Case Study House 17

Up next in the series, let’s take a look at architect Craig Ellwood’s “Hoffman House,” built as Case Study House 17 in 1956. At almost twice the size of all previous Case Study homes, the expansive layout included five bedrooms, three bathrooms, and featured a U-shaped plan that provided easy access to the pool terrace from all areas inside.

But, the lavish amenities included in this residence are what really topped the other Case Study homes built up to this point. The house came tricked out with a swimming pool, tennis courts, maid’s quarters, and a protected courtyard adjacent to the children’s bedrooms. It also came equipped with built-in ceiling lights to illuminate artwork in the main entrance, which doubled as a small gallery of contemporary paintings. The lighting created the perfect ambiance for large works of art that shine best amid gallery-style simplicity.

The luxe amenities don’t quite fit with the overall minimalist aesthetic of homes in the Case Study Program, but given Ellwood’s over-the-top personality, they make perfect sense.

Craig Ellwood built his career through charm and self-promotion while living the epitome of a Hollywood lifestyle. He drove a red Ferrari with the license plate “VR00M,” and his succession of wives brought him top dollar clients while expanding his social circle. Although he never graduated as an architect and held no professional license, his achievements stand as undeniable proof of an innate talent for good design.

A fiction of his own making, even the name Craig Ellwood itself was an invention. Born Jon Nelson Burke on April 22, 1922 in Clarendon, Texas, Ellwood moved west with his family and finally settled in Los Angeles. After he graduated from Belmont High School, Ellwood, as Johnnie Burke, joined the U.S. Army Air Corps with his brother Cleve and served as a B-24 radio operator based in Victorville, California until his discharge in 1946.

Shortly thereafter, he joined forces with his brother and two friends they met in the Army, the Marzicola brothers, to start the “Craig Ellwood” construction firm, named after a liquor store called Lords and Elwood located in front of their offices on Beverly Boulevard in LA.

By the 1950s, Ellwood had a thriving practice, and emerged on the national and international scene when three of his designs were included in the Case Study Program: Case Study House 16 (Salzman House) in Bel Air, Case Study House 17 (Hoffman House) in Beverly Hills, and Case Study House 18 (Fields House) in Beverly Hills. He was named one of the “three best architects of 1957” along with Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe.

His rise to public fame led to numerous commissions, and his subsequent residential designs won professional acclaim for fusing the stark “International Style” of Mies van der Rohe and the steel, cage-like structure of Charles Eames with a laid-back sensibility unique to California modernism. His open and elegant floorplans demonstrated a lifestyle which was both inspirational and distinctly attainable.

Before Case Study House 17 even became a reality, the original client voiced reservations about Ellwood’s preference for stark furnishings paired with glass and steel construction. According to Ellwood, the client’s rigid limitations sullied his original design to the point that he considered it the least good of his three Case Study Homes.

When the house changed hands in 1962, house decorator John Woolf and his son, Robert Koch Woolf, were not so shy about expressing their disinterest in Ellwood’s spartan design. They immediately ripped out the interior and added Doric columns to the steel uprights “in order to give this beautifully made contemporaneous building a patina of age.” The once unassuming exterior was transformed into a Greek temple with a Hollywood Regency street facade, and by the time they were done, the massive remodel altered the house beyond recognition.

House Beautiful magazine published photos of the reimagined house with rave reviews. Meanwhile, when asked about this building, Ellwood balked at the rinky-dink makeover.

“The new buyer for the Case Study House had bought it for speculation really, and he turned it into — if you know the Trousdale area of Los Angeles — this kind of phony, bastard modern style. They put pots on top of my steel columns and painted the nice brickwork pink, as I recall. I haven’t seen the house in many years. Last time I saw it, it was chaos,” he said.

Yet, the remodel did more to emphasize the simple genius behind Ellwood’s original blueprint than it did to obscure it. The “before” and “after” versions of the interior courtyard differed more in style than in content, and ultimately showcased the neoclassicism latent in Mid-Century design.

Jane Patton

Jane Patton received a B.A. in journalism from Columbia College, and studied graphic design in the continuing studies program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She grew up in Southern California, and is a passionate enthusiast and collector of Mid-Century art and furniture.

The Case Study Houses were experiments in American residential architecture sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine, which commissioned major architects of the day, including Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, Eero Saarinen, A. Quincy Jones, Edward Killingsworth, and Ralph Rapson to design and build inexpensive and efficient model homes for the United States residential housing boom caused by the end of World War II and the return of millions of soldiers.

The program ran intermittently from 1945 until 1966. The first six houses were built by 1948 and attracted more than 350,000 visitors. While not all 36 designs were built, most of those that were constructed were built in Los Angeles, and one was built in San Rafael, Northern California and Phoenix, Arizona each. Of the unbuilt houses #19 was to have been built in Atherton, in the San Francisco Bay Area, while #27 was to have been built on the east coast, in Smoke Rise, New Jersey.

A number of the houses appeared in the magazine in iconic black-and-white photographs by architectural photographer Julius Shulman.

List of Case Study Houses[edit]

NumberNameArchitect(s)PublicationConstructedStatusAddressCityArts & Architecture
PDF link
Virtual Globetrotting
1J. R. DavidsonFebruary 19451945UnbuiltCSH#1
1J. R. DavidsonFebruary 19481948Extant10152 Toluca Lake AvenueNorth HollywoodCSH#1VGT
2Sumner Spaulding and John RexAugust 19471947Extant857 Chapea RoadPasadenaCSH#2VGT
3William Wurster and Theodore BernardiMarch 19491949Demolished13187 Chalon RoadLos AngelesCSH#3VGT
4Greenbelt HouseRalph RapsonSeptember 19451989Exhibit: Museum of Contemporary Art of Los AngelesCSH#4
5Loggia HouseWhitney R. SmithApril 1946UnbuiltCSH#5
6OmegaRichard NeutraOctober 1945UnbuiltCSH#6
7Thornton AbellJuly 19481948Extant6236 North Deerfield Avenue[1]San GabrielCSH#7VGT
8Eames HouseCharles and Ray EamesDecember 19491949Extant203 Chautauqua BoulevardPacific PalisadesCSH#8VGT
9Entenza HouseCharles Eames and Eero SaarinenJuly 19501949Extant205 Chautauqua BoulevardPacific PalisadesCSH#9VGT, VGT
10Kemper Nomland and Kemper Nomland, Jr.October 19471947Significantly Altered[2]711 South San Rafael Avenue[3]PasadenaCSH#10VGT
11J. R. DavidsonJuly 19461946Demolished540 South Barrington AvenueWest Los AngelesCSH#11
12Whitney R. SmithFebruary 1946UnbuiltCSH#12
13AlphaRichard NeutraMarch 1946Unbuilt[4]CSH#13
15J. R. DavidsonJanuary 19471947Extant4755 Lasheart DriveLa Cañada FlintridgeCSH#15VGT
16Rodney WalkerFebruary 19471947Demolished9945 Beverly Grove DriveBeverly HillsCSH#16
17ARodney WalkerJuly 19471947Extant7861 Woodrow Wilson DriveLos AngelesCSH#17VGT
17BCraig EllwoodMarch 19561956Remodeled Beyond Recognition9554 Hidden Valley RoadBeverly HillsCSH#17
18AWest HouseRodney WalkerFebruary 19481948Extant199 Chautauqua BoulevardPacific PalisadesCSH#18VGT
18BFields HouseCraig EllwoodJune 19581958Remodeled Beyond Recognition1129 Miradero RoadBeverly HillsCSH#18VGT
19ADon KnorrSeptember 1947UnbuiltCSH#19
20AStuart Bailey HouseRichard NeutraDecember 19481948Extant219 Chautauqua BoulevardPacific PalisadesCSH#20VGT
20BBass HouseC. Buff, C. Straub, D. HensmanNovember 19581958Extant2275 Santa Rosa AvenueAltadenaCSH#20
21ARichard NeutraMay 1947UnbuiltCSH#21
21BWalter Bailey HousePierre KoenigFebruary 19591958Extant9038 Wonderland Park AvenueWest HollywoodCSH#21VGT
1950Raphael SorianoDecember 19501950Remodeled1080 Ravoli DrivePacific PalisadesCSH1950VGT
1953Craig EllwoodJune 19531953Extant1811 Bel Air RoadBel-AirCSH1953VGT
22Stahl HousePierre KoenigJune 19601960Extant1635 Woods DriveLos AngelesCSH#22VGT
23TriadKillingsworth, Brady, Smith & Assoc.March 19611960Extant (23A and 23C), 23B Remodeled Beyond Recognition[5]2329 (C[6]), 2342 (A[7]) and 2343 (B[8]) Rue de Anne [9]La JollaCSH#23VGT
24A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. EmmonsDecember 1961UnbuiltCSH#24
25Frank HouseKillingsworth, Brady, Smith & Assoc.December 19621962Extant82 Rivo Alto CanalLong BeachCSH#25VGT
26Harrison HouseBeverley "David" ThorneJanuary 19631963Extant177 San Marino DriveSan RafaelCSH#26VGT
27Campbell and WongJune 1963UnbuiltCSH#27
28Case Study House #28C. Buff and D. HensmanSeptember 19651966Extant91 Inverness RoadThousand OaksCSH#28VGT
Apt 1Alfred N. Beadle and Alan A. DaileySeptember 19641964Extant4402 28th StreetPhoenix, ArizonaCSApts#1VGT
Apt 2Killingsworth, Brady, Smith & Assoc.May 1964UnbuiltCSApts#2


Further reading[edit]

  • Entenza, John (January 1945) "Announcement: The Case Study House Program". Arts and Architecture
  • McCoy, Esther. "Case Study Houses". 2nd edition. 1977, ISBN, Hennessey & Ingalls
  • Smith, Elizabeth A. T. (1989). Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN. 
  • Smith, Elizabeth and Peter Goessel (2002). Case Study Houses: The Complete CSH Program,. Taschen. ISBN. 
  • Smith, Elizabeth A. T. (2007). Case Study Houses. Taschen. ISBN 978-3-8228-4617-9. 
  • Travers, David (January 2007) "About Arts & Architecture" Arts & Architecture website - accessed March 3, 2009

External links[edit]


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