Here's the Wright Stuff

Times Staff Writer

If two wrongs don't make a right, two Wrights couldn't go wrong when it came to the renovation of a house designed by their famous progenitor, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who died in 1959.

Architect Eric Wright, the master's grandson and son of the late architect Lloyd Wright, and Eric Wright's 22-year-old son, Devon, are on the team that is putting the finishing touches on the Storer Residence, one of three concrete-block houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the Hollywood Hills.

And it is one of the finest restorations of Frank Lloyd Wright's work, says noted Wright scholar Tom Heinz, who came earlier this month from Chicago to visit the house, originally built in 1924 for Dr. John Storer, a surgeon who came to California from Wisconsin to retire. "No other restoration even comes close," he said, "except the living room we reconstructed for the Metropolitan Museum of New York."

Motion picture producer Joel Silver (who produced "48 HRS." with Eddie Murphy and is working on a remake of the comedy "Brewster's Millions" with Richard Pryor) bought the impressive, pre-Columbian-style house (with five bedrooms and three baths) four months ago and has since spent $250,000 on renovating it in time for a fund-raising dinner party next Saturday for the Los Angeles Conservancy. (Martin Eli Weil, president of the Conservancy, was restoration architect for the house.)

"I tried to buy it for five years," the 32-year-old bachelor and sixth owner of the house, said. A Wright fan even before he came to California from New Jersey 10 years ago, Silver plans to arrange other public viewings of the house, which he researched intensely for the major work--plumbing, refinishing, reconstructing and remodeling--that was done.

"I look at restoration like a movie," he said. "It was a production, and I had a great crew."

When three chiefs of the Shubert Organization came from New York for the opening of "Cats" at the Shubert Theatre in Century City last weekend, they went to church in downtown Los Angeles--not for the service, but to get a peek at the structure: the Los Angeles Metropolitan Community Church building once known as the Belasco Theatre.

Built in 1926 as a theater, the building at 1050 S. Hill St., has been used by the religious fellowship since 1973, when it opened as the first of 250 gay-oriented churches in 10 countries. However, the downtown congregation only has 300 members, and the auditorium and balcony seat 1,000.

"So the building is just too large for them, and they want to move closer to Hollywood, Los Feliz and Silverlake," Marcia Robbins, who is co-listing the property at $2.1 million with Ivy Bottini at R. B. Augustine & Co., said.

The building is still being used as a church. "But none of the theater objects has been torn down," she was quick to add. The building has a stage, orchestra pit, domed ceiling, backstage dressing rooms, rehearsal halls and offices.

"My impression is that in its day, it must have been a beautiful theater," Ira Bernstein, general manager of the Shubert in Los Angeles, said after touring the building with the New York Shubert Organization executives--Bernard Jacobs, president; Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman, and Philip J. Smith, executive vice president. Unfortunately, Bernstein added, "the area is not viable for legitimate theater, and even if the building was moved to a better location, it would still be lacking in some areas for stage productions today because the stage is shallow and there is not much wing space."

Even so, Bernstein agreed, "it must have seen some days of glory, because its ornate style has lasted."

Here's one for the trivia games: What do the Pentagon (completed 42 years ago last Tuesday) and a house just west of downtown Los Angeles have in common?

Answer: David J. Witmer, who designed the Pentagon (and died in 1973 at the age of 84), was the nephew of Mary Agnes Witmer, who owned the house with her husband, Samuel Lewis, in the late 1800s.

And that house, built between 1888 and 1890, has been sold to Sadhana Temple, an Eastern philosophical group based in New York.

Don Rand and Ed Openshaw, antique musical instrument collectors who once owned the carrousel at Griffith Park, sold the three-story, 5,000-square-foot house on Miramar St. in the Crown Hill area near downtown, said Jim Dunham, owner-realtor of the Victorian Register, which handled the transaction. The house sold for "nearly the asking price of $535,000," Dunham added.

In designing the residence, architect Joseph Cather Newsom combined features of Queen Anne, Eastlake, Renaissance and classic styles to create what he envisioned as a California house. It became a city cultural monument in 1966.

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