In January 1945 John Entenza, the editor and publisher of Arts & Architecture magazine, announced the Case Study House Program (CSHP) — a program envisioned as a creative response to the impending building boom expected to follow the housing shortages of the Great Depression and World War II. Entenza encouraged participating architects to use donated materials from industry and manufacturers to create low-cost, modern housing prototypes that might foster a dialogue between architectural professionals and laymen.
The program ran from 1945 to 1964, spanning thirty-six individual designs, most of which were constructed and remain classic modernist examples. The CSH program maintained that “each house must be capable of duplication and in no sense be an individual performance” and that “the overall program will be general enough to be of practical assistance to the average American in search of a home in which he can afford to live.” Notwithstanding, these homes were indeed “one-offs” that were, and are to this day, quite expensive homes. Their impact on design advancement, though, was profound and remains influential.
In early 1957 psychologist Walter Bailey and his wife Mary commissioned Pierre Koenig to design a 1,200-1,300 square foot house upon a level site nestled within a Hollywood Hills canyon. The Bailey’s were later described in Arts & Architecture magazine as a “contemporary-minded” couple with no children and an informal lifestyle, representing the ideal program for Koenig to realize steel framing’s potential to achieve a truly open design taking advantage of the vast spans that steel facilitated.
By May 1958 Koenig had completed his construction drawings and started collaboration with factories producing the prefabricated steel. The bulk of construction took place from August to November of the same year, and by January 1959 the house was officially completed.
In February 1959 Case Study House #21 was published in Arts & Architecture and was lauded as “some of the cleanest and most immaculate thinking in the development of the small contemporary house.” As for all CSHP participants, the house was opened to the public for several weeks of viewing.
A year later in 1960, a photographer named Julius Shulman (himself a Case Study client) was invited to photograph the Bailey House. The photographs he took would later become iconic symbols of California Modernism.
In the 1980s Koenig’s original kitchen was demolished and was replaced with a center-island cooking station. The slab-like white-vinyl-tiled floors that Koenig originally specified were replaced with wide-grout ceramic tiles. Years later Koenig would describe his impressions of the altered house by saying, “even though I knew what had been going on in this house it was a great shock to see it. My houses are like children to me.”
In 1997, an admirer of Julius Shulman’s photography, film producer Dan Cracchiolo expressed interest in the Bailey House after seeing some of Shulman’s photographs. He made an offer on the property of $1.5 million. The offer was accepted and Cracchiolo immediately commissioned Pierre Koenig to assist with “resuscitating” the original design. The meticulous restoration lasted for over a year, nearly twice the duration of the original construction.
In July 2006 Julius Shulman (at age 95) was invited to revisit Case Study House #21 to photograph in its modern condition for the catalog of an upcoming auction at Wright 20. On December 3, 2006 the property sold for $3,185,600 to an art collector from Japan. This sale represented the second highest price of a Modern house at auction, just behind Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, which sold for $8 million. Reports of the sale describe it as a “watershed moment” in the public acceptance of Modernism as art, rather than real estate.