South Coast Savvy – The Very Talented Philmer J. Ellerbroek

(Maynard L. Parker)

Philmer J. Ellerbroak F.A.I.A. (via A.I.A.)

He might not be as well known as some of his more illustrious contemporaries, but Mid-Century architect Philmer J. Ellerbroek F.A.I.A. (1905-1969) certainly deserves to be. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, the USC-educated Ellerbroek reigned as one of the South Coast’s premiere architectural practicioners designing schools, housing developments, apartments and commercial structures, but his most impressive legacy is in the series of exceptional homes he designed mostly in the Newport Beach/Lido Isle/Balboa area for a number of well-to-do clients including film star Ray Milland.

I discovered Ellerbroek completely by accident. One night, I found myself working my way through a big pile of Architectural Digests from the 1950’s in search of something or other (a life maybe?) and I kept pausing every time I came across a house that caught my eye, which frankly, wasn’t that often. Whenever I did though I was surprised to discover that most of them were designed by the same architect, someone I had never heard of before – Philmer J. Ellerbroek. For me, at least, they really stood out. There is none of the monotony of all the flagstone-covered flat-roofed boxes that appeared all too frequently in AD in those days. There was an excitement and a gracefulness in how he handled both the inside and outside of the homes he created with interesting angles everywhere and a great mix of natural materials like heavy wood beams and stacked stone juxtaposed with ultra-modern elements such as translucent plastics molded into room dividers or used for diffused lighting effects. Every room seemed to open up out to either the ocean, a swimming pool or a restful interior courtyard (or all of the above!) I felt more relaxed just looking at the photos. And his handling of staircases seemed masterful to me.

(Maynard L. Parker)

I really think this talented designer deserves some recognition for his work. I assembled a group of some of his designs for you to persue and see if you agree. Enjoy!


This charming waterfront home was the second Ellerbroek designed for the Kenoyers on Lido Isle. Built on a narrow lot, Ellerbroek masterfully made the house appear bigger with multiple changes of level, high ceilings and interesting screens used as dividers. The house opens up onto an enclosed court filled with tropical plantings and a bubbling fountain.

The interior decoration was executed by Boyd Callaghan of the venerable firm of Cannell & Chaffin, a major firm of the day that provided the interior appointments for most of the Ellerbroek designed homes.

Entry Court. Note the interesting use of screens and the unique “Under Sea” theme terrazzo walkway in green, coral and black against an oatmeal base. The front door is black lacquer. (George R. Szanick)

The “Under Sea” terrazzo continues in the Open Court with white card upholstered furniture set off by coral pillows. Note the futuristic coffee mug circa 1952! (George R. Szanick)

Looking from the Living Room to the Dining Terrace and the Court beyond. The color scheme is mostly oatmeal set off by colorful accents. (George R. Szanick)

The Living Room is anchored by a stunning Copper-hooded Fireplace. Off-white carpet with watermelon colored cushions on the fireplace bench. (George R. Szanick)

A plant-flled Lanai framed by screens is a highlight of the home off the Living Room. The cocktail table has a shell top. Walls, rug and sofas are oatmeal with accent pillows of brown, green and yellow. (George R. Szanick)

The Master Bedroom is done in shades of sea green with walnut wood. (George R. Szanick)


Like the Kenoyers, Vail and Roemer were repeat customers of Ellerbroek having originally had him design a home for them in Beverly Hills. The oceanfront facade is almost all glass and is reminicent in appearance of the prow of one of the ships passing by the house.

Boyd Callaghan of Cannell & Chaffin again did the decorating with custom furniture provided by Bert England of the same firm.

(Julius Shulman)

The Stair Hall. (Julius Shulman)

The Living Area with its dramatic triangular center fireplace. Note the fish-themed upholstery. (Julius Shulman)

(Julius Shulman)

The dining area with parquet floors and stone wall topped by a band of narrow windows. (Julius Shulman)

The custom designed consoles in the dining area cleverly held a television and Hi Fi stereo system provided by Gateway to Music. Everything is on rollers. (Julius Shulman)


With the Mc Whinney house in Midway City, Ellerbroek proved he didn’t need the ocean to create great indoor-outdoor spaces. Midway City, so named because it is halfway between Long Beach and Santa Ana, claims Michelle Pfeiffer as one of its most famous native daughters.

Boyd Callaghan again provided the interiors for the home.

The home’s unusual exterior treatment with a stone garage wall and interesting screen across the main facade. (George R. Szanick)

The home’s Activity Room featured a Pecky Cypress ceiling above olive and beige grass cloth walls. Boyd Callaghan liked that hemp square rug, using it in most of the homes illustrated here.  (George R. Szanick)

Another view of the Activity Room showing handsome stone fireplace. (George R. Szanick)

Yet another view of the Activity Room. Sofa is greyed yellow and brown. (George R. Szanick)

The Living Room. The lamps are made from antique acid bottles. (George R. Szanick)

Note the floor-to-ceiling windows giving a full view from the home out to the pool. (George R. Szanick)


An almost chalet effect is achieved here by the peak roof, with windows providing a dramatic source of light to the home’s entry. The entry doors have a distinct Chinese motif with Coral colored panels.

Helen Petzelt A.I.D. took over decorating honors on the home’s interior, giving it a decidedly different look than those shown by Boyd Callaghan.

(Maynard L. Parker)

The Living Room is set off by an intricate screen and a wall of quarried Bouquet Canyon stone. (Maynard L. Parker)

A Fabulous Fifties Kitchen. Note the pass through window and built-in clock. (Maynard L. Parker)

(Maynard L. Parker)


Ellerbroek’s own 1961-designed home recently underwent a renovation/remodeling with photos posted online by owner Garry Heath.

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28 Responses to South Coast Savvy – The Very Talented Philmer J. Ellerbroek

  1. rhett beavers says:

    This is a terrific post – thanks…

  2. Oh, hi Rhett Beavers! I met you at Charles Birnbaum’s lecture in April. I think either Holly Kane or Robert Nicolais introduced us, I’m from Village Green.

    Steve, I hadn’t put two and two together before, but thank you for doing it. A couple of these are very familiar from old AD’s, but I also hadn’t heard of the architect. I especially remember the house at Lido Isle, what great interiors!

    The restoration of Ellerbroek’s own house looks swell! Thanks for bringing him to my attention…

  3. Joan says:

    This is a wonderful post, thank you. I think I prefer Callaghan’s decor to Petzelt’s, but only by the eeniest smidge. Apropos of absolutely nothing, the landscape designer made generous use of split leaf philodendrons in the gardens.

  4. Dee says:

    What an interesting architect! I see what you mean about the stairs. Eliminating the vertical back plate (I don’t know what it’s called) opens up the whole space occupied by the stairs. Once again you hit a home run with you article, Steve!

  5. Steven Price says:

    Steve — this is fantastic scholarship. For years I has mis-ascribed the Art Linkletter residence in Bel-Air to A. Quincy Jones, and so glad I have the chance to get it right. Thanks to you and my friend Mama at the Real Estalker. With the listing of the Linkletter house (and at that price, i don’t think it will be on the market long) , more attention will no doubt be paid to Ellerbroek’s oeuvre… and absolutely, justifiably, DESERVEDLY so. I’m a little bit in awe of you today!

  6. Hell’s Bells, that Linkletter house is out of this world!!!!!!! I agree with you Steven, Steve and this blog are out of this world too…



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  10. Wow Steve! This is a wonderful post. I am enchanted by Mr. Ellerbroek. I have seen some of his designs in Newport. The best view is from the water. I need to get out and photograph what is left of his work. Duffy boat ride is the way to go.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks so much, Rochelle! And if you get any pictures you’d like to share I’d love to see them!

      • robert hall says:

        My father R.Donald Hall was the builder on many of the Ellerbroek homesand I worked summers on some including the Harbor Isl. home.

      • Steve says:

        That’s so cool! Do you have any pictures of any of the places being built? That would be great to see. Thanks so much for writing. Great legacy.

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  16. kerry says:

    Wow – my grandfather was Philmer Ellerbroek. So interesting to find information about him on the web!

  17. Monica says:

    Garry Heath is the current owner of the home in tustin (the color photos). He loves showing it off. I am sure he would be happy to show it

  18. Grace says:

    Absolutely loved seeing Ellerbroek’s work – just beautiful! And I honestly thought that the colour photos you posted of Ellerbroek’s home were photos of how it is today (faithfully post reno/remodeled to it’s mcm roots). I love the original interior design! So fresh and would work even today. Granted, I’m sure work needed to be done to get it up to scratch today. Fantastic post – thanks for all the work that went into it!

  19. Jodi Garcia says:

    Hi Steve,
    My great aunt Dorothy owned a fabulous home in the Hollywood Hills that I visited once as a child in elementary school. It was so fabulous that 61 years later I still remember it vividly. It was featured in AD in 1958, vol.xvi no.1. It is featured on page 84 of that issue and was photographed by Julius Schulman. I have been trying to find out the address and even contacted the Getty where Schulman’s archives are located. Although they did have some photos that I had not seen, they weren’t able to give me an address or tell me who the architect was on the project. Do you know how I can locate the address to see if the house is still there? Thanks for your help. Jodi Garcia

    • Steve says:

      Hi Jodi: That is such a fabulous house! I can see why you still remember it. It’s 1480 Lindacrest Drive in the Beverly Hills PO area AND I’m very happy say it’s still there. The house is shown as belonging to M/M Lou Erlich in AD, but it was built in 1948 by a man named William Lawrence Meiggs. There is no architect of record but the engineers was Mackintosh & Mackintosh. Hope this helps.

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