New owners of Killingsworth House are committed to preservation

Too often, people with enough money to know better purchase an architecturally impressive house, then chop it up or take it down to the ground to build something more in line with their questionable tastes.

I don’t claim to be the ultimate arbiter of what homes should and shouldn’t be monkeyed with; people can very often do whatever they like with their money. So I cringed a bit upon learning that the home, originally listed at $3.3 million and built by the world-respected Long Beach architect Ed Killingsworth for himself and his family, had been sold.

The potential for aesthetic calamity wasn’t small or trivial. It was easy to imagine some vulture-funder smashing all that glass and erecting a Neo-Quonset-Revival hut out of airplane-grade aluminum and repurposed creosote telegraph poles in its place.

But now I’m relieved, as should fans of local preservation, heritage and architecture, that the absolute classic mid-century modern home on Virginia Road in Los Cerritos is going to be preserved, with only minor restoration, by its new owners, Laurence and Janet Watt.

The Killingsworth house in Long Beach Sunday October 20, 2019. Photo by David Sommers.

“My husband and I weren’t looking for a house, but we saw the Killingsworth house listed and it was so amazing to both of us. We said, ‘This is a house that needs to be preserved’,” said Janet.

She has a master’s degree in architecture and her husband owns a landscaping company, so it was natural for them to immediately fall in love with the mid-century modern home, for which landscaping is part of the architecture, and vice versa.

“A big part of the history of the house is the fact that the Killingsworths hosted a lot of charity groups and fundraisers for the Cancer Society, the Civic Light Opera, the Long Beach Symphony, and a lot of home tours. It’s been an important home in the community, so we’re going to be opening the house up to those sort of things,” said Janet.

She likened the house to the Neutra VDL House, a modernist home in Silverlake that was the residence of the architect Richard Neutra. Now owned by Janet’s alma mater, Cal Poly Pomona, the house is used for architectural research and other studies. “We’d eventually like to work with a university to have an artist-in-residence,” she said.

And the couple will be looking into getting the home eligible for a Mills Act tax deduction for restoration and preservation of historic homes as well as getting it registered as a historic landmark.

The Killingsworth house in Long Beach Sunday October 20, 2019. Photo by David Sommers.

Although she’s lived in Long Beach all her life, Janet never had the opportunity to meet Edward Killingsworth. “I knew of him,” she said, “and of course the Case Study Houses (a project with which Killingsworth was involved) were something we studied in school. And Kim (one of Killingsworth’s sons) has talked to us quite a bit.”

The 1961 house, which has never been sold, is in remarkably good shape, said Janet. The new owners have planned only a few minor changes: taking down a few mirrors and replacing them with original paneling, and removing a Jacuzzi and covering up the spot on the patio with the home’s original bricks, which are still on the property.

The Killingsworth house in Long Beach Sunday October 20, 2019. Photo by David Sommers.

The Watts also purchased most of the furniture and interior pieces that Killingsworth designed. Janet said the architect’s sons wished for most of those pieces to stay with the house.

I had to ask: The house isn’t the sort of place you’d want to throw stones in. Floor-to-ceiling glass abounds. How does one keep all that glass clean?

“Well, it’s clean now,” said Janet, not fretting about it yet. “We’ve only been here a week.”

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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