By Lynne T. Jewell
A chance clue on a vintage holiday card sent Drs. Lou and Suzanne Wenzlaff on the road to discovering the historical value of their mid-century modern house on Waverly Drive.
After three years of deep digging and meticulous researching, the two retired dentists recently received the good news that their 1947 J.R. Davidson-designed Sam and Jane Taylor Residence had been declared the City’s Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) No. 1216.
The Wenzlaff residence joins more than 50 other landmarks in Los Feliz. Over the years, LFIA has supported HCM applicants beginning with the Hollyhock House, one of the first named in the city in 1963. Also designated historic monuments are our signature Deodar Cedar trees (1970) and all of Griffith Park (2009).
Dr. Suz (the nickname on her license plate) led the charge with lots of help from family and new friends. Oftentimes, homeowners hire an architectural historian, but she chose to take the DIY route in assembling the research and paperwork needed to submit an application to the five-member Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.
Wenzlaff, a volunteer on LFIA’s History Committee, had to convince the commissioners, via Zoom, that her residence was deserving of monument status. She showed that the house was an excellent example of Davidson’s work; the architect was known for advancing modern architecture in Southern California. This home, only one of two in Los Feliz (both on Waverly Drive), showcases many of his signature elements, such as an open floor plan, floor-to-ceiling glass and indoor and outdoor spaces.
The Taylors, the original builders and owners, were notable in the fashion and merchandise industry and instrumental in creating and promoting the casual “California Look” in the 1950s.
An extra bonus to the beauty of the hilltop house and grounds was Davidson’s hiring of landscape architect, Garrett Eckbo, referred to as father of modern landscape architecture. Many of his plantings on the property thrive today, including a majestic Carob tree at the top of the winding driveway.
After Eckbo’s death, his papers were donated to UC Berkeley and it was in those archives that a link to the history of the house was found. The Taylors had used an Eckbo sketch of the house’s front entryway on a New Year’s greetings card. It included their sons’ names, Burton and Dean. A tech-savvy Wenzlaff friend tracked down the Taylor family lineage to the eldest grandson David Taylor. “David, his siblings and cousins were as excited as we were to have made the connection,” said Wenzlaff. “Through them we learned about their grandparents’ history and accomplishments—and also made some new friends.”
Achieving a HCM designation was no easy task, but when the Los Angeles City Council gave its seal of approval the day before Thanksgiving, a very thankful Wenzlaff said, “The news re-enforced my conviction that the house where we have lived for nearly 50 years was truly worthy of protection.”
To view HCM landmarks in Los Feliz, visit lfia.org.
Caption for top photo: Entryway in 1948 taken by architectural photographer Julius Shulman.
A version of this column appeared in the Los Feliz Ledger online edition.