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$200,000 Grant Needed for Wattles Home Restoration : State Funds Sought for Once-Stately Mansion

February 15, 1987|KENNETH J. FANUCCHI | Times Staff Writer

Hollywood Heritage Inc., a private historical group, has applied for a $200,000 state grant to speed up restoration of the Wattles mansion, a turn-of-the-century home in the Hollywood Hills.

Hollywood Heritage has been in charge of restoring the city-owned two-story house and gardens for the past four years, relying primarily on volunteer help and $50,000 it has raised through donations and rental fees charged to groups that use the estate at 1824 N. Curson Ave.

Donald L. Hunt, co-chairman of the restoration committee, said more money is needed to recapture the grandeur of the former summer residence of the late Gurdon Wattles, a Nebraska businessman.

Hunt, who joined the restoration effort six months ago, had bought, restored and sold the Toberman estate, the former residence of the Hollywood developer who built Grauman's (now Mann's) Chinese Theatre, the Egyptian Theatre and the Hollywood Hotel, among other notable Hollywood structures.

'A Major Push'

Hunt said Hollywood Heritage can only go "so far" in restoring the Wattles mansion "with the limited funds available to date."

"It will take a major push to make the facility available for a wider public use," he said. "The state grant certainly would help in the restoration."

If approved by the state, the $200,000 will be used to repair the building's electrical, heating and plumbing systems, install fire sprinklers and a security system, re-plaster portions of the building's exterior and replace tiles on the roof. The state Parks and Recreation Department is expected to make a decision on the request in June.

Built in 1905, the 20-room house once was part of a 49-acre estate designed by architects Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey, who also designed the Huntington estate in Pasadena, the Griffith Observatory, the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Pasadena Playhouse.

The entire estate was bought by the city in 1968 for just under $2 million from Julia Wattles, the widow of Gurdon Wattles who died in 1932. She continued to live in the house until her death in 1977. The house is now on a three-acre plot, and the rest of the property is a combination of city park and community gardens.

Restoration Estimate

The city estimated in 1982 that it would take $1.2 million to completely restore the house and gardens, but city Recreation and Parks Department officials considered the expenditure unwise when compared to other park and recreation priorities.

"We felt that a private group with a narrower interest in the building could focus more attention on the restoration," said Joel Breitbart, a parks department planner.

Hollywood Heritage was given control over restoration efforts in 1983. The group established offices on the second floor, rented out space to other nonprofit groups and charged fees for other uses of the house, such as film making and weddings.

The group's first goal was plugging leaks in the roof and making the electrical, heating and plumbing systems work.

Additionally, said Richard A. Adkins, chairman of Hollywood Heritage, major restoration work was done on the garden immediately behind the house. With plants donated by the Arco Corp. and planted by the UCLA Landscape Architecture Department, the garden no longer is an eyesore, although it falls short of its colorful heyday when it was owned by the Wattles family.

"Since we do not have the number of gardeners (seven) employed by Wattles, we had to concentrate on low-maintenance plants," Adkins said. "What we would like to do now is repair the fountain."

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