L.A. midcentury masterpiece Silvertop was disastrous for its owner (UPDATED)

L.A. midcentury masterpiece Silvertop was disastrous for its owner (UPDATED)
Jennifer Karmon
·Homes Editor
Lady Ellen Klippies helped make Reiner's fortune. Click any photo for a slideshow of Silvertop.
Lady Ellen Klippies helped make Reiner's fortune. Click any photo for a slideshow of Silvertop.

[Editor's update: Silvertop, listed in the summer of 2014, sold in the fall for $8.55 million, about 15 percent more than its asking price.]

It was a house so wondrous that it helped bankrupt its owner.

Kenneth Reiner, an inventor whose aircraft nuts and pin-curl clips made him rich, commissioned the estate known as Silvertop from architect John Lautner. Overlooking the Silver Lake Reservoir, it's now one of Los Angeles' best-known homes. "Its soaring, ultramodern roof planes make it appear about to zoom off to Mars, taking part of the hill with it," wrote the Saturday Evening Post in 1960. "Around one end spirals a steep, apparently unsupported ramp that looks too fragile to cling there another minute." (Click here or on an image for a slideshow.)

The Post deemed the unfinished building "the darnedest house ever seen around Southern California." A photo of the Reiner family was captioned: "Still waiting, after four years, to move into Silvertop."

With buttons everywhere, the house seemed to operate as if by magic. You touched one lighted button and a sink filled with warm water to wash. Moments later it emptied and rinsed itself. Reiner invented many of the gizmos himself.

The cantilevered driveway was so radical that the city didn't believe it would support a car. Reiner had to sue for permission to build it. "He admits he is a stubborn man," a 1957 Los Angeles Times article said.

A two-page Life magazine spread of Silvertop's then-radical infinity-edge pool, shot by Grey Villet.
A two-page Life magazine spread of Silvertop's then-radical infinity-edge pool, shot by Grey Villet.

And that pool! -- "spookily engineered so there seems to be no rim, just water to the edge," Life magazine wrote in 1962. A photo by Grey Villet showed Reiner's daughter Bonnie and a friend on the invisible edge. "Her sister, her hands poking out of the water, seems about to go over the side between them while another under-water friend waves. Many parents will not live in the hills because they are afraid for their children, but kids survive."

These days many folks would recognize an infinity-edge pool -- but Lautner's at Silvertop is thought to be perhaps the very first modern one. (Click here or on an image for a slideshow.)

It's just one of the ways Silvertop was ahead of its time, so much so that it has stood in as the embodiment of Los Angeles, as in the 1980s film "Less Than Zero."

Silvertop embodied L.A. in the 1980s movie Less Than Zero. Click any image for a slideshow.
Silvertop embodied L.A. in the 1980s movie Less Than Zero. Click any image for a slideshow.

And yet Reiner never got to live in it.

The house was originally expected to cost $75,000, but Reiner, a dream client if ever there was one, put no limitations on Lautner. Absent any pressure to economize, costs soared to more than $1 million. Reiner and a business partner even formed a corporation to support Lautner's office, freeing up the architect to focus on Silvertop, according to Reiner's obituary in the Los Angeles Times. Eventually, though, the partner sued Reiner, who lost the house in bankruptcy.

In 1974, the house sold to another family, the Burchills. They finished off Silvertop with Lautner's help and lived there right up to the present day.

Forty years later, it's on the market again. "They had great fun, and that is why they stayed so long," Mary Burchill Maxson said of her parents. But now her father has died, and her mother is in her 90s and wants to be closer to her children in Northern California, she told the Wall Street Journal.

Silvertop is listed at $7.5 million with Crosby Doe Associates. Offers are to be reviewed in about two weeks, on Aug. 25.

Click here or on an image for a slideshow of Silvertop.

And see a Wall Street Journal report about the house (after the "Burn Notice" star's sale) here: