Feb 22, 2015 11:05 AM
Ray Bradbury home's demise has LA re-examining its history
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) It was the house where Ray Bradbury wrote "Something Wicked This Way Comes," and when the bulldozer came to knock it down literary scholars and preservationists were aghast.
The bright yellow home with the big bay windows where the author lived and worked for 54 years wasn't the first Los Angeles landmark to be flattened of course. The statuesque Ambassador Hotel, where Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, is now the site of a public-school complex.
Still, in a city where not much seems to last very long, the Bradbury home's destruction came as a surprise in part because the guy who knocked it down was one of the city's most prominent architects and Los Angeles is in the midst of what officials call the most far-reaching study of historical structures undertaken by any city.
When it is completed next year, SurveyLA will have catalogued all of the city's 880,000 buildings, giving planners a better idea of what's significant. "Increasingly, we are now able to know what and where our historic resources are," said Ken Bernstein, who manages the city's Office of Historic Resources.
Ironically, the Bradbury home, located in a serene, upscale neighborhood known as Cheviot Hills, was among those structures already catalogued, but somehow was overlooked.
That isn't that surprising, said architecture historian Ken Breisch of the University of Southern California.
Although it was located in a neighborhood that Lucille Ball, Jonah Hill, former Gov. Pete Wilson and other notables have called home over the years, Bradbury's house looked pretty much like any other traditional California home built in the 1930s.
"Planners at the front desk would not have known that this was a house that had belonged to Ray Bradbury and that might not have meant anything to them anyway," Breisch said. "It's not as easy to identify properties associated with certain individuals or significant events as it is with an architecturally significant property."
Still, he added, that doesn't mean it should have been torn down.
"Ray Bradbury is probably one of the most important and most popular authors to have worked in Los Angeles," he said, adding there is ample precedent for saving a house someone important called home.
In 2008, for example, after months of sometimes contentious debate, the city declared the modest, run-down Hollywood bungalow where poet Charles Bukowski once lived a historic-cultural landmark.
It still stands, along with more than 1,000 other such LA landmarks that range from the San Fernando Mission Rey, constructed in 1797 and one of a string of Spanish missions dotting California, to the Chateau Marmont, the Sunset Strip hotel where John Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982.
Bradbury's home appears to have come within days of having a serious shot at joining that list.
The property's current owner, Thom Mayne, obtained a demolition permit on Jan. 5, Bernstein said. Seven days later a new ordinance took effect requiring that anyone planning to tear down a building more than 45 years old first grant public notice to officials and neighbors.
Such notice, Bernstein said, likely would have triggered a public hearing where Bradbury advocates could have made their case for saving the house.
Mayne was unavailable for an interview this week, but he previously told book publisher Melville House's website he considered the house "ordinary." He was dismayed by the public's negative reaction. "Maybe I'm naive, but it's really been a bummer," said the recipient of architecture's top honor, the Pritzker Prize.
Mayne, whose works include such stunning modernist structures as San Francisco's Federal Building, said he plans to honor Bradbury with a wall around his new home that will contain titles of the author's books.
Although Bradbury wrote his most famous work, "Fahrenheit 451," before moving to Cheviot Hills, everything he published from the late 1950s until his death in 2012 was composed in that home's basement office, said Jonathan Eller, director of the Center For Ray Bradbury Studies in Indianapolis.
That list includes "The Illustrated Man," ''I Sing The Body Electric" and "From The Dust Returned."
Breisch is reluctant to criticize Mayne too harshly for returning Bradbury's house to the dust, although he ventures that the architect didn't seem to put a lot of thought into what he did. That said, Breisch said, he believes the action may prevent others from doing the same.
"The demolition of the Bradbury house certainly, unfortunately, brought this issue to the forefront in Los Angeles," he said. "I think there's a new discussion starting and people will look more closely at this in the future."