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Impossible Dreams Come True

BOISE AUTHORS DEBUT NEW NOVEL FEATURING ONE OF HISTORY'S MOST FAMOUS HOUSES.  

Article by Shasta Ockerberg

Photography by Provided

There’s one house in history, built for its 270-degree view of Los Angeles, that not only marked a new beginning for modern architecture, but symbolizes an impossible dream come true.

Boise resident Shari Stahl-Gronwald and her brother Bruce Stahl know a thing or two about the iconic Stahl House.  It’s the home where they grew up, and they still own one of the most famous modern houses in the world.

Photo of the Stahl's family pool shown from the living room and can be seen from every room in the house except the master bathroom. Credited to: "Design Within Reach," used with permission.

“It’s the story of a blue-collar family with a white-collar dream house,” says co-author Kim Cross, who partnered with the two siblings, on the newly released autobiographical The Stahl House: Case Study House #22-The Making of a Modernist Icon. 

Shari Stahl Gronwald, who schedules tours of the house adds, “It's the only case study house still owned by the family.  The house didn't make things easy, but we wanted the world to know the story of our family."  Bruce Stahl, who still lives in Los Angeles and takes care of the pool and any repairs, adds, “Our main goal was just to get the story out.  Our parents were always told ‘no.’  But instead of thinking of ‘no’ as 'no,' they thought ‘no’ meant 'finding another way.'  That's how we felt while writing this book."

After fifteen years of pushing for their story to be published, the Stahl siblings partnered with local author Kim Cross to write the book. Cross, who is a writing instructor for The Cabin in Boise, and previously taught Advanced Creative Nonfiction at Boise State University, currently teaches Feature Writing at Harvard Extension School. Gronwald was set on working with an Idaho local who possessed the passion and writing skills Cross could offer.

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Left: Shari and Bruce Stahl, Photography by Eric Bricker Right: Kim Cross, Photography by Jessica Chou

“This book’s main character is the house and its supporting cast is the family who lived in it,” Kim Cross says. “Part of the story is, of course, the house and its place in history, but the other part of the book is the house being a home. There are stories about the kids jumping off the roof into the pool, and rollerblading through the house because there was no carpet.”  Cross notes that Mrs. Carlotta Stahl never turned anyone away for a tour, especially architecture students.  “In the end,“ observes Cross, “the house started taking care of them after the family took care of it. It's truly an amazing story."

Two years in the making, the Stahls finally got to see their parents' story resurrected on paper. "Finally, I got something in my hands," Stahl says. "I hold it and realize it's real now."   Gronwald agrees. "We've been dreaming of telling the family story for so long," she says, “It was exciting to see it for the first time. It's still so surreal."

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Carlotta Stahl and her children enjoying a hot day in the pool (left). One of the Stahl children diving from the roof into the pool. (right).

The Stahl House was merely a dream for Buck and Carlotta Stahl, but with the help and design from young architect Pierre Koenig, the 1960 home became a beacon of hope for those seeking the American dream after World War II.  John Entenza from Arts and Architecture magazine created the Case Study House Program to celebrate homes that were both affordable and progressive in solving the postwar housing shortage.  The house was inducted into the program, given number 22, and immortalized by photographer Julius Shulman.   

Cross said, “The stars truly aligned for this house to be built.”    

In the end, it was the glass walls and panoramic view of Los Angeles that would withstand history. Its transparent design blended with its environment, and Koenig was quoted as saying, “The house is just a part of the city.”  It broke rules and codes throughout Los Angeles, and welcomed new possibilities for residential architecture.   Buck Stahl once told his son, "'Luck had nothing to do with this,'" when describing the building of their home.  Stahl emphasizes, “This is the story of their perseverance."

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A view of the pool and the Los Angeles skyline from one of the bedrooms in The Stahl House. Credited to: "Design Within Reach," used with permission.

The book gives an inside look at their life inside the home as it became a worldwide touring destination. The book includes interviews, historical information, and personal photos from the family.  Buck Stahl’s original ideas for the home and notes on the complicated building site, along with Koenig’s sketches and Shulman’s iconic photographs, are included. There are also images of the house in numerous fashion campaigns, films, and television shows, shining an even brighter spotlight on the landmark.

“It’s a good read for people interested in design,” Cross says, “but also for those looking for an aspiring story. I hope people feel stirred after reading this book. We wanted to tell the story of their parents and their dream for this house, and we hope it inspires others about their impossible dream.”

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Credited to: Patric Shaw/Trunk Archive

"The Stahl House: Case Study House #22- The Making of a Modernist Icon" Published by Chronicle Chroma will make its first appearance at an upcoming event September 15, 2021 held at the Boise Contemporary Theater. The three authors will talk about the house as well as a preview of the upcoming documentary. Ticket price includes a copy of the book, and the authors will be available for signings. Purchase online or pickup  locally at Rediscovered Books.

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Cover of the upcoming book. Photography by: "The Stahl House: Case Study House #22- The Making of a Modernist Icon" by Bruce Stahl, Shari Stahl Gronwald, and Kim Cross, published by Chronicle Chroma 2021.