Post War Modern Tract Houses
The Gregory Ain Mar Vista Tract is a group of 52 homes that was built in 1948 by famous modern architect Gregory Ain and landscape architect Garrett Eckbo. This project is probably his most well known. What make Ain’s tract home different from other tract homes being developed at the time was that his were modern. During the 1950s, there was a huge building boom and several hundred tract homes were being built in Los Angeles each week. The tract homes were predominantly ranch styles houses like the tract houses built in nearby Mar Vista neighborhoods of McLaughlin and Westdale.
Gregory Ain’s Modern homes are located in the Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles and can be found on the SE intersection of Palms Blvd and Beethoven St. The homes run along Meier, Moore, and Beethoven streets, between Palms Boulevard and Marco Place.
Gregory Ain’s ‘Social’ Architecture
Gregory Ain was raised by Socialist parents. Their philosophy influenced him deeply. Ain believed that he could solve many of the world’s problems by developing low cost cooperative housing. Unfortunately, his ideals didn’t match up with the American consumer or economics, and his projects had to be sold to individual owners when marketing them as cooperatives failed to produce buyers.
For an architect as talented as Ain, he could have had a very lucrative career designing large commercial buildings or expensive custom homes for wealthy clients, but he dedicated his life to his beliefs and building affordable housing for the working class. In an ironic twist, nowadays the working class can no longer afford Ain’s homes!
Harmonious Design with a Park-Like Setting
Ain succeeded in creating a family-friendly neighborhood. With the Large front yard setback there was plenty of room for children to run around and play, the streets had limited traffic (except Beethoven!) and were excellent for kids to play on the street. Although the developers did not provide parks, the idea was for front lawns to remain unbroken by fences to provide a park-like atmosphere.
The efficient layout of the homes allowed a family of three or four to function comfortably in a relatively small space (1,050-1,400 sqft).
The streetscape was designed by Eckbo and plays a large role in the overall feeling of the community. Ain and Eckbo wanted there to be a cohesive feeling to the neighborhood, but not have every home be identical. Eckbo accomplished this by planting different types of trees on each of the streets that gave each street its own streetscape. One interesting fact: there are no street lights!
Trees: Ficus on Beethoven
Trees: Melaleuca (Native to Australia) along Moor
Trees: and Magnolia Trees on Meier.
The Melaleuca trees on Moor are my favorite. Ain and Eckbo planned to have no separation or fences between the lots of each house and create ‘communal backyards’. This idea didn’t catch on with the new owners who valued privacy in their backyards. They quickly put up fences after they bought (some even complained about the extra expense to put up the fences which they felt should have been included in the original design)
One thing I love about these houses is the location of the kitchen- it is right in front of the houses just off the front door. This allows Mom or dad to keep an eye on the kids when they are playing out front inside from a big window over the kitchen sink. The Houses that are Rotated perpendicular do not have this set up, but conversely they have much better curb appeal.
Common of the mid century modern design elements, these houses have horizontal lines from flat roofs, and floor to ceiling glass that lets in the maximium amount of light. The Kitchen, Dinning Room, and Living Room were all open to each other.
One solution Ain thought up was flexibility for a 3rd bedroom or den but using a folding wall panel that could easily be opened or closed depending on the owners needs.
To keep things different Ain altered the facades of the tract homes by changing the garage placement or rotating some of the houses perpendicular to the street. He also used different paint colors.
The subdivision was marketed as “Modernique” Homes. Sales started slowly, and sold out after one year. Originally the developers had planned on two phases that would contain 100 houses on 60 acres, however only the first phase of 52 homes was realized. Even with Ain’s best effort to keep costs down, these houses were more expensive than comparable size tract homes in the area. The original selling prices for a Mar Vista Modernique home was $12,000
Believe it or not, yes you can own a piece of history! Most owners who buy a Gregory Ain Mar Vista track stay there for a quite a long time. It is not uncommon for owners to stay 30 years plus. The average turnover ratio is very low at 2.5% a year. About 1 house sells a year on average.
The homes are modest 3 bedrooms. The average size is 1,400 sqft. Originally built as 1 story houses, the HPOZ prevents second stories from being added. Average lot size is 7,000 sqft. Historically these homes have appreciated at a rate of 6.5% which is higher than the average for other homes in the neighborhood. Homes in good condition are selling for $1.2M.
Homes on Beethoven will be less than Moor or Meier because Beethoven is a busy street and the other side of the street is a separate subdivision so these homes don’t get the full effect of the neighborhood feeling Ain created.
The Neighborhood is in excellent shape. It is really fun to give it a drive through. Gregory Ain Mar Vista Tract Became an hpoz in 2003 which was quite an accomplishment considering it was just barely over 50 years old then which is usually the minimum amount of time required to be considered for being historic. The HPOZ restricts building second stories, tearing down a home, or installing front yard fences. Mar Vista Ains houses that have already had additions are grandfathered in. Basically, the HPOZ protects the front façades (anything that is visible from the street). One perk of being located in an HPOZ is contributing structures are eligible for the Mills Act, a state program that provides tax break for owners of historic property in order to allow them to preserve it.