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Patient Pasadena builder made an art of recycling

Old houses tell tales and none more so than a Pasadena home dubbed Casa de Pajaros.

First owner Herman Koller spent 17 years building the rustic abode with his own hands, completing construction in 1945 and wearing out four cars in the process.

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Despite being limited to working in his spare time and the back-breaking effort involved, it was a labor of love that combined the house painter’s keen interest in history, art and scavenging. For the neighbors, it was an endurance contest putting up with dust and piles of rubble in the frontyard.

Drawing from sketches of buildings accumulated during his travels, Koller’s resulting stone-and-brick home gives a nod to the region’s Spanish heritage with its Southwestern-style architecture.

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Some materials were collected from demolished buildings such as a flour mill in Pasadena that was destroyed by fire. Red stones came from the old L.A. City Hall. A priest gave him permission to harvest bricks from the Santa Barbara Mission when it suffered earthquake damage. They were used in the belfry tower.

Other finds came from dumps. The thick garden wall combines flagstone, broken statuary, scrap tile and rocks salvaged from abandoned miniature golf courses, which fell out of favor in the 1930s. A rounded top gate echoes the arch in the stone wall.

The mature, exotic landscaping got its start in Koller’s day as a nod to the desert with cactus and other drought-tolerant plantings.

The 1,431 square feet of living space includes a wood-burning fireplace in the living room. Dark wood-beam ceilings stand out next to the white walls.

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Between the main house and detached guesthouse are three bedrooms, a full bathroom, a three-quarter bath and a powder room.

The third-acre property at 1736 Old Grove Road, Pasadena, is listed at $1.333 million. Crosby Doe and John Matthes of Crosby Doe Associates are the listing agents.

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