Unusual Architecture - Part II

How Art Shapes Our Life

Sal MaccaroneDecember 28, 2011 

While growing up just blocks from Sarah Winchester's famous house in San Jose, I began developing a real affinity for strange and unique residential architecture. Years later I was actually privileged to be involved with some of the restoration to the home. In spite of the fact that this house lacks any congruous master planning, it is still a wonderful example of Queen Ann Victorian architecture.

The story goes that Mrs. Winchester continued to build around the clock for 38 years, (between 1884-1922), in an effort to appease the souls of those who fell victim to the Winchester rifle. The cost of this continuous building has been estimated at $5.5 million, which is the equivalent of $72 million of today's dollars. The official museum web site for this marvelous structure is located at www.winchestermysteryhouse.com.

On a more current and less somber note, I remember when a very unique residence was being built along a section of Highway 280 in Hillsborough. It has been painted many different colors since it was first built in 1976; hence, it has looked like many different things. Affectionately known now as the "Flintstone House," it has been compared to everything from a moon colony prototype to a bunch of giant marshmallows. The fact is, the house was built as an experiment that utilized a new type of sprayable concrete; the effort was to create corner-free architecture. Every surface in this 36,000 square foot house is rounded. I am sure that it is very comfortable on the inside, but I have always wondered how they hang pictures on the walls.

Another very famous California wonder first opened for business in 1958 with just 12 rooms. While only a temporary residence for weary travelers, the Madonna Inn has become a real Central Coast landmark. Prominently located on Highway 101, this motor inn is situated on the lower portion of a 1,292 mountain called Cerro San Luis Obispo.

The inn, which resembles a whimsical Swiss Alps village, was created by Alex Madonna (1918-2004) and decorated by his wife Phyllis. A tourist attraction in itself, the property now has 109 unique guest rooms, a bakery, a restaurant, a gift shop and many other wonderful out buildings. Some tourists stop just to peek at the famous utilitarian rock waterfall in the men's restroom, which was conceived by a Hollywood set designer. Always a great place to visit, their official website is located at www.madonnainn.com.

Then there are those who choose to renovate an existing unique structure to be used as their own domicile. For example, the "Golf Ball House" in Yucca, Ariz. was once a part of a futuristic community that never quite came to be.

This four story spheroid, built upon a single metal column, looks just like a golf ball perched on a tee. The building was originally built to be used as a night club, but eventually plans for the whole forward-thinking development were scrapped. The building went into a state of deterioration for a number of years before being remodeled as a private residence. Bravo!

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