On Location: An octogenarian finally gets the modern home of her dreams.
LOS ANGELES — The Allyn Morris Studio, with its spiraling jungle gym of a stairway, is not an obvious choice for an octogenarian. But when Patricia Marks first stepped inside nearly a year ago, she didn’t want to leave.
Marks, now 84, had gone to an open house in this city’s Silver Lake neighborhood as a sightseer and, she recalled, “I was just awed.”
That night, she wrote her daughter an email. “Life just isn’t fair,” it began.
“Here is the most modern of modern houses I’ve ever seen and loved,” she wrote, describing the turquoise mosaic tile, the compact state-of-the-art kitchen, the distant views of city lights, the proximity to her daughter’s family and the circular stairway that she felt, sadly, too old to sail down.
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“I guess you can’t expect to have too many dreams answered,” she concluded. “At least, I’ve had the opportunity to see the Morris House, to know it existed.”
Her daughter, Michelle Marks, still can’t read that email without tearing up. “I thought, this can’t happen: so close to something my mom’s always wanted,” she said recently.
Even as a schoolgirl in Los Angeles, Patricia Marks daydreamed about modern architecture. She doodled floor plans and remembers watching, spellbound, the construction of her new junior high school by Richard Neutra.
As newlyweds in 1954, she and her husband wanted a Case Study House, but couldn’t afford one. They ultimately found a 1920s Tudor, where they raised three children and where she remained for 51 years.
By the time she was widowed, in 2008, the property was too much for her. Yet none of the “sensible” alternatives her daughter proposed inspired her to move. So Michelle Marks and her husband offered to buy the Silver Lake house with her. “The idea of an 83-year-old living there may have seemed crazy,” her daughter said, “but if it was within my grasp to make this new start happen for her, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity go.”
The architecture, like her mother’s willingness to embrace it, was risk-taking. Allyn Morris, a modernist little known beyond local architectural circles, designed the 1,025-square-foot house as his workplace and bachelor pad. But before its completion in 1958 he had married, and in 1962, his son, Howard, was born, prompting the family to move.
Hidden from the street, the house reveals just its brick carport, until you cross the threshold into a three-story glass box anchored on a steep slope. The front door opens into the bedroom, a mezzanine overlooking a double-height living room.
Morris, who also studied engineering, reveled in mechanical and structural invention. The rear facade, double hung like a giant window, is hand operated with bright yellow counterweights on a bicycle chain. The bed cantilevers over a pedestal one brick wide, and rain flows inside by design, into a catch basin beneath the bottom tread.
When the young filmmaker who bought the house in 1995 and restored it put it on the market in 2011, he was intent on finding a buyer who would cherish the legacy of Morris (who died in 2009, at 87). The asking price of $659,000 attracted multiple bidders, but only the Marks family had a glowing reference from Michelle’s high school classmate: that same Howard Morris.
Even Patricia Marks’ possessions seemed destined for this house. The coffee table she built in the 1950s matches the blue mosaics. Her aqua midcentury dishes and her red Prius echo the building’s palette. The Saarinen chairs that never suited her old home fit in here.
And although the move startled some of her friends, she has thrived here, watching the moon through skylights over her bed, taking in the great outdoors from a cantilevered deck and awakening each morning in the house of her dreams.