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North Van Ness Boulevard witnessed much of its most sophisticated growth during the mid-1930s, when many of its most elegant Spanish Revival homes were constructed. The Harmony House, originally the Pudlin Residence, reflected the first truly modern style of its young designer, Ernest J. Kump, Jr. The son of one of Fresno’s most talented and prolific classically-trained architects, Kump had just returned to Fresno after completing his studies at Harvard, when his employer, architect Charles Franklin (1891-1953) secured the commission to design a new home for Samuel Pudlin (1891-1953), his wife Lucille, and two daughters, Emma and Beverly. Pudlin, a self-educated Russian-born merchant, was an early proponent of German Modern Architecture. Before selecting Franklin and Kump to design the home, Pudlin made a trip to Chicago to see first-hand the modern case study houses at the 1933 World’s Exposition. Pudlin and his family admired many radical residential features, including a semi-circular solarium, multiple roof decks, and a host of industrial fixtures.
Begun in 1935 and completed in 1936, the Pudlin Residence appears to have been Kump’s first essay in residential form of the modern idiom to have been built in Fresno. Kump’s career later led him to be appointed as the Architectural Consultant for the Reagan Presidential Library on the Stanford Campus and Professor of Architecture Graduate School of Architecture at Columbia University.
In addition to being one of Kump’s seminal works, the house represents a meeting of the architects’ and the client’s progressive outlooks. Pudlin was one of the first merchants to offer credit buying and to institute a minority hiring policy, he served as president of the International Institute and the Merchants Association, and he supported programs for individuals with special needs. He managed the Eastern Department Store, also designed in the German Modern idiom, from 1921 to1959 located on the Fulton Mall. Pudlin was often quoted by the local press about his belief that modern design was the way of the future. He was the perfect client for Franklin and Kump.
This home met all qualifications for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The home is a two-story, flat roofed, white stucco home commonly referred to as “Art Deco.” Originally the home consisted of ten rooms and two baths, the latter located on the second floor. A small basement housed mechanical equipment and an attached two car garage provided one of the three roof decks which were designated as “outdoor living areas.” The rear living deck and stairway to the yard below were abandoned in 1951, when a bedroom and bath were added on that level. Earlier alterations were made to an entrance hall closet converted into a powder room in 1940. The curiously tiny sink is original to that conversion. A utility porch was also removed to expand a breakfast room into a larger family room adjoining the kitchen.
The current renovation features a glossy red Bertazzoni Range, Expresso station and a large island for friends and family to gather round. The original butlers’ pantry proudly displays a photo of Jeff Hall, the previous ownerand inspiration for its name “The Harmony House.” The burgeoning size of American automobiles dictated that a three’ x 19’ addition be made to the garage in 1955. There is still a vertical line in the stucco where the addition was made.
In 2018, the front courtyard was added, inspired by the homeowner’s love of Italy and al fresco dining. It is perfect for enjoying morning coffee, evening sunsets, and visiting with neighbors. On occasion, local musicians have been invited to fill the air with their music as friends and neighbors stroll down Van Ness Boulevard.
The home has a revolutionary open interior plan featuring interior walls finished in smooth white lathe and plaster lacking in ornamental embellishment. A classic black and white color scheme inside the home echoes the exterior aesthetic. Only a simple chromium band suggests the traditional fireplace surround in the living room.
Tile was recently added in the entry as well as glass mosaic tiles as you ascend the staircase. A stairway railing of flat iron, originally coated with a chromium finish, completes the staircase design. Hardwood floors remain throughout the house. The otherwise strict rectilinear composition of the exterior is interrupted solely by a semi-circular solarium which projects from the living room.
In 2018, the black velvet wraparound bench was designed to complement the original shape. The chandelier is a whimsical likeness to a giant dandelion blossom. The original red brick chimney has been painted white and the fireplace surround is now wrapped in geometric tiles of black and white. The wood framed windows, simulating the industrial iron sash popular with early modern architects, were originally fitted to all windows. The Yamaha C6 grand piano is the centerpiece of the grand room. Concert photos are displayed as memorable reminders of the homeowner’s international performances. Her beloved collection of Erte prints along with sumptuous fabrics bring vibrant jewel tones into this art deco infused home.
The dining room features bold black and white floral wallpaper, crystal wall sconces and a collection of Erte plates. The abundance of natural light and French doors lead to an oversized checkered patio for playing chess or use as a dance floor. Deck jet fountains have been added to enhance the pool. A cabana, fireside conversation area and pool house complete the ambiance of this backyard oasis.
Upstairs, you will experience the transition from the original 1936 outdoor living space converted in 1951 to add a bedroom, bathroom and laundry room. The original window openings still exist where the exterior wall was. You’ll notice the step up into the “Tea Room.” What once was outdoors is now the family’s favorite place for curling up on the tufted burgundy velvet sofa to watch movies, and yes… for having tea.
The walls of the guest bedroom were once covered completely with brown paneling. The removal revealed decades old proclamations of love written on the old lathe and plaster walls to those the authors admired. There is a small hall bathroom with original built-in cabinets and tub. A new pedestal sink and decorative floor tile was added.
The master suite is a luxurious bedroom with rich sapphire and emerald tones, velvet tufted closet doors and dimmable chandeliers. Previously the walls were covered in paneling, including two north facing windows which were hidden. Removing these windows brought light into the room not seen in nearly 80 years! The door leads out to the outdoor balcony above the solarium with a magnificent view of the boulevard, especially the Christmas lights during the holidays. The balcony is also a favorite spot for a romantic dining table for two.
As the years went by, new families have made this neighborhood gem their home creating memories still cherished today. In the late 1980s, Jeff Hall, a talented guitarist and producer, made the house his home. In 2002 the homeowner Gina Lenee– a local composer and pianist– met Jeff and asked him to produce her first album, FROM THE HEART. Now an 8-time recording artist and an international award-winning performing musician, she credits Jeff’s compassion and belief in her music as the beginning of her musical career. In 2017, in a twist of fate, Gina discovered Jeff’s home was available for sale, and she jumped at the chance to buy and renovate it.
The homeowner started what would be a year-long renovation project while she and her daughter moved into the jobsite. One afternoon the name “The Harmony House” came to mind–a perfect name to embody what Jeff was all about: friendship, community goodwill and of course, great music. Gina hoped to support her neighbors and fellow artists, just as Jeff had.