In Santa Monica, architect and activist Cory Buckner is working to preserve the living monuments of L.A.’s mid-century-modern past, including her own home by A. Quincy Jones.
Suburbia” wasn’t always a bad word. While today it evokes assembly lines of vinyl-sided homes, fast-proliferating big-box strip malls, and land stripped of all vegetation, after World War II, suburbia was the latest incarnation of the American dream. Returning GIs were faced with a drastic housing shortage, and across the country, land was purchased and plans were hatched to develop affordable and convenient communities—sprawl was born.
Los Angeles, with its proximity to the Pacific theater, had more than its share of discharged soldiers and, eventually, more than its share of suburban enclaves. In the following decades, many of these nascent suburbs were masticated, swallowed, and digested by Southern California’s ever-expanding municipalities—what was once the edge of town is now closer to downtown. L.A.’s boundaries continue to expand, and the city’s innards undergo perpetual mutation and regeneration. Meanwhile, nestled in the hills above Santa Monica, one of the country’s most unique, and unforgivably modernist, postwar communities quietly holds its ground.
The community in question is Crestwood Hills, known in its infancy as the Mutual Housing Association. The neighborhood’s survival is due in large part to the efforts of architect Cory Buckner, who relocated to the area with her architect husband, Nick Roberts, after a 1993 brush fire engulfed their Malibu home. In the last decade, Buckner’s custodial crusade has spurred the restoration of about half of the 30 extant original houses, 15 of which have subsequently been declared Historic-Cultural Monuments by the City of Los Angeles. Fittingly, her present home and office, 990 Hanley Avenue—one of the first structures erected by the Mutual Housing Association in 1947—perches at Crestwood Hill’s epicenter like an architectural Centcom.
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