Teardown of Architect Bill Krisel’s Home Arouses Modernists’ Ire

Krisel House
Bill Krisel's home on Tigertail Road meets the wreckers. Photo courtesy of The Architects Newspaper, Sam Lubell

It is the house he designed for himself and his family and it is where he lived for half a century. Now the house is gone, a quick teardown, but architect Bill Krisel isn’t fretting or casting blame.

“It’s a done deal,” he told Eichler Network. “I was happy with what I got for it. Life has got some drawbacks. It’s not so horrible for me. I was there for 53 years and enjoyed it.” And, he pointed out, it will live forever through pictures.

The house, at 568 North Tigertail Road in Brentwood, was torn down last week, as reported by The Architects Newspaper. The news was picked up by several blogs. Blog commentators inveighed away. “This always gives me a sick feeling deep down in my soul,” one wrote.

Krisel is best known for designing thousands of elegant, mid-century modern tract homes with his firm Palmer & Krisel, many for developers George and Robert Alexander mostly in the San Fernando Valley and Palm Springs. Krisel, an easygoing but very determined man, has many fans who live in these houses, and periodically attends tours and other events in his neighborhoods.

Many blog commentators lambasted the first buyer of the house, Nancy Heller, a neighbor of Krisel’s who told him she planned to restore it. Heller paid $3 million. Instead of restoring the home, just as escrow closed she sold it for $4.26 million to the Darya Family LLC, which tore it down, The Architects Newspaper reported.

Krisel exterior
The home was a sleek example of mid-century design. Photo by Julius Shulman courtesy of the William Krisel Archive

That drew venom from some commentators, one of whom, posting anonymously of course, wished physical harm to befall the buyers.

The Krisel home, seen in these photos by Julius Shulman, “was beautiful in its day. It was gorgeous in its day,” Nancy Heller said. The drawing that shows it overlooking an unexpectedly deserted Los Angeles Basin gives a misleading idea of its recent situation. The house, on a rise above the street and surrounded by vegetation, was not readily viewable by the public.

As Krisel tells the tale, a neighbor, Heller, approached him several years ago to see if he would sell the house to a friend of hers, Ronnie Sassoon, widow of the legendary hairstylist Vidal. The sale didn’t go through. Heller brought by another potential buyer. Finally she told Krisel she’d like to buy it herself.

Krisel interior
The light-filled, stylish interior. Photo by Julius Shulman courtesy of the William Krisel Archive

Krisel wanted to keep things simple. “I said, ‘I will sell it to you for $3 million if it’s a clean deal. If there are no commissions, no contingencies, I’m interested.’”

“When I bought it, I bought it with the intention of restoring it,” said Heller, a fashion designer who went into business buying, restoring and selling architecturally distinctive houses, including some that are mid-century modern, she said. She also designs interiors; her work has appeared in Architectural Digest and been praised by the Los Angeles Times.

“I’m into modernism,” Heller said – and she lives in a mid-century modern home.

But, she told Eichler Network, “The house was infested with termites, there was mold everywhere, it was old, it was rotted. Even if we’d taken it down to the studs, we would have had to remove the studs.”

“One hundred and twenty people came to see the house when I put it up for sale,” she said. “We had nine offers. Not one person would have kept it. Not one person wanted to keep the house, because they couldn’t. There was nothing there that could be saved.”

Krisel disputes that. “What a bunch of baloney. People are restoring my houses everywhere, and the house wasn’t in such bad shape.” He adds, “I was disappointed my neighbor was not more straightforward with me,” about her plans for the house.

But Krisel doesn’t begrudge Heller for profiting on the house. “I got what I wanted. If I’d wanted more, I would have asked for more,” he said.

And Heller is angry that people laid into her online for flipping the house. “It’s just so sad, today, that people who have no idea what’s going on are writing these things, saying, ‘Oh, these evil people, all they’re after is money. How gross it is they made a million two.’ Why is it gross? Bill sold me the house. I didn’t put a gun to his head.”

A call to Safai Architects in Los Angeles, which is related to Darya family LLC, was taken by one of the 668 Tigertail’s current owners, architect Daryoush Safai.

Krisel drawing
Krisel's rendering of the home shows a view over Los Angeles that is positively dreamlike. Courtesy of the William Krisel Archive

Apparently believing that Bill Krisel was behind plans to provide the house with historic designation (such an effort was begun by the Los Angeles Conservancy), Safai argued that the home lacked historic importance.

“Who is Krisel to make his home historic? He is not Neutra, he is not Le Corbusier. He is not Frank Gehry. He makes tract homes. 40,000 of those tract homes he built in Palm Springs. Make one of those historical.” (In fact, Krisel says he has designed 40,000 homes – but they are throughout Southern California).

Bill Krisel, meanwhile, is enjoying life in a condo in a small apartment house he designed in Beverly Hills. “I love it. You’ve got to see it to appreciate it. It’s just absolutely fabulous. It’s got a view of trees and pool and sky. That’s it. I oriented the windows so you don’t look at other buildings.”

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