Real Estate Surfer Real Estate and Community News

Nov. 6, 2022




I'm a licensed realtor in Nevada and California so I invest a lot of hours Priusing from the shady turf of Las Vegas to the sunny surf of Malibu and back again. And because I am a Mid Century Modern Lover, that’s what I look for.


And I find it. Everywhere. 

 Clara Bow by the sea, looking kind of punk circa 1927.


“My life in Hollywood contained plenty of uproar. I'm sorry for a lot of it but not awfully sorry. I never did anything to hurt anyone else. I made a place for myself on the screen and you can't do that by being Mrs. Alcott's idea of a Little Woman.”

- Clara Bow

Searchlight, Nevada is about exactly halfway between Las Vegas and Needles and in Searchlight is a classic example of Mid Century Modern. Which is of special interest to me as it was home to Clara Bow: Five foot three, a girl who moved to the desert from the sea.


Clara Bow was also another daughter of a double race, although in her case it was a movie star who was the most popular star of the silent movie era and had some rough times making the transition into the talkies of the 1930s. 


Clara Bow as the It Girl, the biggest movie star of the silent era, the Madonna of the Roaring Twenties: Sassy, saucy, pretty, spirited, a non-conformist. 


To quote John Wayne in True Grit and Val Kilmer in Tombstone: “She reminds me of me.”


Aerial view of the Walking Box Ranch house, Searchlight, Nevada

In 1929, Clara Bow was one of the first movie stars to lease property from May Rindge and build a beach cottage in the Malibu Colony. One of my favorite photos is Clara Bow looking sassy in high heels, a gun belt and a sombrero wearing a tight one-piece suit standing next to a wooden surfboard: a punky portrait taken in 1927.


Clara Bow made the transition from silent movie to talkies but by the early 30s The It Girl was tired of It All. Atlas Obscura picks up the story from there and explains her transition from the sandy surf to the sandy desert:


WHEN SILENT FILM ACTORS CLARA Bow (aka “The It Girl”) and Rex Bell got married in 1931, they desperately needed an escape from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. Searchlight, Nevada yielded the perfect landscape, an uninhabited desert far away from the glitz and glamour, where the couple could, at long last, live in complete solitude.


Rex and Clara’s escape was a Spanish Colonial style ranch complete with a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a cactus garden on a 400,000 acre plot of arid land, located just a short ride away from the Nipton stop of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. The ranch was named the “Walking Box Ranch” in reference to the Hollywood box cameras - nicknamed “walking box cameras” - that followed the Bells throughout their star-studded acting careers. In fact, the image of a box camera mounted on a tripod remains the ranch’s logo to this day.


Over the years, the Walking Box Ranch grew to be one of the most well-known celebrity homes in all of Nevada. During the 1930s and 40s, Rex and Clara regularly invited many of their Hollywood friends for a relaxing get-together at the ranch, including Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Errol Flynn. Not only was the ranch a movie star getaway, but it also operated as a functioning cattle ranch until the 1980s. The old barn, livestock corrals, and water troughs remain standing at the ranch today.


As of now, long after the death of Rex and Clara, the Walking Box Ranch remains in its original form and is now listed under the National Register of Historic Places. Now run by the Bureau of Land Management and offering guided tours, everyone is invited to visit the formerly secluded getaway.


The Malibu Colony - or what’s left of it - after an October 26, 1929  fire in John Gilbert’s house combined with the Devil Winds to take the whole place out. Most of the Colony residents had gone north on the train for USC vs Stanford football. They returned to find their beloved beach cottages gone. A few days later, the Stock Market crashed on Black Monday. Hard times for the 1%. Photo: Wanamaker/Bison Archives.

Clara Bow’s beach cottage in the Malibu Colony is long gone. Malibu Colony is layered like Las Vegas and one charry layer was laid down in 1929 when most of the beach cottages in the Colony burned after a fire broke out in the cabin of John Gilbert. The Devil Winds were up and the whole shebang went up in smoke and ash.


The beach cottages were quickly rebuilt by 1932, but since then, increasingly wealthy and architecturally-ambitious people famous and anonymous have moved into the Malibu Colony, and razed most remnants of Mid Century Modern. 


According to architect friends, Malibu was a showplace for Mid Century Modern through the second half of the 20th Century, because Malibu is the kind of place where you want a spacious house that lets the outdoors in.


Illustration of John Lautner from Architectural Review.



There is a Las Vegas to Malibu connection in John Lautner (1911 - 1994). Again with the Wikipedia, one more time:


John Edward Lautner (16 July 1911 – 24 October 1994) was an American architect. Following an apprenticeship in the mid-1930s with the Taliesin Fellowship led by Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner opened his own practice in 1938, where he worked for the remainder of his career. Lautner practiced primarily in California, and the majority of his works were residential. Lautner is perhaps best remembered for his contribution to the development of the Googie style, as well as for several Atomic Age houses he designed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which include the Leonard Malin House, Paul Sheats House, and Russ Garcia House.


It is ironic that, although famous Lautner works like the Carling and Harpel houses, the Chemosphere and the Sheats Goldstein Residence have become inextricably linked with Los Angeles in the public imagination, Lautner repeatedly expressed his dislike of California. In his oral history interviews he was highly critical of the standard of architecture in Los Angeles, and idealized the rural Michigan environment of his youth, as he recalled in 1986:

“My childhood, I had a hundred miles of beaches, private beaches, you know: no people, no nothing. I mean, just go swimming anywhere you want, and no problem. The coast here to me is just ugly, you know, it's crazy. Malibu is nothing to me, it's just crazy." ... Oh it was depressing. I mean, when I first drove down Santa Monica Boulevard, it was so ugly I was physically sick for the first year I was here. Because after living in Arizona and Michigan and Wisconsin, mostly out in the country, and mostly with good architecture ... this was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen ... If you tried to figure out how to make a row of buildings ugly, you couldn't do it any better than it's been done [here]. I mean they're just ugly, naturally ugly, all the way. There isn't a single, legitimate, good-looking thing anywhere.



This image may contain Building and Architecture

John Lautner’s Mid Century Modern Stevens House in the Malibu Colony and the Segel House on Carbon/Billionaire Beach. Photos from the Internet.


John Lautner designed two homes in Malibu that I admire. Beach-front homes that spin my propeller. Open homes with “ample windows and open floor plans, with the intention of opening up interior spaces and bringing the outdoors in.” 


The Lautner Segel House is along Carbon Beach - aka Billionaire Beach. Moving away from Wikipedia, a story on the house in Architectural Digest details and describes the allure of this house nicely nicely.


Anyone who has ever delighted in a love affair with their home can appreciate the impulse to break into swooning rhapsodies that might otherwise seem hyperbolic or saccharine. Chalk it up to the power of place. So when Jamie McCourt, former CEO and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, describes her dazzling John Lautner beach house in Malibu as “a living organism” and “one of my closest friends,” she can hardly be faulted. After all, most disciples of great design would give their eyeteeth to have such a friend.

“This house breathes with me,” muses the high-octane entrepreneur, whose career has encompassed real-estate development, investing in tech start-ups, and tending the Napa Valley vineyard she purchased in 2013. “The trees, the boulders, the water—they keep me grounded,” she continues. “You look out at the ocean and hear the waves, and you understand your own insignificance in a bigger world.”

McCourt bought the cedar-clad, copper-roofed residence on tony Carbon Beach in 2006 from Courteney Cox and David Arquette. Built in 1980, the nearly 7,000-square-foot structure bears all the hallmarks of Lautner’s most acclaimed projects: striking spatial adagios, avant-garde engineering, sculptural applications of wood and concrete, and a kind of organic spirit that feels at once primitive and futuristic. 

Yes, please! John Lautner's Stevens House letting in some Golden Hour light on a classic Malibu winter setting sun scenario.

Striking spatial adagios indeed, and the same is true for the Stevens House, which was built in 1968 - quite possibly on or near the bones of Clara Bow’s house.

In July of 2017, Neal J Leiterer for The Los Angeles Times wrote about the latest caretaker of the Stevens House:

Ed Norton, who last year lent his voice to the animated comedy “Sausage Party,” has spent some serious mustard on an oceanfront home in Malibu. 

Set on 37 feet of sandy beachfront, the modernist triumph draws inspiration for its curved form from the shape of waves. Built in 1968, the wood-and-concrete residence features retractable walls of glass, herringbone-patterned floors and wood slats that filter natural light. An open-air section shelters a swimming pool.

A step-down living room, an eat-in kitchen, five bedrooms and five bathrooms also lie within nearly 3,400 square feet of interior space. Rear decking and a front courtyard create additional living space outside.

The property was offered four years ago for $22 million, about double what it sold for, records show. More recently it was listed for $13.75 million.

The Stevens House, from the inside looking out. Lovely.

Words don’t really do this house justice, but photos do. Like in this story on the Lautner House from

Built in Malibu Colony in 1968 by the famed California architect, the design of the Stevens House was inspired by the waves that wash up on the sand. Dan Stevens interviewed many famous architects to design a 5 bedroom, 5 bath house with a pool on a 90 x 37 foot lot. All of them said it was impossible. Not Lautner. The first house Lautner built in Malibu, he designed the structure with 14 I-steel beams that support two half catenary curves that became the concrete wall and ceiling. From the outside, it resembled the ocean waves while the interior evoked a nautical boat-like ambience. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.


Light and space, all for the guy who inspired Ace Rothstein, the Robert Deniro character in Casino. The house was designed to let light in, but keep bullets out. Photo from online.

While researching all of this, I saw a notation for a house Lautner designed for “Rosenthal, Las Vegas - unbuilt.”

I wondered if that was for Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, the connected gambling genius portrayed by Robert Deniro in Casino

Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal and Geri McGee circa 1969.

Casino: Robert Deniro as Sam "Ace" Rothstein with Sharon Stone as Ginger McKenna

Unbuilt, I guess we’ll never know. But the actual house Lefty Rosenthal lived in is one of the more interesting/infamous Mid Century Mobster…. Sorry Modern houses in Las Vegas.

This house like all Mid Century Modern was built to let the light and outdoors in, but also to keep bullets and bombs out. According to The Las Vegas Advisor:

During the height of his Las Vegas career, Lefty resided with his wife Geri, portrayed by the inimitable Sharon Stone, and their children, at 972 Vegas Valley Drive. It's on the east side of the Strip, just south of Karen Avenue between Joe W. Brown Drive and Maryland Parkway and, yes, it's located on the grounds of the Las Vegas Country Club in the city's original guard-gated community, featuring views of the fairway on which federal agents once landed that small plane. 

The failed assassination attempt took place just a few blocks away in the parking lot of Lefty's favorite restaurant, the (now-gone) Tony Roma's located at 620 E. Sahara Avenue.

It's still there, a 3,300-square-foot three-bedroom three-bath and it has quite a history. In addition to the great view, when Lefty's two-story former residence came up for sale in 2011, some of the more unusual particulars of the home included bulletproof doors and picture windows, a gun hiding place, evidence of a former safe in a closet floorboard, state-of-the-art (for the time) surveillance equipment, and a possible bullet hole.

Following a fire in the late '70s, Rosenthal hired celebrated interior designer Steven Chase to completely redesign the home, so there were many more conventional period touches, including the intercom system, fabric-lined closets (to protect Geri's furs), mirrored ceilings, marble bathrooms, and "casino-style" lighting. One report we've seen called it "wiseguy chic."

Construction workers from the Stardust carried out the rebuild after the fire, so there are also other casino-esque features, like the steel floating staircase and industrial-strength stone work and framing. Subsequent owners commented that when a phone engineer saw the electrical room, he observed, "You guys could tap the whole neighborhood with this." (A former phone box by the swimming pool allowed the justifiably paranoid oddsmaker to switch lines multiple times if he suspected a wire tap.) One of the few amenities the property didn't have in common with its neighbors was a second-floor balcony, which was considered too much of a security risk.

The house has been sold numerous times since the Rosenthals occupied it, so it's been upgraded numerous times. Still, you can see photos on Zillow from the last time it was sold, in December of last year, for $835,000, here. It also changed hands in 2017 ($697,500) and 2011 ($615k). When Frank and Geri Rosenthal purchased the property in the early '70s, it cost them $15,000 plus change.


The McNeil Estates to The Malibu. La Concha to the Colony. Lautner to Lefty. Mid Century Modern moves me. Letting the outside in turns me inside out. 


Oct. 20, 2022



Letting the Outside In from McNeil Estates to Malibu

Part One of Two.

Mid Century Modern home in McNeil Estates

A classic Mid Century Modern home in McNeil Estates, Las Vegas.


Like the sedimentary rock you see from the waterless bottom of Lake Mead to the snow-covered top of Mount Charleston, Las Vegas is a many-layered thing: history, neighborhoods, casinos, scandals, winners, losers, characters, and homes. A long, layered history going back to the Paiute Indians scratching out a living by the bubbling springs as early as 1100 AD, then fast forward to the early 1800s when Rafael Rivera stumbled across meadows/vegas and a spring in 1829. John C. Fremont found the same thing 15 years later, then the Church of Latter Day Saints established a fort along that bubbling spring in 1855.


And from the mid 19th Century, many many layers of civilization, subjugation, urbanization, hellish dam-building, Rat Pack, irrigation, fertilization, suburbanization, gangsters, thugs and architecture. Layers, from family homes to resort casinos.


Las Vegas has many layers out here in the middle of the desert. Layers a real estate agent gets to know when showing homes from one end of town to the other.


You’re so square, baby I don’t care:  .85 miles northwest of the Erotic Heritage Museum, 3632 feet from the closest In N Out Burger, 1.51 miles northwest of the Stratosphere Tower, 2.46 miles southwest of the Fremont Street Experience, 26.72 miles as the drone flies from Charleston Peak. McNeil Estates - a step back to modern living in the mid 20th Century. Image snipped from Google Earth.



One of the layers is a neighborhood between The Strip and Fremont Street, about one and a half miles west of the Stratosphere Tower. McNeil Estates has a 20th Century charm: the tree-lined streets are quaint and peaceful and Leave it to Beaverish, yet close enough to the Art's District, and all of the action Las Vegas is famous for, yet removed enough that you feel you are in a quaint bubble. There are block parties and Wine Walks, parks and lots of barking dogs: during the pandemic they were zooming up a storm! McNeil is not just a neighborhood, it is a community, bedecked in rich architectural history and fascinating people who have ventured from near and far to live there, on the "westside."


According to Jack Levine, Owner of  Very Vintage Vegas:


“One of the most popular – and certainly one of the most charming of all the Vintage Las Vegas Neighborhoods is commonly referred to just as “McNeil”. Most of the homes were built in the early 60’s but the neighborhood dates back to the late 40’s and 50’s for some of the earlier homes. Most are what we’d call a “Ranch Home” but there’s a few “Mid Mod” or “Desert Modern” homes as well. There are a few 2 story homes but mostly McNeil is a single story neighborhood.”



I am a modern girl, living in a very modern 21st Century world, but the homes in McNeil Estates that catch my fancy, are houses I’ve learned to identify as Mid Century Modern. They are reminiscent of the past, hold up well in the present, and are still modern enough to manage to look good on any Dwell Magazine cover. 


Why does Mid Century Modern catch my fancy? Apologies for using the Wikipedia definition, but this made sense to me:


The Mid-century modern movement in the U.S. was an American reflection of the International and Bauhaus movements, including the works of Gropius, Florence Knoll, Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Although the American component was slightly more organic in form and less formal than the International Style, it is more firmly related to it than any other. Brazilian and Scandinavian architects were very influential at this time, with a style characterized by clean simplicity and integration with nature. 


Like many of Wright's designs, Mid-century architecture was frequently employed in residential structures with the goal of bringing modernism into America's post-war suburbs. This style emphasized creating structures with ample windows and open floor plans, with the intention of opening up interior spaces and bringing the outdoors in. Many Mid-century houses utilized then-groundbreaking post and beam architectural design that eliminated bulky support walls in favor of walls seemingly made of glass. Function was as important as form in Mid-century designs, with an emphasis placed on targeting the needs of the average American family.


“This style emphasized creating structures with ample windows and open floor plans, with the intention of opening up interior spaces and bringing the outdoors in.”


That’s me in a nutshell, or seashell if you will, and it’s why I like Mid Century Modern. I’m a surfer living in the desert. I like space and light and I like the outdoors, and so I love an architectural style that lets the outside in - whether the outside is a view of Mount Charleston or the Pacific Ocean.





Paul Revere Williams strikes a pose outside his most-seen creation: The Theme building at Los Angeles International Airport. Photo courtesy of Julius Shulman Photographis Archive/The Getty Research Institute.

“Without having the wish to ‘show them,’ I developed a fierce desire to ‘show myself,’ I wanted to vindicate every ability I had. I wanted to acquire new abilities. I wanted to prove that I, AS AN INDIVIDUAL, deserved a place in the world.”

- Paul Revere Williams 1937 in American Magazine. 


According to The Las Vegas Nevada Museum: “Paul Revere Williams was born in Los Angeles in 1894 and became an architect despite being told by a teacher during his time at Polytechnic high school “Your people will not be able to afford you and white people will not hire you. Be a doctor or a lawyer, because your people always need those.’” 


Mr. Williams shook shook shook it off, followed his heart and talent and passion and became the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the first African-American to be elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. 


Whole Lotta Williams circa 1965 - the La Concha Motel and the El Morocco:

Ref: VR 4745G – Florian Mitchell Collection ca.1965 

As recently as 2017, Williams was awarded the AIA’s highest honor: The 2017 Gold Medal, recognizing individuals whose work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.


The citation reads:


With a client list that reads like a who’s who of Hollywood history, Paul Revere Williams developed an incredible portfolio of nearly 3,000 beautiful buildings during his five-decade career that was marked with a number of broken barriers. An architect whose work carried the glamour of classic Southern California style to the rest of the world, Williams was the among the first black students admitted to the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, the first black architect to become a member of the AIA, and, later, the first black member to be inducted into the Institute’s College of Fellows.


“Our profession desperately needs more architects like Paul Williams,” wrote William J. Bates, FAIA, in his support of William’s nomination for the AIA Gold Medal. “His pioneering career has encouraged others to cross a chasm of historic biases. I can’t think of another architect whose work embodies the spirit of the Gold Medal better. His recognition demonstrates a significant shift in the equity for the profession and the institute.”


Born in Los Angeles in 1894, Williams was orphaned by the age of four and was later raised by a foster mother who valued his education and encouraged his artistic development. Despite a high school teacher’s attempts to dissuade him from pursuing architecture for fear that he wouldn’t be able to pull clients from the predominantly white community while the black community would not sustain his practice, Williams persevered. Confident in his abilities, Williams garnered accolades in architectural competitions early in his career while developing tactics like rendering his drawings upside down so that his white clients could view his work from across the table rather than by sitting next to him.


“His obstacles were great, but nothing could extinguish his brilliance. Unable to participate in the ‘old boys’ network that boosted the careers of most architects of the day, he found ways to distinguish himself and garner clients,” wrote Karen Hudson in her book Paul R. Williams Classic Hollywood Style.


Williams opened his practice in the early 1920s when Southern California’s real estate market was booming. His early practice focused both on small, affordable houses for new homeowners and revival-style homes for his more affluent clients. As his reputation swelled, so, too, did his client list. Williams’ practice expanded and among the 2,000 homes he designed include graceful private residences for legendary figures in business and entertainment such as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lon Chaney, Frank Sinatra, and Barron Hilton.


While Williams was more than comfortable with the historical styles endemic to Southern California, his fluency in modernism is reflected in the work outside of his residential practice. Among his number of schools, public buildings, and churches are American architectural landmarks, including the Palm Springs Tennis Center (1946) designed with A. Quincy Jones; the space age LAX Theme Building (1961) designed with William Pereira, Charles Luckman, and Welton Becket; and his 1949 renovation of the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel. Eight of Williams’ works have been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

The entrance to the Las Vegas Neon Museum, formerly the La Concha Motel.


In and around Las Vegas, Williams’ work can be found in the mid century layers: He designed the super cool La Concha Motel (1961 - 2004) which is now the home of one of my favorite places in Las Vegas: the Neon Museum.


Williams’ residential developments included Carver Park in Henderson and Berkley Square near Westside. He also designed the stunning Guardian Angel Cathedral off of the Strip and the Jockey Club for Las Vegas Park racetrack.



Clara Bow looking punk  John Lautner's Stevens House, Malibu Colony

Clara Bow styling in the Malibu Colony circa 1927, and John Lautner's Mid Century Modern classic Stevens House.


Aug. 28, 2022





Agoura Gothic. Athena and P blazing in the grass of his new home in Agoura Hills.


Isak Dinesen is the woman who wrote Out of Africa but she also wrote "The cure for anything is salt water: Sweat, tears and the sea."

And that proved true in the three months I invested in finding a home and place in the sun for my friend who I will call P.

Before Covid, P and I rented rooms in a place in Malibu for awhile and we both loved it. But Covid and other circumstances inspired me to move to Las Vegas, where I earned my Nevada real estate license and later my California license.

When P decided he wanted to buy a home, he chose me and I didn't want to let him down.

The problem with living in Malibu is most other places don't compare. But Malibu is the home of the million-dollar mobile home and P wasn't going to live in mobile home - so we put in a lot of miles looking for homes from Silverlake, to Simi Valley to Santa Clarita, Venice, Oxnard, Camarillo.

The Southern California real estate demand and supply ebbs and flows like the ocean, and our search took a while.

Months. P got an increase in his home loan and we put in bids on places but got swamped by other bids.

The news reports there is a mass exodus from California but that doesn't seem to be true.

After three months of sweat and tears, we made an offer on a 1,677, three bedroom, two bath home in a sunny part of Agoura Hills.

More sweat and tears but on August 21, we sealed and closed the deal. 

I went surfing to celebrate, and P was nice enough to take some photos of me.

They don't call Athena The Real Estate Surfer for nothing.
Here she is shredding at County Line after closing her third real estate deal.

Sweat, gears and the sea. That was a very satisfying day - sealing a deal on a place in the sun for P, and then going surfing to wash away the sweat and the tears, but not the satisfaction of helping a friend buy a home.

Whether it's Surf City or Sin City, I would like to do the same for you.

Thank you.

Athena Shlien.


Athena and P find a place in the shade in P's place in the sun.
Smiles all around.



Posted in Buying a Home
June 23, 2022


Selling Real Estate is a lot like surfing: Gotta be on your toes, and ready to pop up and GO! The excitement and challenge of surfing are those ever-changing conditions that keep you guessing.

                                              The Real Estate Surfer in Malibu, waiting for that last ride to shore, captured by Ted Silverberg. 

The same could be said for Real Estate: Positioning. Timing. Awareness of currents and trends and ebb and flow.

From California to Nevada, people are moving about as they never have before. We live in a global economy, and post-pandemic, working from home, or from the road, or from anywhere you want has become the new norm. 

Overview of Malibu from above Dictator Hill, and Las Vegas overview from Lake Las Vegas.

This new workspace has created unprecedented freedoms and opportunities. For Las Vegas, people who would never have dreamed of moving to the desert are finding that it's dreamy out there: Culturally vibrant, exciting, fun, beautiful. An energized, cosmopolitan, international city, out in the middle of the desert.

And Malibu is in the top five most desirable places to live in the world: Weather, natural beauty, a small, rural town so close to the rattle and hum of a major city.

Selling real estate in this climate - in both of these climates - is exciting!! I can see the challenges and benefits of living in these charming cities, both known for sun and sin, and for extravagance, but there is much more once you scratch the surface. This blog will be on honest exploration of the many facets of both. 

Let me help you find your place in the sun, and the fun.

The Real Estate Surfer feeling free at The Rock, Malibu.