I got a call a few days ago about a Frank Lloyd Wright house about to hit the market in Long Beach. I thought I’d know about the existence of a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Long Beach.
Long Beach has some nice, expertly designed homes in its pricey neighborhoods, with work done by world class architects including Ed Killingsworth, Rafael Soriano, Paul Tay, Richard Neutra, Kirtland Cutter and John Lautner. But not, alas, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Instead, the house that hit the market last week at 5221 E. Vista Hermosa St. in Park Estates was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, Frank Lloyd Wright Jr., who went by the name Lloyd Wright.
A home designed by the son of Frank Lloyd Wright isn’t nothing. The junior Wright often worked alongside for his famed father, and you can make a strong argument that the son’s design of the Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes approaches the work of Frank Lloyd Wright with a near-total involvement with its surrounding environment—a work of art in its own right—and its extraordinary employment of glass, wood and stone in its construction.
The Lloyd Wright home on Vista Hermosa, according to listing Realtors Cynthia Voss and Nathan Walter, “has been restored to perfect authenticity” over the last two years after it had fallen into disrepair by a previous owner, and it’s now on the market for $2.95 million, placing it among the top 10 priciest Long Beach homes currently listed.
As a mere house, the place is beautiful and fully upgraded, if not restored. The flippers, who bought the house for just under a million dollars in 2021, did “a ton of work,” said Voss. “New doors, new windows, new flooring, remodeled four bathrooms, new plumbing and electricity and landscaped front and back and made everything the way Lloyd Wright would have done it.”
The upgrades of everything is apparent. If it was how Lloyd Wright would have done it is, at best, debatable. He died in 1978 at the age of 88.
The bathrooms are shiny and modern but sort of jarring in their departure from Lloyd Wright’s style of using colors that occur in nature. In fact, most of the house’s interior, including the kitchen and much of the flooring, doesn’t seem Wright-style. I talked to a couple of experts in architecture and preservation and both agreed that it would take a lot of money to bring the property up to a faithful version of the original house.
“The bones are OK,” said one Realtor who didn’t want their name used because of the unspoken code among real-estate agents to not poor-mouth one another’s listings. “But I don’t like the finishes inside.” They said they had a client interested in the property, but he balked at the potential expenses of an authentic, faithful restoration.
Is it worth the nearly $3-million asking price? “Oh, God no,” said Sarah Gilbert, a former member of Long Beach Heritage who now offers consulting on home restorations, particularly mid-century modern residential building design.
“Anybody who wants that house to be a Lloyd Wright is going to have to redo the bathrooms and most of the flooring. They butchered the interior as I feared they would.”
Much of the exterior looks fair-to-OK, with the preservation, to some extent, of Wright’s use of large, angular overhanging eaves, especially the projecting structure at the front of the house, that gives a sense of optimistic progress that was prevalent in the era on the eve of the Space Age when the 1955 home was built, though the recent addition of a patio atop the carport and beneath projecting triangle interrupts the implied excitement of that vision.
And the landscaping, an important part of Wright’s design, is fairly weak here. Wright was a student of landscape design and worked with the landscape design firm of Olmsted and Olmsted, the sons of Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. The firm did landscape design for more than 20 college and university campuses, including Stanford, Notre Dame and Ohio State, as well as numerous other projects such as the gardens at Long Beach’s Rancho Los Alamitos.
Wright’s Wayfarers Chapel relies heavily on the confluence of architecture and nature, and he went so far as to plant redwood trees outside the chapel. It is an excellent example of what’s come to be known as organic modern architecture.
The Vista Hermosa house lacks anything close to that splendor, with the home’s flippers relying heavily on ground cover that appears to be bought by the pallet at a discount store’s home and garden section, and the landscaping and hardscaping in the backyard consists of a curious and half-hearted patch of grass and concrete arranged in a geometric pattern that may have been part of Wright’s design, though surely there would have been some spectacular and mature foliage employed to be enjoyed from both outside and inside the house. Though you do get a nice view of the neighborhood from the carport-top patio.
That said, is the house a disaster? Not at all. If you’re looking for a fairly faithful restoration of a Lloyd Wright house, it’s less than a big success, but if you’re in the market for a nice, modern, mid-century house with significant upgrades, this house will fit the bill nicely.
The flippers, said Gilbert, “probably did some good that’s helped the house. They just should have got better advice.”