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Historic Arroyo del Rey will not be gifted to USC

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The owner of the Pasadena landmark cites an “unmendable chasm in the vision of heritage conservation”

A striking midcentury home rises from a California canyon with a bright blue swimming pool at the center.
The King residence, known as Arroyo del Rey, was designed by Buff and Hensman.
Courtesy of Michael Locke

In 2007, Carol Soucek King made a deal with the University of Southern California to give her modern home designed by celebrated midcentury architects Conrad Buff and Donald Hensman to the school. Last week, she revoked the deal.

In an email sent to her executors and associates, as well as the families of the home’s architects, King cited an “unmendable chasm in the vision of heritage conservation” between her and the school. The email was shared with Curbed.

The July 31 email says the agreement was eliminated the same day in a phone meeting between USC’s attorney John Yu and King’s attorney Chandler Myers.

Over the past five decades, USC has managed or taken ownership of three architecturally important homes. In 1984, the school was gifted the Freeman House, one of four textile-block homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Hollywood, by the original owner. Since 1967, the school has also operated the Gamble House, a century-old Craftsman icon in Pasadena built by Greene and Greene.

King’s home, named Arroyo del Rey, was designed by Buff and Hensman in 1979 for her and her husband, Richard King, on a plot of land beneath the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena. The home, which was named a historic landmark by the city of Pasadena in 2009, is known for its minimalist forms that appear to rise out of the Arroyo Seco as well as its role as a cultural gathering place for the community. King regularly hosts salons and other events there.

In the original agreement, USC was named as the primary beneficiary of King’s will, meaning the home—as well as its contents, from furniture to flatware—would have been transferred to the school upon her death. (Richard King died in 2017.) An undisclosed endowment was also promised to the school to cover maintenance costs.

The email also says that funds raised from a lecture series and a $75,000 gift from Arcadia Glass that were intended to supplement the home’s endowment have not yet been contributed to the endowment.

King declined to comment further. When reached by Curbed, Myers said he would not comment on the meeting due to client privilege.

The university’s architecture school confirmed to Curbed that the meeting took place and provided this statement: “We value our friendship with Carol King, a beloved alumna of USC, and we support her efforts to preserve her historic Pasadena home. The school’s priority has always been to ensure the best possible outcome for the home as well as for Ms. King. We look forward to continuing our long-standing relationship with her.”

According to an unattributed statement published by Arts and Crafts Collector, the Gamble House will also sever its ties to USC this year. A spokesperson for USC would not comment.

The Freeman House, which was badly damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, is in need of critical repairs and remains closed to the public. In February, the thefts of four objects from the house that were being kept in a South LA warehouse were anonymously reported to LAPD, even though the thefts were said have occurred at least 10 years ago.

“USC has a terrible track record,” says Richard Schave, a Los Angeles-based preservationist. “Everyone needs to pay more attention.”

Schave praised King’s work to ensure that Arroyo del Rey will be kept intact for future generations, calling it a “flagship for cutting-edge ideas for design and living.”

Plans are underway to place the house under different stewardship, according to King’s email.