Artist’s Offbeat Home Is Casualty

Times Staff Writer

The flames that killed a firefighter and ravaged scores of dwellings and businesses near the San Diego County town of Julian also claimed one of the most admired and unusual homes in Southern California: the hand-built, 45-year-old hilltop compound of 71-year-old artist and architect James Hubbell.

“Almost anything that was wood is gone,” said Hubbell, who sneaked past barricades to walk the property for 45 minutes Friday morning.

Though a few of the eight curving, fanciful structures on the property on Orchard Lane seem to have endured with little damage, he said, “our main house is just the walls.”

A storage building that held tons of sculptures and other works also was destroyed by the fire.


Hubbell, a frequent subject of local museum exhibitions and public television profiles, began building the home in 1958, when he was 27.

He and his wife, Anne, bought the property for $350 an acre and built the first walls from granite collected on the site.

The home grew steadily as the Hubbells raised four sons and James Hubbell won attention with his organically influenced designs, from jewelry to custom homes.

By 1987, the Hubbell homestead had become a medley of stacked stones, stained glass and sculptures that struck many guests as part ranch house, part artist’s studio, part hobbit hole.


“Both Anne and I feel that we had so much fun there, and it was such a great thing to do, that I’m determined not to let it ruin the rest of my life. I’m not going to give it my misery,” Hubbell said Friday.

“We tried to get insurance. Never could,” he added. “We’ll start one day at a time. Probably tomorrow take the kids up. Maybe see if there’s anything in the ashes worth keeping.... We have a lot of friends, which is sometimes more important than money. Most times.”

Active in several charities, the Hubbells for years have opened the dwelling to visitors, usually in the hundreds, for a single day every summer.

They evacuated early in the week, just ahead of the blaze that came Wednesday, killing a firefighter and injuring three others who were trying to save the house next door.