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Earthbound UFO Up for Sale

January 25, 1985|T.W. McGARRY | Times Staff Writer

"It's regarded as an example of Lautner's way of dealing with a difficult lot and also as a typical example of a far-out, L.A. way of designing a house," said Alson Clark, director of USC's Art and Architecture Library.

There are constant requests to use the house in films and commercials, Phillips said, but he rejects almost all of them. He made an exception for "Body Double" because director Brian De Palma was "very persuasive, and they offered me a lot of money--$30,000 for four days, and it's all tax free because of the IRS code that you don't pay taxes on rental income of less than 14 days."

He said he agreed only on condition that the movie makers not only treat the house well, but that the house not be the scene of any "graphic sex or violence . . . or anything very negative, anything that would do damage to the character of the house."

The movie makers complied, he said.

1976 Murder

Ironically, the house was the scene of a real-life murder in 1976, when its second owner, Dr. Richard F. Kuhn, was stabbed to death in a robbery by two men, one of them a homosexual lover of the doctor's. The lover, Garland Danny Campbell, then 19, and Alfred Toliver, 20, were convicted of the slaying and sentenced to life in prison.

The house has picked up other legends through the years. One is that it was originally constructed for a pilot or aerospace engineer, as an appropriate residence for man who dealt with speed and flight.

That is not true, said the first owner, Leonard Malin, now a Yucca Valley real estate broker.

He was a mechanical engineer at the time he asked Lautner to design the house, Malin said, with no connection to aviation or aerospace.

Several years later, after he was living in the house, he took a job as payload integration manager for the Titan III missile program at Aerospace Corp., he said, which probably began the legend that "the flying saucer house" had been designed for an aeronautical or rocket fuel engineer.

The house had its origin when his father-in-law, who owned a house up the hill, gave him and his wife the "unbuildable" slope, Malin said. A TV newscaster lived nearby in a Lautner-designed house. Through him, Malin met others who lived in the distinctive houses created by Lautner "and I decided that was the man I wanted to design my house," he said.

He presented Lautner with his problem lot and "John thought he could foist this design on me because I was stupid enough to build it," Malin joked.

Built for $140,000

"The lowest bid from a general contractor in 1957 was $525,000, so I quit work for 18 months and built it myself with John de la Vaux for $140,000. When anyone asks me why I built that house, I tell them it was because I had a total lack of comprehension of what I was getting into."

He and De la Vaux, a builder, first had to construct a system of utility poles and cables, like a ski lift, to haul material to the site, he said.

When they ran short of funds after spending about $93,000, he said, the house's startling appearance, with its already apparent appeal to advertisers, attracted financial help to finish it.

The Southern California Gas Co. provided about $25,000 in material and appliances in return for an agreement to outfit the house as a showcase for gas-using appliances, and rights to use both the house and Malin for promotional purposes, he said.

"I had to go around giving talks for six months and take tours through the house," Malin recalled. "Heck, I was an exhibit at the county fair, standing in a booth with pictures of my house."

He said the house was named the "Chemosphere" for promotional purposes by the Chem-seal Corp. of America, which contributed material used in the roof coating and other parts of the house.

Besides its two bedrooms, the house has a den, kitchen, two bathrooms and a large living room, with a fireplace in the center. Phillips added a 550-square-foot, one-bedroom guest house at the foot of the slope.

The pod is not actually circular, as it appears to be at a distance, but has eight sides and is 65 feet across.

It sits on a column of steel-reinforced concrete, 30 feet tall and five feet thick. The column goes four feet below the ground, where it expands into a steel reinforced concrete pad 20 feet in diameter, which goes another three feet down into the bedrock. The weight of the 31-ton pad, and the earth compacted above it, hold the house up, like a barbell with one end buried in the earth.

Lautner and De la Vaux argue that the house is safer in earthquakes than conventional houses because it is free to react to shock waves without constraint and move as a unit, bobbing like a cork on the ocean.

"It's better to have one point than to have four points moving different directions in a quake," Lautner said. "A wave movement, which is what an earthquake is, cracks up a conventional house at the corners."

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