1550 San Remo Drive

By Maria Moss

This almost Bauhaus-style vil­la, over­look­ing the Pacif­ic Ocean, is locat­ed in beau­ti­ful Pacif­ic Pal­isades, just off Sun­set Blvd. In 2016, it went up for sale – for a measly $16,000,000. And the Ger­man gov­ern­ment not only went right ahead and bought it, but also ren­o­vat­ed it for anoth­er $4,000,000. Now why would Ger­many buy real estate in Los Angeles?

Hav­ing been a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Prince­ton, N.J., Thomas Mann and his wife Katia moved into their Cal­i­for­nia home on Feb­ru­ary 5, 1942, and stayed until 1952. Mann, who won the Nobel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture in 1929, was part of a group of exiled Ger­man writ­ers, artists, and intel­lec­tu­als. In 1944, Thomas Mann became an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen, but after being charged with spread­ing com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da by Sen­a­tor Joseph McCarthy, Mann left the coun­try. In 1952, the Manns set­tled in Zürich, Switzer­land, where Thomas Mann died in 1955.

While resid­ing at his home, Thomas Mann once com­ment­ed about the archi­tec­ture: “So now we live in a mod­ern home. We like it any­way.” The archi­tec­tur­al his­to­ri­an Thomas Hines called the place a “more gemütlich ver­sion of the inter­na­tion­al style” while the archi­tect Julius Ralph David­son called it “nos­tal­gic Ger­man.” Mann’s vil­la was ‘the’ meet­ing place for Ger­man intel­lec­tu­als, such as Theodor W. Adorno, Albert Ein­stein or Lion Feucht­wanger, who hap­pened to live right around the cor­ner at Vil­la Auro­ra. Dur­ing his stay in Pacif­ic Pal­isades, Mann – in addi­tion to the last book of the Joseph tril­o­gy and Doc­tor Faus­tus – also wrote radio pro­grams for the BBC, attempt­ing to mobi­lize Ger­mans to fight the Nazi government.

Thomas Mann’s for­mer home – now part of the Ger­man non-prof­it Vil­la Auro­ra & Thomas Mann Haus – will host a series of fel­lows who iden­ti­fy and address emi­nent con­tem­po­rary issues. A con­fer­ence enti­tled, “Strug­gle for Democ­ra­cy,” was part of the offi­cial open­ing on June 19, 2018. Dur­ing his wel­come speech, Ger­man Pres­i­dent Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier said that the house had 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 Thomas Mann’s vil­la.” The future fel­lows, Stein­meier con­tin­ued, should fill “this house with a demo­c­ra­t­ic spir­it and with debates, capa­ble of bridg­ing the continents.”

Let’s hope that the house at 1550 San Remo Dri­ve will tru­ly be a place of open, enrich­ing dialogue.

 

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