A historical Victorian, Purchased for $1, makes an amazing journey from L.A. to Manhattan Beach and gets the makeover of a lifetime.

Regally presiding over Third Street in Manhattan Beach, west of Redondo Avenue, a large Victorian house commands attention on the north side of the road. This is perhaps one of the most prestigious and historically preserved homes in the South Bay.

Architect H.M. Bonsfield designed the 4,500-square-foot structure in 1903 for his customer Albert Halfhill, and it was built two years later. What’s especially unique about this Queen Anne/Colonial Revival is that it was originally located at 541 Parkview Avenue, one-half block north of 6th Street and adjacent to MacArthur Park in the city of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Conservancy considered this home to be one of the key elements for a proposed historic preservation district in the city. However, the project never came to fulfillment, leaving a glorious piece of architecture to deteriorate in a progressively unsavory neighborhood.

Over the years, the Victorian style lost much of its original detail and appeal. It badly needed a new owner to invest the time and money to bring this majestic home back to life.
The Kenndown Development Group, which eventually bought the property, gave Bud and Christine Bell the opportunity to buy the mansion for $1. Yes, $1. This rather inexpensive business transaction would prevent the house from being demolished and give it a second chance at glory.

The Bells always dreamed of owning an authentic Victorian home. However, the pickings were slim-to-none in their preferred neighborhood of Manhattan Beach. Although the house was in a poor state, the Bells admired many of its original architectural amenities.

Despite the monumental renovation challenges, the family had found their dream house. But how to get this aging structure to the beach?
After the purchase, the Bells were given extra time to move this treasure, all in the name of historic preservation. The first step was to request approval of a building moving permit to allow the 60-ton, two-story, single-family residence to be moved to the 50-by-150-foot lot the Bells purchased.

A zone variance was also necessary for the “witch’s cap” feature, which was over the height limit prescribed by the city code. The intrusion of a bay window into the required side yard also had to obtain a zone variance.

Given the size of the building, the move of the house would only be possible if it was divided into four basic pieces, with the witch’s cap removed from the roof. On August 10, 1983, the first section of this historic residence began its amazing journey from Los Angeles to Manhattan Beach. The transport of the four pieces took 12 days (though originally estimated for two.)
They encountered many delays. First, the house wouldn’t fit under power lines and overpasses. While parked along the route, vandals smashed windows, and an unexpected rain shower damaged plaster on the interior walls. At the time, homeowner Christine expressed, “The difficulties seemed insurmountable.”

But it did make it. And once permanently placed on the property, the newly assembled residence was required to meet the 26-foot height limitation in the code, with the exception of the wonderful witch’s cap.

With walls higher than eight feet tall, the city required wood slats nailed between the studs to slow a possible fire from spreading. All windows and doors had to be reinforced. The exterior wood shingles were completely replaced, and the front gable detailing once again represented its original grandeur.

Once the home was reassembled, it was time for the family to bring the structure back to life and restore the historic integrity of the interior. The house was turned into apartments after the original owners lost it to the bank, so the layout had been altered significantly. During the restoration, one of the many surprises was the discovery of a boarded-up back staircase that was now accessible.
With the help of interior designer Mandi Villari, Bud and Christine restored decorative elements, including the foyer’s elegant, lace-like brackets, rich wood paneling, lead glass windows and pocket sliding doors. Years of paint needed to be removed from the built-in sideboards and cabinets. In the end, the Ball family succeeded in creating a true Victorian showpiece.

Over the last 100 years, our community has witnessed dramatic architectural evolution. In the early days, it was not uncommon to have buildings moved from one town to another, though that trend seems to have declined in recent years. Luckily, the Bells knew there was more to be gained by selective preservation than merely getting rid of the old to make way for the new. •


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