July 9, in order to protect residents from the public
health impacts of fine particulate matter, the Air
District passed a regulation that makes it illegal
to burn wood or firelogs in household fireplaces
and woodstoves when the Air District issues a wintertime
Spare the Air health advisory. Regulation 6, Rule
3 also bans the sale and installation of non-EPA-certified
wood-burning devices in new construction or re-models,
among other stipulations.
more infomration click here:
the Tract House
Richard Barnes for The New York Times
The way some of the Balboa Highlands houses look
By KARRIE JACOBS
May 15, 2005
Frank Nolan, casually dressed in an olive drab polo
shirt and blue jeans, occupied a white leather Brno
chair set off by the room's gleaming Philippine-mahogany
paneling. ''One never wants to come across as a
design snob, especially as it pertains to one's
neighbors,'' Nolan said gingerly. ''We know that
having a good neighbor is so much more important
than what color they paint their house or how they
choose to landscape. But there just seems to be
a great disparity between the potential that we
see in this neighborhood and then what you actually
do see when you drive down the street.''
Richard Barnes for The New York Times
A 40-year resident of Balboa Highlands.
Nolan's house was one of 120 built in the 1960's
by the developer Joseph Eichler in a San Fernando
Valley subdivision called Balboa Highlands, 26 miles
northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Nolan and some
of his neighbors want to have their neighborhood
designated a historic district, which won't quite
create an enclave of unsullied 60's modernity but
will keep the threat of McMansions at bay.
It may also confuse some of the neighbors, who may
not have thought that buying a 60's tract house
would entail accepting a small role in Modernist
architectural history. Stuart Frolick, who bought
a house that had been radically altered by a previous
owner, an engineer, told me, unapologetically, that
he can't afford to return the house to its original
state. Besides, his wife isn't into Modernism. ''She
would like to gingerbread the place up,'' Frolick
said, ''and I resist.''
"We clocked over 500 people coming through
our neighborhood,'' Adriene Biondo said recently.
''We had vintage cars cruising up and down the street
that day. People were tuned into the oldies station.
It was a really exciting moment.'' Biondo, a short,
roundish 49-year-old with the breathy voice of a
chanteuse, was talking about the 2000 ''How Modern
Was My Valley'' tour as if it happened yesterday.
Sponsored by the Modern Committee, which she heads
-- a furiously active branch of the city's dominant
preservation organization, the Los Angeles Conservancy
-- the tour brought a flood of tourists into the
neighborhood. It also focused attention on the architecture
about which Biondo is most passionate: the homes,
including her own, built by Eichler.
Eichler, who was responsible for the construction
of some 11,000 homes, mostly in the San Francisco
Bay area, was the last and most successful of a
breed now largely extinct. In the years after World
War II, commercial home-builders all over the country,
but particularly in the West, began experimenting
with new methods of construction and new styles
of architecture. Abraham Levitt and his sons applied
mass-production methods to building thousands of
tiny ranch houses and Cape Cods on Long Island.
Other developers, trying to remake the American
dream, combined ideas from European Modernists --
simple geometric forms, functionalism, flexible
space -- with a New World elan.
Balboa Highlands was constructed as a solidly middle-class
neighborhood -- the houses typically had several
bedrooms and measured 2,200 square feet -- at a
time when some California home-builders believed
that buyers craved the drama of L.A.'s experimental
Case Study houses, built between 1945 and 1966 under
the direction of Arts and Architecture magazine.
The most famous Case Study house -- the one made
into an icon by Julius Shulman's photo of two young
women, seated in an all-glass living room, who appear
to be floating above the Hollywood Hills -- was
built in 1960 on a budget of $13,500, roughly the
price of a standard tract house at the time.
Eichler worked with a handful of prominent California
architects, including A. Quincy Jones, who designed
a Case Study house. But Eichler's success perhaps
owed less to the architects he employed than to
his crack publicity photographer, Ernie Braun, who
concocted and promoted a sophisticated but casual
lifestyle. Braun's photos of the Eichler houses
showed families dividing their time between sunny
rooms and perfectly groomed backyards, the adults
seemingly as likely to skip rope as the children.
What Eichler sold from 1948 until the late 1960's
wasn't architecture but happiness.
Each housing development Eichler erected represented
a variation on the same program for happy family
life. In the Balboa Highlands tract, the clean wood-and-concrete-block
facades were designed to conceal the interior from
the street. But inside, a whole world opens up:
behind the front door of each house is an open-air
atrium. Frank Nolan and his partner, Jaime Flores,
have transformed theirs into a Zen garden carpeted
with smooth round stones. A door from the atrium
leads into the house itself, and it is easy to grasp
the appeal of Eichler's plan: light-flooded rooms,
exposed beams that support an elegantly simple roof
and floor-to-ceiling glass intended to further the
notion that interior and exterior are one and the
same, a central tenet of California Modernism. Out
back are a verdant yard with a swimming pool, a
giant bronze Buddha and, in the distance, the Santa
Susanna Mountains, green from months of rain.
Nolan, an elementary-school teacher, and Flores,
a graphic designer, so impeccably restored their
house that it probably looks better than it did
when it was completed in 1964. Biondo's house is
equally well preserved, painted pistachio green
to match her 1956 Oldsmobile Rocket. But just down
the block are Eichlers that have been altered to
suit a more conventional suburban aesthetic. At
one address, Eichler's A-frame model, distinguished
by an unenclosed peaked roof over the front door
-- the architects intended it as a car port -- is
covered with a new red-clay tile roof and a line
of classical columns out front. Another house has
been stuccoed over, the roof turned into a giant
gable, like the prop from a lesson about the properties
of isosceles triangles.
While pitched preservation battles in most cities
are usually fought over beloved public buildings,
in Southern California they often center on private
homes -- especially when those homes were designed
by California's great midcentury architects, like
Richard Neutra, R.M. Schindler and John Lautner.
These battles tend to get thorny, pitting as they
do the sacred rights of the property owner against
equally deep-seated, and often rather abstract,
notions of historic value. The city's Historic Preservation
Overlay Zone ordinance, which Biondo and Nolan said
they hope will protect their neighborhood, tries
to split the difference by rewarding, but not demanding,
compliance from homeowners.
Enacted in 1979, the H.P.O.Z. ordinance makes it
difficult, though not impossible, to alter the facade
of a house that is considered a ''contributing''
part of a protected neighborhood; that is, one that
preserves the building's original features. But
it also allows for the continued existence of ''noncontributing''
buildings in the neighborhood. The owners of ''renovated''
houses don't have to change a thing if they don't
want to -- but they get a break on their property
taxes if they do.
There are currently 20 H.P.O.Z.'s in Los Angeles
County. Some are clusters of Victorian houses or
bungalows. Currently, just one consists of postwar
architecture: Mar Vista, a tract of 52 modest, rectangular
houses just east of Venice Beach, became an H.P.O.Z.
in 2003. A 1948 collaboration between the populist
architect Gregory Ain and the landscape designer
Garrett Eckbo, Mar Vista is a lush oasis of 1,100-square-foot
homes laid out as efficiently as cabin cruisers.
The little houses originally sold for $12,000 and
now fetch as much as $950,000.
The movement to preserve and restore Eichler homes
has been going strong for at least a decade in Northern
California, nurtured by a San Francisco-based organization
known as the Eichler Network. But nationally, postwar
tract houses are just beginning to receive the attention
of the preservation community. As Ken Bernstein,
director of preservation for the Los Angeles Conservancy,
pointed out, ''Only about 15 percent of Los Angeles
has ever been looked at.'' The Getty Conservation
Institute, he said, is now working with the city
planning department to survey the remaining 85 percent.
Bernstein said he strongly believes that the conservancy
should back the H.P.O.Z. effort in Balboa Highlands,
as it did in Mar Vista. ''Both were examples of
really bringing the tenets of Modernism to the masses
in an affordable manner,'' he explained. ''And both
also are uniquely intact, surprisingly intact, given
the vagaries of the real-estate market here in L.A.
and the pressures that you see upon individual neighborhoods.
And we also felt that if steps weren't taken soon,
they could become more significantly threatened
in the future.''
Some of the early Eichler-home buyers are still
in Balboa Highlands. Edgar Law, who earned his degree
in architecture, bought his house in 1969 because,
he said, ''it has principles that I believe in.''
He was referring to the openness of the design,
though he and his wife, Fay, as African-Americans,
also benefited from one of Eichler's political principles:
he had a nondiscrimination policy, which was not
the norm in 1960's suburban Los Angeles. John Hora,
a cinematographer, bought his house in 1966. ''It
was so weird-looking that I wasn't going to get
out of the car,'' he told me, taking a break from
his yard work. ''But I walked in, and I was converted.''
Balboa Highlands was one of the last projects Eichler
completed before his foray into urban development
in the mid-60's nearly bankrupted him. Within a
decade, the neighborhood he had envisioned had begun
to change. The Valley's citrus groves gave way to
ever more houses. By the 80's, the real money was
in newer homes, mostly Mediterranean and Spanish
The buyers for Eichlers by this time were mainly
immigrants from the Middle East, Asia or Russia.
They had probably never seen those Ernie Braun photos,
and they dealt with the idiosyncratic look of the
Eichlers by hiding it. They wanted their houses
to look like other houses in the area: stuccoed
Nolan and Flores, who bought their home in 1993,
were among the first of an influx of design connoisseurs.
They were also the ones, together with Biondo, who
circulated the petition to have their neighborhood
considered for H.P.O.Z. status. Most people, Flores
said, even those whose homes had been significantly
altered, ''were O.K. with the idea of the H.P.O.Z.
as long as it was to improve the neighborhood.''
Hoping that some owners of extreme renovations would
try to undo the damage, he tried to stress that
''contributing'' houses in the H.P.O.Z. would receive
tax benefits. One couple, Flores recalled, didn't
like the implication that houses in the original
style were somehow more important: ''They were like,
'Why?''' But for many, the tax breaks just aren't
enough of an incentive to pay for restoration.
Though roughly two-thirds of homeowners eventually
signed the petition, the H.P.O.Z. status of Balboa
Highlands remains uncertain. The ''historic resources
survey,'' conducted for the city's Cultural Heritage
Commission to determine how many of the houses in
the district will be considered ''contributing,''
can't be done because the office in charge of the
surveys recently lost its financing. And while Biondo
holds out hope that the H.P.O.Z. designation is
not far off, she is careful to modulate her zeal.
''I don't want people to feel pressured to do anything,''
Economics may apply the pressure for her. Houses
in Balboa Highlands were originally priced at $30,000.
In 1966, Hora paid $42,000 for his, which, he noted,
was not cheap. In 1993, Nolan and Flores paid $260,000.
It was a pretty good deal. The Eichler cachet, combined
with prevailing real-estate trends, has driven prices
up to more than $600,000 for a fixer-upper and more
than $700,000 for a house that has been well restored.
The H.P.O.Z. is meant to appeal to and attract a
new type of homeowner. The designation doesn't just
protect the look of the neighborhood; it's also
an advertisement. ''I think bringing in like-minded
people is really key,'' Biondo explained. ''That's
been the change over the last eight years, wouldn't
''Oh, yes,'' Nolan agreed.
Biondo continued, ''We try very hard, when the house
goes on the market. . . . ''
''The word goes out,'' Nolan said.
''It goes out,'' Biondo affirmed, nodding her head