It Was Just a House

Musings on the Destruction of the Home of Ray Bradbury

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January 14, 2015 — It was just a house…where a man almost made it to 93 years of age.

It was just a house…where were welcomed some of the most interesting people in culture and some of the most aspiring.

It was just a house…where some of the most beloved stories of the past century were dreamt.

It was just a house…Ray Bradbury’s house.

I’m writing this on the bleeding-wound recent news that the Los Angeles house where Ray Bradbury lived for more than half a century and more than half his life has been razed. John King Tarpinian documented the last crumbling gasps of it on Mike Glyer’s blog File 770.

I can’t find the exact date that Bradbury moved into that dandelion-yellow 1937 single-family at 10265 Cheviot Drive, but the general estimate I’m seeing places it in the very late 1950s or very early 1960s. That means almost all of his novels and so many, many of his short stories were gestated, if not written, there (like many writers, Bradbury wasn’t confined in his writing, and would compose his prose in the library and at an office he had downtown, but he also had that famous basement study stacked to the ceiling with toys and monsters and spaceships and other tchotchkes as inspiration-fuel for his ever-burning imagination).

And now it’s no more. According to the post, the house was purchased by celebrity architect Thom Mayne, who, it's assumed, will whip up something novel and interesting and posh on the broken plank-bones of Bradbury’s humble dwelling. The comments I’ve seen so far online fall into the usual camps when this sort of thing happens: “Why didn’t somebody preserve this treasure” and “Who cares? It was just a house.” They both agree that L.A. sucks, though.

I’m saddened by another trace of this man gone from the earth as sure as if some time traveler had squashed a butterfly in the past. But I also have a different perspective on the destruction of his long-time abode than I would have had a mere two years ago, before I wrote Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe.

Because as a result of that book, I’ve seen the other end.

Poe was a big inspiration for Bradbury, although Bradbury got to one-up his literary forebear as Poe wasn’t really famous during his lifetime. At least not Bradbury-famous. It took decades before one of Poe’s homes was enshrined as a testament to his influence on and value to our culture.

Forty years after Poe’s death, a man named William Fearing Gill saved the Bronx Poe Cottage from destruction. In Philadelphia, it took 84 years from Poe’s death for the last remaining house where he lived in that city to become a monument. And it took a whole century for his Baltimore home to become a tribute to him, again narrowly avoiding demolition.

Every other house Poe lived in is gone, including his Boston birth home—which fell to the bulldozers around the same time that Bradbury moved into his Cheviot Hills address—and his Greenwich Village home, which became a pile of rubble and impromptu souvenirs just this millennium.

So it took much luck and living in a score of different homes for us to have those monuments to Poe that have inspired many fans and pilgrims and children and writers and artists and tourists and passersby. And, sure, they are just houses, but I know firsthand that the echoes of Poe in those houses resonate off his work, so that reading The Fall of the House of Usher before visiting, say, the Bronx Poe Cottage, is a different experience than reading it after visiting.

In Bradbury’s case, we have a man whose cultural contribution was venerated in his lifetime. That’s part of the shock. Because it took a quick two and a half years after his death in June of 2012 for his house to disappear like nobody had ever read one of his books. I mean, it was only last year that the news broke that his house was on the market, and we marveled at the $1,765,000 price the three-bedroom went for. Turns out, that was merely for the privilege of leveling it. So we didn’t even have the time to become apathetic that Bradbury’s house was still around before we lost it.

Painting by L. J. Dopp

And, sure, his works will “live forever!”, but a section of that important connection we maintain with him as an author of those works has been severed. A major section. Perhaps an arterial one. After all, you can’t type Ray into a search engine without coming up with numerous interviews and videos and photos and articles that were recorded or taken or conducted in that house. Again, more than half of his life was spent there.

But it’s L.A., right? Nothing gold can stay in L.A. They don’t need a writer’s house. They need real estate. Plus having his bones is enough, I guess.

Fortunately, places that are not L.A. are doing a much better job with Bradbury’s physical legacy. His birth home is safe so far in Waukegan, Illinois, the town where he spent the first 13 years of his life (and, mentally, his entire life), off and on, before finding himself in L.A. Waukegan’s doing a pretty good job of preserving the author in general, naming parks after him and installing a bronze star dedicated to him and holding festivals, and even a few months ago floating the idea of a statue dedicated to him.

Then there’s the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies in Indianapolis that is the official custodian of much of his physical legacy. They even have the furniture from his basement study and are hoping to recreate it at some point.

But still. That house. That dandelion-yellow house in the city of stars. If Ray Bradbury stuck around as a ghost, that’s where he would have haunted.

So it’s a real loss that it’s been ghosted as well.

But it was just a house.