From Koreatown to Encino—
the journey and preservation
of a 127-year-old historic colonial.
Written byRachel Heller •
Days after she and her husband closed the purchase of their sprawling southern colonial estate, Cantor Judy Greenfeld sat on the front steps of her new home and did something akin to praying.
“I was overwhelmed with the work that had to be done,” she recalls. “I was really in awe of this property—I could feel its potential. I wanted to respect the house and its integrity. So I asked the universe: What does this house need from us? What can we do to help make it a part of us?”
The answer turned out to be an elegant re-imagining of interior space that invited warmth and comfort yet preserved the centenarian dwelling’s classical charm. With the help of interior designer Peggy Braswell, Judy and Mike Greenfeld transformed their Encino home into a gracious, traditional-style retreat that now performs triple duty: part living space, part synagogue and part religious school for the Nachshon Minyan, the independent Jewish congregation Judy founded five years ago.
It’s just the latest incarnation of a residence with a storied past and a soulful pedigree. The home once belonged to Motown crooner William “Smokey” Robinson, who sold it to the Greenfelds in 2002.
Mike and Judy swear they weren’t looking for new digs when they stumbled onto the for-sale notice in the newspaper early that year. Intrigued by the celebrity cachet, they stopped in for a look. They saw core elements they liked but also the months of work they’d have to put into the house to revise it to their tastes. The kitchen was too cramped for their family of four. A creek, installed in the back yard years before, barely functioned. The plain tar driveway begged for a redo in concrete and pavers.
A walkway lined with impatiens leads to a guesthouse the Greenfelds converted into an office and religious school for the Nachshon Minyan.
“I looked at Mike and said, ‘I’m in cantorial school. I have to graduate. There’s no way I’d have time for a house like this,’” Judy recalls. “But he saw its beauty—the house has great energy.”
The couple hired Braswell to oversee a sweeping renovation that reconfigured much of the 6,200-square-foot estate while preserving its southern charm. They reproduced the original dentil crown molding in the living and dining rooms and chose antique wavy glass panels for the kitchen windows. They kept the original hardwood floors but stained them a rich espresso brown.
Among the most extreme changes the Greenfelds made was doubling the size of the kitchen. To create the space they needed, they enlarged the entire northwest corner of the house by enclosing patios on the first and second floors. In the extra space beyond the extended kitchen, they built a window-lined family room that overlooks the 1.7-acre back yard.
Braswell replaced heavy window fabrics and dark wall colors with a bright, airy ambiance and an ornate collection of traditional, contemporary and antique furnishings. Each room wears a palette of cheerful neutral colors and sumptuous fabrics, accented with potted palms.
As the team progressed through their sweeping renovation, the home revealed a trove of historical secrets that the Greenfelds have taken care to preserve. “Turns out the structure had been originally built in 1884 near present-day Koreatown,” says Mike, co-founder of The Ant Farm entertainment marketing agency and president of the board of New Community Jewish High School in West Hills. In 1912, records show, Dr. O.C. Welbourn had the wooden colonial cut into three sections and rolled into the Valley on logs. It was one of the first houses on the block. Seams are still visible in the eaves where the sections were rejoined.
In the 1920s and 30s, when Encino was open country, the residence was used as a mining camp and a stable. Grammy award-winning recording artist Smokey Robinson bought the property around 1989. For the last nine years, it has served the Greenfelds well as the dream house they never expected to own.
“This house is our retreat,” says Judy, who is now studying to become a rabbi. “It’s a collaboration of so many moments and memories from our life together. It’s such a confirmation of everything we’re about.”