Backus House | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo courtesy Architectural Resources Group

Backus House

The Backus House is quite an anomaly in this part of Bel-Air: a modest, two-story, Mid-Century Modern house in the midst of sprawling mega-mansions. Considering that it currently for sale and sits on a prime lot in a wealthy neighborhood, it is an anomaly that may soon vanish unless it’s purchased by a preservation-minded buyer.

The house was originally owned by television and radio actor Jim Backus, best known as Thurston Howell III from “Gilligan’s Island,” and his wife Henny.

They commissioned industrial designer Greta Magnusson Grossman to design a Mid-Century Modern-style house for them in the hills of Bel-Air, representing one of Grossman’s earliest architectural projects. The result is a lovely example of Grossman’s work, on a slightly larger scale than many of her other residential designs. Like her other houses, the Backus House features a simple plan on a rhythmic modular grid and is unassuming from the street. Its true beauty is at its rear – or view-facing – façade, where wood-framed floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a full-length balcony look out over the city.

The interior has an open plan that allows free flow through its spaces and expands the house to feel like a floating pavilion; a massive, angled stone fireplace anchors the living room while letting traffic flow around it. The Backus House is a beautiful example of Grossman’s designs and is perfectly suited to its steep hillside lot.

Photo from Conservancy archives

Eugene W. Britt House

Reflecting the fine luxury homes of turn-of-the-century L.A., most of the fixtures and materials in the Britt House were imported, including Italian marble.
Photo courtesy Architectural Resources Group

Sheats Apartments

Completed in 1949, the building was designed by master architect John Lautner as eight units of student housing. Asymmetrically arranged shapes, from circular volumes to long, flat planes, step up the hill and around each other to form a strangely harmonious, abstractly futuristic, and truly organic-feeling whole.