Thomas Mann House in Pacific Palisades

Wednesday, 7 October 2020 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Greater Los Angeles Area

© Mirkomlux/cc-by-sa-4.0

© Mirkomlux/cc-by-sa-4.0

The Thomas Mann House (German: Thomas-Mann-Haus) in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, in the U.S. state of California is the former residence of Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann, who lived there with his family during his exile from 1942 until 1952. Designed by the architect Julius Ralph Davidson, the house at 1550 San Remo Drive was built in 1941/42. In 2016, it was acquired by the German federal government, and opened on June 18, 2018 as a place for transatlantic dialogue and debate.

The Thomas Mann House is located in the Riviera neighborhood of Pacific Palisades, west of Los Angeles. During the National Socialist era, many German-speaking émigrés found refuge in the United States. California and especially the greater Los Angeles area became a preferred place of exile for many artists, writers, and intellectuals, as well as other emigrants. Pacific Palisades is also home to the Villa Aurora, the residence of fellow exile Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife since 1943. While staying in the elegant Brentwood neighborhood in the summer of 1940, Thomas and Katia Mann decided to move to California. In 1941, they rented a house above Santa Monica Canyon. That same year, they bought a 1.5-acre property in Pacific Palisades, which was part of a lemon plantation. They had also been offered today’s Villa Aurora, but they wanted a new building, smaller and cozier.

Thomas Mann named the house and the entire property “Seven Palms” after the seven palms planted on the grounds. The Manns also worked with an émigré when it came to designing the garden. In 1942, Theodor Löwenstein, born in Battenfeld and emigrated to the United States in 1931, designed the garden for US$ 1,100. Besides working as a gardener, Löwenstein also served as president of the German Jewish Club of 1933 between 1936 and 1938. Thomas Mann wrote some of this most important works while living at the house, including his novel Doctor Faustus, large parts of the fourth volume of his tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers, and numerous political speeches and writings expressing his opposition to the German National Socialist regime, including most of his radio broadcasts Deutsche Hörer! (Listen, Germany!). Disappointed by American post-war politics and McCarthyism, Thomas and Katia Mann, together with their daughter Erika, left the house in July 1952 and returned to Switzerland where they had previously lived in exile between 1933 and 1938. Worried about his reputation in the United States, Mann on November 7, 1952, wrote to Agnes E. Meyer from Zurich that he wanted to sell the house in California; he did not want to leave the impression, however, that he turned his back on America. He would remain an “American citizen,” he wrote. Living in Erlenbach, Switzerland under cramped circumstances, complaining that the study would not even accommodate a sofa, he wrote to Agnes E. Meyer in September 1953 that he missed his Californian house. He never again saw the villa, “that home which I have come to love.” In September 1953, the American lawyer Chet Lappen and his wife Jon bought the house for US$ 50,000. The family added additions and an outdoor swimming pool and lived at the property until 2010. After that, the house was rented for several years, but remained in the possession of the Lappen family.

Driveway © Concord/cc-by-sa-4.0 © Hrbkrl/cc-by-sa-4.0 © Mirkomlux/cc-by-sa-4.0
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Driveway © Concord/cc-by-sa-4.0
In the summer of 2016, the poorly maintained building was put up for sale, without any mention of its prominent former owners. The villa was in danger of being demolished. Herta Müller, fellow Noble Laureate in Literature, and other writers warned of the potential loss of an important place of German exile literature. Politicians, including State Minister for Culture Monika Grütters and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, embraced the idea to transform the residence into a place of remembrance and encounter. In November 2016, the German federal government bought the house for approx. US$ 13 million. The reconstruction, which cost some US$ 5 million, began in 2017. The building was fully refurbished. The floor plan remained the same, as did Thomas Mann’s study. In July 2018, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported about behind-the-scenes trouble in connection with the house and the academic program. This resulted in a controversy regarding the renovation and the internal structures of the Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann e.V. association — executive director Annette Rupp left the association at the same time. On June 18, 2018, the Thomas Mann House was opened by Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The opening took place during the presidency of Donald Trump, a time of tensions in U.S.-German relations. In his inauguration speech, Steinmeier said: “The struggle for democracy and for a free and open society is what will continue to unite us, the United States and Germany.” The opening was also attended by Katia and Thomas Mann’s grandchild Frido Mann who had spent parts of his childhood at the house.

The Thomas Mann House is funded by the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, and private foundations. The Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House e. V. is responsible for planning the program of the Thomas Mann House. The house offers a residency program for up to five Fellows simultaneously. The main building is able to accommodate four fellows, while a fifth fellow can stay in a new building next to the swimming pool. The fellowships, with a monthly stipend of € 3,500, are funded by the Bosch Stiftung and the Berthold Leibinger Stiftung as well as the Krupp-Stiftung. The goal is to offer an “opportunity for dialogue and exchange among each other and with the host country about the big issues of our time.” Since the opening of the house in June 2018, a variety of programs have been developed under the direction of program director Nikolai Blaumer: conferences, readings, concerts, and discussion events that, based on the Fellows’ research projects, are held in cooperation with various partner institutions in the United States and in Germany. Besides academic discourses, the program increasingly engages with cultural and political issues. The program of the Thomas Mann House kicked off with a conference on The Struggle for Democracy on June 19, 2018. The conference was opened with a keynote speech by Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The 2019 program included a multi-day conference entitled Moral Code – Ethics in the Digital Age, which took place at the University of California, Los Angeles. Fellow Damian Borth joined American scholars for a discussion about new ways of communicating and the ethical implications of the use of digital technologies.

Read more on Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House e.V. and Wikipedia Thomas Mann House (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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