What is it about living in a Paul Revere Williams designed home that touches the heart of an owner? Twentieth century writer/philosopher Ernest Dimnet may have found an answer when he wrote in The Art of Thinking (1930s), “Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely on the soul.” The current owners of the Baird/Stewart/Garza home in Glendale, California describe their decade long relationship with their Williams designed residence as a “great love story.” Like any romance, their feelings are often conflicted: emotional highs coupled with lows of frustration and an enduring dedication of their time and resources. As only the third owners of this home, they believe living in the house was their destiny.
When Paul R. Williams designed Charles Roland and Elizabeth P. Baird’s 1½ story Spanish Colonial Revival-style house with garage in 1926, this form of residential architecture was one of the most desirable in Southern California. Popularized by the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, the style complimented the area’s moderate climate and the California love of outdoor living. Though often referred to as "Spanish" this style was not "purely Spanish" but a blend of elements from several Mediterranean countries eventually becoming a "homogeneous style called Californian" (The Architect and Engineer. April, 1928).
The Bairds were both active in artistic, social and philanthropic circles and wanted a home for entertaining their extensive network of friends. As the executive-manager of a Los Angeles printing company (Parker, Stone & Baird) specializing in legal publications, George wanted his home to reflect his personal and financial success. Elizabeth needed a place for “at homes” and fundraising events. Building one of the first homes in the 358-acre Casa Verdugo district, their estate-size lot commanded the best views of the valley (Southwest Builder and Contractor. February 19, 1926). Glen O, Winget was hired as contractor/builder by the Bairds. In the next decade he would build many of the homes Williams designed.
The 1926 records of the Los Angeles County Assessor list the total outlay for the Baird home as $15,349—a large sum when the average cost for a house with a lot in Los Angeles was $5,000. (City of Glendale, Historic Preservation Commission Staff Report. 2004) The finished residence was a showcase for the work of the young architect striving to establish himself and grow a client base. Williams offered the Bairds a “total package” stipulating all construction details including woodwork, hardware, fixtures, finishes and some large furniture pieces. Williams was able, like many of the more established architectural firms, to provide a client custom furnishings and accoutrement designed specifically for a space. Some of these original pieces can still be seen in the house. (image 6)
The total architectural plan for the Baird house included not only construction specifications but also how to meld the building with its physical location. Williams sited the building so rooms had grand views of the terraced gardens. The importance of the landscape plan might have been the influence of his early mentor Wilbur Cook. (images 15, 16, 19-21) Water features with Moorish inspired tiles (images 17-18), private seating areas and the geometric layout of the foliage are reminiscent of the Alhambra in Spain and suited to the Spanish Colonial styling of the house. Many of the mature hedges were planted when the house was built.
In 1934, Irvine E. and Mary Stewart began living in the house and eventually ownership transferred to their son, William. A real estate surveyor William recognized the home’s architectural pedigree and strived to preserve much of the architect’s original design and furnishings. For almost 60 years he left untouched the pegged and grooved oak floors, 11-inch thick interior walls, kitchen layout, original hand-made clay tile roof and the 2 tiled bathrooms. (image 14) The house remained much as it was when the Baird family first moved in.
When the current owners saw the property in 1998, they were instantly drawn to its open, airy, light-filled design. Though the residence was not “listed” for sale the Garzas felt the house was meant for their family. William Stewart eventually agreed, recognizing their appreciation for the home and its Paul R. Williams’ heritage. For over ten years the Garzas have worked to carefully improve the modern functionality of their home without sacrificing Williams’ original aesthetic vision. The result is a livable, welcoming space meant for an active family. Filled with many original furniture pieces from the Bairds, the rooms are representative of a past California architectural era without feeling like a museum. Though created for a family long gone the house teaches us that it is possible to keep the elements of a historic house while creating a place for modern living.