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Wright house for right person

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When Frank Lloyd Wright designed a northeast Bakersfield home in 1958, the colors of the Sierra Nevada were built into its walls.

Now, the family that commissioned the house has put it up for sale.

"I hate to sell it," said Robin Ablin, 45, one of seven children of the late George and Millie Ablin, the Bakersfield couple who hired the country's most famous architect to design their home.

But with seven heirs, he said, there are "differing opinions about what to do. This was the decision."

George Ablin, who died in 1999, was a neurosurgeon. Millie Ablin, a nurse and housewife, died last year in January.

The Ablins moved here in 1955 from the Midwest. They were high-profile philanthropists who supported the arts and had an extensive art collection displayed in their home. The front gallery of the Bakersfield Museum of Art and one of Cal State Bakersfield's conference rooms bear their names.

The 3,200-square-foot, five-bedroom home near the Bakersfield Country Club is the only Wright-designed structure in the southern San Joaquin Valley. The property, which sits on a 1.5 acre hilltop lot, is listed for sale at almost $1.8 million. Robin Ablin is a broker and owner of RSC Realty Co., which holds the listing.

Unique and uniquer

All of the houses Wright designed are unique.

"They are all designed for a particular client, so there are no two the same," said Ron Scherubel, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in Chicago, an organization dedicated to preserving Wright's architecture.

At any given time, Scherubel said, there are typically eight to 12 Wright-designed homes on the market. The conservancy has a Web site that lists Wright properties for sale. The properties currently listed range from the low $200,000s to more than $2 million.

Although Scherubel has not seen the Ablin house, he is familiar with it, and added that Millie Ablin was on the conservancy's board of directors until her death.

"It's a fabulous house," he said. "My understanding is that it's in beautiful condition."

The angular home, which uses a diamond shape as its basic design pattern, was completed in 1961, two years after Wright's death. An apprentice architect assigned by Wright oversaw the home's construction.

The house is well-documented and has been well-kept throughout its life, Scherubel said. The family still has original blueprints for the house, as well as Wright's furniture designs.

The original furniture, including a sectional dining room set, a half-dozen living room chairs and numerous tables, is available for purchase as an option with the home.

What sets the Ablin house apart from many others on the market is that it's being sold by the original owners.

"It's passing out of the family for the first time," Scherubel said. "It's a one-owner house."

Arnold Roy, a senior architect at Taliesin Architects in Scottsdale, Ariz., which continues the architectural practice Wright founded, said how well a Wright house sells has "an awful lot to do with location."

"It's such a specific market, it's hard to predict what's going to happen," said Roy, who apprenticed with Wright and has been at Taliesin since 1952.

Most people who buy the homes have both money and a solid architectural education, Roy said.

Roy, who is familiar with the Ablin house but has never seen it, is also familiar with another local building that many in Kern County believe was designed by Wright: the Delano Mortuary.

But that building was designed by Wes Peters, Roy said. Peters was Wright's son-in-law as well as a Wright apprentice.

The mortuary used to drive turquoise hearses, Roy said, which were part of Peters' design.

Fighting for the stove

Having grown up in the house since he was 2, Robin Ablin has been shaped by its design.

"To this day, I can't sleep in," Ablin said. "I wake up when the sun comes up."

That's because even with the curtains closed in what was his childhood bedroom, the roof angles and window layout were designed to draw in natural light. The room was never completely dark if the sun was out.

But the Ablin family, in turn, shaped the house.

When Millie Ablin gave birth to her seventh child, "Frank Lloyd Wright was the second person to know the sex of the baby," Ablin said. Wright knew even before the baby's father, who was working.

"The sex of the baby affected the layout of the bedrooms," he said. Wright was still in the process of designing the house.

Had the youngest child been a girl instead of a boy, the layout of that wing would have been different.

The elder Ablins also insisted that the kitchen, playroom and doorways be made larger than Wright wanted.

"This is unusually livable and usable for a Wright residence," Ablin said. "That's because my parents made him do those things."

Roy of Taliesin Architects said Wright was in some ways more flexible than his reputation allows.

"Believe it or not, he would take input from the housewife" on some functional aspects of the home, Roy said.

Ablin said the home's unusual salmon pink color is the result of a masonry error.

A stack of bare concrete blocks in the yard reveal how Wright originally envisioned the home. The gray blocks are embedded with purple flecks, a chromatic echo of the Sierras.

But when the bricks were installed, a masonry problem left indelible marks on the walls.

The architects at Taliesin huddled to determine what to do, Ablin said, and decided the blocks would have to be painted.

The Ablins adopted the pink, also taken from the mountain range's palette, almost as a family emblem. Millie Ablin drove a pink station wagon; Robin Ablin rode pink bicycles.

Ablin believes the change made the home more whimsical than it would have been with the austere gray of the bare concrete.

The home's ideal buyer, Ablin said, would be someone just like his parents.

"Someone who understands and enjoys the house as a community asset and a residence, and who is committed to its preservation," he said.

David Milazzo, principal associate with Milazzo and Associates Architects in Bakersfield, said the house is "a piece of architecture that's unique in the world.

"I don't have a clue what it would be worth," Milazzo said.

But because Wright designed each house differently, "this one, for being in Kern County, is uniquely ours," he said.

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