A new play, “Blueprint for Paradise,” currently having its world premiere in Los Angeles, is based on a true story … maybe. Or on fragmented evidence, rumors, and bits and pieces of documents that point to a startling plan set in motion in the 1930s.
The perpetrators, Herbert and Clara Taylor, were Nazi sympathizers during the time that America was hotly divided about the war going on in Europe. Many people were adamant in their conviction that America should “stay out of it.” Many others believed that Hitler’s agenda was admirable and presaged a bright new world for those that followed him. The Taylors were among the latter group.
Clara, the one with the money, had purchased a 55-acre spread in the Pacific Palisades and she and Herbert were planning to build a camp to train and house an army of pro-Nazi sympathizers — a veritable paradise from which to conduct Nazi activities in the United States. Although they told people the compound was being built to house and teach refugee children, they actually anticipated that when the Nazis took over the world Hitler would come to stay there. As part of their preparations they planned an extravagant, four-story mansion with 22 bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool and other luxurious accouterments.
To build all this they needed a competent architect, and Clara was recruited to find one. Based on recommendations, she chose to interview a prominent Los Angeles architect, Paul Revere Williams, who had designed landmark buildings around the country as well as homes for Bert Lahr, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Frank Sinatra and other prominent celebrities. His work included more than 3,000 projects around the world in a career that spanned more than 60 years. Moreover, he was the first African-American to become a member of the American Institute of Architects.
When Williams arrives at her home, however, Clara recoils in horror. This distinguished architect is a Negro! Ignoring her curt dismissal, he engages her in empathetic conversation (they had both lost sons) and reacts with praise and admiration when she softens enough to suggest changes and additions to the blueprints that had been prepared by a previous architect.
When Herbert comes home, accompanied by a bumpkin American Nazi named Ludwig and a German Nazi named Wolfgang who is financing the project, he becomes apoplectic. How could his wife embarrass him like that by even considering a black architect! Wolfgang, however, responds with interest, admiring Williams’ portfolio and engaging him in a friendly discussion, after which he agrees that Williams would be a perfect addition to their plans and promptly issues a check to cover Williams’ retainer fee.
When the astonished Herbert and Ludwig later question Wolfgang’s decision, he smilingly explains that he has paid the retainer so that Williams would undertake the project, but when he has completed it Wolfgang does not intend to pay him anything more.
“But what if he complains?” Ludwig asks.
‘Then I will have to kill him,” Wolfgang responds.
As the play progresses, other aspects of California’s Nazi sympathizers’ activities are discussed. Prominent among them is the Human Betterment Foundation, which is believed to have had a strong influence on Hitler. It advocated sterilization of the mentally and physically unfit, a eugenics program continuously used by American institutions since 1899. California was also the home of the Mothers of America, who actively opposed U.S. entry into the war.
Clara had been involved with this latter group, but as she interacts with Williams and receives his encouragement she begins to assert herself and unwind from Herbert’s rigid domination. She frets that he wants her to be “ornamental, like a shrub.” In one revealing scene, where she attempts to persuade him to come to bed, he snarls, “There’s a proper time for a passionate nature. It’s after 9 p.m.” And he continues with his work.
The play is set in November 1941, but everything comes to a halt the following month when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and America is thrust into World War II.
“Blueprint for Paradise” was written by Laurel M. Wetzork and directed by Laura Steinroeder and stars Meredith Thomas and David Jahn as Clara and Herbert Taylor, Peter McGlynn as Wolfgang, Steve Marvel as Ludwig, and the incredible Regi Davis as Paul Revere Williams. Alex Best and Ann Hu, as Herbert’s chauffeur and Clara’s housemaid, respectively, complete the cast.
The Taylors represent an actual couple named Winona and Norman Stevens. The architect Paul Revere Williams is also a real figure. The other characters were created by the playwright in an effort to recreate the passions of that critical time and to imagine the interplay between a liberated African-American architect and a woman who accepted her husband’s oppressive admonitions without question. The arguments presented are sometimes a bit preachy, but they are delivered with earnest conviction, especially by Regi Davis and Meredith Thomas.
Ironically, the abandoned ruins of the proposed Nazi compound still stand in Pacific Palisades. They are known as the Murphy Ranch.
“Blueprint for Paradise,” presented by The Athena Cats, can be seen Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Sept. 4 at the Hudson Backstage Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., in Los Angeles. For tickets, call (323) 960-4412 or www.blueprintforparadise.com.