Historical Tours

Snoop Home Tour 2018

SNEAK PEEK — Prying eyes will get their fill of luxe architecture and décor at the popular Sophisticated Snoop Home Tour

More than 40 years ago, Manhattan Beach resident Debbie Walmer attended a seminar to brainstorm about fund-raising ideas for the American Martyrs Parent Association. A lover of homes, she suggested a tour of some of the area’s standout properties. The idea stuck, and she’s chaired the event ever since, even going door to door to numerous residences annually each year to unearth a variety of interesting architectural styles and interiors. Now in its 45th year, the 2018 Sophisticated Snoop Home Tour, taking place May 18-20, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., will present five newly culled residences complete with a stately abode boasting 160 rose bushes gracing the front yard, an extensive art collection and even a train room.

“The home at 701 25th St. is over the top,” says Walmer. “It took the owners six years to build, and it looks like a chateau you’d see in France.” Known as “The Hedani-Sydow Home,” the residence transports visitors to Provence via lush front gardens replete with a French limestone fountain paired with high-end interior details such as the artistic owner’s stained-glass creations; hand-sculpted herringbone oak flooring; hand-carved limestone fireplace imported from France; a maple-clad master suite with hand-painted ceiling; and custom-built, 8,500-bottle wine cellar. A hobby room reveals an extensive model train collection, while a kid’s lounge showcases upholstered walls and its own kitchen.

The tour’s remaining residences each present a distinctive brand of show-stopping features. In Manhattan Beach, tour-goers will find a stunning contemporary home in the Hill Section highlighted by a wine cave; media room; glass-walled gym, sauna and steam room; and outdoor space with a hot tub, Ping-Pong table, fire pit and seating area. A beautifully appointed, modern farmhouse in the Sand Section was built in 2008 and has since been updated with five bedrooms; a spa room (formerly the living room) with a vaulted ceiling and fireplace; and custom teen “apartment,” while an elegant Santa Barbara-style property showcases a backyard haven with a decked-out guest house and three-story game house featuring full-sized arcade games, plus indoor environs sporting a golf simulator and inviting family room theater.

Rounding out the tour is a custom-built, modern coastal masterpiece situated at the end of a private cul-de-sac in Hermosa Beach that offers sweeping views of the Pacific. Expect soaring ceilings, travertine flooring, glass sphere chandeliers and an extensive art collection, along with a toy room, and an outdoor patio highlighting an oversized stone spa, built-in barbeque and plenty of seating to enjoy the stellar vistas. $30 in advance, $35 at the door; americanmartyrs.org.

Written by Wendy Bowman  |  Photography Courtesy of Liz Chalmers


In Pursuit of Perfection

Thomas Jefferson’s historic mountaintop home Monticello expresses the spirit and architectural legacy of its founding father

If home is an expression of oneself, then Monticello is Thomas Jefferson’s autobiography, revealing the essence of who he was, what he valued, and how he lived. Appropriating the Old World for his vision of life in the new, Jefferson fashioned Monticello at the same time he helped fashion the nation and, in doing so, supported the great experiment of liberty.

Written by Jenn Thornton  |  Photography ©Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello


Located outside Charlottesville, Virginia, Jefferson called Monticello his “essay in architecture,” one that commanded several revisions. Construction that began in 1769 was left unfinished while Jefferson served five years as minister to France. Steeped in that country’s metropolitan culture, Jefferson began to rethink the project and, upon returning to America, jettisoned his original plans. Among the numerous improvements he made until the project was complete in 1809 was to tear down part of the initial structure and build around it, reorganize interior spaces at great expense, and add the home’s signature dome.

Derivative of Greco-Roman design, with porticos and a Palladian language, Monticello is quintessentially American in that Jefferson designed a “framework for living,” says Monticello curator Susan Stein, a way to organize and orchestrate domestic life. Which is to say didactically. Jefferson filled his life with books, study and conversation, so while a cultivated environment, Monticello is also self-consciously anti-aristocratic—a place of 43 rooms (33 in the house itself) that appears to be smaller than it is.

It’s not false modesty, exactly, but one does not find, for example, something like a grand stairway to suggest aristocratic ascent to the higher level. Into this classical context Jefferson brings comfort and convenience. His cabinet, or study, is a model of efficiency, with a revolving desk chair, a worktable with a moving top and a rotating stand for holding books, pamphlets or papers. There is a Windsor bench for stretching his legs and physical evidence of his curiosities. “He doesn’t keep his interests hidden—they’re everywhere,” says Stein of Jefferson’s maps, globes and correspondence. “His purpose is to educate. He uses Monticello as kind of his laboratory, a proto-museum, to educate people. He has a large collection of paintings from France. He has sculpture and portraits of America’s founders.”

Completing Monticello proved something of a Sisyphean task (skilled tradesmen were in short supply and politics took Jefferson to France, Philadelphia and Washington DC for prolonged periods), but “It’s what he did,” says Peter Onuf, distinguished fellow with the American Antiquarian Society. “It’s the work of perfection, of getting it right. It suggests an attitude toward life, aspirations and the old idea that work is life.

In a way, Jefferson keeps the place in constant turmoil because he’s not looking for a place of repose, of stasis, of stopping. It’s the very dynamism that he lives with and causes to happen. I think it’s very important to his sense of who he is in the world. While there are technical explanations for why he doesn’t get around to putting the columns up front, it’s knowing the man and what gives him satisfaction in life.”

Broadly, Monticello informed Jefferson’s later projects, including the University of  Virginia, with its domes Rotunda and connected pavilions, which he established. It also paved the way for the country’s temple-fronted public architecture, the capitol buildings and courthouses that define our civic identity.

Both a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO Heritage Site (the only home so designated in the United States), Monticello is stewarded by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and visited by millions. But with preservation and restoration efforts ongoing, Monticello is what it has always been: a work in progress. home.monticello.org

Three for the Show

Skirball Cultural Center curates a fascinating viewing experience with three thought-provoking exhibitions.

Written by Jenn Thornton|Photos Courtesy of Skirball Cultural Center

Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution

More than 400 objects comprise this compelling retrospective of a major force in rock music. Of these is a handbill from the first Bill Graham concert, “an appeal party for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a cutting-edge theatrical group of social and political activists led by actor Ronnie G. Davis and managed by Bill,” says Curator Erin Clancey. Historically significant, she adds, because “When Davis was arrested in Lafayette Park for putting on a play the city deemed ‘offensive, indecent, and obscene,’ Bill organized a benefit party on November 6, 1965, to raise money for Davis’ legal costs.” It was a turning point; Jefferson Airplane appeared and Graham “found something he was born to do.” Also displayed is original poster work for many Bill Graham Presents productions, including one by psychedelic art movement leader Bonnie Maclean, promoting a 1967 concert at the Fillmore Auditorium featuring supergroup The Doors. “When designing the gallery experience, we tried to strike a very careful balance between evoking an era and going completely kitsch,” says Clancey. Hence, hints of the period—“little touches that help you get into the era and feel as if you are kind of living the Fillmore experience.” Through Oct. 11, 2015

Petit Takett: Love, Legacy, and Recipes from the Maghreb

“I find it fascinating how a recipe box can spark a new art project,” says Curator Doris Berger, referencing LA artist Orly Olivier, who inherited a small wooden box containing handwritten cards from her late father, an enthusiastic cook and entertainer of Tunisian Jewish descent. This led Olivier to start the Petit Takett project, which involved a blog and a dinner series honoring her family’s heritage. “One way we brought this idea of connecting family history through food to the exhibition space at the Skirball, and made it more universal, is with a recipe mosaic,” says Berger of a wall painting offered to visitors of different religions and ethnicities to fill with recipe notes. “I find it exciting to see a family history that became an artwork transform into a participatory work with a collective history.” Through Jan. 10, 2016

Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams

This little explored interlude in Adams’ career probes a troubling time in the nation’s history. In shifting his focus from magnificent landscapes to Japanese Americans forcibly interned at Manzanar, Adams produced an important historical record—a study of injustice happening some 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The photos went on to appear in Adams’ book Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans. Published in 1944, while the country was still at war, the volume stirred controversy, introducing Adams as an activist. “As the managing curator on this exhibition, I have been able to work with a diverse range of material, including photographs featuring different perspectives on Japanese American incarceration by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Toyo Miyatake, as well as original artifacts and artwork from the Manzanar camp,” says Linde B. Lehtinen, assistant curator at Skirball. Letters and documents put a personal face on an experience that not only included incarceration, but also “acts of resistance and protest.” Essential is the exhibition space, its palette meant to evoke Manzanar’s desert surrounds for an immersive look at a complex history. Oct. 8-Feb. 21, 2016