Dante Pascual and Bill Huntley, fans of all things modern, grew increasingly gloomy while house-hunting through Balboa Highlands, Joe Eichler's only subdivision in Los Angeles County. "The first time we saw this place," Pascual says, "we thought, 'Man, all these homes have been altered.' It didn't look that good."
But that was six years ago. Today, many Eichlers that had taken on a Spanish tinge, or had been Southwestern-ized, have been lovingly restored to their modern splendor. This includes the flat-roofed house that Pascual and Huntley rescued, an atrium model like all the homes in the 100-plus-house subdivision. "We're seeing more people trying to bring their houses back to the modern," Huntley says.
The changes are affecting the entire neighborhood. Balboa Highlands aims to become Los Angeles' second official historic district made up entirely of modern tract homes. And the woman who is leading the effort, Adriene Biondo, a neighborhood resident and chairman of the Los Angeles Conservancy's Modern Committee, hopes its success will convince other neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley to reconnect with their inner modernity. "We're in a unique position to help pave the way for other significant tracts here," Biondo says, such as the Palmer & Krisel-designed Corbin Palms of Woodland Hills.
If this sounds like a stereotypical Hollywood happy ending, it should. Many people, after all, believe that if it weren't for Hollywood's love for the houses of Balboa Highlands, the current renaissance would not be happening. If you caught the 2006 Super Bowl, or watched the TV shows 'Numb3rs' (sic) or 'CSI Miami,' you've seen Balboa Highlands. The same qualities that appeal to fans of modern design—the openness of the homes, their light, their style—also appeal to Hollywood.
Balboa Highlands, built in 1963 and 1964, has become one of the most popular locations in the valley for TV shows, commercials, catalogue and magazine shoots, and the occasional feature film, says Nola Talmage, a scout for World Locations. Interest remains high even though Balboa Highlands is located at the extreme northern end of the valley, away from many studios.
The neighborhood sits on a hill in the community of Granada Hills, and many of its homes have wonderful views of the Santa Susana Mountains just a few miles away, and the San Gabriels a bit further. It also overlooks Los Angeles' second largest park, O'Melveny Park, with rugged trails that lead into the mountains.
"The tract has a lot of homeowners with pride of ownership in their homes, so the neighborhood is relatively intact," Talmage says. "There are so many homeowners who know they have something beautiful and worth being preserved. There are not many neighborhoods like that left in Los Angeles."
Pride isn't the only reward when film crews take over your house. They pay well for the privilege, $5,000 a day or more; the pay is less for print work. Bernard and Lila Grossman were well paid for an episode of 'Numb3rs' that took over their home for several days. Their house also was used for a Taco Bell commercial, starring the voluptuous Carmen Electra, shown during the Super Bowl.
The better looking a home is, of course, the easier it is to attract the studios. This opportunity encourages people to work on their homes. "Some owners do the shoots just to get money to restore their homes," Huntley says. The Eichler he shares with Pascual was used for one feature and several still shoots. "These houses just absorb money," says David Block. He and wife Adeline, whose home was used by 'CSI' and for the feature film 'Employee of the Month,' have helped to finance their restoration through film shoots.
Every crew comes with a site manager who makes sure furniture isn't broken and that nothing disappears. Still, a Hollywood shoot can be hard. "It's such an invasion," Adeline says. "It's a horde of ants coming through the house. They touch everything. They take your favorite stuff and throw it in the corner. You have to be Zen about it." 'CSI' even removed one of the Blocks' windows.