The Underground House, 3970 Spencer St. One of the valley’s most unusual houses went on the market about a year ago. The house was initially listed at $1.7 million and on March 28 it sold for the bargain basement price of $1.15 million.
Basement is the operative word here. The property includes the original home built 26 feet underground in 1978 by Girard “Jerry” B. Henderson, who, planned to survive the end of the world there. The home has two bedrooms, a giant pantry, a pool, two hot tubs, an underground yard and a barbecue that vents through a concealed chimney disguised as a tree on the surface. It is decorated in the lavish colors and mirrors associated with that decade.
The buyers have chosen to keep their identity concealed for the time being. They are listed on the paperwork as the Society for the Preservation of Near Extinct Species. Whether the name indicates that they are a group of architectural preservationists, end-time survivalists, panda farmers or some other thing is a matter of speculation.
“The buyers aren’t ready to speak about it right now,” said Winston King, the real estate agent who handled the sale through the group’s broker. “I think they might make a statement next week, but I’ll probably find out what they’re planning the same time everyone else does.
Jack Levine, a real estate agent and expert in mid-century modern architecture was among the first to tour the home when it went on the market last year.
“Members of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, who are recognized as leaders in the mid-century preservation movement, were coming out here for an event and they asked me if I could arrange a tour of the underground house,” he said. “We were allowed to visit the home and everyone was very impressed.”
The house was built too late to be considered mid-century modern, but it includes many elements of the style and unusual features, including lights in the underground yard designed to emulate different times of day or night, a built-in toaster that slides out of the kitchen wall and a one-bedroom guesthouse on the edge of the yard.
Jewel Smith, an artist from Texas who was in her 70s when the home was built lived in the guest house for three years while she painted the murals that surround the yard and add to the illusion that the home is above ground. The murals feature some of the Henderson’s favorite places and one section is in perpetual winter with a blanket of snow under evergreen trees. The Henderson family can be seen in the near distance leaning on a fence in one section of the mural.
When Jerry Henderson died in 1983 his wife Mary had a more traditional home built on the surface above the underground home. An elevator and staircase from that house provide access to the underground house. Mary died in 1989 and the house went to a distant relative and eventually ended up the property of the Seaway Bank and Trust Co. which gained it in a foreclosure. At one point the home, including more than an acre of land, was on the market for $8 million.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of speculation about what the buyers intend to do with the property,” Levine said. “I hope they’re at least serious about the preservation part of the name.”