We are always looking for hidden gems and are big fans of mid-century architecture. So when we were approached by Paul Finegold about a collection of apartments by architect R.M. Schindler that he was restoring in Silver Lake, near Downtown Los Angeles, we were excited to find out more. Manola Court was designed by Schindler between 1926 and 1939 for his friend Herman Sachs, a Romanian-born muralist and decorator who worked on well-known LA landmarks like the Bullocks Wilshire Building, Union Station, and City Hall. To say that this property has pedigree is an understatement. We visited the site three years ago then again recently, and were very impressed by the transformation and Finegold’s sensitive restoration.
The 16 apartments are divided between five freestanding buildings on a street-to-street downward sloping lot, and five have been restored so far. Of those, three are available on BoutiqueHomes. Sachs’ dream was that the building would be a gathering place for arts and entertainment, and Finegold is intent on respecting that. The Studio Loft, a striking space with soaring ceilings and sweeping views that was originally Sachs’ studio and salon, can be booked for gatherings and events. There are also two vacation rentals: the Penthouse, as well as Live to Give, an apartment that is offered on a “stay by donation” model, raising money for research into rare blood-related disorders.
While the apartments have been adapted to the 21st century in subtle ways, they are also very faithful to Schindler’s vision. Finegold enlisted Scott Strumwasser and Tash Rahbar of Enclosures Architects to restore the buildings, and local design firm Platform Home to ensure that the interior cabinetry and finishes were carefully restored or recreated. Furnishings were carefully chosen, all the art is original (and where possible locally-sourced), and every object, down to the salt-and-pepper shakers, has been selected to be both functional and beautiful. In addition, exterior spaces have been brought to life by local firm, Terremoto, using zeriscaping techniques to create a modern garden that is respectful of the original aesthetic.
It’s a development that we’re honored to be a part of, and we recently met up with Paul Finegold to find out more about his story.
When you bought the property, were you excited about the idea of restoring a Schindler building?
Paul Finegold: “Yes, I was really excited about it. I’d worked on historical buildings before – Craftsman, Victorian, nice but no names. They were like Chevys and Fords, and I restored them back to the best I could. But this was like a Rolls-Royce Phantom. I thought, ‘OK, this is going to be more than just restoring an old house. I’ll be actually doing something of value. I’ll be doing something that will be a little bit bigger than me.’”
That sounds a little daunting. What was the process like?
Paul Finegold: “There’s some overlap between restoring a Chevy and restoring a Rolls-Royce. But beyond that, that’s really where my architects came in. It became much more of a task for them, a task that they loved. For me, it became harder in ways that I didn’t foresee. My architect told me on the close of escrow that restoring this property wasn’t going to be the same. She said, ‘You’re restoring a Schindler, I just want to warn you that there’s going to be a lot of people that are very interested in the restoration and want to voice their opinion.’
“Understatement of the year! I can’t tell you, in the three years since we started restoring the apartments, how many times I’ve said to her, ‘Tip of the iceberg.’ I completely underestimated how much pushback I was going to be getting from current tenants, past tenants, neighbors, the neighborhood council…”
How did you approach the restoration?
Paul Finegold: “I’ve been working with the same architects for 18 years and developed a huge amount of trust in them – which was really important for a job of this size. I decided to hire landscape architects because on the outside we were starting with a clean slate, plus interior designers. The idea was to get a synergistic effect.
“I really wanted people to open up the door to an apartment and go, ‘Wow!’ I’ve seen other Schindler restorations, some good, and a couple that I think are very, very good. But I haven’t seen any Schindler restorations where all of the furniture and landscaping were also a do-over. Most people bring furniture with them when they’re moving, or there is already decent landscaping. This was different.”
So, everything was sourced to be as close to the original as possible?
PF: “Yes. With the building itself, we worked very, very closely to keep it original. There are Schindler archives at UC Santa Barbara so my architects spent a lot of time up there. They found lots of black and white photos, lots of original sketches and drawings, Schindler’s hand in pencil. That gave us one source of original information.
“Another source was the 16 different apartments themselves. They all still had different original pieces. So maybe one had original cabinets but the other 15 didn’t. Maybe one apartment still had an original kitchen nook pedestal. We were able to get some information that way.
“The philosophy we took was that we kept all of the original Schindler charm worth keeping. Kitchens and bathrooms were usually do-overs because Schindler didn’t care so much about private spaces, and the way we use kitchens and bathrooms today is completely different. For the most part, they were gutted, and we started over. But we did the new kitchens and bathrooms the way we think Schindler would have done a kitchen and bathroom if he was alive today. To my architects’ great credit, people have walked through the five apartments and assumed that certain parts of the bathrooms and kitchens are original. That’s a huge compliment. Everyone on this job, they didn’t just work for me. They did their best work – and that made a big difference.”
What are your plans for the apartments?
PF: “I’m a big thinker. My mom would always complain that I had extravagant ideas. My lovely wife Gitu was by my side when we bought the property, but she passed away about two and a half years ago from Tempi Syndrome, a rare blood-related disorder. She really liked my vision for the property and wanted me to finish the job. But it was her last wish that we find a way to help other patients with rare blood-related disorders, to fund research so they have a place to go. So other people wouldn’t have to suffer the way she did. I told her that to the best of my ability, I would use this property to make it happen. I have to do it.”
Manola Court is your tribute to Gitu?
PF: “Yes, pretty much. I can’t really do enough. I’m doing my level best, as she would say. I’m jumping in and paying it forward. I’m just going to do the right thing. With this building, I want to use several of the apartments to raise money for research. Right now, it’s just one apartment. But one day it will be more.”
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