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Moore House gets swift demo after PVE ‘OK’

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The Moore House in Palos Verdes Estates was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. and built in 1959. Photo by Stephen Russo

With a few sweeps of the backhoe, the Moore House in Palos Verdes Estates was reduced to fragments last week just a day after the city council upheld the rights of the property owner to tear it down.

For many people, the home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. and built in 1959 represented an architectural piece of artwork and a prime example of post-war modernism.

But for the local community that prides itself on having some of the strictest building codes in the nation, the house was largely viewed as an eyesore.

Property owner Mark Paullin said his family lived in the home for more than three years before deciding for several reasons — such as the small backyard, limited ocean views and a couple safety issues — that the home was unsuitable.

“What we found was it was a piece of art certainly, but it was a difficult house to live in and a poorly designed house,” said Paullin, an executive in the manufacturing industry.

There were no historic preservation protections on the home when Paullin bought it in 2004, yet as soon as he submitted plans to bulldoze it, a Los Angeles historical conservation society stepped in, triggering a three-year environmental impact review that ultimately cost Paullin close to $200,000.

Last Tuesday, the Palos Verdes Estates city council unanimously upheld the EIR, officially closing debate on the matter and giving Paullin the go-ahead to bring in the wrecking crew. Councilwoman Rosemary Humphrey raised the inch-thick EIR document and said the process was sound.

“None of the alternatives panned out and the seismic work is too intensive,” she said.

The next day all that remained of the home was the stone fireplace amid a mound of rubble.

A backhoe razed the Moore House last week after the city council gave the go-ahead. Photo courtesy Mark Paullin

“I’m anxious to get our new home up,” said Paullin in explaining the prompt demolition. “I had a long time ago gotten all the things together that we needed to get it done. And we were waiting and waiting. So we were excited.”

Testimony at last week’s public hearing showed just how divergent opinions about architecture can be.

More than a dozen conservationists from the greater Los Angeles area defended the house including several architecture historians as well as the architect’s son Eric Lloyd Wright, who’s now in his 80s.

But speakers from the local community unanimously supported the owner’s right to tear it down. Rene Scribe said he’s been appalled at the process.

“It’s hard to believe this is happening in America,” Scribe said, calling the way Paullin was forced to pay for an environmental assessment a “costly injustice.”

City councilman John Rea said the Moore House, named for the Moore family that had it commissioned, doesn’t fit with the neighborhood.

“If this house was coming to us now, I don’t see how it would be approved because it’s not compatible with the neighborhood,” Rea said.

Others were less polite, criticizing the design as an “eyesore” and “a bad day” for the famed son of an American icon.

New home construction and major renovations in Palos Verdes Estates require approval from the city along with the local Homes Association and an Arts Jury. They generally conform to Spanish, colonial and Italian designs, and all with red tile roofs. The Moore House was so vastly different that it stuck out.

The home’s positioning on the lot at a 45-degree angle together with its winged roof and triangular features looked like an aircraft, conjuring the Aerospace boom of the 1950s. The architect also incorporated local building materials from Palos Verdes rock quarries.

Supporters of the Los Angeles Conservancy, which triggered the EIR based on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), sent more than 300 letters urging the city council to stop the home’s demise. But throughout the three-year effort, no one ever approached the owner to purchase the home or help to have it restored, Paullin said.

Regina O’Brien, chair of the Modern Committee, said mores and opinions of modernism have changed.

“These types of architectural treasures are rare,” she said. “To tear it down would do a disservice to the cultural history for everyone.”

Alan Hess, an author on the history of architecture, said many of the Victorian and Craftsman styles cherished today were considered hideous at one time.

“It’s great to see that architecture can still inspire passion,” he said.

Eric Lloyd Wright said he remembers helping his father on the design of that house as a young man.

“I was feeling very sad because it’s not only a loss of my father’s work being my father, but it’s a loss to the community here in Palos Verdes,” Lloyd Wright said following the hearing. “This was a house that was showing the way for new architecture and working with the materials in the ‘50s and ‘60s and the lot and the environment. That all shaped the house. Most houses are not that way.”

About 70 other homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. are still standing, but many others have been torn down, and usually not without a fight. Though it was admired by outsiders and architecture aficionados, the Moore house simply never won over the community in Palos Verdes Estates where different is not always the most admired asset.

“It’s hard for people to accept change,” Lloyd Wright said. “And this was a change.”

Asked whether he felt close to his father defending his work, he said “It’s the least I can do.”

For a pre-demolition video tour click here. ER

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