September 19, 2018

Photo Essay: The Largest Craftsman House in the U.S. Changes Hands

It was a gloomy day.

But then again, this summer has been unseasonably overcast and humid.

I might not have known that I was in LA at all, except for the fact that I was spending my weekend doing what's most familiar to me.

Once again, I was snooping around a historic property—this time, perched on a 300-foot cliff.

An estate sale had brought me to Beachwood Canyon in the Hollywood Hills to explore a sprawling craftsman mansion known as Artemesia, built in 1913 for Swedish-born construction magnate Franz (or "Frank") O. Engstrum, commissioned by his son (and partner in the family biz), Frederick.

But I wasn't there to buy any of the patio furniture on the porch or the internationally opulent wares that were tagged and displayed inside.

As usual, I was there for the historical, physical, architectural estate—which had just been sold for only the fifth time ever.

Once 12 acres but since subdivided, Artemesia still consists of the main house plus a carriage house, pump house, and former deer park.

I wanted to check out every little detail...

... from the outdoor sconces to iron vent coverings and the carved front door.

And at 13,290 square feet, with eight bedrooms (plus a sleeping porch) and seven baths, there was a lot of architect Frank A. Brown's design to look at.

Even if it's not all original.

Brown, a contract architect for Commonwealth Home Builders, created coffered ceilings (which have since been gilded)...

...and installed no less than six fireplaces, all of which are the work of the great ceramicist and tilemaker extraordinaire, Ernest Batchelder.

In fact, although Artemesia's architect never had the star power of, say, the Craftsman duo of Greene and Greene, its architectural history represents a certain coming together of the greats.

The master suite's leaded-glass skylight is rumored to be the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (who also contributed to another Craftsman masterpiece, The Gamble House).

There are also bathroom tiles by Gladding McBean and a huge, house-encompassing player pipe organ (with sunken console and multiple echo chambers) by the "Father of Organ Building in the American West," Murray M. Harris.

Although the lower canyon has been taken over by a gated community (one that supposedly is called home by Brad Pitt), one of Artemesia's characteristic lanterns still marks the entrance at the bottom of the winding access road.

It's a shame that more people weren't lined up to check out this Hollywood "castle on a hill," as the sun finally decided to show its face.

Part of me wanted to buy something just to have a souvenir of the place—but I've been trying to scale down and scale back on my possessions, so I really don't need or want more stuff.

Maybe I don't need a memento. Maybe I'll get to go back someday.

Who knows what the new owner has planned? There have been so few owners in Artemesia's 105-year tenure.

And I doubt this next one will be the last.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Gamble House, Pasadena (Updated for 2017)
Photo Essay: The Mysteries of the Pasadena Magic House & Museum

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