Anna Sten, the Ukrainian film actress, and her film producer husband Dr. Eugene Frenke, came to Hollywood under the aegis of Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn thought he had found his “Russian Garbo,” but had failed to reconcile that hope with Sten’s inability to speak English in the age of talking pictures. Just after their arrival, the couple hired fellow émigré Richard Neutra to design a house for them in the hills of Santa Monica.
The house Neutra built for Sten and Frenke was a simple European style modern house washed a light grey cement color. Sited on a double lot, it occupied only one, and was surrounded by a wall of rough cast “California” blocks. Although the house looks like modern concrete houses in France and Germany, it is remarkable for the amount of continuous glass ribbon it supports on its wooden “balloon frame” construction.
In 2005 the Sten-Frenke House was photographed by legendary photographer Julius Shulman. Although Shulman’s career began the same year the house was completed, in 1934, he didn’t photograph it until the 2005 restoration was finished. Post-restoration, the house had never looked better and with all the passion of a man half his 95 years, Shulman spent two remarkable days scouring the site for photographs. His images will forever define the house.
Sten-Frenke House, Santa Monica, California, by Richard Neutra, Pentagram Architects