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Home Is All Wright, Owner Says

Architecture: Woman seeks historic status for home she says claims designed by renowned designer and son.

June 11, 1996|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RESEDA — If Barbara Adams gets her way, this community will be known in the architectural world for something other than mini-malls and tract houses.

Adams, a retired sales manager, has begun a campaign to have city officials declare her home a historic monument in hopes of preserving the unique structure that she says was designed by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his son, Lloyd Wright.

The two-bedroom home on busy Tampa Avenue stands out from its nondescript Reseda neighborhood mostly because of its angular, draping roof. Inside and out, the small, square home is built with kiln-dried redwood. A stand-alone chimney adorns the living room.

In hopes of getting the historic status, Adams invited Los Angeles City Council member Laura Chick on Monday to tour the home and leaf through the dog-eared receipts and letters that tell the history of the structure.

Chick was quickly impressed.

"We've got a Frank Lloyd Wright house in the Valley," she said after touring the home. "We hear about his museums and other buildings, but you don't hear about the San Fernando Valley house."

But there is one problem.

Adams has letters to prove that Lloyd Wright designed the home but no proof that his father, Frank Lloyd Wright, had anything to do with the project.

"It's all just family lore," she said of Frank Lloyd Wright's involvement.

Adams said her father-in-law, Bill Adams, a great admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, wrote to the architect in 1939 asking that he design a home for his half-acre lot. Frank Lloyd Wright wrote back, saying that he had made some design suggestions to his son, Lloyd Wright, and that his son would complete the project, she said.

Unfortunately, Adams said she can't find the letter that indicates that Frank Lloyd Wright worked with his son on the house.

What's more, she said that Lloyd Wright ultimately "washed his hands" of the house because Adams' mother-in-law, Bea, refused to go along with his plans to put a thatched roof on the home and instead had workers install shake shingles. In design documents, the house is still referred to as the "Mat House" or "Tule House."

Nonetheless, city experts say the house may still get the historic status because of the unique design and the involvement of Lloyd Wright.

"Lloyd Wright was directly influenced by his father," said Adolfo Nodal, general manager of the city's Cultural Affairs Department. "Regardless of the question of whether Frank Lloyd Wright was involved, it may be a significant structure."

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of America's best-known architects who began work in the 1880s and designed some of the country's most revolutionary buildings such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

If approved by the Cultural Affairs Commission and the City Council, the historic status would prevent the demolition or major alterations to the home for up to a year to give the Cultural Affairs Department time to study and save the structure.

Adams was prompted to seek the historic status after her husband, Robert, died last year and she began to worry that the history and significance of her home would not be passed on to future generations.

Adams said her father-in-law, Bill, was a machinist who fell in love with Frank Lloyd Wright's design of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and decided that he wanted to build a unique home based on a Frank Lloyd Wright design. Instead, he ended up working with the architect's son, Lloyd Wright, who was an architect in Beverly Hills.

The home, on the corner of Tampa Avenue and Valerio Street, is shrouded from the street by two pepper trees, a redwood tree and bushes that encircle the yard.

Although the house is a simple square design, the diagonal roof is offset from the base and extends to a point 12 feet above the ground on the northwest side but drops to about 6 feet off the ground on the southwest side.

Inside, the walls and ceiling are lined with redwood paneling, and the original tile floor is smooth with years of wear.

Adams said only a few modifications have been made to make the home conform with modern living standards.

For example, the chicken house that was connected to the house by a breezeway was converted to a storage area, she said. In the kitchen, some cabinets were slightly modified to fit a stand-up refrigerator in the spot where a small icebox once stood. A service porch was added to fit a washer and dryer, Adams said.

"Everything I do is to retain it the way it was," she said. "I don't want to do anything to change it drastically."

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