Do you have a hankering for a place with Egyptian hieroglyphics, an anchor from Jack London’s boat and a meat locker? Look no further! For the first time in 45 years, the historic and strange John A. Van Pelt Estate is on the market. A sprawling compound of five whimsical storybook houses situated on 2 ½ acres of land in the Franklin Hills area of L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood, the property was completed in 1942 by John A. Van Pelt, and it’s a testament to his unfettered imagination. This cluster of enchanted cottages is as close as you’ll ever get to living in Disneyland.
Brick and stone are the main ingredients in the storybook style, which was popular during the 20s and 30s and first appeared in California. It’s a playful style that favors towers, turrets, and lots of nooks and crannies. Nothing is symmetrical in a storybook house, which prefers to surprise occupants with curved stairways, undulating surfaces,and unexpected corners. There is no architect credited with designing this property, so one must assume Van Pelt did it himself. Considering that it took more than a decade to complete seems like further evidence that Van Pelt was at the helm throughout.
The place feels handmade and intimate, and each cottage has a name. There’s Whimsy Hall, Windjammer Cottage, Sea Rover Cottage (which features built-in couches around the stone fireplace), Sea Horse Lodge (gorgeous hardwood floors), and Star Sailor Manor. Though it’s difficult to single one of them out as the main residence — one of them is larger than the other with three bedrooms and two bathrooms — all of the cottages have high ceilings with pitched roofs, and large rooms filled with light. The structures are connected with charming stone pathways lined with fruit trees, and there are eight fountains placed throughout the property, as well as a pool. All together, according to listings held by Patricia Ruben and Sotheby’s Int’l Realty, there are eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms across almost 6,500 square feet.
A music professor who specialized in arrangements for choral music, Van Pelt conducted a choir of 1,000 singers at the Hollywood Bowl in 1931, which was the same year he married actress Myra Marsh. Van Pelt had already begun developing the parcel of land he purchased with his brother, Belford, and it comes as no surprise to learn that Van Pelt was a preservationist; he clearly liked things that looked quirky and odd. One of the buildings incorporates clinker bricks that were salvaged from the ruins of L.A.’s cable car line after it was demolished, and Van Pelt also got bannister ropes and oars from Jack London’s boat, The Snark.
In 1970, Van Pelt’s only child, Gerald, sold the property to an undisclosed owner who devoted himself to restoring the estate. It is in mint condition now and unquestionably one of a kind.