Will an historic ranch house on Plymouth Blvd. finally be reborn?

| December 2, 2021 | 0 Comments

It seems that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for the forlorn one-story house on the southeast corner of Third Street and Plymouth Boulevard. At the Nov. 17 board meeting of the Windsor Square HPOZ, the proposed plans for the restoration and expansion of 304 S. Plymouth Blvd. were approved, and the project was granted a Certificate of Appropriateness. You could almost hear a sigh of relief from neighbors as this decision clears the way for work to begin on the abandoned house in the coming year.

If the sad saga of 304 S. Plymouth has finally come to an end, it is thanks to Benjamin Donel of Sunset Equity — a lawyer, broker and real estate investor whose Forbes Councils bio claims that he has “single-handedly flipped over one-thousand homes,” noting that he focuses “especially on distressed assets, foreclosures and note purchases.”

His 2020 acquisition of the property ended the two-decade negligent and dodgy proprietorship of Kim Kwang Tae, during which the house became vacant, decayed and a magnet for vagrants.

The architects of the new project, Jane Keener and Matt Steele of Architecture JHK, were tasked with a challenge: to modernize, restore and expand the house all while respecting its humble ranch-style design. In recent years, requests had been made to demolish and replace the low-slung ranch- style house designed in 1949 by architect Y. W. Nibecker of Huntington Park for Mr. Harry Carian Sr., an Armenian immigrant and prominent grape grower of the Coachella Valley. Due to its status as a contributor to the Windsor Square HPOZ, those proposals were rejected. The successful new design retains the Plymouth and Third Street façades. Additions have been deemed sympathetic to the original.

RENDERING SHOWS the approved proposal for the Plymouth Boulevard home. View is looking northeast.

Ranch houses such as 304 S. Plymouth are a truly American creation. The style originated in the 1920s and ’30s from a fusion of prairie and rancher lifestyle with modernist design heavily influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Open plans, sliding glass doors and a new emphasis on private patios and gardens defined these houses made for indoor-outdoor living. The style’s popularity as post-war middle-class housing made the ranch house perfect for the vast new developments being built in the San Fernando Valley and beyond. By the 1950s, nine out of every 10 houses in California was a ranch house. The custom-built ranch houses in Windsor Square are included in the HPOZ as they show the continuum of residential taste through the postwar decades.

Consulting with the HPOZ Board and the Office of Historic Resources, architects Keener and Steele set to work on an exhaustive analysis of the property, the street and the HPOZ. They studied the exemplary work on two other expanded and restored ranch houses, at 103 N. Norton Ave. and 267 S. Windsor Blvd. To ensure the project’s success, the architects met three times (which is out of the ordinary) with the HPOZ Board, whose members helped tailor the design, resulting in a proposal that restores the majority of the original ranch house, while adding an unobtrusive second story which — due to its ample set back — allows the original form of the historic house to read clearly.

I attended the final hearing on the project before the HPOZ Board and was surprised and impressed with the thoroughness of the review, the level of detail involved in the process and the firm but fair judgment of the board members in attendance: John LaBombard, Shana Barghouti and Louis Polidori. While I initially was inclined not to like the new design (full disclosure, I’m a neighbor), I was brought ’round to appreciate the time and care the architects invested to produce a design that not only elevates the historic property in scale but in stature. Where once the house sank back into its landscape, it will step forward to take its humbler place among the grand dames of the boulevard. Now I wholeheartedly share the sentiments of my other neighbors, who — when asked by the architects their opinions of the project — loudly responded, “JUST GET IT DONE!”


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Category: Real Estate

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