How Silver Lake Became L.A.'s Most Competitive Housing Market

Photographed by Spencer Lowell

"An absurdly high percentage of L.A.'s odd, idiosyncratic and interesting creative people," make their home on the Eastside, says Moby, whose upcoming vegan restaurant is one of many businesses betting on the city's historically bohemian, increasingly hip neighborhood.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

This summer, L.A.'s Department of Water and Power slowly began draining Silver Lake's eponymous 800 million-gallon reservoir in order to install a pipeline to a new underground water storage tank a mile away.

The massive task — undertaken to meet more stringent federal water-quality standards — is expected to take about 18 months. Along with street closures, construction noise and debris, the project will see the neighborhood's pride and joy transformed from a shimmering lake into a repository for bulldozers and other equipment.

Developed in the 1920s and '30s, Silver Lake famously has been a haven for bohemian artists and counterculture types, with silent film star Mabel Normand, writer Anais Nin, singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, showrunner Jill Soloway and actress Kathryn Hahn just a small sampling of its notable residents over the years. "An absurdly high percentage of L.A.'s odd, idiosyncratic and interesting creative people," says musician Moby, who will open a restaurant in Silver Lake this fall and makes his home in the neighborhood's Eastside sibling Los Feliz. "It kind of reminds me of the East Village in the '90s crossed with Madison, Wisconsin." However, in a distinctly Los Angeles way, home prices in the neighborhood have been escalating steadily in recent years (9.4 percent in the past year, according to Zillow), and the bohemian crowd increasingly is being priced out by big Hollywood and tech-startup spenders: In December, real estate website Redfin declared Silver Lake's housing market to be the most competitive in the city for 2014, with nearly 56 percent of homes sold for above the asking price.

Will a dry reservoir put a damper on values? "I'm telling clients who ask about listing homes around the lake to hold off if possible," says Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage agent Karen Lower. "You're not going to be able to command a top, premium price when the view is of a huge concrete pit."

There are, of course, exceptions when it comes to the area's plentiful notable houses, designed by such luminaries as John Lautner, Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler — in which case, view, schmiew. "For a lot of the clients we work with, Silver Lake's main draw is its important architecture," says Ilana Gafni, an agent with Crosby Doe Associates, which recently handled sales of Silver Lake's Kambara Residence (designed by Neutra), the Schindler-designed Falk Apartments and the Reiner-Burchill Residence, better known as Silvertop. Designed between 1956 and 1976 by Lautner (whose own home was just a block away), the futuristic 4,700-square-foot property located high above the reservoir's west side was put on the market in August 2014 by 40-plus-year owner Jacklyn Burchill. A bidding frenzy ensued, with publisher Benedikt Taschen (owner of another iconic Lautner home, the Chemosphere in the Hollywood Hills) and actress Kate Mara reportedly among those vying for ownership.

When the dust settled, the victor turned out to be a longtime local, Beats by Dr. Dre president Luke Wood. The final sale price was $8.55 million, $1.05 million over listing and the loftiest sale price ever for the neighborhood — though it could have gone for even more. "There were higher bids," reports Gafni, "but Mrs. Burchill really wanted the home to go to someone from the neighborhood."

Wood fit the bill. "I'm OG Silver Lake," he says. "I was living in New York when I was transferred to Geffen Records in L.A. in the mid-'90s and [music manager] John Silva showed me around. I loved Silver Lake right away. There's a tremendous sense of community; it's very egalitarian. There are tradespeople, banking people, all sorts of people. It's a true old-fashioned neighborhood." To oversee Silvertop's restoration, Wood has enlisted Silver Lake-based architect Barbara Bestor, whose firm also designed the AIA award-winning Beats campus in Culver City.

Among Bestor's other area projects is a six-bedroom, seven-bath modern located on a double lot at the top of Los Angeles' second-steepest street, Baxter. Commissioned in 2006 by screenwriter Michael Ferris (The Game, Terminator 3), it commanded Silver Lake's second-steepest sale price in April when writer-director-actor Mark Duplass and his wife, actress Katie Aselton, purchased it from film producers Callum and Sara Greene for $4.4 million.

"The minute the Baxter house came on the market, I got a call from Katie, who's a real estate junkie," recalls Lower, who represented Duplass and Aselton on the sale. "She told me, 'I've had my eye on that house since the day it was built. Let's get it!' " As with Silvertop, competition was stiff, resulting in the couple paying above the asking price to seal the deal.

Still, most Silver Lake homes, even many with enviable design pedigrees, hover around the $1.5 million to $2 million range: A three-bedroom on Micheltorena, just steps down the hill from Silvertop, was listed Oct. 8 for $1,495,000 and already is in escrow.

While some properties circling the lake may not be able to command top dollar for the next year or so, the rest of the neighborhood is booming in residential and retail developments. Among the projects percolating are the launch of Whole Foods' new concept chain, 365 by Whole Foods Markets, on the site of a former Ralphs on Glendale Boulevard as well as a bumper crop of small-lot condo complexes.

But perhaps the most buzzed-about addition to the neighborhood is Moby's restaurant, Little Pine, set to debut in November. The musician has lofty ambitions for the organic vegan venture. "I want an absurd level of excellence," he says, citing Chez Panisse as one inspiration. "I don't imagine that in a few years people will be talking about Alice Waters and Little Pine in the same breath, but I like the idea of having these crazy aspirations and you do your best to achieve them."

As Little Pine's sole owner, Moby has a hands-on approach: designing the decor, attending city council meetings and yes, planning the music. "The goal of music in a restaurant is to blend in with the sound of people talking and eating," he says. "I categorically loathe restaurants with loud music." He intends to be a regular fixture. "There's no point in being an entrepreneur who opens a restaurant if you don't plan on being there every day. This place is going to be my social life, for better or for worse."