Forgotten Giant - Page 5

Once the ‘miracle man’ behind more than 40,000 tract homes, Southern California architect Edward H. Fickett and his modern hybrids slip back into the limelight
With three of his apartment buildings already landmarked, efforts are under way to restore Fickett’s Sunset Capri Apartments (above).

In the mid-1960s, his designs for Pacific Island Village in Laguna Niguel had outrigger roof beams that suggest Tiki. Those beams are no longer in evidence. It is possible they were never placed on the houses.

Even in his smaller tract homes, and some were very small, Fickett often provided tall ceilings in living areas. Some of his tracts, including Rollingwood Estates, offered buyers open-beam, 'volume' ceilings, or standard ceilings with attics. Fickett clearly preferred the former.

Fickett loved creating intricate patterns of shade, through louvers, lap-sided board walls, open-work overhangs, and openwork concrete or wooden screens with peek-a-boo openings. Screens often provided privacy for picture windows facing the street. Louver panels near front doors resemble shutters and hide utilities.

Concrete walls with protruding blocks are another characteristic touch, both inside the house and outside. Iovenko has such walls in his home both inside and out.

Unlike some modernist designers, who liked their homes to have a single material for exterior siding, Fickett delighted in mixing it up—board-and-batten on one section, floor-to-ceiling louvers or stucco on another. He often provided visual interest by grouping his windows in twos or threes, and framing the group of them in a box-like frame.

Fickett's love of texture can be seen in his signature 'combed wood' ceilings, which are often found in the most modest of his tract homes and his most palatial customs.

Fickett often provided his homes with low planter boxes along the front facades, and with cutouts in the exterior overhangs—or in interior roofs—to allow trees to grow through the roof.

The Iovenkos’ lovingly restored Hollywood Hills Fickett today.

Back in the day, Fickett was known for his unusual use of colors. Kiyo Irving, a longtime resident of Granada Estates, recalls all too well her chartreuse ceiling beams, "that icky yellow green."

One of Fickett's best-preserved homes, on Cody Road in the hills of Sherwood Park, shows how all of his design elements work together to produce something special. David and Angelique Higgins, who recently sold the 1956 home after living there ten years, saw no reason to change a thing.

The home has its original, Fickett-designed space-age light fixture in the dining room, screens of 'insula-rock' by the front door, cheery green concrete block walls and yellow beams, shoji screens, inexpensive pegboard cabinetry, slats and louvers.

What all this adds up to, they say, is light, which changes throughout the day and always shows up when—and where—it is needed.

Fickett, who was named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1969, never completely retired, continuing to design custom homes and other projects. "He was still having fun till the last year," and winning at tennis, Joycie Fickett says—until he got food poisoning at a party. He died in 1999 at age 83 after an extended hospitalization and several surgeries.

Though his name has been forgotten by the general public, that may be changing—slowly.

The Los Angeles Conservancy considers Fickett an important architect whose work should be better known, says Chris Iovenko, though, he says, "I'm not aware of individuals who are currently working to raise his profile though that would certainly be a welcome turn of events."

Efforts to preserve several of his wonderful apartment buildings in West Hollywood have turned three into landmarks, with a fourth approved but blocked by an appeal from the owner, and have brought increased awareness of his work.

At the semi-circular Sunset Capri, which floats above Sunset Boulevard, efforts are underway to restore some of the condominium's mid-century glitz, including its original sign. "We're going to get it much more of a Palm Springs, mid-century feeling," says Eric Hellyar, president of the homeowners association.