"They said, 'We were never in the house; we were always playing outside,' which is true. They didn't spend time in their room. My youngest son, he's a realtor, he said, 'Mom, times have changed, because kids today have a computer, they have a television, they have whatever games there are, so they spend all their time in their room. We didn't.'"
Today, the neighborhood is again filled with young families. "There are 11 kids on this block now," Michaelsen says. "For a while there were none." And the neighborhood is undergoing a resurgence as newcomers restore Ain's homes. Les Major, a Hollywood animator, and Pascale Vaquette moved to the neighborhood because of the architecture and carefully renovated their home, removing unsympathetic additions. They arrived in 1996, before the mania for mid-century hit. "Our contractor said, 'This is the first time I made a house smaller,'" Major remembers.
Many houses have had garage additions and major interior renovations. But, Adamson says, "There are a much larger number than you think that are completely original and there are a large number of houses that have had insignificant changes."
The Modernique homes make up one of the very few modern neighborhoods in Los Angeles south of the San Fernando Valley, says Brian Linder, whose the Value of Architecture team at Keller Williams Realty has sold four homes in the neighborhood. Because the homes are so attractive, they sell for more per square foot than other postwar homes in the area, he says. And the historic overlay "locks them in at a higher value, and preserves that value for the future."
Because of architectural controls, and greater appreciation for Ain's designs, heavy alterations appear to be a thing of the past. "I think the people who are moving in now are trying to put it back together, more or less," Michaelsen says.
Among those are Todd Jerry and his wife, Ing Lee, who bought their house in 2002 and have two young children. Benefiting from the HPOZ, they expect to save $10,000 on their property taxes by taking advantage of the Mills Act, a state program that provides tax relief to property owners who agree to preserve the historic architecture and to plow the savings back into the property.
Jerry is using the savings on landscaping and kitchen improvements, and hopes to do a small addition. "We appreciate architecture. It doesn't inhibit us," he says of the Mills agreement, "because I think anything we do would be respectful of the architecture."
It was the fear of people being disrespectful that led to Mar Vista's historic designation. Dwayne Howard recalls that McMansions were going up a few blocks away—though not yet among the Ain homes. Meanwhile, owners and would-be buyers of some Ain homes were talking about expanding into their front yards, and adding a second story.
A group of neighbors began talking up the virtues of historic designation. The city encouraged them, and the Los Angeles Conservancy provided expertise and helped dispel rumors. Proponents held neighborhood meetings, asked if people liked the idea (most did), and were soon attending meeting after meeting—28 in all, Michaelsen remembers.
A few neighbors strongly opposed the plan. To protect the houses, proponents got the city to issue an interim control ordinance while the historic designation was being finalized. The day before the control ordinance went into effect, a man who had fought the plan tore down his house. "All the neighbors were lined up on the sidewalk taking pictures," Major says. Seward adds, "It got real ugly."
The historic designation went into effect in 2003, but exactly what it covers remains to be defined by the historic preservation board, which includes an outside architect, Adamson, Michaelsen, Caldwell and others. "We are supposed to be working on the detailed plan for preservation," Adamson says. "But it only comes up when there is a big controversy. Then everybody has an opinion."
But Bonnie Jones is encouraged. "Most people now want to go back to the original, so they are using the board as a resource." Caldwell adds, "People come to us asking, 'How can we turn our house back into an Ain house?'"
Photos: John Eng, Jim Simmons, Adriene Biondo; and courtesy Value of Architecture
• Gregory Ain's Modernique Homes can be found along Meier, Moore, and Beethoven streets, between Palms Boulevard and Marco Place, in the Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles. The neighborhood website is marvistatract.org.