A Sophisticated Georgian Manor in the Hills of Bel-Air

Douglas Honnold’s severely elegant Georgian Manor for Stanley Rauh is a little jewel box of fine architecture and interior design. Note the lyre-adorned pediment and twin terraces off each of the home’s two bedrooms. The lyre is symbolic of wisdom and moderation, both skillfully employed in the design of the compact house

In his nearly half century of architectural practice, Douglas Honnold F.A.I.A. (1901-74) left an impressive legacy of design throughout Southern California, both singularly and in partnership with others such as George Vernon Russell; John Rex and John Lautner with a range that spanned the gamut from small houses to soaring skyscrapers. His many notable designs included homes, offices, libraries, hospitals, churches, studio sound stages, schools, banks and factories. Ironically, he may be best remembered today for what must have at the time been rather modest commissions, the “Googie” style restaurant designs he did during his brief partnership with Lautner in the late 1940’s as well as the much-mourned Tiny Naylor’s Drive-In he designed with partner Rex in 1950 at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and La Brea Avenues.

Does anyone remember who the “Tiny Naylor” of Tiny Naylor’s was? W.W. “Tiny” Naylor was a major figure in thoroughbred horse breeding/racing and owned the famous Naylor Thoroughbred Ranch in Riverside. After selling many of his champions, Naylor went into the restaurant business, becoming owner of the Tiny Naylor’s and Biff’s chains among other ventures. He never lost interest in his beloved horses though. He died in 1959 at age 68 while signing a contract for a new horse at the Del Mar Race Track. A horse lover till the end!

No matter how modern his designs could be, however, Honnold was a firm believer that every design had to be rooted in tradition and the Cornell and UC Berkeley-educated Honnold was well steeped in traditional styles.  He certainly learned from the best, honing his craft under the tutelage of such major architectural figures of the period as Witmer & WatsonGeorge Washington Smith and John Parkinson before opening his own firm in 1929. Honnold was always happy to share his expertise as well, giving much of his busy time to education, teaching at various schools and universities and even writing a book entitled Southern California Architecture 1769-1956, a rare item today. Lucky you if you have a copy.

Although his practice lasted from the 1920’s into the 1970’s, the period I most identify Honnold with is the 1930’s when he designed homes for important movie stars, writers and executives such as the sleekly streamlined Dolores Del Rio and Cedric Gibbons Residence (with Gibbons) in Santa Monica Canyon; the Anatole Litvak house (with Russell) at water’s edge on the Pacific Coast Highway; Billy Wilkerson’s estate on Sunset Boulevard as well as the Sunset Plaza development (with Charles R. Selkirk); the Stars Dressing Room Building and the mammoth Stage 8 at Twentieth Century Fox, (the “Will Rogers” Memorial Stage).

One of his most intriguing designs, in my opinion, is a little known house he designed for a little known writer, Stanley Rauh, in 1935 and built on a three-quarter acre site in the picturesque Bel-Air Woodlands at 880 Stone Canyon Road. In the 1950’s, while musing over his already impressive career, which still had another two decades to run, Honnold told Esther McCoy that, “Every good house is the result of an architect who knows how, a client who understands, permits him to carry through.” Such must have been the case with the house he designed for Rauh. As Honnold further stated, “The spirit of a house is more important than the style,” and with the Rauh house there was plenty of both.

Although born in Dayton, Ohio, Stanley Rauh radiated big city sophistication. Educated at Columbia where he studied under such legendary literary lights as Heywood Broun and Alexander Woolcott, Rauh went on to become an original staff writer on the New Yorker, leaving his lofty literary perch only for the call of Broadway where he wrote the book for several major shows including Earl Carroll’s Vanities of 1926. Not surprisingly, Rauh’s witty way with dialogue drew the attention of Hollywood at the dawn of the talkies and during the early 1930’s, he was engaged by Warner Bros. to write and produce a series of short subjects for the studio from New York. Hollywood, however, ultimately called and around 1933 Rauh made the trip out to “the Coast” joining many of his fellow Manhattan expats in the movie game.

The Rauh House was an “Adults Only” occassion.

Built at a cost of $16,000, the Rauh house was clearly designed for a bachelor or a twosome at the most with just two bedrooms (master + guest) and is almost intimidatingly formal. Yet it is compellingly inviting. One does not wander about in a bathrobe in this house.  As Country Life was to put it:

Hollywood is a place where the well-dressed woman throws an ermine wrap over her slacks when she sallies forth for an evening’s glow. Stanley Rauh did better in his house: he made a traditional setting for his traditional furniture. It is formal all the way through.

In the entrance hall the color begins with a black linoleum floor relieved by a white Greek key design, passes to walls of Pompeian red and a cornice in white. The Louis XVI pieces are silver and gold. Two heads on architectural plinths complete the furnishing.

A step down from the hall level is the living room. Here walls are slate blue, cornice slate gray, ceiling classic gray and the accents in dusty pink. Curtains and fireside chairs are  gold satin, with side chairs in natural wood which are upholstered in gray and blue moire.

The master’s bedroom is faithfully Empire in moss green and gray, with yellow satin curtains and gray accents. The furniture is of the period. A window seat takes advantage of the high ceiling in the living room below, which cuts across this end of the bedroom.

One of the most amazing things about this unusual house is that it remained the home of Stanley Rauh for nearly fifty years and even more amazingly, it is still there! This is no small miracle. In a high-end area of multi-million dollar homes, it is almost unbelievable that such a modestly sized house on such a majorly sized lot has survived in this age of McMansionization. Someone must really appreciate what a great house they have. Hopefully, they will continue to do so!

Additions over time have muddled the home’s original symmetry and gracefulness, but, hey, it’s still there! And so is the lyre in the pediment! (via Google Earth)

A very special thank you to E.J. Fleming and his astounding Movieland Directory for helping me locate the house in the first place. (I was on the wrong street! Story of my life.)

This entry was posted in Architects, Bel-Air, Then & Now and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Sophisticated Georgian Manor in the Hills of Bel-Air

  1. Alan Hess says:

    Excellent review! Honnold is a fascinating architect who influenced a lot of aspects of SoCal architecture. Thanks.

  2. Pingback: Morning Linkage: Club 33 Opens Its Waitlist, Aztec Hotel Going Under the Knife | LA News Talk Radio

  3. Todd Scwebel says:

    What a gem! Writing from Chicago where David Adler designed some similar temples to good taste. Can’t wait to tour by on next visit to LA.

    • Steve says:

      Oh I love David Adler. I think he was brilliant. I believe he did some Bay area houses out here too like in Hillborough. If you take any pictures send them our way!

  4. Le sigh….such a delightful entry. Thanks for the diversion, Steve!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Pauline! And thanks so much for linking it with Curbed too! Everytime I look at that place I want to have a martini.

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