L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Preservation

'Atomic Ranch Midcentury Interiors': Modern living with 'Mad' looks

Atomic Ranch: Midcentury InteriorsDuring a recent trip to San Diego, I drove by my childhood home in Point Loma. The low-lying 1956 ranch house still looked the same from the street. Were my hand prints still in the patio concrete? I also found myself wondering if the home’s period details inside remained. The lovely diamond pane windows with the stubborn hand cranks were gone. And surely the small kitchen with its funky brown appliances had been edited by now. But I hoped the wide brick and flagstone fireplace -- the one that could easily seat four and doubled as a stage for my sister and me -- was still there.

Atomic Ranch coverRetaining those classic ranch-house elements while adapting to modern living is precisely what Michelle Gringeri-Brown, editor of the quarterly Atomic Ranch magazine, tries to encourage through her new book, “Atomic Ranch Midcentury Interiors.”

“We try to point out the charm of original features,” Gringeri-Brown said in an interview. “We encourage homeowners to be cautious. Don't rush to gut the whole thing before you make interior design choices that can’t be undone. The period pieces often stand out as things to be appreciated.” 

Gringeri-Brown credits the popularity of “Mad Men” for fueling appreciation of ranch houses. A new generation is attracted to what she calls “retro cool.” Ranch houses also appeal to aging baby boomers who are wary of stairs. “Because ranches were built when property was cheaper, they tend to sprawl on one floor and have a larger yard,” the author said.

This is her second book on ranch houses with husband, photographer Jim Brown, and it highlights eight homes, from a tract house in Calistoga, Calif., to a split-level in Ohio. (That's a 1958 house in San Mateo, Calif., at the top of the post.) Homeowners share their remodeling stories, offer tips on projects such as windows and plumbing, and detail the design elements they have retained. In one case, homeowners found original metal kitchen cabinets in their garage. The book is filled with creative ideas as well as informative sidebars, floor plans, vintage photos and a list of nearly 200 resources.

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Rare tour of six Greene & Greene homes this weekend


For the first time in two decades, the Gamble House in Pasadena is organizing a tour of several nearby Greene & Greene homes — five houses and one garden, each reflecting the evolution of Charles and Henry Greene’s iconic Craftsman designs.

PHOTO GALLERY: Two houses on the Arroyo's Edge tour

Gamble House director Edward Bosley led a sneak peek earlier this week inside a couple of the stops on the Arroyo's Edge tour, including the Duncan-Irwin House (1906-08), pictured here. Among the surprises inside: a fully enclosed central courtyard that delivers abundant light to the rambling interiors, and the house’s original “annunciator,” essentially a call box with dials to indicate which of four house doors a visitor might be ringing.

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Palm Springs Art Museum plans architecture and design annex

Palm Springs architecture design museumThe Palm Springs Art Museum plans to create an architecture and design exhibition and study space by restoring a Midcentury Modern building by E. Stewart Williams. The 1960 glass-walled building in downtown Palm Springs, a short walk from the museum, was built in the International style to house the Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan. In its new incarnation,the building will be called the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Edwards Harris Center for Architecture and Design.

“It’s incredibly unique," museum spokesman Bob Bogard said. "All of the walls are glass. It’s a really elegant building.”

Los Angeles architect Leo Marmol, whose Marmol + Radziner Architects will oversee the restoration of the building, called Williams "an incredibly powerful Modernist who yet had grace and sensitivity" in his designs. The museum, Marmol said this week, will be one of the few stand-alone architecture and design spaces in the country; in a time of economic uncertainty, the project is a message of hope, showing that the museum is "committed to our future by preserving our past."

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Silent film studio revived as architect's live-work retreat

Peter Becker studioA hundred years before “The Artist” made its run for Oscar history, American Film Co. arrived in Santa Barbara and produced nearly 1,000 silent films in what the industry considered Hollywood North. You can find out about the influential Flying A, as the studio was called, and take a trip back in time at the recently opened Santa Barbara Historical Museum exhibition “The Flying A: Silent Film in Santa Barbara.” Or if you're architect Peter Becker, you can simply take a walk in your garden.

Becker is the proud owner of what had been part of the Flying A. His long, narrow garden, planted circa 1913, still has the original redwood pergola and a profusion of Cecile Brunners, the ubiquitous soft pink roses that bear successive flushes in spring, summer and fall.

“Indeed, they seem to be in bloom year round,” says Becker, who believes his Cecile Brunners may be some of the earliest plantings of the rose in Southern California.

PHOTO GALLERY: Peter Becker's garden and home

They are but one part of the silent film studio once located at Chapala and Mission streets — at its peak, “one of the most influential studios in the world, cranking out nearly a reel or two a day,” says Dana Driskel, studio professor of film media studies at UC Santa Barbara.

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John Lautner designs open during Palm Springs Modernism Week

ElrodBecause so many of the home tours during Palm Springs Modernism Week have sold out already -- who wouldn't want to see Frank Sinatra's Modernist pad?  -- we're pointing out that tickets are still available for tours of two John Lautner landmarks.

Architecture fans can still get tickets to see John Lautner landmarks in the desert: The Hotel Lautner in Desert Hot Springs and the Elrod House in Palm Springs

Lautner's Elrod House (1968), shown above, will be open for five public tours Feb. 24-26 to benefit the Los Angeles Conservancy and the MAK Center for Art and Architecture. The home, famous for its domed concrete roof and wedge-shaped skylights, was featured in the 1971 James Bond film "Diamonds Are Forever." Tickets for the tour are $45; the tour with a special brunch on Feb. 26 is $99. 

Prior to the Elrod House, Lautner designed what is now known as the Hotel Lautner (1947) in nearby Desert Hot Springs. It will open to the public for the first time since a renovation by its owners, designers Tracy Beckmann and Ryan Trowbridge. They, along with board members of the John Lautner Foundation, will offer tours and answer questions from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 19. Tickets are $25. A three-course dinner follows at Two Bunch Palms for an extra charge. Tickets are available online through the John Lautner Foundation

A detailed list of tours, lectures, films and other events is posted to the website for Palm Springs Modernism Week, which runs Feb. 16-26.


John Lautner photo gallery

Lautner's Los Angeles legacy

Lautner's Harpel House restored

-- Lisa Boone

Updated: This post was updated with a different lead photo.

Upper photo courtesy of Expoint Realty

Lower photo credit: Dan Chavkin

UCLA Japanese garden supporters meet to preserve public access

UCLA Japanese garden azalea
For those interested in helping the Garden Conservancy, the Los Angeles Conservancy, the California Preservation Foundation and the California Garden and Landscape Society brainstorm ways to keep the UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden open to the public, there's a gathering Tuesday. Kendall Brown, an expert on Japanese gardens in America, will discuss the historical importance of the garden, which is scheduled to be put up for sale next month.

The gathering will be from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Community Magnet Charter School auditorium, 11301 Bellagio Road, Los Angeles. Carpooling is recommended because parking is limited. Reservations: Paulette DuBey of the Bel-Air Assn., (310) 474-3527; paulette@belaironline.org.


Preservationists decry alteration, sale of UCLA garden

-- Emily Young

UCLA Japanese garden
Bel-Air resident Michael rich walks through the UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden.

Photos: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

'Downton Abbey': 10 facts about the show's real castle

Downton Abbey library
As savvy TV and movie viewers have come to realize, most locations that they see on screen are created through a combination of extravagant budgets and talented set designers. Even when luxe exteriors are genuine (such as on “Gossip Girl” or “Revenge”), the interiors are created on sound stages. The PBS hit “Downton Abbey," now in its second season, is the lush exception to this rule.

Downtown Abbey castleThe real home of TV’s grand Grantham clan is Highclere Castle, an estate by Charles Barry, who also built the Houses of Parliament. He completed Highclere Castle in 1842 on 1,000 acres of English countryside near Newbury, on land inhabited since 1672 by the Carnarvons.

The current Lord and Lady Carnarvon (Geordie and Fiona to their friends) have discovered that allowing the cast and crew to infiltrate their home and grounds provides gains that are not merely financial.

“The best part has been sharing this romantic castle and home with so many people from around the world,” Lady Carnarvon said. “And ‘Downton’ has helped revitalize an interest in history.”

The author of the new book “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle” (Broadway Books), Lady Carnarvon admitted to a downside of having attractive actors and actresses traipsing through her house clad in sumptuous Victorian fashions.

It's an invasion, she said. “The thick wires and cables snaking everywhere, the cameras, the trollies, the white vans obscuring the drives and the dust that collects as a result.” Her advice to anyone who’s thinking of letting their own home become an onscreen one? “Have a good sense of humor!”

Right now, as the third season of the show has just started filming, Lady Carnarvon is keeping a close eye on the family heirlooms, not to mention her dogs, which love scarfing food from the catering tables. But she did find time to talk with us about Highclere’s richly appointed rooms, which are nearly as big a lure as the show’s romantic plots and family intrigue. The result is the following list of 10 things you may not know about the real “Downton Abbey”:

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Preservationists decry alteration, sale of UCLA Japanese garden

Hannah Carter Japanese Garden

As UCLA began removing antiques from its Hannah Carter Japanese Garden on Tuesday, landscape preservationists decried plans to alter and sell the property and asked for help keeping intact what they said was a historically significant design.

The Garden Conservancy, a New York-based preservation group, criticized the removal of centuries-old artifacts from the Bel-Air garden. A five-tiered stone pagoda and a wood-and-gold leaf Buddha were among the objects that were to be removed in preparation for the sale and taken to the Fowler Museum at UCLA and other spots on the Westwood campus.

Describing the garden as “an exceptional Japanese-style garden built in America in the post-World War II period” that is “in critical danger,” the conservancy urged UCLA to preserve the site. It also launched an email campaign urging the public to write the conservancy and the office of UCLA Chancellor Gene Block.

“We’re horrified that the garden’s future is at risk,” Garden Conservancy President Antonia Adezio said by phone. “We’d like UCLA to speak with us about finding some other way to proceed. We’d like to broker some sort of agreement or partnership with someone who can take on responsibility for the garden.”

Late last year, the university announced its intention to put the Bellagio Road garden on the market, with the expectation that the sale would generate about $4.2 million for endowments and professorships. The university cited annual operating costs -- $120,000 for maintenance and $19,000 for staffing -- as part of the reason for the sale. Deferred maintenance was pegged at $90,000.

Brad Erickson, executive director of UCLA’s Campus Service Enterprises, which manages the university’s real estate, said a court ruling in 2010 cleared the way for the school to sell the property. The fact that the garden is not used for any academic program at UCLA, he said, also was a factor in the decision.

“The university, like a lot of other state-supported institutions, has been looking for ways to raise money and focus revenues,” Erickson said. “We looked for any university properties not used for academic purposes that had high value and came up with four. We’re also selling properties in El Segundo and Malibu.”

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In Pasadena, Wallace Neff's last remaining 'bubble house'

Wallace Neff Shell House

Wallace Neff Shell ownersWhen we asked L.A. at Home contributor Jeffrey Head to adapt part of his new book on the so-called "bubble houses" of iconic L.A. architect Wallace Neff, Head reminded us that the last remaining bubble house in the United States can be found in Pasadena. The house was the subject of a Times feature back in 2004. Owners Sari and Steve Roden, right, noted at the time that Neff may be best known for Spanish Colonial Revival mansions, but they adored their petite bubble house and likened their experience to living in modern sculpture.

Almost eight years later, are the Rodens still there? Turns out they are, and Steve said he still "can't imagine living anywhere else."

We've posted the full text of the 2004 article below. You also can read Head's adapted excerpt from "No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff" and browse the related photo gallery, which includes more images of bubble houses, past and present.

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The rise and fall of Wallace Neff's bubble houses

Bubble house construction
Wallace Neff (1895-1982) may be best known for the Spanish Colonial Revival homes he designed for Hollywood stars including Judy Garland, Groucho Marx and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., but Neff considered his most significant contribution to the field of architecture — his legacy — to be a type of construction called Airform.

Bubble house bookAirforms were often called “bubble houses” because a gigantic inflated balloon was used to create their round form. They were Neff's solution to a global housing crisis, and in the 1940s and '50s, Airforms went up around the world — Airform houses in South America and Africa, Airform schools in Mexico, Airform wine storage facilities in Portugal, even Airform grain bins in Jordan.

PHOTO GALLERY: Wallace Neff's bubble houses

Among the structures that were completed locally: a 1942 bubble building for Vernon swimsuit maker Cole of California, who used the Airform for war-time parachute manufacturing, and 1944 projects at Loyola Marymount University, which used one bubble house as a dormitory for university employees and a “triple igloo” (three bubble structures combined) as a work space for engineering students. Neff's largest bubble structure, 100 feet in diameter, was an industrial laundry facility constructed in 1944 for the Pacific Linen Supply Co. in downtown Los Angeles.

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