By John Luke
When changes in their professional lives brought Faith and Mark Dymek and their family to Southern California from the Washington, D.C., area in 2004, they had little idea what was in store for them. Born and raised in the Midwest—Faith in Nebraska, Mark in Illinois—they had been given one piece of advice by Mark’s new Southern California–based associates: look for a home in Pasadena, the Southland city that most resembles the country’s heartland.
They also brought with them a houseful of Craftsman furniture, much of it in the Prairie Style that reflects their roots, which they had acquired over the 20 years they had been married—the kind of furniture in whose serene, hardy aesthetic they had recognized their values, their family histories, a sense of who they are.
It was fitting, then, that they began their search for a home by looking for Craftsman houses in Pasadena, preferably older ones built during the early decades of the 20th century, when the Craftsman style was in its heyday and Pasadena was its epicenter.
This was 2004, however. The housing market was booming. And as it happened, there was only one vintage Craftsman home on the market in Pasadena: a dark, two-story redwood place built in 1909 that had been sitting empty for years on an overgrown lot in the venerable, built-up Oak Knoll neighborhood that is also home to the Greene & Greene Blacker House. Mark discovered it at a Sunday open house while Faith was still back in Virginia.
“I recall a cell-phone conversation as he sat out front in his car,” Faith says. “He was so excited about the location—the lot and the neighborhood. But he was very disappointed by the condition of the house.”
As they were soon to learn, it had been designed and built for the family of a Pasadena dentist, Francis Ledyard, by a firm whose two principals—Mendel Meyer and Phillip W. Holler—would later become best known for two iconic Hollywood movie palaces: the Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian theaters. (See Robert Winter’s sidebar on page 58.)
An illustrated 1911 article in American Homes and Gardens had described the house, in the quaint rhetoric of the day, as “an interesting application of Swiss architecture for American use.” As the old photographs showed, it had been modeled on a Swiss chalet, with a pergola of rough, “bark-on” redwood logs across the front, sitting on a low rise behind a curving driveway that entered from the street through an imposing log gateway, of the sort you might expect to see at the entrance to a grand hacienda or a sprawling ranch in a classic Hollywood Western.
By that Sunday in 2004, the logs that featured so prominently in the old photographs were long gone. The dramatic front pergola had been taken down in the 1920s, when it began to come apart after more than a decade of exposure to sun and rain. The front gateway and another log pergola in the side garden had both eventually toppled and had never been rebuilt.
Although the kitchen had been vinylized and the open-air sleeping porch on the eastern end of the second floor had been awkwardly glassed in, the house’s string of owners had done relatively little to it, good or bad. It was as if they had simply let it go to seed, not quite knowing what else to do with it.
In spite of these deprivations, Mark sensed the property’s potential. And Faith, a descendant of farmers and woodworkers like her grandfathers, whose skill and grit she revered, was willing to take a chance, especially when they saw what it had looked like in its prime.
“We began to sense a momentous opportunity—almost a responsibility—to restore a unique historic property,” she says.
The question was whether that would even be possible, given that all they had to go on were some old photos. It didn’t hurt that one of Pasadena’s most esteemed architects, Douglas F. Ewing, FAIA, had also been interested in the house. He and his wife had given up the idea of buying it themselves only after failing to come to an agreement with the owner, who had bought it with the sole intention of flipping it. In his last act as a would-be buyer, Ewing had given the listing broker his portfolio book and asked him to tell serious buyers, if there were ever to be any, to call him. Having grown up and pursued a distinguished career in the midst of Pasadena’s Arts and Crafts masterpieces, he had designed and carried out more than 40 national and AIA award-winning restorations of historic buildings, in addition to more than a thousand design projects throughout the U.S. and around the world. Intriguingly, he had also developed a love for the rustic log architecture of the Adirondacks and had adapted it to the design of several Montana ranch houses.
He, too, could see the potential in this obviously distressed property, and if any other prospective buyer was willing to take a chance on it, he knew he could help. He was right.Pin It