There are lots of kooky, one-of-a-kind homes in Los Angeles, and the Hollywood Hills Boat Houses, designed by famed architect Harry Gesner, are surely among them. Cantilevered over the Cahuenga Pass on a 45-degree incline, the cluster of ark-resembling residences were commissioned in 1959, by attorney Ronald Buck, on lots that were just 25 feet wide. Most architects said the site was impossible to build on, but such challenges were like catnip to Gesner. “I had to find people willing to work on the hillside while they were suspended from ropes,” recalls Gesner, now 95. “By luck, I found a group of Norwegian shipbuilders who had been repairing churches working with hand axes, and it was fun for them.” Originally there were to be 15 Boat Houses, but only seven were built, so the opportunity to buy one of them rarely comes along.
A two-story 1,136-square-foot structure with two bedrooms and one bath, the Boat House on offer comes with a $920,000 price tag. It has an open living space that showcases a vaulted cathedral ceiling with exposed wooden beams and more than a little resembles the belly of a boat. It’s flooded with natural light, and rows of windows set into the angled roof provide unobstructed views of the surrounding canyons and mountains. The home has been completely updated with new bamboo floors throughout, new drywall and structural beams, a newly constructed deck, a new electrical panel and a new roof. There’s also a bonus studio space that can be used as a second bedroom, and off-street parking is accommodated in a carport under a cantilevered roof. Tax records show the seller, Oakley Stevenson, Emmy winning lead stylist on “The Real” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” acquired the unusual abode about 4.5 years ago for $735,000.
Genser is the very definition of a maverick architect. Born in Oxnard, Calif., he grew up surfing and was among the heroic troops who stormed Normandy Beach during World War II. Upon returning to the U.S., he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to study architecture at Yale where he met Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright invited him to be a student at Taliesin West but Gesner passed on the offer, preferring to teach himself architecture by starting at the bottom as a laborer and working his way up.
He first made a name for himself in 1954 when he built an angular home above the Sunset Strip that incorporated Polynesian hut motifs into the build for bathing suit designer Fred Cole. (The house was sold last year for $5.1 million.) Two years later he built the Wave House, a round residence on a beach in Malibu conceptualized as a series of cresting waves, and that same year he built the Eagle Watch house, also in Malibu, which can only be accessed by tram. Gesner had no interest in developing a signature style, and never built the same building twice; in fact, the cluster of seven Boat Houses is the closest he ever came to tract housing.