Thomas Mann’s Pacific Palisades House: Fortunate Purchase

By Mitzi Blahd
Special to the Palisades News

Recently, I read in the Los Angeles Times that the Thomas Mann house in the Riviera neighborhood had been purchased by the German government for more than $13 million. Mann was a German novelist, short-story writer and social critic who won the 1929 Nobel Prize in literature. In 1988, the German government bought Villa Aurora from the estate of Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger, who were early arrivals in 1938 to Pacific Palisades.

This article evoked many happy memories of the Mann home on San Remo, as, on Sunday, Aug. 16, 1998, the Palisades Library Association held its most successful fundraiser ever at that site. At $75 per person we had an overflow of people. We had to make shifts at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. to accommodate everyone.

Thomas Mann’s home on San Remo Drive was purchased by the German government.
Thomas Mann’s home on San Remo Drive was purchased by the German government.

At that time, we were trying to raise money to build our town’s new library. I was personal friends of the owners, Jon and Chet Lappen, and they agreed to let us have a program there to honor the famous previous owners of their home, Thomas and Katia Mann.

The Manns had fled Germany in 1938 as the threat of war moved closer. Thomas was not Jewish, but his wife Katia was, so he accepted a guest professorship at Princeton. Moving west in 1942, they found an “inexpensive” piece of land in the Palisades on San Remo.

The Manns chose Julius Ralph Davidson as their architect, and named the house “The House of Seven Palms.”

In 1952, when the Manns moved to Switzerland, the Lappens purchased the property directly from the couple.

Thomas Mann in 1937
Thomas Mann in 1937

With luck for the fundraiser, I was able to locate the two personal secretaries of Thomas Mann: Konrad Kellen and Hilde Reach.

Kellen was the first to assist Mann, until he went to war in 1943. On his return, he was employed at The Rand Corporation. Interesting was the fact that he and his family lived right across the street from Villa Aurora on Paseo Miramar. Right under my nose, and I didn’t know it.

After Konrad left Mann’s employment, the couple found Reach, who lived in Santa Monica. They were both speakers at the library fundraising event, and were wonderful. They recalled many insights of the Mann household, aside from their duties as secretaries. It was wonderful.

Also among the honored speakers were our very own treasures, Betty Lou and Randy Young, who gave us the historical side of the times. They were perfect in helping make this program the success it proved to be. Like all good events, we had refreshments and a harpist playing in the garden. I made a few remarks, especially thanking the board members who worked tirelessly to make this “party” the grand success it was. What a day!

My love of history, and being a proud life member of the Pacific Palisades Historical Society, provoked this article. What a wonderful time, what happy memories, and all for the good. We have a first-class library and a community that helped to make it happen.

(P.S. As a personal note: Jon Lappen, who was a native of Los Angeles, told me that her mother was the first white child born on Catalina Island. I found this very interesting, and I believe the family still maintains a home there.)

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