Living

A Tacoma house made for Hollywood

A Tacoma home designed by an architect and movie art director is one of the city’s grandest examples of Art Deco architecture.

And it can be yours for $850,000.

The home at 517 North Sixth Street, just up the hill from Annie Wright School, has been a local landmark since its construction in 1937-1938.

Architect Gaston Lance designed the home about a decade after he wrapped up his movie career as art director and set creator for H.C. Weaver Studios.

It had been long thought that all of the movies produced at the Titlow Beach studios were lost. But one of the movies Lance art directed and created sets for, “Eyes of the Totem,” was recently discovered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The film is currently being restored and will be screened for the public Sept. 18 at Tacoma’s Rialto Theater. A feature on the film ran in Sunday’s News Tribune.

The 3,800-square-foot home Lance designed is partially hidden behind mature vegetation. But visitors who step onto the property will find a home that looks like it’s more suited to the Hollywood Hills than Tacoma.

Tacoma historian Michael Sullivan said the home’s Art Deco style was a natural for a man like Lance, who had a theatrical flair in his architecture.

“Art Deco was the height of style for architecture, interior design, furniture and decorative arts. It was a popular style for movie palaces in the 1930s and a signal of sophistication in movie and stage sets,” Sullivan said.

The period style was what attracted current owners John and Mary Vlahovich to the home in 1979. They are the sixth owners.

John Vlahovich, a graphic and interior designer, considers the home’s style International with Art Deco embellishments.

Website architecturalstyles.org says, “Even more radical than Art Deco or Art Moderne, the International ‘style’ was promoted as a solution for those who scorned Art Deco. Typical applications were the same, however.”

Whatever the style, the house certainly stands out from its neighbors today as it must have in the 1930s. Inside and out, right angles meet circular lines. Steel-framed windows meet at building corners.

“I’ll bet when he built the house it was the scourge of the neighborhood,” Vlahovich said.

In the 1930s, America was undergoing rapid technological change, and design reflected it. Boxy airplanes, automobiles and trains were giving way to streamlined designs that enhanced speed. Ornamentation was an old-fashioned hindrance.

The flat-topped masonry Lance home has striking features that must have been cutting edge for their time and even now stand out as daring.

Inside the porthole-equipped front door, a round foyer contains a circular staircase. A wall of glass bricks leads from the top of the door to the ceiling of the second floor. It’s overseen by a large round light fixture. The bulbs are changed via a roof-top hatch.

To the left is an open and airy living room. One semi-circular wall is all glass. Some of it is curved plate, while the rest is made up of hundreds of glass blocks.

Lance designed several skylights for the house, an unusual feature for homes of this era.

One of the most striking aspects of the home is the extensive use of stainless steel as an accent material. It covers window sills, light switch plates, stair trim. It was even used for surrounds on the two fireplaces.

“There’s an architectural consistency that’s subtle but unique to this International style,” Vlahovich said as he gave a tour to a newspaper reporter and photographer.

Other than a kitchen remodel, the Vlahoviches changed very little in the home. Bathrooms still contain original fixtures and tile in bold colors.

“We feel fortunate that the five previous owners hadn’t “improved” it with remodeling,” Vlahovich said.

Outside the house, two bold sets of semi-circular steps become mirror images of themselves, bifurcated by two curving walls.

When they were raising their three sons, the couple’s boys used the home’s dumbwaiter as their personal elevator, unbeknownst to their parents.

With their family raised, the Vlahoviches say they are ready for a smaller house. They hope new owners will respect the history of the house as much as they have.

“This is a house for a Carole Lombard to come down the stairs,” Vlahovich said.

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