Coolest 2 1/2 Blocks in L.A.?

How would you like to come home every day and feel like you are smack dab in the middle of the 1950s? You could if you live in the historic Mar Vista Tract in West Los Angeles. Designed by mid-century master Gregory Ain, the 52 houses sit on both sides of the Meier and Moore Streets between Marco Place and Palms Blvd, and half of Beethoven Street.

Ain was a big believer in building houses of high design for low and middle income folk. His championing of the masses gave him a bit of a reputation as a Communist — not a good reputation to have in the 1950s. As such, he was left out of the Case Study program that featured designs by his mid-century colleagues.

But the Mar Vista Tract sealed his true reputation as the equal of Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra — he worked with the latter for several years and contributed to his projects. The plan was to build 100 houses in two phases. The second phase never happened, however.

Each house was 1060 square feet in a variety of layouts and exterior features, instead of building a row of identical houses. The interiors featured movable walls so homeowners could change the house to suit their needs. Because of this, the houses sold for $12,000 in 1948, far more expensive that other houses in the area. However, those other houses were not architectural masterpieces.

The designs of Ain’s houses are really quite simple, but still look beautiful today.  My favorite thing that he did was to slightly stagger Meier and Moore Streets from the rest of the street grid, announcing to all visitors that you are entering blocks that are very different from the ones you just left. 

I first learned about these houses from an article in Metropolis magazine in 1998, long before I ever considered moving to Los Angeles. But I knew I had to see this area some day so I ripped out the article, and I have it to this day. The most striking part is this:

Today these modest dwellings runs from $325,000 for a fixer-upper to $600,000 for one that has been sympathetically extended and well maintained.

Oh, to go back in time and buy a couple of those “fixer-uppers!” The houses go for well over $1 million nowadays in the rare occasion that they are offered for sale.