The Paul Williams-designed Roberts' House – Malibu, California - Atlas Obscura

The Paul Williams-designed Roberts' House

A bomb shelter and some fireplaces are all that remain of the house Fred Roberts tried so hard to keep standing. 


In 1952, Fred and Florence Roberts commissioned Paul Williams, the first certified African-American architect west of the Mississippi, to design a Polynesian-style home later featured in Architectural Digest.

It is known to some as the Roberts House, but many chose to call it the Williams House, preferring to refer to it by the name of the man who built it rather than those who bought it. Besides its historical significance, the house has a slightly tragic but amusingly ironic history.

Concerned about the area’s high fire risk, Fred Roberts insisted that Williams include an elaborate fire protection system for the home, and build using only fire resistant materials – but Williams’ carefully thought out system of pumps, pipes, and water-collecting pools could only put off the inevitable for so long in an area geographically prone to constant wildfires, and in 1982, that fire came.

Burning through the canyon to the ocean, the firestorm all but destroyed the famous house. Once the flames had moved on, little remained; the foundation, a bomb shelter, a bathtub and a small studio, and in a glorious twist of irony, four fireplaces. The ruins still occupy the site today.

Previously comprised of privately owned roads and equestrian trails, the ruins were inaccessible. Thanks to the efforts of Bill Dempsey, a resident and real estate developer, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy acquired the Roberts house in 1988, as well as enough of the land to make it available to the public. 




Know Before You Go

From West Los Angeles, 10-E to the 1 North (PCH) until you reach Corral Canyon Road. From Corral Canyon Drive, take your first left to the first parking area, drive past the one lane bridge, and park in one of the marked spots. To get to the house, you will have to take two paths. One leads straight past the visitor center, a paved road that becomes a wide dirt trail. Eventually this leads straight along a creek that winds past The Keller House. The more difficult path circles around the entire canyon and back down into the house and provides a beautiful aerial view. This 45 minute hike will take you all the way up the canyon and down again. Head up the steps to the right of the main path after the visitor center, and keep walking up to the Rising Sun Trail until it circles to a birdlike rock. This circles down into the canyon, and you will notice wooden steps creeping up out of the ground. As you traverse these steps, look outward. You will see the house awaiting you, bordered by lovely waterfalls.  

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