Pasadena Commission Ponders Landmark Designation for 5,578-square-foot Dobyns House

Published : Monday, April 15, 2019 | 5:37 AM

Pasadena’s Historic Preservation Commission will deliberate Tuesday, April 16, on a recommendation to designate the property at 870 Chula Vista Avenue as a landmark pursuant to the Pasadena Municipal Code.

“The Winifred Starr and Fletcher Dobyns House and Gardens embody the distinctive characteristics of locally significant property types, architectural styles and period, and represents the work of an architect whose work is significant to the City,” the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting showed. “The house is a locally significant example of a Spanish Colonial Revival-style house designed by locally significant architect Joseph J. Kucera and the gardens are a locally significant example of a Period Revival Estate garden.”

Before the Commission’s regular meeting at 6 p.m., a special meeting will be conducted at 5 p.m. to view the property, designed in 1932 by the Czech-American society architect and period revival specialist.

Trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, Kucera moved to Pasadena in 1919, where he worked as a draftsman for the distinguished firm Marston and Van Pelt before establishing his own practice in 1924. Kucera’s clients included the kind of folks who commissioned not one but two libraries for homes in San Marino or San Rafael Heights, or for clients such as the nephew of Henry Huntington.

Interestingly, Kucera lived in Southern California at about the same time as Austrian-American architect Richard Neutra, whose radical Modernism was the antithesis of Kucera’s commitment to tradition.

Fletcher Dobyns, a well-known critic and book author, and his wife Winifred Starr, a committed feminist as well as a landscape designer and author of California Gardens (1931) commissioned Kucera to design the house.

The 5,578-square-foot Dobyns House was the first and nearly the largest house on Chula Vista Avenue, a secluded, almost hidden short cul-de-sac tucked away in the Linda Vista neighborhood of Pasadena characterized by gracious homes from the late 1930s set amidst large trees and mature landscapes.

The house’s design blends formal Italian Renaissance Revival massing, gardens, and details such as the handsome column capitals and pilasters, with a more easy-going Spanish feeling.

The entry to the residence is a series of carefully orchestrated transitions, beginning with the approach, low myrtle hedges flanking the walkway through a shallow lawn and to a walled courtyard with a central fountain, paved with beautiful rectilinear paving stones like so many upscale private and public buildings constructed in the 1930s.

The interior’s large, high-ceilinged public spaces include the living room with a fireplace and a solid wood open beam ceiling, a central dining room, a large kitchen with a breakfast nook and a fireplace. The floors are solid hexagonal Saltillo tile, while the upstairs flooring is quarter-sawn oak.

Various wings lead away to six bedrooms, offices, five bathrooms and a large boudoir with wall to wall wood cabinetry. A servants’ three-room suite lies off the kitchen and near the three-car garage and automobile courtyards.

From almost anywhere on the east side of the property, the Dobyns’ view included the classically expansive view of the San Gabriel Mountains as well as the Rose Bowl, far below the steep hillside that is also part of the lot. Winifred’s friend, Myron Hubbard Hunt, had designed the world-famous stadium 10 years earlier.

The Historic Preservation Commission meets at the George Ellery Hale Building Hearing Room, at 175 N. Garfield Avenue in Pasadena.

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