A closer look at the Modernist utopia Crestwood Hills

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A closer look at the Modernist utopia Crestwood Hills
Schneidman House and owner Kristin MacDowell from “Crestwood Hills: The Chronicle of a Modern Utopia” by Cory Buckner.

In 1947, on the hills above Brentwood, the newly formed Mutual Housing Assn. broke ground on an ambitious 800-acre neighborhood development named Crestwood Hills. Now the little-known story behind the enclave that epitomizes Midcentury Modern architecture is detailed by architect Cory Buckner in her new book, “Crestwood Hills: The Chronicle of a Modern Utopia.” Among its 200 photos are many by Julius Shulman.

Motivated by the lack of affordable housing in postwar L.A., four veterans initially envisioned four homes built around a common pool. The group quickly grew to 500 couples. A design team was selected, including architects A. Quincy Jones and Whitney R. Smith. Twenty-eight innovative home designs were offered, but costs soon skyrocketed.

“Modernist building can be done economically, but infrastructure issues and proposed post-and-beam detailing was too intricate to keep it economical for middle-class families,” noted Buckner, a longtime resident of Crestwood Hills.

Families backed out, contractors went bankrupt and the 1961 Bel-Air fire destroyed 45 homes. Although the original utopian vision was never realized, the neighborhood eventually flourished, becoming the first and only successful large-scale modern housing cooperative in the West. Nineteen of the original homes have been designated historic monuments. ….