The historic Guasti Villa (later the Busby Berkeley Estate) located in the West Adams Historic District is a listed City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument. The imposing, nearly symmetrical main house is truly one of the most architecturally significant in the area.
In 1910, the Guasti’s commissioned Hudson and Munsell, to design this Beaux Arts/Italian Renaissance mansion. The house was not completed until 1913. After the death of Mrs. Guasti in 1937, the estate and its contents were auctioned, with famed Hollywood choreographer and film director Busby Berkeley (1895-1976) winning the bidding. The villa was sold again and used as a home for unwed mothers, then later as a boarding house for budding actresses. In 1949 the Los Angeles County Physicians Aid Association bought it to use as a home for retired doctors and their widows. At that time, some of the large rear gardens were removed and two residential wings were added. The current owner purchased the building in 1974. The historic house is currently used for offices and meeting rooms but the 1949 residential wings are still used as residential quarters.
During the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, numerous sections of the large and heavy cast-concrete cornice stones de-bonded from their old mortar beds and fell or came loose not having the weight of the original cast concrete balustrade sections on top of them to hold them in place. As they fell, they destroyed some portions of the building underneath them. Eight hundred pound pieces of cast concrete stone cornice littered the ground. A thorough study was made and a plan was finalized with all work to be consistent with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Standards. The exterior was to be restored to its former beauty with all original elements being repaired or replicated using modern materials and hidden structural reinforcement, precisely matching the original in design, color, and texture.
The work included extensive structural repairs to the URM walls and a full Division 88 URM seismic retrofit. These repairs and structural enhancements were designed to be incorporated below the roofline and above the ceilings of the second floor. Other steel braces and reinforcement that were hidden beneath the floors of the second story but above the first floor ceilings to avoid damaging the ornate wood paneling and the beautiful hand painted ceiling murals at the first floor. The first and second floors were further tied to the outer URM walls just below the floor lines with epoxy anchors tied to the floor joists. The roof framing and second floor ceiling joists were anchored to the outer walls in a similar manner. Some exterior brick walls had the outer plaster and wythe of brick removed and replaced with reinforcing bar and shotcrete to add shear value to the structure. The plaster was then re-installed to match the adjacent historic finish.
At the roof perimeter, new lightweight GFRC cornice and balustrade units were cast using original elements to make the molds. Angle braces were hidden behind the GFRC cornice and balustrade units to add stability. Sections of the original cast stone cornice and balustrade pieces have been saved and are stored on the grounds. Exterior cast-iron balcony railings were repaired. The original doors and windows were retrofitted and repaired with almost no replacement of the original. All original hardware was removed, re-plated, and reinstalled. The exterior was cleaned, re-plastered and repainted to match the original colors. All interior oak paneling, columns, stairways, and painted wall and ceiling murals were carefully cleaned and gently finished.
The entire mansion now reflects the gracious elegance of long ago. The restoration of the Guasti Villa has resulted in preserving some of the rich culture and history of the West Adams Historic District in Los Angeles.
PEACE THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY DINING HALL
Within the beautiful Guasti Villa (a LA Historic Monument, restored by architect in 1997), this new dining facility for the Peace Theological Seminary evokes the balance and serenity of Zen while connecting to the historic fabric of which it is attached. It serves both Seminary residents and public alike.
Moving though the historic lobby one moves from the previous century into the present. The new dining hall is an expression of modernity in contrast to the earlier neo-classical architecture. At the same time, it is an extension of that earlier sensibility. One flows into the other. Each type of architecture maintains its own identity while harmonizing with the other. This has been achieved through clarity of plan and utilization of material. For example, the beautiful figured white oak walls of the original villa segue into in the generous use of walnut, teak, alder, and hemlock in the new room. Around a large existing stairwell a series of new spaces were created: a ‘common table’ alcove, a large common booth under the stair, the main dining room, and an adjacent exterior, trellis-covered terrace. An existing masonry wall was opened up to connect these two areas and to expansive views overlooking the city.
The primary focus of the Seminary, practical spirituality through inner reflection, and its application in the world, is materialized in the new room through the balancing of opposites and the Zen notion of wabi-sabi, or “the perfection of imperfection,” an appreciation of the rustic, and of simplicity within complexity. The form and shape of the common table and the wood slatted ceiling is Japanese. The light fixture, modernist in form and construction technology, is a re-interpretation of the paper lantern. Common grade, walnut, teak, alder, and hemlock balance the hand-rubbed metal walls. Stainless steel and marble elements (coffee bar and buffet server) float within a field of warm woods. Modern and rustic coexist as one. Layers of complexity come together in a simple way.