Acting as a renovating team, an Encino couple invests in a 1920s storied estancia—and scores the ultimate blend of sophisticated family home and treasured historic relic.
Written bySuzanna Cullen Hamilton
Century-old elm and olive trees drape over the hand-plastered white garden walls, while wisteria rambles around the interior courtyard. A fountain burbles near the front entrance, where mature roses surround the historic Spanish colonial home of Penny and Glen Alpert. It is akin to a secret garden—one enchanting area unfolds into yet another remarkable space.
“We were told it was a teardown, so we just came to look at the land,” says Penny, a grief specialist with the support center Our House. However, oversized brick construction from the early 20th century and honorary diplomat tiles over the front door hinted that this house had a history.
One of the first occupants of the home, which was built in 1929, was American film director and choreographer Bobby Connolly, best known for his work on The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland, we’re told, sang at the grand piano in the living room while the bar was filled with film stars of the era.
TREASURE TROVE Left: The couple has filled their home with art purchased on their travels. The painting over the mantle in the great room—by Russian artist Andrei Zadorine—was bought in Paris. DOOR #1 Right: Visitors to the Alpert estate walk through this two-tone wooden door. The front is stained dark; the courtyard-facing side is stained a lighter honey hue. “I think it is from China. We got it at Berbere World Imports years ago!” says Penny.
A series of owners came after Connolly, as did many iterations of decorating. However, the good bones of the house remained. In 1975, astronaut Gordon Cooper and his wife, Susan, purchased the property. Although Cooper was fastidious on his NASA missions, he lived with the windows thrown open and let the gardens grow wild with abandon. The house and gardens were in this unhindered state when Penny and Glen first saw it.
“We were so smitten with the history of the house and the gardens that we wanted to preserve all of the details,” says Glen, a business manager. Without a contractor, Penny and Glen plowed into the decade-long renovation.
Fortunately, the floor plan was never altered, and the original floors, doors and windows were sound. Still, the restoration work needed to bring it into the 21st century was formidable.
CHARMING NOOKS Above: The family, including sons Wyatt (left)and Jeremy, enjoys an afternoon snack at an aged zinc table. Below Right: The home’s original tile is the focal point of a guest bathroom.
A dazzling array of early American encaustic tiles gives vibrant color and pattern to the bathrooms. Although some of the bathroom fixtures were worn, Penny and Glen opted to restore them. The Alperts sought inspiration from the Adamson House in Malibu, where a significant collection of decorative tiles reveals the Spanish influence on early 20th-century California homes.
In the expansive living or “great” room, with its multitude of seating areas, paint was removed from the beamed ceiling to accurately reflect the period. Like many older homes, quirky elements often reveal secrets. A vault hidden in the living room floor was originally installed to conceal liquor during prohibition, and it later housed Buddy Holly’s guitar.
The Alpert’s initial infatuation with the house has evolved into an enthusiasm for all elements of design. “We are passionate collectors, and this house has become a reflection of our life together,” says Penny.
French paintings, Spanish antiques and collections as disparate as first-edition books, English silver and early model trains fill the rooms. “We buy things we love and ultimately find a place for them,” adds Glen.
While the interior renovation was significant, the landscape restoration was monumental. “Our biggest undertaking was the re-establishment of the gardens,” says Glen.
FIT FOR A KING A Renaissance-style stained glass window with the couple’s intertwined initials hangs above the French doors. The couple bought the large screen painting (circa 1920s) on a trip to Paris. Below: Mature olive trees flank the entry, which is accessed by a shaded courtyard.
Working with landscape architect Christine London, the original rock walls surrounding the property were disassembled and moved to create interior courtyards. “We numbered every rock in order to recreate the exact walls,” says Penny.
With enthusiasm, curiosity and patience, Penny and Glen have preserved a slice of history. Perhaps more importantly, though, they’ve created the perfect place to raise their two sons—and the kids “get it.”
“Our sons have grown to love this house and appreciate both the process and the sense of familial history it provides, and we’re glad that they want to preserve that continuity,” says Penny.