In Laurel Canyon, Atomic Age modern with wild history lists for $4.5M

By Pauline O’Connor

You can find a property with an interesting history on the market in Los Angeles pretty much any day of the week, but very few are as fascinating as that of Laurel Canyon’s Wohlstetter House.

The International Modern-style home was designed by architect Josef Van der Kar in 1953. The son of Dutch immigrants, Van der Kar was a card-carrying Communist whose political activism made him a target of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The architect’s closest friends included fellow “radical” architect Gregory Ain and union organizer Henry Shire.

But surprisingly, Van der Kar’s inner circle also included neoconservative heroes Albert and Roberta Wohlstetter, a husband-wife team of foreign policy and nuclear arms strategists. A national security advisor to every president from Eisenhower to Reagan, Albert Wohlstetter was one of the inspirations for Stanley Kubrick’s nutty warmonger Dr. Strangelove.

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According to a 2011 feature in Modernism magazine, the Wohlstetters commissioned Van der Kar to build them a house after Albert served as vice president of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius’s General Panel Corporation, for which Van der Kar created experimental pre-fab housing designs.

The leftist architect built the military strategists’ home—complete with a special nook housing a direct phone line to the Oval Office—on the lot next door to his own, and the two families wound up becoming the best of friends. Other neighbors included legendary photographer Julius Shulman, who photographed the home, and renowned landscape architect Garrett Eckbo, who designed its lush gardens.

The Wohlstetter family owned the property until 1999, when it was sold to celebrity photographer Cliff Watts.

On a .38-acre lot, it contains a 2,700-square-foot main house with three bedrooms, three baths, movable panels, sliding glass walls, and two fireplaces.

Per the listing, “a newer guest house overlooks the giant koi pond and sleeping porch and has a bath and extra large closet.” There’s also a swimming pool with original sculptural benches, lounge area, and a “modern ramada.”

Asking price is $4.495 million.

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