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Storied past, uncertain future

Rupert Pole's labor of love in the hills of Silver Lake stands airy and empty, yet echoes with the vibrancy of free spirit Anais Nin.

September 07, 2006|Janet Eastman | Times Staff Writer

THE glass-and-concrete house on a hilly Silver Lake street appears tired and forlorn. The sensual violet fabrics inside are now faded; a stillness surrounds the emerald swimming pool, which had once been used every day. The gathering place of weekly chamber music concerts and numerous masquerade parties in the 1970s, the property is empty and quiet, as if in mourning.

The future of the contemporary house is uncertain now that its occupants -- Anais Nin, a free-spirited writer who chronicled her passions in diaries, and Rupert Pole, a forest ranger who scrimped to build her a place where she would feel safe -- are dead. Its legacy, however, is clear. "This was a nest for a little bird," says Eric Lloyd Wright, a third-generation architect who designed the house for his half-brother, Pole, and Nin.

The famous couple's longtime residence was Wright's first solo project, completed in 1962 for $22,000. "The one thing we do want to do is get it registered with the city of Los Angeles as a historic landmark," says Wright, 76, the executor of the estate. His mother, actress Helen Taggart, a divorcee with son, Rupert, married his father, architect Lloyd Wright.

"My brother and Anais were very much involved in designing this house, from the preliminary plans to the working drawings to getting the contractor," says Wright, the grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright. "I met with them and heard what their dreams were. Rupert felt that she should have a sense of security, a place that was permanent. I got to know them better by doing their house."

Nin, whose well-known books include "Henry and June," about her sexual relationship with writer Henry Miller and his wife, wrote about her bohemian lifestyle, her string of lovers and her Los Angeles home. In the sixth volume of "Diary," she described the one-story dwelling perched above the city as "one large studio, no separate, small partitions. It had the sense of space of Japanese houses; it had the vista of a Japanese screen, all sky, mountains, lake, as if one lived out of doors. Yet the roof, held by its heavy beams, gave a feeling of protection while the big windows which separated the roof from the studio framed the flight of birds, the sailing of clouds."

Photographs and the 1973 documentary "Anais Nin Observed" by the late Robert Snyder show her posing, her hand gracefully holding her chin, at the mosaic-top dining room table alongside a bank of windows. Or sitting on an orange pillow on the coral carpet in the living room next to the glowing fireplace, her hair swept into a loose roll, lipstick perfect on her upturned smile, barefoot and wearing a scooped-neck caftan, her only accessory her diary in her hand. The writer, who shocked America with her sexually explicit prose before and after World War II, looks peacefully domestic.

The home was a stage upon which Nin wrote, danced, listened to classical music and hosted a circle of young writers. Often, people who read her intimate diaries and felt they knew her would knock on the front door. Few were turned away.

But she kept some parts of her life a secret. Nin led a double married life on opposite coasts. Neither husband had a clue. She told her New York husband Hugh "Hugo" Guiler that she needed to rest in L.A. When in Manhattan, she told Pole that she needed to be there for writing assignments. She wrote down the lies she told them on index cards and referred to them as her "trapeze."

Pole wed Nin in 1955 but the marriage was invalidated 11 years later when she confessed to him that she was already married and needed to return to her first husband. She left but then returned to live her final years with Pole, until her death from cancer at age 73 in 1977. Pole, who was 16 years younger than Nin, remained in their house until his death at age 87 in July, surrounded by her books and portraits drawn of her by Miller, Renate Druks and others. In her office, he carefully went through 35,000 pages of her handwritten diary and published many of them uncensored after her death.

The couple had a few requests when working with Wright to design the 1,400-square-foot house: They wanted a view of the pool, Silver Lake reservoir and the sunset from the living room and patio; they needed only one bedroom. They didn't have children, and their cherished privacy was not going to be interrupted by overnight guests.

The bedroom was off the living room, but its folding doors were never closed, says Wright. Visitors were just as likely to sit on the violet bedspread as on the purple-and-blue-cushioned bench-style couch Wright designed for the living room. On one of the bedroom's grainy paneled walls -- visible from the front door -- hung most of their best art: paintings by friends Miller, Don Bachardy and Corita Kent. Nearby was a collage of three women by Jean Varda.

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