Her brother Bruce lives about 25 minutes from the house and is “up there most afternoons.” If there’s a tour going on – around 7,000 people visit the Stahl House each year – he likes to sit in, waiting until the end to reveal to the astonished visitors that he grew up there. The interior is styled by professionals now, using the kind of high-end mid-century modern furniture that Buck and Carlotta would never have been able to afford, though their green shag carpet covering the wall behind the lavatory is still in place, as are some plastic daisies that Shari gave her parents when she was a little girl.
In the 1950s, the ridge on which the Stahl House stands was a popular spot for necking, known as “Pecker Point”. Surrounded on three sides by cliffs, the tip looked to Buck like “an island in a sea of blue sky”, when he saw it through the sliding glass doors of the one-bedroom flat that he and Carlotta rented after they married in spring 1954 .
Pecker Point was also one of many spaces in the city that were waiting for new construction. Los Angeles in the 1950s was a clanging, sawing, hollering hive of building work, as hoards of Americans, freed from world conflict, moved to California in search of new opportunities.
One morning, Buck and Carlotta drove up the hill to take a look. Stepping out of their Cadillac, they were surprised to see someone else on the lot – as luck would have it, the owner George Beha, and he was looking to sell. They struck a deal on the spot: $13,500, payable in monthly installments of $200 plus interest, with Beha carrying the mortgage. Only when it was paid off could the building work begin. Their friends told them they were crazy.
While they waited, Buck and Carlotta began driving around LA, eyeing the refuse piles at building sites. “We’d ask them, can we have your broken concrete?” recalled Carlotta, and little by little, they acquired enough to level the lot. Buck did it by hand, because they couldn’t afford to lease grading equipment. He’d been a fitness instructor in the Navy during the war, which helped – as did his day job, drawing movie posters for the likes of Howard Hughes: Buck also made his own architectural model, sculpting its curves and terraces out of empty beer and soda cans covered with clay.