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A LEGACY YOU CAN LIVE IN THOUSANDS OF VALLEY HOMES ATTEST TO LATE ARCHITECT'S ENDURING INFLUENCE.

Byline: Steve Carney Staff Writer

Ten thousand families in the San Fernando Valley can thank him for their distinctive homes.

But few know the name Edward H. Fickett, the man responsible for that signature look.

Dubbed the ``creator of the San Fernando Valley'' and the ``Frank Lloyd Wright of the '50s'' by magazines of that time, Fickett died a year ago today at age 78.

During his five-decade career, he designed lavish resorts, government projects, and mansions for Joan Crawford and other Hollywood stars. But the legacy probably enjoyed by more people than any other is the collection of tract homes Fickett specialized in during the 1950s and '60s. They cover Southern California, with 10,000 built in the Valley alone.

They feature expansive floor-to-ceiling windows. Open kitchens connect to dining rooms. Wood, brick and glass are used throughout. And each of the huge windows leads to a patio or garden area, ``to bring the outside in,'' as Fickett said.

``He wanted to create luxury homes at affordable prices. Something that was geared toward the middle class,'' said his wife, Joyce Fickett.

``He would put in 14-foot high ceilings and glass walls. It made it look like you had this huge, huge home,'' even if it was only 1,600 or 2,000 square feet, she said.

Fickett designs appeared on the covers of Sunset, Better Homes & Gardens, American Home, Architectural Digest and others.

``They were admired within the industry and magazines,'' said Richard Fish, a retired architectural photographer who lives in a Fickett home in Encino that he and his wife bought 12 years ago.

A fourth-generation Angeleno, Fickett created homes for Ava Gardner and Dick Clark, and a residence on Switzerland's Lake Geneva for Charlie Chaplin. He designed the original Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, and the passenger and cargo terminals at the Port of Los Angeles, for which he won one of his numerous national awards. He supervised construction of Pacific bases while with the Navy in World War II, and devised the master plans for Edwards and Norton Air Force bases.

But in between the high-profile jobs, he designed stylish residences for average families - fighting the trend of plain, cookie-cutter creations other architects churned out to meet the exploding housing demand.

In '50s and '60s, the greatest boom time in the Valley's history, the population surged from 500,000 to 1.2 million. Many of those arrivals were World War II veterans starting families and new jobs, and looking for their own slice of the new suburbia.

``For the poor guy trying to get that first home, Fickett designed it for him,'' said Tiger Palmer, 83, who's been selling real estate in the Valley since 1958. The first five houses he sold were Ficketts, in the area of Dickens Street and Levitt Lane in Sherman Oaks.

``The poor GI when he came out, he couldn't afford more than $12,000'' for a home, Palmer said. ``He designed those homes, and gave them everything someone would pay $20,000 for.''

They had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, copper plumbing and metal-framed windows that wouldn't rot like wooden ones, Palmer said. And Fickett saved money by using colored plaster instead of paint, concrete slabs instead of wood floors and carports instead of garages, among other measures.

``He was the pioneer in modern, low-cost housing,'' Palmer said. ``He was what you called the gift to the poor man. He gave a home that was more than just a couple of bedrooms and a bath.

``All his homes are real sleek and modern,'' he said. ``He was 20 years ahead of his time.''

Joyce Fickett said her late husband's desire to provide splendid homes at modest prices originated during his childhood, when the Great Depression forced his family to move from a mansion in Laurel Canyon to a cramped apartment.

Fickett, a tall, youthful, gregarious man, whom passers-by often mistook for Jimmy Stewart, attended the architecture school at the University of Southern California. But once again, hard times intervened and forced him to leave after his first year and go to work for his father, a building contractor.

On one job, for actress Irene Dunne, he walked into the kitchen for a glass of water and found her crying at the table. She said the renowned architects she'd hired from New York and Italy couldn't translate her vision. Fickett asked what she wanted, and began drawing plans on the back of her blueprints as she spoke.

``Yes, my son! Keep going! This is what I want. They haven't understood,'' Joyce Fickett said Dunne told her husband, then still a teen- ager.

Three days later, an anonymous donor paid Fickett's way back to USC, completely covering his tuition, books, room and board. Years later, Dunne confirmed it was her.

During his career Fickett designed 60,000 structures, including the pool complex at Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Park, which he completed three months before he died.

He designed the new extension to the Nethercutt Antique Car Museum in Sylmar, as well as the Bistro Gardens restaurant in Beverly Hills.

He began the historic and seismic renovation of City Hall tower, under then-Mayor Tom Bradley. And he restored to its original design the city's first fire station, which had been gutted in a blaze, but which reopened last year as the African-American Firefighter Museum in South Central L.A.

Fickett had the respect and admiration of his colleagues, winning the highest honors of the American Institute of Architects. But Fickett never was a household word, a brand name like Frank Lloyd Wright, or even as famous as other L.A. architects of the era, such as Richard Neutra or Rudolph Schindler.

``This is something I've always asked myself. Why isn't Fickett better known?'' said Annie Constantinesco, a Beverly Hills real-estate agent who has lived in a Fickett house in Sherman Oaks since 1988. ``He did not like publicity. I don't think he put himself forward. He did not give interviews - maybe he wasn't looking for the limelight.''

Joyce Fickett said he was exceedingly modest, even with her, and recalled a trip they took to the exclusive La Costa Resort and Spa north of San Diego.

Just as they were packing to leave, ``he said, 'Joyce, what do you think of this place?' I said, 'It's beautiful.' He said, 'What do you think of it architecturally?' ''

He finally confessed to designing the resort and its 36-hole golf course.

In addition, Fickett drew up plans for hotels in Reno and Palm Springs, resorts in La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and 17 homes for the glitterati in Malibu, many of them along one stretch of Broad Beach Road.

He also tried to foster an interest in architecture among students at universities nationwide by forming the AIA Lecture Series in the 1950s. He toured the country with Wright, Neutra, Schindler, R. Buckminster Fuller and Quincy Jones.

During one lecture tour, Fickett picked up Wright at the Biltmore Hotel to drive him to their speaking engagement.

``He wanted to show him some of the newer stuff that had been done, and he drove him through the San Fernando Valley,'' Joyce Fickett said. ``He apologized: 'I'm sorry to drive you through this area that's not very pleasing architecturally.' Wright replied, 'Don't worry, my son. These are just temporary.' ''

The Fickett homes have endured, though - winning awards and even recognition as cultural monuments, in some cases.

``A Fickett house, it's instantly recognizable,'' Constantinesco said.

``If you take Neutra or some of the other guys of the same period, maybe they did fewer, but more interesting (designs) in terms of architecture,'' she said. But the Fickett houses, even though they ``are not luxurious houses, they allowed the medium-sized budget to have a very comfortable floor plan. And it was certainly suited to the California climate.''

Fish, the photographer who owns an Encino home designed by Fickett, said at the time the architect was a brand name.

``I knew what a Fickett house was, even though it doesn't have the fame of the steel-and-glass modernists,'' Fish said, such as Neutra, Schindler, or Pierre Koenig.

And thousands of average buyers in the '50s and '60s knew the reputation as well. They wanted a home, not an icon.

``People were asking for Fickett homes. They said, I want a Fickett.'' Palmer said. ``He played it very quiet. He wasn't handing out cards. He just was quiet and did a hell of a job.''

CAPTION(S):

6 photos, map, drawing, box

PHOTO (1 -- 2 -- color) Architect Edward Fickett, seen top in an undated family photo, designed thousands of homes in the Valley's boom time of the 1950s and '60s. Hallmarks of a Fickett house included floor-to-ceiling windows, as in the Encino home, above, of Richard Fish.

(3 -- color in Bulldog edition) Retired architecture photographer Richard Fish sits in the back yard of his Encino home, which was designed by Edward Fickett.

(4) The large windows and low-sloping roof of this home embody the signature style of the late Edward Fickett, dubbed at one time the ``creator of the Valley.''

(5) While the style may seem dated to fans of contemporary architecture, Edward Fickett's designs let ordinary '50s families bypass the cookie- cutter tract homes prevalent even now.

A Fickett home's high ceilings gives residents a feeling of space even within a modest amount of square-footage. Less opulent construction materials made it affordable for its time.

(6 -- ran in Bulldog edition only) Ample opportunities for natural light to flow in, as well as ceilings that mirror the slope of the roof, are hallmarks of the Fickett style geared toward an emerging middle class looking for its own slice of suburbia in the post-World War II era.

Phil McCarten/Staff Photographer

Map: North Hollywood

Bradford Mar/Staff Artist

Drawing: Mansions for the masses

Bradford Mar/Staff Artist

Box: Hallmarks of Fickett's homes
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 21, 2000
Words:1645
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