Last Owner of Thomas Mann’s Riviera House Dies

By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief

Three-and-a-half months after celebrating her 100th birthday with four generations of family members, Jon Leonard Irmas (Tyroler) Lappen died on July 25. Jon, with her husband Chet, were the last people to own Nobel Prize-winning novelist Thomas Mann’s house in The Riviera before selling it to the German government to avoid its destruction.

Mann, one of Europe’s cultural luminaries who fled the war-torn continent during World War I and II, moved into the secluded property with his wife, Katia, and daughter, Erika, before leaving to avoid McCarthyism in 1952.

“As both an artist and a patron of the arts, Mom was thrilled when she and Dad bought Thomas Mann’s home in Pacific Palisades in 1952,” Jon’s obituary read. “The area was very rural at that time and was replete with many lemon orchards and our home had dozens of those trees.”

Tim Lappen described his mother to the Palisadian-Post as “gracious, kind, loving, involved and compassionate.” She was mostly a stay-at-home mother, who raised four kids in their Palisades home.

“My main memory of my mom is the fact that she was a kind and loving woman,” Tim said. “Many people use the word ‘elegant’ to describe her.”

Tim recalled growing up in the home, knowing it was special because the family would often host guests who wanted to see the house.

“It was fun for me, showing people around,” Tim shared, adding he remembered one tour, to his parents’ surprise, that he gave when they were not home.

“Mom loved to share the house with visiting Thomas Mann scholars, German government visitors and inquisitive tourists, all of whom saw our home as a mecca of sorts,” the obituary read.

Tim explained that growing up, the doors were never locked and at that time, there were no fences around houses.

Tim moved out of the house in 1965, with his siblings, John, Andrea and Sally, all leaving within the same decade. Jon then converted one of the bedrooms into an art studio, where she could be found working in clay or casting bronze.

Throughout the course of their life together, Chet and Jon traveled the world and were active in many local events and groups. Jon served as president of the Los Angeles Municipal Arts Commission in the early 1980s, a member of Henri Temianka’s California Chamber Symphony Society, various PTAs, and Scout and Bluebird troops, to name a few.

After Chet passed away in 2010, Jon moved into a retirement home and they rented out the house to a few families before putting it on the market for $18 million in June 2016.

Germany purchased the 5,266-square-foot house, designed by modernist architect J.R. Davidson, on San Remo Drive for $13.25 million in November 2016 with the goal of converting it into an artist residence.

An open memorial service is being planned for Jon at 2 p.m. on October 27 at Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles.

“Mom passed away as she lived—peacefully, gracefully, elegantly and with her loved ones nearby,” the obituary read. “Her loving presence and kind heart were well-known to all who ever met her.”

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