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Thomas Mann House, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles

The Thomas Mann House at 1550 San Remo Drive in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California, was designed by the modernist architect JR Davidson for the exiled German writer Thomas Mann and his wife Katia Mann in 1941. Mann lived at the house between 1942 and 1952 before his emigration to Switzerland, where he spent the last three years of his life. The house was sold by Mann to an American lawyer and his wife, and remained in their family until its 2016 purchase by the German government. A restoration of the house is planned, and it is intended that the house will become an artist's residence, like the nearby Villa Aurora, which was the home of fellow German exile Lion Feuchtwanger.



Driveway, 2014

The house is located in the Riviera district of Pacific Palisades, a suburb of the city of Los Angeles. Robert Winter, in his book An Arch Guidebook to Los Angeles describes the house as "almost impossible" to see, and the house is hidden from public view due to hedges, bushes and palm trees.[1][2] Mann had bought the plot of land in September 1940, which he described in a letter as "a piece of land ...with seven palms and a lot of lemon trees".[3] In contrast to the other local houses, the Thomas Mann House was described by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as "inconspicuous in comparison with neighboring homes built in all kinds of styles ranging from Moorish to baroque castles".[2]


The house is 5,000 square feet (460 m2) large and situated on a plot of an acre.[4]


Mann was originally courted by architect Richard Neutra, a fellow German expatriate, who wished to design his house. In April 1938 Neutra had taken Mann on a tour of modern houses in Los Angeles, but Mann had disliked the modernist style, later describing in his diary that the "cubist glass-box style" was "unpleasant".[5] Several years later, when the Manns had settled in California, Neutra's persistent attitude regarding the matter at a party hosted by Vicki Baum soured any relationship between them, leading Mann to whisper "Get that Neutra off my back" to a fellow guest.[6] Mann choose the more conservative modernist architect JR Davidson to design the house instead, who realised a "more gemütlich version" of the International Style according to Yorck Förster, a curator at Frankfurt's German Architecture Museum.[7][2] Having moved from Princeton, New Jersey, where he was a visiting professor at Princeton University, Mann temporarily settled at 740 Amalfi Drive in Pacific Palisades, before the completion of his house, into which he moved on February 5, 1942.[3]

Mann was part of the Exilliteratur, a group of exiled German writers, artists and intellectuals. Mann and other exiles would attend readings at the writer Lion Feuchtwanger's house, the Villa Aurora, also in Pacific Pallisades.[8] Mann wrote Doctor Faustus and The Holy Sinner during his time at the house.[4]

Susan Sontag recounted having tea with Mann at the house in her short story "Pilgrimage", published in The New Yorker in December 1987.[9] Sontag had found Mann's number in a telephone directory, and was so nervous about meeting him that she and a friend sat for two hours in a car rehearsing their encounter.[4] In fact, the meeting was the starting point for Sontag's lifelong interest in Thomas Mann and his work.[10]

Following World War II, Mann was alarmed at what he perceived as the darkening political climate in America, and emigrated to Switzerland with his wife, Katia, in 1952. The house was sold in 1953 for $50,000, several months after the Mann's emigration, to Chester Lappen, a lawyer. Mann later died in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1955, and would look at photographs of the house in his last years, describing it as " completely my own".[4]

Post MannEdit

Lappen put a plaque in English and German to mark Mann's residency at the house. Chester Lappen died in 2010, and the house remained in his family, yet a possible sale was not considered as late as 2012.[4] Critic Alex Ross, writing in The New Yorker, felt that "Perhaps the juggernaut of the real-estate market is destined to roll over the Mann house as it has over many other notable places. Worse things will have happened in the world. But for anyone who loves Mann's work, or who cherishes the story of émigré culture in Los Angeles, it would be a crushing outcome...but the levelling of 1550 San Remo would feel almost like the obliteration of an era".[4]

The house was put up for rent in 2012 for $15,000 per month, and for sale in 2016 for $14,995,000.[11] The house was marketed as a potential "tear down", with no mention of Mann in accompanying sales literature. Calls arose for the preservation of the house after the announcement that it was for sale, and the possibility of its destruction. At the time of its potential sale, the house was not subject to any local historical protection orders.[12][2] The house was bought by the Government of Germany in November 2016 for $13.25 million. After a one and a half-year restoration period, a fellowship program for intellectuals and visionaries will be installed to tackle eminent contemporary issues relevant to both shores of the Atlantic. The Foreign Minister of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said that the house provided "a home for so many Germans who fought for a better future for our country and for a more open society...It is in this spirit that we want to revive the Thomas Mann villa".[13] For that purpose the Villa Aurora e. V., a German non-profit already in charge of the nearby artists' Villa Aurora, was renamed to Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House e. V. and commissioned by the German Government to further run the Thomas Mann House.[14]

In October 2017 the organisation announced its first "Thomas Mann Fellows" to live in the Thomas Mann House starting early summer 2018.[15]


  • Francis Nenik / Sebastian Stumpf: Seven Palms. Das Thomas-Mann-Haus in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, Spector Books (forthcoming july 2018), 320 pages, ISBN 978-3-95905-180-4 (German)


  1. ^ Robert Winter (1 September 2009). An Arch Guidebook to Los Angeles. Gibbs Smith. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-4236-0893-6.
  2. ^ a b c d "Intellectuals call on German government to rescue Thomas Mann's California villa". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  3. ^ a b Thomas Mann; Hans Wysling (1998). Letters of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, 1900-1949. University of California Press. p. 412. ISBN 978-0-520-07278-7.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Alex Ross (music critic) (18 August 2016). "Will Thomas Mann's House Be Demolished?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  5. ^ Ehrhard Bahr (2 May 2007). Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism. University of California Press. p. 170. ISBN 978-0-520-25128-1.
  6. ^ Thomas S. Hines; Richard Joseph Neutra (1994). Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture: A Biography and History. University of California Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-520-08589-3.
  7. ^ Joan M. Marter (2011). The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art. Oxford University Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-19-533579-8.
  8. ^ Research Guides at University of Southern California: Villa Aurora - Feuchtwanger Memorial Library * - Research Guides at University of Southern California, accessdate: November 18, 2016
  9. ^ Susan Sontag (21 December 1987). "Pilgrimage". The New Yorker. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  10. ^ Sina, Kai (2017). Susan Sontag und Thomas Mann. Göttingen: Wallstein. ISBN 978-3-8353-3021-4.
  11. ^ Bianca Barragan (18 August 2016). "Thomas Mann's old Pacific Palisades home is for sale, and it's marketed as a teardown". Curbed LA. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  12. ^ Christopher Hawthorne (18 August 2016). "Thomas Mann house by midcentury great J.R. Davidson: L.A.'s next big teardown?". LA Times. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  13. ^ "Germany buys California house built by writer Thomas Mann". Reuters. 17 November 2016. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  14. ^ "Villa Aurora to run Thomas Mann House - VATMH (en)". Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  15. ^ "Thomas Mann Fellows 2018 nominated - VATMH (en)". Retrieved 2017-11-27.

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