Faith Pays Off: Home Designed by Rudolph Schindler Is a Monument
Our home, designed by noted architect Rudolph Schindler in 1950 for my wife, Beatrice, and me is a historic cultural monument, so declared two years ago by the City of Los Angeles.
Those who come to see the house today in its mature and mellow state are unaware of the trials and tribulations we endured in the beginning. As the original owner of the house, and still the occupant, my story is one of faith and perseverance.
We owned a 74-by-120-foot hillside lot in Westwood that sloped up from the street and would require steps up to the entrance, but being young the steps did not deter us and we were eager to build.
After speaking with several prominent architects, we decided on Schindler. When I first visited him alone at his home office, I had this wonderful feeling about the place and thought, “This is the architect for us.” I left with the addresses of some of his homes and apartments and Schindler’s promise to contact us after he visited our building site.
We next met when our 2-year-old daughter was asleep so my wife could hear what he had to say. He had been to our lot and liked it. We told him our requirements--a three-bedroom, two-bath house, a garage for two cars and a construction limit of $14,000.
Schindler said he could do it. His fee for plans was 10%, and for 5% additional he would act as general contractor and supervise construction, which is how he preferred to do it. Schindler would accept no money until we saw the preliminary plans. He said he did not want to be under obligation to continue if we were not in rapport.
We liked the preliminary plans, especially the way the house ran down the length of the lot on the north side, perpendicular to the street. The entrance was also on the north side, since the best view was looking south. Taking advantage of the existing neighbor’s foliage, Schindler planned floor-to-ceiling windows on that side. The windows facing the street were high up, overlooking the tops of the pine trees planted on the sidewalk.
Schindler was easy to get along with, as long as you agreed with him. Each house he did had to be representative of his work. He liked to experiment and some of his experiments were not revealed until the client saw them in place.
One such experiment was proposed for our house--a translucent blue fiberglass material on part of our roof. We were concerned, but Schindler assured us it would be fine. We decided to reserve judgment until we saw the material. This was one of those times when the client didn’t get to see the material until it was in place.
With the plans finished, our next step was a construction loan. We owned the lot and expected no problems. The opposite was true, getting a construction loan was the most frustrating thing imaginable. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get as much as I wanted, I couldn’t get a loan at all.
I dragged those plans to all the banks, the savings and loans and the insurance companies and got a polite “no” in all cases. Even though the fiberglass roof panels were not mentioned, the plans were too unconventional for lending institutions. Private lenders shied away from construction loans. They didn’t have the means for inspections and doling out the money. I was at my wits’ end when something happened to give me renewed hope.
Perpetual Savings had decided to make a token loan on an unconventional or so-called modern home. When I heard the news, I rushed over with my plans. A loan at last!
I asked for $14,000, they offered $9,000. Much less than what I wanted, but after all the rejections, I was glad to get it. The small loan would be a hardship, but we were set on building as soon as possible.
The problem was compounded by the fact that the $14,000 estimate turned out to be $17,000. Cost overrun problems began at the start. The planned excavation was extensive and the bulldozers ran into shale, which doubled the estimated cost.
Because of money limits we would have to forgo some things, such as a dishwasher, garbage disposal and central heating, but Schindler convinced us that the structure was most important and these things could be added later. According to Schindler, it took 20 years for a house to be finished. He was right, for our house anyway.
As the house began to take shape we were delighted, but our neighbors were not. Even during the early days of construction it was obvious to them that the finished house would be unconventional and not what they expected to see on their block. One neighbor was so upset she ran up and down the street trying to get signatures on a petition to halt the construction. The petition failed, but the concern of our neighbors remained for several years after the house was completed.
The landscaping fell to me and I used young plants in small containers. We couldn’t afford anything bigger. The young trees would eventually grow (and did), but it would have been better if they were large to begin with.
The house was ready to occupy in July, 1950, My wife was expecting our second child in November and since there were steps up to our house, she decided to stay with her mother until then. Our daughter went with her and I moved into the house alone.
The fiberglass roof was a disaster. Everything inside the house looked blue, including people, and the heat came through with a vengeance.
November came, our second daughter was born and my wife moved in. The rainy season was on and the bucket parade began. Besides its problems with heat and blue light, the roof leaked everywhere. Fixing the leaks was a nightmare. The roofer blamed the carpenter, the carpenter blamed the unpredictable material, the architect said it shouldn’t leak and we were running out of pots and pans.
It was a difficult time. The heat was unbearable and the only way to keep dry was to use an umbrella inside the house. Although it took time, I was able to locate the leaks and correct them myself.
But the heat and blue problem continued for another three years. The situation was finally alleviated by adding panels of plywood inside the house across the entire upper two-thirds of the vaulted ceiling, reducing the visible portion of the fiberglass roof inside the house to the lower third of each panel. People no longer looked blue and the house was no hotter than other houses with large glass areas.
Although the cost overruns, the leaks and the blue fiberglass gave us many heartaches in the beginning, we were not sorry about going with Schindler. When all was said and done, we had something really special. The house stands today as a strong architectural statement with timeless beauty.
Our neighbors have come to admire the house. Even the woman who petitioned to halt construction, turned in my driveway and remarked, “I must tell you your house is simply beautiful.” Schindler died in 1953. Today he is recognized universally for his originality and architectural genius. Too bad he didn’t live to see our house declared a historic cultural monument.
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