After barely a month on the market, the fastidiously restored and carefully updated John Kelsey House in Pasadena has sold for its full asking price of nearly $4 million, offering further evidence of not only the desirability of mid-century modern gems but also the remarkable resilience of the real estate industry, which continues to keep its head above water despite an economy in the doldrums due to nationwide political unrest and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Tax records show the sellers are a couple of inveterate architecture and design aficionados (just take a look at their lively and pedigreed furniture collection!) and the new owner, who will steward the pristine property thought its next phase, is film and television producer Erin David, whose credits include “Saturday Night Live” and the short-lived Christina Applegate and Will Arnett-starring “Up All Night” series. David, listed as a producer for “Baby Momma” and “MacGruber,” has earned two ensemble Emmy nominations, first in 2016 for “Adele Live in New York City” and then again in 2018 for “Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life”.
Designed in 1962 by John Kelsey, of the architectural firm Ladd & Kelsey, the house was conceived and built for Kelsey’s own family of five, and it clearly reflects his admiration for midcentury modern mack daddy Mies van der Rohe. Combining the skillful rigor characteristic of that modernist pioneer with a whimsical embrace of the site’s lush landscape, the house is seriously playful. Situated on about two-thirds-of-an-acre in a prestigious neighborhood that’s home to trial attorney Tom Girardi and puss-patting “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” cast member Erika Girardi, the house has a quality of extreme spaciousness and privacy. And, at 3,412 square feet, it’s relatively large for a mid-century modern house.
A set of recently restored teak gates opens onto a generous entrance court that functions as a kind of open room of the house, which has four bedrooms and three full baths plus a couple of powder rooms. Set into a full wall of floor-to-ceiling glass, the front door opens into an airy living room with gleaming terrazzo floors and a second wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that looks out over the pool. A dynamite circular formal dining room is finished with bleached teak panels, a smooth-paneled den offers more relaxed lounging, and the kitchen is fully up-to-date with book-matched teak cabinetry and a slender island snack bar. A guest house has its own private entrance from the motor court.
The heartbeat of the house, however, is the impluvium, a 66-foot-long pool embraced by the house and open to the sky. It runs down the center of the not-quite-symmetrical H-shaped structure and divides the house into east and west wings with multiple sets of floor to ceiling glass doors and massive windows that flood the entire house with light, an essential ingredient in modernist architecture. Kelsey’s first wife remained in the house while he went on to marry two more times, and only minor modifications were made to the home over the past fifty years; essentially, though, it’s in mint condition.
Ladd & Kelsey left a sizable thumbprint on southern California. They met as students at USC — Kelsey was there on the G.I. Bill, while Ladd was the scion of a prominent family — and they opened their firm in Pasadena in 1958. They went on to design the First Methodist Church, in the city of La Verne, where the final scene of Mike Nichol’s 1967 film, “The Graduate,” was shot. They also designed the Pasadena Museum of Art, a complex of curvilinear walls clad in ceramic tiles fabricated by Heath that was highly controversial when it was unveiled in 1969; the institution went bankrupt in fairly short order and subsequently morphed into the Norton Simon Museum. They were also responsible for the master plan of the Cal Arts campus in Valencia, a project that’s certainly not without detractors. Say what you will about Cal Arts, there’s no arguing with the house Kelsey designed for his family. It’s simply beautiful.