Created By: Friends Of Residential Treasures: Los Angeles
Harold W. (Hal) Levitt
Why is it on the Trail?
Hal Levitt was one of the most accomplished practitioners of Midcentury Marvelous architecture from the 1950s to the 1970s in Beverly Hills, Bel-Air, and other zip codes in Los Angeles’s Platinum Triangle. He designed over 30 masterful residences in Trousdale Estates alone, and this one is not only among the best, but also the most visible.
This house is easily viewable from the street. Though the view through the gate to the motor court is obscured by canvas covering, one can still get a peek through. Going a little further up the road and looking back at the house from higher up may give another good viewing angle.
The Silbert House was originally decorated by Albert Parvin, who would later go on to buy the Hoffman House, which is the first stop on this trail. That house is still owned by the Parvin family.
Stucco and frame.
COST TO BUILD
Mid-century Modern architecture has its roots in the modernism movement that originated in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement’s aim was to free art and design from prevailing traditions in order to better reflect existing social, economic, and technological currents. The architects most influential in shaping American trends include Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier. In 1932, a major touring exhibit, Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, curated by the Museum of Modern Art, played an important role in introducing the style to the masses.
As one historian noted:
“The International Style forced a general redefinition of modern architecture in the United States. ‘Modern’ architecture, in the eyes of those Americans who knew anything about it, became a style quite unlike the art deco storefronts, simplified classical government buildings and revival-style skyscrapers called ‘modern’ during the 1920s. The new modern architecture utilised flat roofs, cubic volumes, asymmetrical compositions, white walls and an abundance of concrete, glass and steel. It allowed virtually no applied ornament or overt historic references, emphasising functional and structural expression instead.” (Eggener)
After World War II, a version of the International Style emerged that later became known as Mid-Century Modern. A major influence in this development was a program sponsored by John Entenza, the editor of the Los Angeles- based magazine Arts & Architecture. “In 1945, [he initiated] a Case Study House program that experimented with an evolution of the International Style in Southern California. Twenty six Case Study houses designed by local Modernists epitomized the International Style at the height of its post-World War II popularity through the 1950s and early ‘60s.” (Whiteson) In addition to the features embraced by the International Style, these homes included extensive use of “glass walls’’ to provide a sense of indoor-outdoor living; open, flexible plans, where one room flows into another; built-in furniture; “frequent dramatic siting on hillsides”; “smooth surfaces, with an absence of purely decorative details inside or out [and the] very occasional use of primary reds, yellows or blues.” (Whiteson)
OTHER F ACTS AND FIGURES
Harvey Silbert decorated his home with furnishings from the Albert Parvin Company, a subsidiary of Silbert’s Starrett Corporation. When Albert Parvin himself later moved into a home in Trousdale Estates (the Hoffman House, at 412 Drury Lane), he hired Silbert’s architect, Harold Levitt, to built a second- story addition to his George MacLean-designed residence.
BIOGRAPHY OF ARCHITECT:
Harold Warren “Hal” Levitt was born in San Francisco, California, on July 26, 1921. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Arts from Stanford University and an architecture degree from the University of Southern California. He worked for residential architects Roland Coate and Burton Schutt before founding his own Beverly Hills firm, Levitt, LeDuc & Farwell, in the 1950s. He married Jane Spalding around 1945 and they had a son, Lansford.
Over the course of his half-century career, Levitt designed homes for Hollywood luminaries such as Steven Spielberg, Olivia Newton John, Quincy Jones, Dean Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Lionel Ritchie and Kenny Rogers. He also worked on commercial projects, including the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas and the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts & Sciences building in Los Angeles.
Levitt retired at the age of 79 and moved to Reno, Nevada. He died of natural causes two years later, on April 24, 2003, at his vacation home in Las Vegas.
ELEMENTS OF STRUCTURE THAT ARE TYPICAL OF ARCHITECT'S WORK:
The Silbert Residence embodies many of Levitt’s hallmarks: crushed mica walls, full-height front doors, and entrances that appear to be the front door of a residence but in fact lead to an interior courtyard. This interplay between indoor and outdoor was a common theme in his work, as was the use of space and material to convey a sense of grandeur. “The circa-1960 photos of the interiors show expansive space and integrated surface decoration of hewn marble that became a Levitt signature—a symbol of Trousdale luxe in the hands of countless other architects who copied him—and they all copied him.” (Price)
Harvey Silbert (1959-1992),
Hekmat and Heideh Hekmatravan (known to be the owner 1993-2011), Sunset Gate Investments (known to be the owner in 2019)
Harvey L. Silbert was a real estate and entertainment lawyer, casino executive, and philanthropist. Born on June 10, 1912, he grew up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Shortly after graduating from the Southwestern University Law School, he began his legal career. He married Lillian Schwartz around 1935, and they had a son, Kenneth, and a daughter, Lynne.
Silbert’s first celebrity client was the 1930s film star Constance Bennett. While a partner at the law firm of Wyman, Bautzer, Silbert & Kuchel, he represented Hollywood luminaries such as Howard Hughes, Gail Russell, Dan Dailey, and Frank Sinatra. Throughout the 1990s, he worked for Loeb & Loeb, and from 1998 to 2002, for the firm of Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil and Shapiro.
At one point the director of the Starrett Corporation, Silbert also served as an attorney for Parvin-Dohrmann Co., a Los Angeles-based hotel, restaurant supply, and interior decoration company headed by Albert Parvin, who would later become his Trousdale Estates neighbor. Silbert was also on the board of directors of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Bet Tzedek Legal Services, and Shaare Zedek Medical Center. He died on September 28, 2002 in Los Angeles.
Eggener, Keith L. “Nationalism, Internationalism and the ‘Naturalisation’ of Modern Architecture in the United States, 1925–1940.” National Identities, 8.3 (2006): 243–258.
“Harvey Silbert.” Wikipedia.
“Harold Levitt, 81; Architect Created Homes for Stars of Show Business.” Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2003.
“Star Hotel Sold for $15 Million.” Reno Gazette-Journal, January 28, 1969.
Whiteson, Leon. “‘House-Machine’ at Home on Southland’s Hillsides.” Los Angeles Times, May 20, 1990.
TALES AND TIMELINES:
August 30, 1960
A permit is filed by architect Harold W. Levitt for a one-story residence for Mr. and Mrs. Silbert at 119 Hillcrest Road, in Beverly Hills. The project included an eight-foot concrete block retaining wall for the garage as well as a swimming pool.
March 21, 1967
A permit is filed to add a frame and stucco addition to serve as a maid’s quarters.
Permits are filed for a patio remodel and to make alterations to the library and bedroom.
A permit is filed to replace the existing pool deck.
July 18, 1994
A permit is filed to add new fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom.
May 16, 1995
A permit is filed to repair the roof of the residence.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Over the Top in Trousdale