This Couple Takes L.A.'s Run-Down, Historic Houses and Makes Them Beautiful
Jeffrey Gordon Weiss and David Bailey are renovating the Beckett Residence in Adams-Normandie.
Photo by Ryan Orange
Jeffrey Gordon Weiss, 64, and his boyfriend, David Bailey, 28, present a sunny picture, slicing up a pineapple in the kitchen, two dogs snoozing at their feet, against the imposing backdrop of their new digs: a turn-of-the-century Colonial Revival mansion in Adams-Normandie. Known as the Beckett Residence, the house was deemed uninhabitable two years ago when it went on the market.
And somehow, in the six-bedroom, four-bath property, Weiss and Bailey are roughing it. The kitchen's cheery green and yellow paint is disturbed by long stretches of exposed wood. There is a ceiling-to-floor–sized hole in a room upstairs (once occupied by a grand balustrade). Walls are still charred from a bad fire. The house has been a frequent set for horror films, including Rob Zombie's Halloween reboot and a string of '80s B-movies.
In January, the two bought L.A. Historic-Cultural Monument No. 117, as it's designated. They are now in the process of signing a 10-year restoration contract with the state of California under the Mills Act, promising to undo time's ravages in exchange for benefits such as zoning and tax breaks.
Since meeting six years ago, the duo has habitually resuscitated forlorn spaces. Before Beckett, there was a shanty on Electric Avenue in Venice, which hadn't been lived in for almost three decades. Post-redo, the home's unexpectedly high value allowed the pair to move on to bigger, more dilapidated projects. They hope to restore as many ailing historical beauties as their wallets will allow.
While in Venice, the couple channeled their mutual interest in fashion, design and cultural preservation into a furniture and vintage-clothing business, Gumbo Kinney. It has evolved from illicit backyard operation to storefront to experience-on-wheels, a truck that ensconces visitors in a retro time capsule.
Weiss was once a movie producer, a married father of two living in Beverly Hills. Bailey, a Louisiana native, moved to L.A. to pursue a degree in interior design. They met in Venice soon after Weiss' divorce. "It was spring, I took him to Coachella, and that was that," Weiss says.
Their romance synthesizes past and future, which informs their work on the Beckett Residence. "We're going to walk the same path, but his goes farther than mine," Weiss says. "My last profession, which is what I am happy to call this, is really David's first."
"For me, it's about leaving something behind," Bailey says. "If in 10 years we do finish this project, we're going to be one of the people that lived in this house, and we're going to be the ones that restored it."
Original architect John C. Austin, who designed Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles City Hall and the Shrine Auditorium, built the house for Dr. Wesley Beckett, a member of USC's Board of Trustees in the early 20th century. Former residents and fans of the house have emerged to offer old pictures and information to help the couple accurately reconstruct it.
Outside the house, Bailey and Weiss look back at the imposing white columns that frame its entrance. "Next we're going to work on the gable," Weiss says.
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First they'll need to clear out the pigeons roosting there.
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