Mutual Housing Association, now known as Crestwood Hills, was the only successful large-scale cooperative housing development in California in the post-war years. After WW II, the lack of available housing for returning servicemen resulted in people were sleeping in make shift Quonset huts and tents in city parks, lines to purchase new makeshift houses formed over night and snaked blocks. And then, as now, city government expressed concern and did little.
Brimming with naive optimism honed by their military experience, four returning veterans who bonded as studio musicians decided to purchase an acre of land on which they proposed to build a house at each corner, sharing some common play space and a swimming pool. Other musicians became interested, and the group christened the Mutual Housing Association (MHA) grew to 25, then 100, and after some publicity, to 500. People eagerly signed up, and by the end of 1946 with some bickering and conservative diatribes Los Angeles had its first large-scale cooperative housing development.
Planned on 800 acres at the edge of the Santa Monica Mountains, MHA, is one of the few fully realized modernist projects in the state. The master plan uses the rugged terrain to provide a balance of single-family homes and communal facilities. The cooperative services were planned for the best flat land at the center of the tract. The plan originally included a neighborhood a park, nursery school, amphitheater, co-op store, medical building, plant nursery, and gas station.
The architects, A. Quincy Jones, Whitney R. Smith, and structural engineer Edgardo Contini, provided the association with 9 basic designs. With variations on each, they presented a brochure with 27 designs to choose from. The architecture features dramatic roof lines, exposed natural materials, and walls of glass dissolving the boundary or indoor and outdoor space.
Eventually 80 houses were built on the 350 designated lots. After two contractors went bankrupt building the architect’s designs, owners hired their own architects and/or contractors. The houses designed by others are referred to as infill houses and feature such well known names as Richard Neutra, Craig Ellwood, Rodney Walker, Ray Kappe, and J.R. Davidson. After the MHA members moved into their houses to raise their young families, the impetus to develop the other communal facilities dwindled. The clubhouse was completed in 1960 and the nursery school continues to thrive to this day and is still run on a cooperative basis. A credit union was active until the late 90s.
Only 30 of the original 80 houses remain. The Bel Air fire destroyed 45 and the others were demolished or remodeled beyond recognition. 19 of the remaining houses are designated historic monument with the City of Los Angeles. Architect, Cory Buckner, has been instrumental in establishing 15 of these designations and she has remodeled and restored close to a dozen of the remaining houses. She is the author of CRESTWOOD HILLS, THE CHRONICLE OF A MODERN UTOPIA, https://angelcitypress.com/products/crst.