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Touring the Soriano-Designed Lukens House, Miraculously Back From the Near-Dead

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Photos by Elizabeth Daniels

When we first saw the Lukens House back in July 2010, it was, judging by photos, pretty well trashed, and had been abated as a nuisance and taken over by the city. Today it's been beautifully and sensitively restored and is making a very pleasant home for its new owner, real estate agent Mike Chapman (he moved in in November last year). The Jefferson Park house was designed by Raphael Soriano and built in 1940 for ceramicist Glen Lukens on what had once been a piece of the turn-of-the-century Lycurgus Lindsay estate--that property stretched from West Adams (where the old house, a city historic-cultural monument, is now part of a Polish church) down to West Twenty-Seventh St., where the Lukens property was originally part of its gardens. According to Chapman, Soriano didn't do any grading at the site, he just built around the mansion's existing terraces. A set of old steps still runs down the property and underneath the house and an old greenhouse still stands in the Lukens's backyard.

Chapman had restored a mid-century property in Palm Springs and was browsing listings for clients when the Lukens sale popped up. He tells us that when he bought the house in fall 2010 (for $285,000), the utilities had been off for 20 years, the front porch had been boarded in and used as a bedroom, and that 14 cars, a boat, and shipping containers had to be hauled away.

Chapman worked with Barry Milofsky of M2A Architects, who left the floorplan on the western side of the house intact, but opened up the eastern side (starting at about the fireplace and running toward the kitchen). Everything was pretty much taken down to the studs and all of the surfaces are new, but the pair used a set of 12 photos taken by the architectural photographer Julius Shulman, along with drawings from Soriano's archives, to keep faithful to the original designs.

Originally, the house had a wall between the living room and the kitchen, the kitchen was in the area now used as a dining area, the current kitchen was a servant's room (it led into a service hallway and out the side of the house), and there was no vestibule outside the master bedroom. New kitchen lights had to be put in to comply with Title 12 building requirements; they chose square ones to mirror the geometry of the house. Since the Lukens is a historic-cultural monument, the city had to approve the changes; Soriano had started using open floorplans within about five years of designing the house, according to Chapman, so the alterations made historical sense.

While Chapman has greenified the greenhouse, he hasn't done any restoration work on the structure yet (that's a future project); at some point, the front half was torn off, but the wood remains pretty sturdy. Most of the property's greenery was there when Chapman bought the house--he just rearranged things--and others were given to him by friendly neighbors, who of course have been pretty happy with the work he's done.

Chapman says he plans to stay in the house for a while, and hopes that the renovation is the last one the house will need for a very long time.
· Lukens House Archives [Curbed LA]

Lukens House

3425 W. 27th St., Los Angeles, CA