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Silver Lake Landmark Is Not Open to Public (Blog)

The Garbutt house is a national historic building but the public cannot see it except from a distance.

Listing in the National Register qualifies property owners for a 20 percent tax credit for the certified rehabilitation of income producing properties such as commercial or rental residential buildings.   Additionally, owners of such properties qualify for Federal grants for historic preservation. 

Frank A. Garbutt – inventor, industrialist and movie pioneer and one of the founders of Union Oil Company and the Automobile Club of Southern California -- commissioned the building of the building called "the Garbutt house," which was built between 1926 and 1928. 

Garbutt died in 1947, but his son and two daughters lived at the estate up until 1960, when his family sold the house. 

In 1986, Pegasus Insurance applied to the National Park Service for an historic designation for the Garbutt house in Silver Lake. 

Its executive officer Aaron Hochman designated the house as one used for commercial purposes and indicated on the nomination form that it had limited public access.  (National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Garbutt residence, entered July 22, 1987.  The National Park Service will publish the entire Garbutt file on-line within the next several months. (per: Email correspondence from NPS historian Paul Lusignan to Phyl van Ammers 12/5/2011)   

Garbutt house owners rehabilitated the house in 1981. 

You can watch a video of that restoration here.

Hochman described the house as follows:  “It is built in an irregular building plan and is designed in an eclectic manner including Tudor massing, Richardsonian rockwork  and a ‘stripped down’ or reductive use of detailing, which recalls the early work of Irving Gill in Southern California.  

See photographs of Gill's work.   

The structure is built of reinforced concrete including a massive concrete slab roof…. The design and construction of the building is unique. Specifically, they reflect the powerful functional and personal expression of the original owner/ builder.

Most importantly, the building is designed to be fireproof. It is virtually devoid of exterior ornament and is built heavily of reinforced concrete. All trim is carried out in concrete or metal, and all of the windows are built with bronze surrounds and/or mullions. Almost all of the floors and some of the interior walls are marble, parts of the living room ceiling are concrete painted to look like wood, and imported ceramic tile has been used in several rooms.

A beautiful sink/fountain in ceramic tile is another of the interior's notable features. The design is eclectic and unusual in its functional simplicity. The structure is unaltered on the exterior. A recent remodeling has restored the interior, and modifications have been primarily confined to the replacement of cracked bathroom tile while utilizing original fixtures where possible. \

In brief, the structure has retained its visual and architectural integrity. It is also a visual landmark as it is built atop a high rock promontory. As a result, the vistas from the balcony and porch areas are among the best in Los Angeles as they cover the entire basin from the San Fernando Valley to Palos Verdes.”   

All-concrete houses  (houses with roofs, floors and walls made of concrete) in Southern California are rare (Garbutt nomination form, “Statement of Significance”), but concrete has been around for a long time.  The Egyptians mixed an early form of concrete over 5000 years ago. 

Ancient Roman architecture used a material close to modern cement in the Coliseum and the Pantheon.   The City of San Francisco built the first all-concrete bridge (Alvord Lake Bridge) – which still exists – in 1889. 

Thomas Edison promoted all-concrete houses in 1904.   Edison dreamed of a future in which millions of Americans would live in concrete houses, sleep in concrete beds, and play music on concrete pianos.   His concrete business failed. 

 In 1913, a truck delivered the first load of ready mix in Baltimore, Maryland.   The idea that concrete could be mixed at a central plant, and then delivered by truck to the job site revolutionized the concrete industry

Unfortunately, this masterpiece of Southern California architectural history is not publicly accessible. The City Council illegally withdrew the city-owned streets around it from public use in 1987, and the Hathaway Hills Estate fenced and gated that area.  

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Mark December 10, 2011 at 01:33 AM
The Garbutt house was alone on the hill at the time of its historic designation. Developers had planned to build on the entire hill, and demolish the house as part of the project. The community fought the development -- which was proposed from the get-go as a gated community, was not some subsequent idea of the City Council's -- even calling for the hill to be purchased by the city as parkland. The community lost. But the opposition also had called to at least retain the house rather than demolish it. And from that, the historic status was sought, and the house refurbished. At that time, it was called the Garbutt-Hathaway estate. I don't know when the Hathaway part was dropped. That's the same Hathaway as Berkshire Hathaway, and also the same as the owners of the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The Hathaways also somehow managed to buy up all the properties on what was called the Temple-Beaudry neighborhood, and kicked out all the low-income families renting those houses and demolished the entire neighborhood. But their plans to sell that for skyscraper development were never realized, and the school board swooped in to get it for a new high school -- which ended up becoming a scandal after methane and an earthquake fault were found at the site after construction began. As for Edison promoting concrete, he was hardly unique in that. So did, among others, Frank Lloyd Wright, who built a lot more around here than Edison! That mention of Edison seems kind of odd and confused.

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