“They scraped it,” my neighbor told me at Willa’s garden party. That was the first I knew that the Stonehenge house was actually being demolished. We tried very hard to prevent that demolition, but lost. Still, I thought, maybe something will intervene; maybe the owner would even reconsider.
Now it is the flat vacant lot the owner wanted all along, ready to receive the architect’s rectangular volumes. The story clock is turned back to zero. Evidence of what happened there from the 1920s on has been obliterated.
Decades from now will the Friends of Architecture meet and speak reverently about the new house as they do today about the works of John Lautner or Lamont Langworthy? Let’s hope what replaces the Stonehenge house is worth the loss of historic reference to original owner Guy Skidmore and his story.
Two weeks ago the Laguna Friends of Architecture visited a little known Horizon house in the National Park neighborhood of Laguna Niguel. Designed by architect George Bissell, and engineered by Hanns Baumann, the scalloped circular concrete roof/canopy is supported with a treelike central concrete trunk. Built in 1964, it was one of many houses nationwide sponsored by the Portland Cement Association to promote creative use of concrete. No two are alike, but all are examples of the now-appreciated mid-century modern architecture. This one looks like a flying saucer from above, but is much more organic from inside. It was at once awe-inspiring, fascinating and comfortable.
The neighborhood, just off Crown Valley Parkway, is one of the oldest in Laguna Niguel and an enclave of mid-century modern houses also designed by Bissell in tract format. There we can see a panorama of the various approaches to dealing with houses 40 years old and more, even those that were well designed to begin with have not been fully appreciated over the years. Some have been clumsily converted to other styles, entry recesses have been filled in, fake stone veneers have been applied. Others are original and in need of maintenance. Still others have been restored and embellished in keeping with the original design.
Last Thursday evening our Heritage Committee and the public met to hear what city historical consultants Jan Ostashay and Leslie Heumann have been accomplishing in their survey of Laguna’s inventory of historic buildings. They’re visiting and evaluating the buildings on the list compiled in 1981. They are encountering on a large scale what has happened to the National Park neighborhood: some houses demolished or unrecognizable because of alterations, some in need of repair, others are well-maintained examples of early Laguna architectural design. Some previous property owners have made unfortunate choices over the years, destroying or damaging the integrity of their historic buildings. The Heritage Committee, implementing state and city regulations, protects historic buildings and guides changes to them. Our programs are slowly catching up, but as the consultants and public testimony pointed out there are many buildings that were missed in the original inventory and others that in the 30 years since are newly recognized as being significant. These are not covered in the present study. Follow up documentation on these buildings is needed for the city to have a complete and more accurate heritage program.
Speakers wondered what it meant for their properties to be on the historic inventory. Would they be limited in remodels? Could they demolish their house? Could they replace their windows?
This weekend’s Charm House Tour was an answer to their questions. We savored five well-loved Laguna homes. Most windows were original or replaced in kind. One owner easily opened his double-hung window that operates just as it has since the house was built in the 1920s. He replaced the torn ropes and attached steel weights again. It works beautifully. Will a vinyl replacement window still be working 90 years from now? Remodels and additions were on display. These made the houses more livable, and they seemed natural parts of the homes, in keeping with the spirit of the original. We learned that a house doesn’t have to be 5,000 sq. ft. to be impressive and very livable. We wondered why anyone would have wanted to demolish any of these houses to start over again when to have one of these rare buildings, full of Laguna charm and complete with stories to tell, is a privilege and not a burden.
Living with them as we do, these buildings shape our families and our community. Like children we enjoy and love them; and we are responsible for them, respecting their character while guiding them into the future.
Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.