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Dodge House in West Hollywood: All that's left is the architect's genius and a cautionary tale

The home was one of the first to translate Mediterranean and Mission architecture in Los Angeles throughout Southern California.

July 16, 2011|By Jeffrey Head, Special to the Los Angeles Times

According to a history compiled by legendary architecture writer Esther McCoy in documents now stored with the Library of Congress, Dodge sold his house to T. Morrison McKenna and Anita K. McKenna in 1924 for $125,000. To their objection, the Los Angeles High School District condemned the property in 1939, and with a $69,000 payment to the McKennas, the district took control of the property.

Title eventally was transferred to the junior collect district, and in the 1950s the property was used as "a household services branch of the school system." But by 1963, the board of education declared it surplus property.

Financier Bart Lytton, a titan in the savings and loan industry, responded to the architecture and bought Dodge House. In 1967 he and Meyer created a plan that preserved the house as part of a real estate development: 48 new town-house style units whose residents would use a restored Dodge House as a common area.

The plan was to make preservation economically feasible, Meyer said, "but construction would have far exceeded the cost of the house, and no one wanted to build on that basis." As Lytton's empire crumbled, he lost control of the property to his investment group. Developers saw no way to make money unless Dodge House were replaced with additional units of housing.

Joining a chorus whose voice ultimately was not loud enough to halt change, architect Richard Neutra pleaded at board of education meeting: "The destruction of the house for commercial purposes would not be a passing event; it would become an epic and international scandal."

More than 40 years later, Dodge House stands as far more than the inspiration behind so much Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in Los Angeles. It was one of the first homes to translate Mediterranean and Mission architecture throughout Southern California, an evolution that continues to shape residential design today.

Prior to its destruction, the Dodge House was an uncompromising model of originality. The house remains a fundamental layer of the city's architectural topography, the stratum at the core of modernism in Los Angeles, a virtual landmark that lives on in historic description, photographs and recollection.

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