Owner of Lloyd Wright House Seeks Demo Permit

In a coastal Southern California town, an iconic house faces demolition.

When Mark and Barbara Paullin purchased a five-bedroom, oceanfront Moore House in 2004, they planned to tear it down and build their dream house on the site. But their plans caused an outcry among local preservationists and architecture enthusiasts.

Perched above Malaga Cove in affluent Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., the house was designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, for Dr. and Mrs. Louis Moore in the 1950s. As the story goes, Dr. Moore pointed to a neighbor's house and told Wright, "I don't want a big square house like that one." And so Wright designed something truly unique.

The house features dramatically angled roof overhangs, expansive windows overlooking the water, and walls made of stone from a local quarry. The house stands today as a prime example of Wright's post-war residential work. And it stands out conspicuously on the street otherwise lined by sprawling Mediterranean-style houses.

The Paullins first approached the city with their plans for the Moore House last year, but the proposal was rejected because the house plans were too large and would obstruct neighbors' views.

The Los Angeles Conservancy heard about the proposal to raze the house and sprung to action, urging its members to write letters to city officials in hopes of stymieing demolition. More than 300 letters were sent to the city.

"People don't want to see the teardown trend continue," says Mike Buhler, director of advocacy at the Los Angeles Conservancy, who believes losing the house will "diminish our collective cultural heritage."

Palos Verdes Estates does not have a preservation ordinance. Because there is no official record of the city's historic resources, the house was not designated historically significant when the Paullins purchased it.

In response to the outpouring of letters, the city of Palos Verdes Estates mandated a study of the house. An outside consultant hired for the task indicated that the Moore House was potentially historically significant, but the full environmental impact report is still being prepared. This report will determine the actual significance of the house and the potential impact of its demolition or alteration.

A determination of significance will not necessarily block the demolition, but it will be a factor for the city's planning committee to consider when making its final decision on the house's fate, according to Allan Rigg, the city's director of planning.

But preservationists are still fighting for the home's survival.

"To lose or do unsympathetic alterations or remodeling to the house would do a great disservice to the community of Palos Verdes," wrote the architect's son, Eric Lloyd Wright, in a letter to the city. "There are so few examples of great 20th-century architecture such as the Moore House in the United States that it would be a shame to alter or lose it."

Not everyone is on the side of preserving the home, however. Some neighbors have sided with Paullin, calling the house a "laughing stock" and an "embarrassment" in a recent Los Angeles Times article and subsequent letters to the editor.

"I'm sorry to create all this controversy, but it seems unfair that I would be asked to preserve the home at my cost for everyone else's benefit," Mark Paullin told the Daily Breeze, the local newspaper serving his community. (Paullin could not be reached for comment.)

Buhler counters, "If we lose this house, we would be losing something irreplaceable."

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Submitted by sringer81 at: July 20, 2010
Why not just move the house to another property? There often are homes offered for little or nothing on the condition that they be moved. Theoretically, the current owners could "donate" the home to a local preservation 501C-3, claim a nice tax write off in the process. The current owners could stipulate the house MUST be moved by such a date, and the Preservation society could create preservation easements on the structure, ensuring its conservation and protection for future generations. It's a win-win situation, and will save the current owners a hefty chunk of money for demo and disposal.

Submitted by pf at: July 15, 2010
Unfair? They should never have bought it in the first place, and I'm sure their lawyer told them there was nothing to prevent them from tearing it down, and sadly, that may be the truth. People don't seem to realize that they're stewards- of both the lands we live on and the built environment.

Submitted by Grateful at: July 15, 2010
It sounds like Mr Paulin wants to tear down something that's irreplaceable so he can spend millions to put up a new house with a nice view. He should take a trip to Africa or some other poor country to see what view millions of people have to deal with every day. Then maybe he would be more grateful for what he has and would think about others before himself in this situation he has created.

Submitted by Tom in Long Beach at: July 15, 2010
Best Scenario is if Mark Paulin sells the house to someone who appreciates it and buys another forgettable house to tear down. Hopefully the view the house has is not so unique as to doom it. As for the neighbors they most likely think it is a laughing stock because of simple cosmetics like landscaping or the fact it is not built out to every available square inch of the property. Another example of lots of money and no taste.

Submitted by Studebiker at: July 15, 2010
It never ceases to amaze me how many people with more money than taste or judgment buy unique and high quality original works of architecture just so they can tear them down and build some tacky McMansion. Think about Richard Neutra's signature 1962 Maslon House in Rancho Mirage demolished in 2002 after getting a complete restoration by its previous owner. You can't tell me that Palos Verdes Estates site with a serious work of architecture is the only place the Paullins can build their so-called "dream house." The hills are filled with ordinary builder cliché houses they could have bought and demolished without a hint of protest from people concerned about our cultural heritage. This house should be preserved and the Paullins should have had better judgement than buy a signature structure with the intent of tearing it down, property rights not withstanding.

Submitted by rr at: July 15, 2010
Why don't we all do what our neighbors want with our house and see where that gets us. They don't see the real worth in a house like this

Submitted by sb at: July 15, 2010
". . . it seems unfair that I would be asked to preserve the home at my cost for everyone else's benefit," Maybe someone should educate him on why we have Historic Preservation law. The good of all overcomes the good of one.

Submitted by MacArch at: July 12, 2010
We hope this is a case where the owner can become more friendly and educated about the property he bought. It's a rare and significant piece of architecture that will hold value and when it next changes hands we hope that new owner will be a fan of Lloyd Wright and treat the place with respect.

Submitted by zippy at: July 9, 2010
People should not purchase homes designed by famous architects or of historic significance if they just want to tear them down. They need to be more responsible and not act so stupid.