Trustees of a landmark Los Feliz house built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright must stop leasing it for private parties and wedding receptions, a Los Angeles zoning administrator decided last week.
The Trust for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, a nonprofit organization that owns the Ennis-Brown house at 2655 Glendower Ave., was forced to ask the city's permission to continue its party-rental business after neighbors complained that the affairs created excessive noise and traffic in the wealthy hilltop neighborhood.
Trustees say income from the parties is needed to help pay for an estimated $500,000 in repairs required to restore the Mayan-style, concrete block residence built by Wright in 1924. Architect Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson of the builder and a member of the trust, has said that, if repairs are not made within five years, the house will suffer irreversible damage.
But zoning administrator Jack C. Sedwick ruled last Thursday that the parties and the rental of several rooms in the house to an insurance business owned by a live-in caretaker are illegal commercial uses in a residential neighborhood.
'Injurious' to Neighbors
Allowing the parties to continue would "be injurious" to other residents by lowering the value of nearby property and creating traffic, noise and parking problems, Sedwick said.
The architectural significance of the house does not "warrant commercializing of the property at the detriment of the neighbors," Sedwick said.
G. Oliver Brown, caretaker and former owner of the house, said the trust will take the matter to the Los Angeles Board of Zoning Appeals.
"We are not going to let it rest here," said Brown, who donated the house to the tax-exempt trust he created in 1980. He operates three insurance companies from the house.
Wright said Sedwick's decision was "very bad news" for the house. The decision will mean the end of public tours of the house, and will affect fund-raising activities at other historic properties in residential neighborhoods, he said.
The 7,000-square-foot, two-bedroom house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has been declared a Cultural Heritage Monument by the Los Angeles City Council. It is one of eight houses built in Los Angeles by Wright, considered this century's premier American architect.
The interior and exterior walls of precast hollow concrete block give the house the appearance of a Mayan temple. Inside, the house is distinguished by its art-glass doors and windows and 22-foot-high, teak-beamed ceilings.
Since January, at least 10 clients have leased the house for a minimum of $2,000 a day, with additional charges for parties of more than 200 people. In the last year, rental income, tours and donations generated $74,000--slightly more than the cost of maintaining the house--Wright said.
No federal or state money is available from the for major repairs needed on a large retaining wall, Wright said.
Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, who represents the area, had agreed to support a variance allowing educational tours, but not parties. Woo offered to help find locations away from the neighborhood to raise funds for the house.
Public tours of the house are conducted six times a year, with additional tours for architectural classes and civic groups. Sedwick's ruling did not address public tours of the home but said the trust is entitled to "the same right to have visitors as the other neighbors have."
Homeowners in residential areas are allowed to hold educational classes once a week with no more than 30 students, according to the city's zoning law.
The fight over leasing of the house began last winter with a petition drive protesting the parties. A public hearing on the issue was held Sept. 17.
At the hearing, neighbors said the parties generally begin in mid- or late afternoon and last until late evening. Private parties and wedding receptions often include outdoor rock 'n' roll bands, they said.
In its request for a zoning variance, the trust had asked permission to hold parties, tours, concerts and seminars. The trust also wanted permission to use the former servants' quarters as an office for six of Brown's employees.
To counter neighbors' complaints, trustees offered to provide parking in a commercial area away from the neighborhood and to bus visitors to the home when parties are expected to attract more than 35 people. Brown said he also would limit party rentals to one a month and prohibit live music after 10 p.m.
Although Brown lives at the house and operates his businesses from the former servants' quarters, he said, he does not receive income or derive financial benefit from the trust arrangement. He pays $1,000 a month rent to the trust for use of the house for his businesses.
No Employees Allowed
Brown will be allowed to continue his insurance businesses at the residence but he cannot have any employees, according to zoning laws. He now employs four, he said.
The tax-exempt status granted the trust by the Internal Revenue Service prohibits sale of the house to a private party, Brown said. He donated the house to the trust so that the house "would remain in perpetuity for the benefit of the public," he said.
Brown, who bought the home in 1968 for $119,000, said he was offered $4 million for it in the late 1970s. He was the seventh owner of the house, built for Los Angeles businessman Charles Ennis. It was renamed the Ennis-Brown house after it was donated to the trust.
In his ruling, Sedwick said that, despite the historic design of the house, the city cannot grant the trust commercial property rights to pay for maintenance and restoration.
"The trust has a self-imposed hardship if it must operate the single-family residence as a commercial use to maintain the property," he said.
The 10-member trust is made up of preservationists, architects and relatives of Frank Lloyd Wright.