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Former Woodland Hills Rest Home : Old House Gets New Lease on Life

Times Staff Writer

The three tattered plaster of Paris camels found in the basement of the hillside home above the Woodland Hills Country Club may be the stucco building’s strongest link to the community’s history. When it comes to preserving history in the west San Fernando Valley, however, one has to take what one can get.

How the camels, once part of a Nativity scene that Woodland Hills founder Victor Girard installed every year on Ventura Boulevard during the 1920s, ended up in the basement of the 11-room house is not known. But William and Colleen Brady, who bought the house for $700,000 in February with the idea of restoring it to its original condition, would like to find out.

The house was built in 1926 for L.D. Sale, a Los Angeles business executive and golf enthusiast who was one of the original investors in the Boulevard Land Co. that developed Woodland Hills beginning in 1923.

60 Years Old

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“It’s only 60 years old, so it isn’t old per se,” said Brady, a native of Scotland where some castles are 10 times the age of his house. “But we think it’s significant for Woodland Hills and therefore we want to restore it.”

Sale owned the two-story, Spanish-style home, which has a stunning, 270-degree view of the golf course, for about five years. It was sold to a business partner during the depths of the Depression, when hundreds of anxious landowners in the budding community abandoned their properties and fled back to the city. It had been a senior citizens rest home for 45 years until it was closed a couple of years ago.

One day about a year ago, the Bradys, both of whom are avid golfers, noticed broken windows and open doors marring the proud, if plain, facade of the house just above the country club course’s ninth tee. They investigated and found that the dilapidated building off Canoga Avenue was for sale.

And, unlike many who purchase large homes in choice locations and knock them down without a second thought, the Bradys decided to restore the house. When finished in September, they will turn it into a retirement hotel.

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“It’s a very plain building . . . but it’s well-made,” Brady told representatives of three San Fernando Valley historical societies Sunday at an open house and tea on the two-acre grounds. “We kind of like it. It fits our style.”

Colleen Brady, a real estate agent, said she and her husband “like old things.” Besides, she said, “I had never seen a piece of property surrounded on three sides by a golf course.”

Restoration Work

The Bradys said they will spend about $350,000 to restore pine and oak floors, replaster walls, replace wallpaper, refinish hardwood cabinets and renovate a monumental stone fireplace decorated with a carved thistle, the Scottish symbol.

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Brady, who has lived in the United States for 12 years, wore red plus fours and a red golfing tam as he guided members of the San Fernando Valley, Calabasas and Canoga Park-Owensmouth historical societies through the house. With its wood floors stripped bare and torn up, plaster broken and falling and bathroom fixtures missing, much work remains.

“There are other houses that are a lot more worth saving, but this man’s doing it with his own money and for a good purpose,” said one area resident who asked not to be identified.

Saving Some

Beverly Daic Taber, who also attended the tea, said, “I’m glad to see we are saving some of them.” Taber’s family was the first to homestead in Calabasas during the late 1800s, and her father built many of that town’s early buildings, including several homes across from the Leonis Adobe that still stand today.

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She said the Sale home was significant for its age, size and quality of construction. She also said she remembered the camels from the life-size Nativity scene installed at Christmas for a number of years at the corner of Ventura and Topanga Canyon boulevards.

Brady said he has many dreams for his new property. He already has bought the house next door and plans to buy two others that stand on the home’s original 4 1/4-acre grounds.

He also dreams of someday restoring the camels and reviving the custom of an annual Nativity scene.


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