Los Angeles, a one-and-a-half-storey house in Fendalton, was one of the first Californian bungalow designs to be seen in New Zealand. It was built between 1910 and 1913, to plans by John Steele Guthrie, a prominent Christchurch architect. His design was illustrated in a portfolio of his work presented in the October 1910 issue of the architectural magazine Progress. However, it seems he was strongly influenced by designs in one of the bungalow plan books published in the United States in the early years of the twentieth century: the fourth edition of Henry L. Wilson’s The Bungalow Book, published in the city of Los Angeles in 1908, includes a photograph of a house that looks very similar to Guthrie’s Los Angeles, and interiors that are almost identical.
A legend has grown about the house’s patron, Captain Macdonald. An oft-repeated story says he was a sea-trader who sailed between New Zealand and California, where he obtained the plans for the house and the cedar timbers used as its weatherboards; he is also said to have brought jarrah timbers from Australia. In fact, James Macdonald was chief officer of the Union Steamship Company’s Maori, which provided the passenger service between Lyttelton and Wellington. Although he did sail at least once to San Francisco, where he might have bought Wilson’s book, he had no need to bring timbers across the Pacific or the Tasman: cedar could be obtained from Southworth and Co. of Victoria Street, Christchurch, and jarrah from the Jarrah Timber Company on Moorhouse Avenue. Canterbury river stones were also used, in imitation of Wilson’s designs, for the pillars supporting the eaves and the low wall at the front of the property.
Los Angeles was one of the first of many thousands of New Zealand bungalows built on the Californian model, in a building boom that continued through the Great War to the Great Depression. Most of these houses were not as imposing or as sombre as this one. They retained the deep porch, the wide eaves and the horizontal emphasis, but were more modest in size and lighter in colour and materials. But, like Los Angeles, their antecedents can be found in American plan books sold to builders and their clients.
Los Angeles survived the Canterbury Earthquakes, although it suffered some damage to its interior walls.