Hiding a backyard hide-out isn't easy -- not when it's an eye-catching, 14-foot ball that 65 workers are frantically trying to build without its young owner seeing them from his bedroom window.
That's what a volunteer construction crew discovered in Bellflower when it set out two weeks ago to create a treehouse-like "fort" for a 9-year-old leukemia victim to play in.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday December 20, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Backyard hideaway -- A quote displayed in large type with an article in Saturday's California section about a boy's backyard retreat misidentified the speaker, Joshua Bailey, as Joshua Bell.
They wanted it to be a surprise.
So they covered the rear windows to Joshua Bailey's house so he couldn't see out. They suspended plastic tarps over the rear patio to prevent peeking out the back door. They shrouded the sphere-shaped structure itself in plastic at night to block any unauthorized glances.
Strangers undertook the $75,000 construction project after the boy's father suffered a near-fatal heart attack a year ago while he was building a modest, conventional backyard playhouse on his own for his son.
The workers' makeshift covering will come down at 11 a.m. today when Joshua is led to the finished structure's drawbridge-like entryway and instructed to open his eyes.
"I've been tempted. But every time I've wanted to peek, I've asked my mom if I can watch TV or play a video game instead," said the fourth-grader. "I think I'm going to be surprised."
He's probably right.
The oval building features sweeping metal siding, a curved drywall-covered interior lined with windows and topped by a huge skylight, and a loft that leads to a swooping playground slide.
The structure stands nearly 2 feet off the ground on a single steel column.
Joshua knows what the hide-out's basic design is supposed to look like. He picked the ball shape last month from a rough sketch after the Los Angeles branch of the international architectural firm RTKL Associates staged an in-house playhouse design competition.
Designer Joel Webb's sphere beat out three runners-up -- a conventional Western-style fort, a battleship-like structure and a "Transformer"-themed structure whose parts could be moved.
The Los Angeles office of another international firm, Turner Construction Co., volunteered to build it. Project manager Frank Rich stepped away from a Culver City assisted-living project he is supervising to help line up subcontractors and suppliers willing to work for free. He found a crane company willing to hoist the hide-out's thick steel base over the house and into the backyard without charge.
Bill Lee, another Turner supervisor, whose paying job is overseeing the construction of eight new Los Angeles school campuses, arranged for expedited inspections of the hide-out project by Bellflower Building and Safety officials.
"The city became an important player in this," Lee said.
Wired for electricity, the hide-out globe will be equipped with a flat-screen TV, a DVD player and an X-Box game, its builders said.
Joshua's parents have not been bound by the restriction against sneaking peeks at the backyard construction. So they've watched in amazement as it took shape behind their Van Ruitan Street home.
Freeman Bailey, a shipping company customer-service representative, said he started work on a backyard fort for his son in 2002. Joshua had dreamed of having a treehouse, but there was no large tree to use. So Bailey was assembling a rectangular playhouse on stilts.
He suffered a massive heart attack in October 2004, before he finished the project.
"I flat-lined on the table at the hospital," he said. "After that, I had to cut back on a lot of things."
Joshua's leukemia was diagnosed at Christmastime in 2002. He continues to undergo treatment at Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach, where Turner Construction is building an addition.
That also is where his mother, Linda Bailey, was put in touch with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles after officials learned of the halt to the construction of Joshua's backyard fort.
The foundation set the hide-out project in motion. It's also planning this morning's unveiling.
Linda Bailey, a manager for a vitamin company, said she was somewhat skeptical that a ball-shaped structure could be built. But its innovative design and tight, weather-proof construction have won her over, she said.
"He's going to love it. When Joshua is 19, he's probably going to say, 'Mom, I want to add a wing with a toilet to it and move in,' " she said with a laugh.
So when the hide-out covers come down today, she predicted, Joshua won't be hiding his excitement.