelsey Rose Williams