In 1957,  the architect Pierre Koenig was commissioned to design a contemporary home for the couple Walter and Mary Bailey. And having no intention to remain conventional, the Bailey’s granted Koenig the freedom to experiment with exposed steel and vacant space, allowing for a truly open-plan design to come about. By 1958, Koenig completed his design sketches and began construction on this completely avant garde design project, finalizing the entirety of the home almost a year later (Case Study House 21).

The iconic Bailey House from an external view picturing a man in woman within the exposed steel frame.
Koenig’s original design plan for the Bailey House. Courtesy of Julius Shulman, J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

Once the creative process subsided, the Bailey House quickly became a blueprint for mid-century modernism, inspiring others to experiment with this eclectic style and new perspectives to come about. Complete with a solid steel frame, sliding glass doors, carport, and shallow reflecting pool, the Bailey House encouraged a wave of designing prowess, providing a definition for contemporary design that has remained prevalent for decades to come (LA Conservancy).

The exterior of the Bailey House showcasing the exposed steel frame, long glass windows, and reflecting pool
The modern exterior of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #21. Photo by Matthew Momberger, courtesy of Aaron Kirman and Ed Reilly.

But despite being a Los Angeles landmark, Koenig’s “brainchild” was recently sold for $3.3 million last February, falling into the hands of film producer, Fayez Sarofim. Once purchased, Sarofim contracted Mark Haddawy, a preservation expert, to refurbish the home’s steel frame and make further updates to the historic Case Study House #21. But upon construction, admirers of Koenig’s work started to question the extent to which these “updates” were being made. It almost seemed as if the house was being demolished, prompting concerned citizens to report that the Bailey House was being stripped to “her bones.”

The remains of the Bailey House during a recent construction exercise.
An inside look at the Bailey House during construction (July 2019). Photo Courtesy of Eichler Network.

Given the popularity and historical value behind the Bailey House, the city Cultural Heritage Commission summoned Haddawy to a local assembly, raising questions about the level of demolition being executed. In response to this, Haddawy claimed that “the soil underneath the slab foundation… had eroded” (Eichler Network), leaving behind underground cavities that needed to be filled in order to keep the Bailey House afloat. 

A construction site notice for the Bailey House outlining the terms of the renovations being done.
Construction site notice outlining the updates to be done to the Bailey House, including “repair work to an existing structure, consisting of repairing slab, sliding doors and cabinets.” Courtesy of Eichler Network.

Regardless of this testimony, doubts continue to plague the minds of anxious mid-century modern fans. But even amidst their unease, only time will tell as to whether the historic Bailey House will keep its original character, preserving Koenig’s legacy for years to come. 

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