Homes up for Mills Act designation tell unique tales of La Cañada’s storied past

La Cañada planning commissioners this week recommended two homes be considered for Mills Act contracts, which offer owners of historically significant properties a tax break in exchange for a commitment to restore and preserve their homes.

If the La Cañada Flintridge City Council approves the properties — at 4852 Ocean View Boulevard and 5147 Jarvis Avenue — the total number of such homes would rise to 16, according to city staff. The program was begun in 2012 as a way to incentivize historic preservation and is already drawing out the unique tales and characters behind La Cañada's most storied homes.


"It's a voluntary program, and some people actually seek out a house like that," said city planner Harriet Harris, who's worked on Mills Act applications in the past. "If you don't have designs on demolishing something and starting from scratch, then there's a value."

Sometimes properties are notable for the architects who built them — La Cañada contains homes built by Wallace Neff, pioneer of the California style, architect to the stars Paul Revere Williams and Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. In other cases, properties are known for famous occupants or for being classic examples of a distinct style or period.


The two properties before the planning commission this week each tell a tale of an earlier time and give a clue to La Cañada's contribution to Southern California design and the state's rich history.

4852 Ocean View Blvd.

Alex Ko, who immigrated from South Korea 30 years ago, has always had a fascination with old, interesting homes. So when he attended an open house for a stately Ocean View Boulevard home modeled after a Scottish hunting lodge, he was enchanted by what he saw.

Built in 1934 by Albert E. Hansen, who also designed Glendale City Hall, the 2,800-square-foot home features a stone exterior, leaded glass windows, wood beam ceilings and period hardware throughout.

"I just fell in love with it the first time I saw it," Ko recalled in an interview Tuesday. "When I noted its history, and how the architect was known in the area, I wanted to preserve it."

The original owner of the property was J. Leslie Barneson, Austrailian-born son of Scottish ship Captain John Barneson, who transported troops across the Pacific during the Spanish-American War and built the first oil pipeline in California, records indicate.

The home was built as an homage by the younger Barneson and wife La Vere, and its construction was rated "special," by the county assessor, indicating the highest-quality materials. As its sixth owner, Ko took over the property from a family that had lived there since 1965. It's been neglected in recent years, but Ko vows to restore it to its former glory.

"I have every intention of keeping it original," he told commissioners Tuesday. "I want to be part of its legacy."

5147 Jarvis Ave.

Will and Claudia Ferguson both grew up in houses built in the 1930s — hers in the Oakland area and his in New Jersey — that bred in them a deep appreciation for the oddities and historic details such houses often contain.

When the couple came across the Jarvis property, built in 1929 by contractor Morris Nelson in the French Tudor style but with an interior filled with rich examples of Spanish design, they were hooked.

"It was like going back to our childhoods, and we were like, 'We really need to live here,'" Claudia Ferguson recalled in an interview.

They bought the property in 2014 and were in the process of remodeling when, on Sept. 10 of that year, some rags leftover from a renovation spontaneously combusted and caused a fire that nearly gutted the property.

When a tile expert came to salvage some Spanish tile, he spoke with enthusiasm about the many important pieces remaining, and the couple became inspired to restore the property as best they could with period fixtures and materials. Along the way, they built relationships with history-savvy shop owners who'd call them with a find that would fit the Jarvis home perfectly.

"It's really been kind of cool, this whole adventure to put this back together," Claudia Ferguson said. "When we were done we thought we really should preserve this house because it's almost 100 years old, and it should stay here."

On Tuesday, Will Ferguson thanked commissioners for their consideration.

"We love the home," he said. "It's been a journey to get back."

The next stop for the properties is the City Council, which is anticipated to vote on the matter before a Dec. 31 county assessor's office deadline.

Twitter: @SaraCardine