A 1924 home in Los Angeles’ Sunland-Tujunga neighborhood recently hit the market with a $600,000 price tag, but this isn’t your average classic house. This one was handbuilt by a blind man.
Elmer Reavis constructed the house on a 10,290-square-foot lot using locally-sourced arroyo stone. The property includes a primary residence and guest house that has its own kitchen and bedroom loft. The impressive home is an obvious testament to Reavis’ exceptional ingenuity.
“He used a system of pulleys and ropes,” Mary Lou Pozzo, vice president and librarian of the Sunland-Tujunga Little Landers Historical Society, told the Los Angeles Times back in 1994. “And I’m told he hoisted a 1,500-pound stone above the fireplace using that same system.”
The main home includes two bedrooms and two bathrooms. There’s also a swimming pool behind the house, along with a well-landscaped patio area that includes a built-in barbecue station. The Times notes that Reavis likely, “chose the box architectural style to simplify construction.”
Of course, that doesn’t make the achievement any less remarkable.
“The house is a work of art and craftsmanship,” said Coldwell Banker listing agent Judy Berna. “It’s similar to Beethoven creating beautiful music that he could not hear.”
Ripley’s Believe it or Not was so impressed by the effort that it reported on Reavis’ story all the way back in 1933. Though a fairly legendary accomplishment, it’s somewhat bittersweet that the man couldn’t fully appreciate his work.
“Elmer Reavis created this beautiful house he’d never see,” Berna added.
Though Reavis’ story is rare, it’s not entirely unprecedented.
Francis A. Burdett reportedly built a three-story Dutch Colonial home in Wayne, New Jersey, between 1925 and 1928. Burdett had gone blind 10 years earlier at age 53 when he was hit by a moving van. He first built a two-room bungalow but endeavored to take on the more ambitious project due to an interest in larger accommodations.
“I’m happy over my work,” he told a reporter from New York World at the time. “A blind man should work. He shouldn’t use his affliction to get sympathy. I taught myself to use hammer and saw. Before I’m through here, I’ll have a nice home. I can see. My hands tell me everything.”
Burdett memorized where tools and materials were placed, and he did all the heavy lifting himself.
“I have been asked many times how I can plod away here on this building early and late, wet and dry, hot and cold, making slow progress and still remain cheerful,” Burdett told author William Vahrenkamp. “I always felt that cheerfulness is an asset to success and is needed to reach a goal, whether a man can see or not. A person never knows what he is talented to do until he tries. When the light of day was closed out and I first became blind, I immediately fought depression, and melancholy, and overcame it. That was the beginning of my success to remain cheerful, which ultimately also built this house.”
Unwilling to let his blindness limit him, Burdett built a home that reportedly impressed his neighbors.
“Of course I cannot see it, but I have a fair conception of its appearance,” he added. “I have felt every inch of this building with my hands and kept the finished house in my mind as I worked.”
Burdett stayed in the home until he passed away in 1932.
More recently, Thomas Graham of Bullard, Texas, built a replica of his childhood home with the help of his wife Evonne. When news of his effort spread in 2013, contractors and helpers from the surrounding community came to aid in the project.
“I was totally, totally awed by the fact that a blind man is building his house,” local realtor Jim McKay said at the time. “I told my pastor I have got to meet that gentleman.”
For Graham, the construction was a long-time dream.
“I’ve always had a pretty big desire to build my own house ever since I was a teenager I guess,” he said. “I started with some smaller projects you know cabinets and other wood working projects and then I just decided one day, you know it’s time for me to build that house.”
Reavis may not be the only blind homebuilder in history, but his is an inspiring story nevertheless. Here are some additional photographs of his classic home.