Curiosity for Rent: Hopi bungalows in Echo Park
Ronald Atwater stands in the Hopi Village, a dream his grandfather realized back in the 1930s. With his bear paw hand, Atwater lists eight properties built by his grandfather, H. Gale Atwater, and his father, Eugene Atwater, along Avon Park Terrace in Echo Park.
The best known are two Pueblo Revival properties with Mayan flourishes, designed by Robert Stacy-Judd, an architect known for exotic designs that cashed in on the Meso-American craze in the late 1920s. The three-bedroom rentals at 1431 and 1433 Avon Park Terrace stand fortress-like with massive wooden drain spouts, rough-hewn timber and thick, irregular-edged adobe parapets. Trim is painted bright orange and aqua.
“Those two buildings were way over budget and a disaster financially for my grandfather,” Ronald says with an easy, full laugh, the 71-year-old's mop of hair still thick and blond. “They were finished in 1931, a year that was also a national disaster.”
H. Gale Atwater, “a big dentist in L.A. for his day,” Ronald says, was keyed to community. “That was the socialist ideal in those days. We always had a cow, and we all split chores. He kept buying up lots, and then just dissolved all the boundaries.”
H. Gale Atwater hired Stacy-Judd after the first two adobe homes built at the rear of the 3-acre property seemed a bit staid. Stacy-Judd, true to his reputation, designed fantasy structures in a mash of styles that a writer for Cabinet Magazine called “cross-cultural transvestism.”
Stacy-Judd became known after his fanciful 1925 Mayan style Aztec Hotel lighted up the national and international press. “The Aztec Hotel was the most widely known building in Southern California at the time,” Marcello Vavala, preservation associate at the Los Angeles Conservancy, said of the 44-room property in Monrovia. “After that, his salesmanship and self promotion kicked in.”
Other Southern California buildings designed by Stacy-Judd include a 1951 Masonic Lodge in North Hollywood, the 1932 First Baptist Church in Ventura (now a Church of Religious Science) and the 1935 Philosophical Research Society in Los Feliz.
Ronald Atwater says his grandfather was drawn to Hopi Indians, and especially the “sort of ideal commune or tribe” in which they lived. “I remember Robert Stacy-Judd’s blueprints for the property. They had ‘Hopi Village’ written on them.” Ronald lists the properties that surround him, most built after Stacy-Judd’s design: Two adobe homes behind the Stacy-Judd buildings, the Cowboy House further down, and up another drive, a large clapboard four-bedroom home, an adobe studio and the Cat House where Ronald stays during visits from his home in Santa Barbara.
“We call it the Cat House because the woman who once lived there kept a lot of cats,” says Ronald, pictured at right. The dirt roads and gravel driveways between the eight properties, along with porches, ramshackle balconies and overgrown gardens, do seem ripe for community. The renters who pay $4,500 a month for each of the two front properties, however, largely stay sequestered behind thick adobe walls.
Ronald's son Toby, 31, recently renovated the adobe-style studio that fronts the Cat House, adding tile work to the kitchen and bath.
“Toby’s following right along,” Ronald says, pointing to an ocean view he saw as a child that is rarely visible now. “He’s the fourth one in line to fool with all these houses.”
-- R. Daniel Foster
Curiosity for Rent, the back story to novel and notorious rental complexes in Southern California, appears here on Wednesdays. Suggestions welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: R. Daniel Foster