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House of 'David'

Neighborhoods: When 17 replicas of Michelangelo's famed statue adorn the outside of a home, is it art or excess?

November 17, 1997|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is one of most recognizable sculptures in the world, a monument to the perfect male form, a paramount symbol of Renaissance art. Michelangelo's "David."

Norwood Young's got 17 of them.

They line his mansion's semicircular driveway--two sets of eight 3-foot-high replicas on column pedestals, flanking each side of a diminutive "Venus de Milo." A lone "David" sits atop Young's roof, along with six plaster models of Greco Roman-style busts. The statues are irregular, each one slightly different from the other.

Young, who set up the statues a year ago, thinks he's improved the neighborhood. The neighborhood--stately, affluent Hancock Park--strongly disagrees.

"The house was a piece of ---- when I bought it and I brought it up," said Young, who refers to his mansion as Youngwood Court but refused to be interviewed at length. "I don't understand why it is such a big deal."

The estate has become an object of curiosity and mockery for those passing by. However, nearby residents aren't laughing.

"It's appalling," said one, who was showing what he described as the "novelty of the local architecture" to his out-of-town parents. "As funny as people think it is, it really isn't."

The man's mother snapped a picture. "I am in real estate [in Chicago], and there, this would be considered a monstrosity," she said.

"It is like spitting in somebody's eye," said Marguerite Byrne, a member of the Hancock Park Homeowners Assn.'s board of directors. "It is individualism run amok."

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The homeowners association has not taken an official position on Youngwood Court, but Byrne and other local residents say Young's flamboyant style damages the elegant and carefully nurtured character of Hancock Park.

"A lot of people work hard to keep the neighborhood pretty," said Susan Fleishman, another member of the homeowners association. Youngwood Court "does not suit the neighborhood."

Young, who described himself as a recording artist, refused to talk about his peculiar landscaping vision or his neighbors' reactions.

"I don't give a ---- what my neighbors say," he said, refusing to be interviewed further unless promised that none of his neighbors would be quoted.

Young has lived in the 35-year-old seven-bedroom, seven-bath house since 1994, paying a monthly rent ranging from $4,200 to $5,500, according to public records, and recently bought the house on Muirfield Road at 3rd Street for an undisclosed amount.

When he moved in, "it was obvious the ownership had changed," said a neighbor, who asked not to be identified. He did not change the house much at first, but sometime in the fall of 1996 he uprooted a line of old pine trees shading the front of the house, fenced it with metal gates and painted the house white.

A couple of months later, the statues went up.

Carla Fagan, a local real estate agent, said she has not seen any effect on the price of nearby homes but expects Young's immediate neighbors to be disappointed should they put their houses in the market.

Nevertheless, many defend Young's right to decorate.

"It is not our place to tell him to tone it down," said James Wolf, president of the homeowners association. The association is "not empowered to legislate taste."

Turning Hancock Park into a city "historical preservation overlay zone," which would restrict changes residents are allowed to make on the exterior of their homes, could protect the neighborhood from future Youngwood Courts. But obtaining city approval is a lengthy and complicated process that would require, among other things, a costly survey of the area's more than 1,200 homes. Wolf said interest is lukewarm at best.

The city Department of Building and Safety has cited Young for "over-height fences and some illegal electric wiring on the roof," a city official said. But otherwise, the house does not violate any city ordinances.

Sid Adair, who lives a few houses down from Young and has met him on occasion, dismissed the controversy as "much ado about nothing. Artistically, I may differ with him, but frankly I am more concerned whether he is a good neighbor."

Adair, who is the block leader for the homeowners association, described Young as very solicitous and said he had heard no neighborhood complaints about Young.

"I don't think one house is going to devalue Hancock Park," Adair said. Although Young's fascination with "David" remains a mystery, a journalist for the local Larchmont Chronicle said Young told her that Youngwood Court had been inspired by a dream.

However, the journalist decided not to share that dream with her readers, saying she feared it would encourage "this kind of lack of taste."

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