Agent co-writes series on city’s best architects

| November 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

“WE HAVE SOME of the most beautiful homes in the world,” Bret Parsons says in front of a Beaux Arts-style home on S. Windsor.

When Bret Parsons learned “one of the best homes in Hancock Park” was for sale for $595,000, he wrote to the real estate agent.

When she phoned him, she was probably surprised when his mother answered, saying, “He’s in school right now… high school.”

“They had a big laugh,” Parsons said last month while taking a break from his work on a 12-volume series, “Master Architects of Southern California 1920-1940.”

He is still taken with beautiful homes, today as a Realtor with the Coldwell Banker Beverly Hills North Office, the highest-grossing residential real estate office in the U.S., and as director of the architectural division.

With co-authors architect Marc Appleton and architectural historian Steve Vaught, he is working on the second book in the series, featuring Roland Coate, expected to be published early next year.

A onetime home of Howard Hughes on Muirfield Rd. is among Coate’s works. “After first renting, Hughes ultimately purchased the house for $135,000… and it would remain his principal California residence between 1928 and 1942,” according to text from the upcoming book.

To follow Coate in the series is Wallace Neff — architect of The Ralph J. Chandler Home on Rossmore. Inspired by the Garden Pavilion of Versailles and Petit Trianon, the 8,000-square-foot estate currently is being renovated. (The shipping executive was a nephew of Norman Chandler, married to Dorothy “Buff” Chandler; the power couple who lived on Lorraine.)

Architect Paul Williams will follow Neff. Williams was designer of the building renovation that became the now-gone Perino’s Restaurant on Wilshire and Norton. Eight more architects who made their mark in the early 20th century will be portrayed in the subsequent volumes.

Parsons and his co-authors seek to document the “great old estates of Los Angeles before bulldozers get them,” he said.

There’s no shortage of real estate to choose from. Southern California, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, including Palm Springs, is the greatest home building region in the world, he says.

He credits the topography, climate, wealth and the formidable creative talent found here.

“We’re unstoppable… It’s like a perfect storm.”

While he appreciates well-constructed new homes, he’s disappointed with the boxy, “bento-box” style homes popping up all over town. “They’re popular because they’re cheap to build,” and buyers like them “because they’re new.”

They come rife with problems, he says, including few windows that open, leading to poor cross-ventilation and therefore requiring air conditioning 24/7.

Amazing Hancock Park

“What’s interesting about Hancock Park is it’s always been half the price of Beverly Hills.” That’s what’s preserved it, he says. While developers will tear down homes in pricier neighborhoods and build new “soulless” structures, the profit here was more in renovation and restoration.

“Original houses perfectly renovated will sell in two seconds for top dollar.”

And, of course, the areas’ Historic Preservation Overlay Zones helped retain the neighborhoods, while bucolic streets on the Westside and elsewhere are gone, Parsons laments.

“This area makes us remember a happier, more graceful, gentle time. I think people long for that.”

The other amazing thing about Hancock Park is every top architect in Southern California worked here between 1915 to 1941. Movie studio craftsmen got involved — in between movie work — adding to the fine craftsmanship, creativity and character of the homes.

Parsons lives in Windsor Village in a home designed in 1941 by architect Edith Northman, “a female in very much a man’s world.”

Gordon B. Kaufmann

ARCHITECT series begins with Gordon B. Kaufmann.

Gordon B. Kaufmann, who designed Greystone Mansion, the Los Angeles Times Art Deco building and Hoover Dam, is the first in the Master Architects series. The coffee table-size book was published last year by Tailwater Press and Angel City Press.

The cover features a vintage photo of the reflecting pool at the Mediterranean-style home at Muirfield Rd. and Sixth St. The estate on a double lot was sold two years ago for a record $16 million by Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith to Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos and Nicole Avant, former Ambassador to the Bahamas.

Named after the original owners, Isador and Leila Eisner, the 15,110 square foot house is on a 1.55-acre parcel.

Designed by Kaufmann in 1925, the house features a series of courtyards. “If the house were built with a garden in front,” Kaufmann said in an article at the time, “neither garden nor house would be protected from the stares of the curious.”

Turning the book’s pages to another house, Parsons says, “This is one of Hancock Park’s greatest houses.” The Dr. Isaac and Emilie Hampshur Jones House, on Oakwood Ave., is the very house about which he wrote to the real estate agent when Parsons was in high school.

Besides $250,000 worth of Indian teak wood, the English-style “home has a fantastic floor plan. It’s on the golf course on a dead end.”

“That’s the best thing about L.A. because unless you know where to go or take a wrong turn you would never discover some of these homes.”

Parsons has taken many turns since he came to Los Angeles after he graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in business and a minor in advertising.

“The moment I graduated college I was here.” He looked up the nice real estate lady he wrote to, and took up her offer to show him homes when he came to town.

He drove past the iconic columns at Fremont Place, and he talked his way past the guard saying he was working on a school project for UCLA. It wasn’t altogether a lie, as he was working on post-graduate work on architecture and accounting.

“I was in heaven,” he said of the enclave’s period-revival homes mostly built in the 1920s and 1930s.

He attributes his passion to his grandparents; both lived in beautiful homes, and one was a contractor who took him to job sites during the summer.

His mother was a county planning commissioner, and his dad, owner of a John Deere tractor dealership, was a bottom-line type of guy, and, while usually mild mannered, he was anything but when he told his son to get a job.

It was the push that Parsons needed, and, after six months of house cruising, he spent the next decade as marketing director at the Pacific Design Center, which he parlayed into becoming a mortgage broker.

He did very well, so well he took two years off to write a book on architect Gerard Colcord in 2008. With the book came notoriety, and thinking he was a Realtor, people asked him to sell their homes, which led to his career as a real estate agent.

Parsons has parlayed his skills into another specialty — working with older homeowners to strategize downsizing.

He would have been an architect had it not been for the math. But he has no complaints.

“I’m very lucky. I get to do what I love everyday…

“We have some of the most beautiful homes in the world.”

And many of them are right here in our neighborhoods.

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Category: Real Estate

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