A house is not a poem


    I’ve read Mr. Gesner’s letter with great interest. I was very young when I moved to Malibu and my first experience here was the 1958 fire, which is what he must be speaking about in reference to the house now under construction. But for a miracle, the house we had just moved into almost went up in flames during that fire. And what a pity it would have been. It’s the house Judge Call built (in 1928) and lived in; then his son, Aza; after him, Sam Wood (who directed “Goodbye Mr. Chips” and Reagan in “King’s Row”) whose frequent guests included Ron Reagan, of course, Gary Cooper, Hemingway, Ingrid Bergman, Richard Nixon, etc. Somehow, that house also escaped the 1993 fire almost unscathed.

    I certainly share Mr. Gesner’s attachment to Malibu and I am sure he is proud, and rightly so, of the many houses he built here. But a house is more than a brilliant design. Driving at a snail’s pace along PCH just west of Las Flores where so many homes went up in flames and are, for the most part, rebuilt, I had a chance to take in the overall look of those hillside homes. Taken individually, many are really lovely examples of excellent architectural planning and execution. But placed one on top of each other, they somehow detract from each other, creating a patchwork quilt that lacks harmony and cohesiveness. Being a hard-core individualist, I certainly abhor conformity of any kind. But it is entirely possible to create a harmonious whole without shouting, “Look how brilliant and original, I am!” Like a fine gem whose beauty gets lost in the wrong set and setting, the same holds true for even the best architectural design.

    I am glad Mr. Gesner mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright, whom I consider to be probably the most influential, original and enduring American architect. Yet Mr. Wright’s creations never shouted, never clashed with or infringed on their environment. On the contrary. And, if he built on ridgelines, he must have done so on geologically stable ridgelines since his work withstood the test of time.

    Our struggle to retain our individuality should also include consideration for the individuality and variability of each building site. What may be suitable and totally safe to build in one place, needn’t be so in another. And I am sure that the one thing we can all agree on is that our coastal hillsides always have been and always will be prone to erosion.

    So, if we indeed love Malibu as much as we profess, shouldn’t we make sure that these proud examples of our ingenuity are built so that they too survive the test of time and that they don’t clash with one another or step on each other’s toes, so to speak? If the La Costa area is indicative of the way Malibu will shape up in the future, then we are indeed in desperate need of some standards that will guide and allow us to retain a pleasing, harmonious look and some measure of safety. That should be more than enough challenge to anyone’s creative talents and ingenuity. Besides, when faced with a client whose vision of a dreamhouse is less than a paragon of tastefulness, wouldn’t any architect welcome some guidelines that would help him curb such a client’s dream that just might turn into a nightmare once it becomes stark reality? So let’s dispense with confrontations and threats and work together to achieve the harmony that seems to be escaping us — in our hearts and in our environment.

    Erna Segal