Message to Brad Pitt: if you’re reading this, Dion Neutra, AIA, has a business proposition for you.
Neutra, son of the late California modernist Richard Neutra, is looking for someone to buy his firm’s former office, in Silver Lake, California. Completed in 1950, it is now his father’s only surviving commercial structure. The asking price is $3.5 million, but there’s a catch. In addition to paying all-cash, a buyer must agree to leave the landmarked property untouched—or risk losing the deed.
Neutra created this innovative conservation easement because he’s frustrated with seeing his father’s iconic buildings, such as the Maslon house, demolished. “Unless there’s a sever penalty to pay, people end up doing stuff,” he explains. “If this keeps happening, there won’t be any record left of what we did. We were in practice for 80 years and at least half of our buildings have been changed. I’m determined not to have this one changed.”
And that’s why someone like Brad Pitt might be interested. Neutra figures that a movie star or producer would an ideal landlord because he or she won’t spend a lot of time at the building but will keep it occupied and in good repair. Plus, Hollywood types often have an affinity for this style of architecture. “The ideal buyer is a person who simply loves Modern architecture and understands that it’s under threat and needs to be saved at any cost. Brad Pitt gets $20 million each movie, so $3.5 million cash is no big deal,” Neutra says.
The 4,800-square-foot property is currently on the market through a silent auction that Neutra anticipates will close this spring. Under the easement’s terms, buyers must agree to annual property inspections by an organization such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation. If unauthorized alterations are discovered, a court will immediately transfer the deed to an entity such as the trust, or one specially created for this purpose.
Neutra created this easement after learning about a similar system for historic properties in France. Although U.S. banks are proving skittish about it, which is why Neutra needs an all-cash buyer, he thinks this model could be replicated.
“What it comes down to is if you have a hidden agenda you don’t need to apply,” Neutra says. “You wouldn’t buy a Picasso and have plans for revising the color scheme or the lines. If you really do care about a building you’ll preserve it just like a piece of art.”