As a young boy growing up in Toluca Lake, Haig Youredjian would often ride his bike down Navajo Street to curiously marvel at one of the neighborhood’s historic wonders: a Streamline Moderne–style home once owned by famous animator Walter Lantz, the creator of Woody Woodpecker. He was captivated by its imposing façade of aerodynamic curves and horizonal lines, characteristics of an Art Deco architectural style prominent in the 1930s. It was — and remains — a well-preserved artifact of a bygone era.
When the Lantz house came on the market in 2019, Youredjian and his husband, Greg Weaver, jumped at the chance to see it. They were among the first to tour the residence. “Its historic charm and significance were apparent from the moment we walked through the front door,” Youredjian remembers. They were immediately taken with the scale of the entrance, the original floors of Honduras mahogany and the Prohibition-era library and bar, which sealed the deal for them. “We knew we had to preserve this home and maintain its place in Toluca Lake history,” he says. The couple made an offer that same day and closed a few weeks later.
It was a full-circle moment for Youredjian, who was returning to the neighborhood after 25 years to live in his “dream home.” The milestone was one he was ecstatic to share with Weaver and their then-10-year-old twins, Jack and Giana, three dogs and two cats. But before they could move in, work needed to be done to the home, which had only three previous owners and was for the most part still in its original condition. And so, Weaver and Youredjian embarked on an ambitious two-year preservation and restoration project with the goal of maintaining the home’s integrity while enhancing it with modern conveniences that would make it more comfortable and livable for their family.
“I never thought we’d have the opportunity to own a historic home, but always hoped for it,” Youredjian says. “I’ve always told Greg, if we were ever to move, I want it to be to a house of significance; it has to be important.” After touring the Lantz home, he recalls turning to Weaver and saying, “This is it — this is the important piece of property we’ve been thinking about.”
Just as the opportunity to own such a unique home came as a surprise, they also never anticipated how much of an undertaking it would be to plan a restoration project, especially amid a pandemic. Weaver and Youredjian initially thought they just needed to add two bedrooms and remodel the kitchen. “But once we really started digging in, we realized this house had not been touched in almost 100 years,” Youredjian says, noting that the plumbing and electrical systems were original and needed to be redone, among other repairs. “Our contractor told us from the very beginning that it would cost us less to build a brand-new house on this site,” he continued. “Restoration requires a different type of workmanship, and a different type of care.”
But the couple was up for the challenge. “We fell in love with the house itself, so we really didn’t come into this thinking, ‘We have to change this,’ we actually came into it thinking, ‘We have to keep this,’ and that was our whole strategy,” Youredjian explains. Weaver adds that any updates to the home were done with its original design in mind. “We tried not to fight the house; we let the house tell us what it is and what it needed to be,” he says.
They kept the original doors, lighting fixtures, hardware, and wood and metal (copper, nickel and steel) accents where possible and even painstakingly matched all of the door hinges to the ones original to the house. And in areas that needed to be revamped, like the bathrooms, they thoughtfully curated all aspects — from the tiles to the types of toilets — to remain faithful to the look and feel of the home.
As for the addition of the two children’s bedrooms, the only space that could accommodate them was in the upper level above the library. “One of the reasons we loved the house is the library, so we had to be really careful,” Weaver notes. That’s where local architect Alain Yotnegparian came in; he designed the addition so that it was braced by the exterior of the lower level while leaving the interior untouched (one of the bedrooms is cantilevered).
Another major project was rebuilding the mother-in-law apartment in the back of the home, which had suffered water damage through the years. Weaver says they took that as an opportunity to add to the footprint of the master bedroom above the kitchen, but also re-create the Streamline look of the original front part of the home that had been ignored previously. “We included some of the exterior ornamentation — horizontal texture lines and trim — on the new and rebuilt portions of the home to create consistency across the property,” he says. “The house actually looks more like the house.”
Weaver and Youredjian say the most challenging part of the project was having to do it in a middle of a pandemic. They contended with long lead times on materials, concerns over health precautions being followed on their property and a strict building inspector, among other things. “It took double the amount of time, and it eventually doubled the amount of cost as well, so that was really difficult for us,” Youredjian shares. But it was well worth it. “Living in our home has been a dream come true.”
Self-proclaimed “history nerds,” Weaver and Youredjian want to “feel, hold and see” the history of their abode as much as possible. They connected with previous owner Margaret Kendrick, who shared anecdotes collected by her late husband, Don Gumpertz, and left them several pieces original to the home, such as a mahogany credenza, a pre-World War II–era globe and a 90-year-old fig plant, which they have affectionately named Walter. They even got in touch with Lantz’s estate attorney to gather more details about the home.
“We’ve been fortunate to learn a lot about the home’s history, and many of the stories do not disappoint,” Youredjian says, sharing that they’ve learned of lavish gatherings, late-night poker games in the library that were broken up by police during the Prohibition era, Bob Hope’s time as a renter and a party in the early ’50s during which an oil baron shot his gun into the living room ceiling. “The bullet still remains lodged in the track of the wooden bifold doors between the entry hall and living room!” Weaver enthuses.
“We’ve worked hard to collect details about the home, and although many of them have trickled through, we have yet to find any pictures of its earlier days,” Youredjian says. “The Lantzes did not have any children or heirs, so it has been extremely difficult to track down important artifacts, such as Lantz’s Academy Award, that we would love to bring back to the home.”
The couple did, however, unearth a relic during the restoration: a bottle with a signed and dated note from 1934 from the home’s original contractor, who had hidden it in the library walls. “We went into shock when we found that,” Weaver recalls. “It’s so special to us.”
After years of living around Toluca Lake, Youredjian is thrilled to be back in the neighborhood. “Interestingly, it has remained relatively the same as when I rode my bike through these streets as child,” he says as he reminisces about his favorite childhood memories, which include visiting Bob’s Big Boy on the weekends, going to Baskin-Robbins for ice cream and working his first job at the age of 13 at Toluca Lake Florist, where he would polish pumpkins and carry them to customers’ cars. “It was a great time and a great neighborhood to be a kid,” he recalls.
Although Weaver grew up in Linden, Michigan, he feels back at home as well, noting several similarities between the neighborhood and his hometown. “The Bob’s Big Boy next to my hometown had one of the only other Bob statues in Michigan. We also had an A&W with the drive-up service and ’50s-style architecture,” he says, adding that — just as in Toluca Lake — everyone knew their neighbors, there were local festivals and many things were within walking distance. “The vibe of Toluca Lake feels small-townish, even though it’s right in the middle of Los Angeles. You can’t beat the morning walks to Hank’s Bagels, riding scooters around at dusk or saying hi to our neighbors as they walk their dogs.”
Now their children get to experience the cozy community vibe that they both enjoyed growing up. “It’s an amazing and very rare experience,” Youredjian says. “There’s something that just feels safe about Toluca Lake; everybody watches out for each other.” The family enjoys dining on Riverside Drive (Kabosu and Sushi Yuzu are their go-tos), training with Janice Cronkhite at Align and Define Pilates Studio, and participating in neighborhood events, like decorating their home for Halloween, for which they won the prize for most creative display in last year’s Halloween House-Decorating Contest sponsored by realtor Tina Smith.
Weaver and Youredjian are passionate about supporting causes that are important to them. They both devote time and money to the AIDS/LifeCycle charity bike ride, Children of Armenia Fund, Family Equality Council, Best Friends Animal Society, environmental organization 350.org and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA), where Weaver serves as board chair and Youredjian is a board member.
As avid fundraisers, the couple sees their home as the ideal setting for philanthropic events. “We thought it would be perfect for that part of our lives,” Youredjian says. “We are absolutely entertainers; we’re the entertainers in our families, in our different communities, in the different organizations that we work with, and so for us, it’s very important to share this home with everybody else.”
Last year, the couple opened their home to host the GMCLA Gala. “We weren’t quite out of the pandemic, but had to find creative ways to continue representing the community and being a force for visibility and change. That’s difficult to do when the world is shut down,” Youredjian says. But they came up with a solution to do the gala on a smaller scale, inviting around 30 donors to their home and livestreaming the event for others. “It was our home’s coming-out party — pardon the pun — as we had not yet entertained. We enjoyed it immensely, and it was a great success for GMCLA,” he shares.
When the couple reflects on their restoration journey, they ultimately view the endeavor as yet another way of giving back by helping to preserve the neighborhood’s historical character. “It’s very gratifying to be able to do something like this, and that gratification just carries forward, not only in your own lives but in the lives of other people and of the countless generations that have lived in Toluca Lake,” Youredjian says. “We feel incredibly fortunate to own a piece of history, and we don’t take it lightly!”
The couple hopes their project will inspire others. “We would like people to see the value in preserving and remodeling rather than tearing down. It can take more work, more money in some cases and even a bit more patience, but the end result is worth it for both the homeowner and community,” Youredjian says. Weaver agrees, adding, “Take the time to restore history; it’s worth every minute and dime you spend!”
To learn more about Lantz, the history of his Toluca Lake home and what it looked like before the restoration, read “An Animator’s Art Deco Abode.”