A historic West Hills estate that grew from an ahead-of-its-time 1931 prefab metal rectangle into a sleek, fluid icon of architecture’s International style is on the market for $6.5 million.
The Wallace K. Harrison estate is on the National Register of Historic Places and sits atop a hill on Round Swamp Road. Its theme is circles, from its two-story circular living room — rumored to be the inspiration for Manhattan's Rainbow Room, which Harrison designed — to the circular pool to the round pavers that connect parts of the property like dotted lines. Harrison, who designed the United Nations building and had a hand in many other notable New York projects, including Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center and Empire State Plaza, considered his summer estate an experiment in circles and how they fit together.
The sloping 3.6 acres include a 12,000-square-foot house, pool, tennis court and putting green. The four-bedroom house has a wine tasting room and home theater. The estate was restored, expanded and updated in 2009 by Manhattan architecture firm Schappacher White. After much of a century and several changes in ownership (owners included art collector Hester Diamond, mother of the Beastie Boys’ Mike D), the house required insulation, a modern kitchen, art conservation and other upgrades for 21st century living. The work doubled the size of the structure.
“We had to tear down 40 percent of the house,” Steve Schappacher told the Financial Times in 2013. “Selective demolition was the only option for some of it. I designed additions, not to mimic Harrison’s genuine work, but with something new that reflected its forms.”
Harrison bought 11 acres on Round Swamp Road in 1931. Its original nucleus, the Aluminaire House, was showcased at an expo in New York City that year as an example of affordable, prefab living. Harrison snapped up the model and rebuilt it on his property, adding circular and linear rooms and buildings over the years. It later was moved to another part of the property, then fell into disrepair. In the meantime, Harrison had built what is now the estate.
Murals and sculpture created by the artists whom Harrison hosted graced the walls and even the ceiling of the main house. French Modernist Fernand Léger designed a skylight and painted a mural in the living room and even in the pool during the early 1940s as he waited out World War II. Other guests included Nelson Rockefeller, Robert Moses, Le Corbusier and the sculptor Mary Callery. One of her works sat outside the front door until the architects moved it indoors for conservation. Now it pops from the living room wall, a 3-D art form granted new perspective by its unexpected placement. Léger’s kidney-shaped skylight was also salvaged and installed in the new dining room. The living room mural is now at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany. The pool mural did not survive.
To save it from demolition in the 1980s, the Aluminaire House was eventually salvaged by the architecture department at New York Institute of Technology’s Central Islip campus. It was moved to Palm Springs in 2017.