At L.A. Conservancy tour house, 'period' comes with surprises
Some people move into a house and adjust to their surroundings. When Lisa Edwards and Tracy Moore moved into their 1926 Wilshire Park home, it was more like they and the house became fast, dear friends: Each gave a little, appreciating each other's wonders and uncovering the other's personality and past.
Over five years, they have woven family treasures with the original architecture to make a place both unusual and instantly comfortable. Japanese pieces mix with Mexican pieces. Modernist, minimalist chairs designed by Harry Bertoia for Knoll fit comfortably with the exuberantly decorative tiles by the pool. Hollywood photos mingle with folk art.
Edwards, a rabbi, and Moore, who is retired, have painted the walls with enthusiastic colors — orange, red and blue — mirroring the attitude these two women bring to a house full of books and art. When Moore is showing a visitor around, Edwards warns that her wife could talk about the house all day.
Their home is one of six stops on a Nov. 6 Los Angeles Conservancy tour to show off three Historic Preservation Overlay Zones: Wilshire Park, Country Club Park and Windsor Village.
The neighborhood, just south of Wilshire Boulevard about five miles west of downtown, was home to wealthy people as well as residents who bought “cute little colonials,” said Robby O'Donnell, a former neighborhood association president who worked hard to get the HPOZ established.
The original occupants of Moore and Edwards' four-bedroom house were Polish immigrants, the second Jewish family on the block, a couple who owned a shop in Boyle Heights, Moore said. The architect isn't known, but the house, also home to six children, was built with just one bathroom.
“We want to really showcase historic houses, especially in Historic Preservation Overlay Zones, as being historic and yet really current with today's time,” said Linda Dishman, executive director of the conservancy. “That house shows a great respect for history but a very strong current of the owners' personality and their love of color.”
The way Moore and Edwards live in their Spanish Colonial Revival illustrates “how homes that are historical don't have to look like museums,” O'Donnell said.
“My mother was an interior decorator — not by vocation. She would walk into people's houses and rearrange things. A lot of people asked her to do it,” Edwards said.
When the couple saw the house, there was no doubt: They walked in, picked up the phone and began the process of making the house their home, Moore said.
The process continues. Just a few weeks before the tour, roofers were at work on the multicolored concrete tiles. Swatches of paint in greens and grays could be seen all over the stucco exterior as they decided on just the right shade.
Steps beyond the front door, past the huge coral tree that takes up nearly half the yard, the blending of times and places begins in the living room, with its 14-foot barrel ceiling, original crown molding and what they believe is an authentic Batchelder tile fireplace.
“One of the requirements was that it be able to hold my family rug,” Moore said.
The red and blue Oriental-style rug was made in the early 20th century and belonged first to Moore's cousin's grandparents, then the cousin, and then Moore's parents before it came to her. When she and Edwards lived in New York City, they had only enough space to partially unroll it on the floor.
Over the mantel hangs a portrait of Virginia Woolf by California-born artist Anne Hoenig, and on the mantel sits a large bowl, collected on one of the couple's trips to Oaxaca, Mexico. On another wall is a 1962 George Barris photograph of Marilyn Monroe, bucking the sex goddess stereotype in a large-weave sweater.
“We are not big fans of Marilyn Monroe, but I just loved that photograph,” Moore said.
Two long cushy white couches flank an enormous ottoman, covered in kilim — a piece Edwards calls the “Ottoman empire.”
One of Edwards' favorite spots is the doorway between the living and dining rooms. Four panels of glass doors cleverly and elegantly fold as they open and close. (That's Moore demonstrating the doors, right.)
“I instantly loved them, but I didn't get the whole design of them until we moved in,” she said.
Edwards, 59, and Moore, 68, also have lived in Iowa City, Jerusalem and Brooklyn, and some possessions are equally well-traveled, including the Ivers & Pond piano.
Moving often provides stories, and the piano has one. Edwards and Moore arrived in New York on a Friday, and their movers tried to get the piano to their second-floor apartment. They could not. And so they unloaded it on the street, leaving Moore and Edwards to assume they'd take turns guarding it all night long. (They did find a 24/7 piano mover — “this was New York,” Moore said — and all was well.)
The red walls and long wooden table in the dining room call visitors into a space where Edwards and Moore show off their passions.
In one corner stands a fanciful statute by Oaxacan folk art master Irma Blanco, whose whole family makes terra cotta ceramics, Moore said. Nearby, under a folk painting, is a 1970s black lacquer credenza that came from Edwards' parents.
And in a tabletop glass-fronted cabinet, tiny treasures: Edwards' childhood collection of netsuke and inro, carvings made to wear on the obi, or sash, of Japanese kimonos. Her brother collected coins, and one day her father came back from a trip with him to a coin shop with two figurines for her.
“When I was a kid, I had some glass menagerie animals, and my parents — I didn't understand this at the time — were always looking for something to distract me from following my older brother. He's a rabbi, so they weren't all that successful.”
But she was hooked on netsuke, to the extent that among the books on a shelf is “Netsuke: The Netsuke Collection of the Peabody Museum of Salem” by Margie M. Krebs and Edwards, a catalog she took time from college to write.
Moore, who retired as a major gifts officer at KPCC-FM (89.3), said she and Edwards don't cook so much as “assemble” meals, but their kitchen has a marble-covered peninsula that's a pastry maker's dream. Although previous owners renovated the room, they kept the original cupboard and added black-and-white subway tiles for a period effect, making Moore's grandmother's metal juicer look at home.
The iron dining table belonged to Edwards' family. On its glass top sits a lazy Susan painted with Japanese women that they had made at a gallery in Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. Under the glass is a large Mexican bowl. Nearby there's a wooden chest from India, a photograph of Audrey Hepburn wearing a gown from “Sabrina” and a black-and-white drawing called “Frida in a Men's Suit” by Los Angeles artist Hector Silva. Four watercolor portraits by Lisa Schoenfelder are of friends.
They all work together, none taking all the attention, each getting its share.
Off the kitchen, Moore and Edwards put in a second bathroom, which has wainscoting made from wood that was part of the garage. It is decorated with a couple of $10 prints, also from Oaxaca.
They each have an office. Edwards, the rabbi at Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, has a walk-in closet in hers that's full of bookshelves.
The hallway is an extravagant 5 feet wide, enough room for the built-in telephone table and desk. The far wall is painted dark blue as the backdrop for another piece of art — a magical flying sail boat made in part from found objects: dimes, spoons, umbrella spokes and a drum stick.
It's the back of the house that's most playful. In the tangerine-colored master bedroom, their bed is covered in a patchwork quilt. Over the bed is a cozy photograph of the couple sitting on the bed, under the quilt, Moore wearing red-and-white striped PJs that had belonged to Edwards' father, and she's leaning over, perhaps sharing something interesting she's just read.
Glass doors lead outside, where there's a spa and small pool, a place to eat, plants and a garage. Along the pool is a wall of colorful tiles they collected in Mexico. One wall is painted bright pink, to match the bougainvillea. Another, actually the neighbor’s wall, is sky blue. Still another is mustard-colored. It's surprising and fun, but there's another surprise to come: Moore opens the garage door to reveal that one of the three bays has been turned into an indoor-outdoor room looking onto the pool (photo at top of post).
Dan Garness, the designer who worked with the couple, said they tried to keep the house quiet on the front and save the explosion of color for the back. “It's a total secret,” he said. “You slide that door back and … whammo.”
The Los Angeles Conservancy presents one in its series of “At Home With History” tours on Nov. 6, focusing on three recently designated Historic Preservation Overlay Zones west of downtown L.A. The HPOZs — Country Club Park, Wilshire Park and Windsor Village — are among 29 in L.A. The three are adjacent to one another, sharing a border along Crenshaw Boulevard near Olympic Boulevard.
Two private homes in each of the HPOZs will be open for docent-led tours. Participants can visit the homes and wander the neighborhoods in any order and at any pace. The conservancy says that visiting all six will take about four hours. The houses in Wilshire Park are the 1926 Spanish Colonial Revival home featured in Home and a Beaux-Arts/Italianate house from 1920. The Country Club Park houses are the 1913 Mediterranean-style Milbank Mansion and a 1913 Craftsman originally owned by USC music professor Horatio Cogswell. In Windsor Village, participants can see an eight-unit courtyard apartment complex built in 1936 in the French Eclectic style and a 1915 Prairie-style home.
The tour is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine. Tickets are $40 ($30 for conservancy members) and $10 for children 12 and younger. Tickets can be bought through the L.A. Conservancy.
-- Mary MacVean
Photos: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times