Julius Shulman Photographic Archive, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute
In 1952, grocer Fred Roberts and his wife Florence commissioned Paul R. Williams to design a modern home for them at their family ranch at Solstice Canyon in Malibu. Fred had begun buying land in the area in the 1930s, eventually amassing almost 1000 acres.Their Williams' designed house, built of stone, brick, and wood, was a perfect architectural fit for the home-site of waterfalls, springs and lush vegitation.The long, low ranch house surrounded by pools and falling water successfully created the tropical feel the couple wanted for their retreat.The couple named their residence Tropical Terrace. This interior photograph by Julius Shulman illustrates an important Williams' architectural feature, the incorporation of the outside as an intergral part of the design.
Fred Roberts was the founder of Roberts Public Market, a Santa Monica based chain of grocery and liquor stores started in the late 1920s. (From 1936 through 1948 the Roberts Public Market rented space in the Williams designed Edwin Building.) A successful entrepreneur, Roberts would expand his markets to 19 stores in Santa Monica, Venice, and throughout Los Angeles. He sold the chain to Fitzsimmons Stores in 1949 ( Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1949) and began planning his retirement home.
The couple were active partners with Williams in the design of their Malibu home. Their many ideas for how their dream house should be built and decorated were incorporated into the final product. The architect worked closely with Florence advising her on color and fabric selection and much of the furniture was custom built for the home.
Concerned about the area's high fire risk Fred insisted that the architect include an elaborate fire protection system for the home and build using only fire resistant materials. Williams' carefully thought out system of pumps, pipes, and water collecting pools could only put off the inevitable. Roberts died in 1976 and would not see his dream home's end. It would be totally destroyed in 1982 by one of the fall wildfires that frequently burn through the canyon to the ocean.
In a 2010 interview Robert's granddaughter, Lisa, pronounced Williams' interpretation of the couple's residential vision a great success. "He was able to mould the home into the landscape.There was a planter box on the entryway with live trees. The tropical landscaping made it feel like a different area. You drove across the cattle guard and onto smooth concrete. The box canyon opened into a wonderland."(Malibu Surfside News, 11/11/2010)
Solstice Canyon along with the remains of the Roberts Ranch homesite became a public park in 1988 managed by the National Park Service. Traces of the Williams' designed landscape, fish pond and the grassy area overlooking the creek remain, looking like a "life-sized blueprint" of the original home. (National Park Service. Soltice Canyon) Serene and beautiful the area is a favorite circuit for hikers.
Though little evidence of the original construction remains today, images by famed photographers George R. Szanik and Julius Shulman (images now at the Getty Research Institute) show the scope of the design project. Taken for pictorial spreads published in major design magazines including Architectural Digest (volume 14 issue 1), these photos can only hint at the fantastical results of the Roberts and Williams collaboration.