Living Outside The Box
03/19/2013 03:39PM ● Published by Kerri Regan
Step Inside the Iconic Round House
Story: Kerri Regan
Photos: James Mazzotta
Bob Spaid was accustomed to having strangers stroll right into his living room, looking for something to eat.
“Isn’t this a restaurant?” the confused visitors would ask.
No, he’d explain with a smile – it’s just my house.
For more than 35 years, the Round House on Park Marina Drive has been the stuff of urban legend – it’s a restaurant, it’s a hotel, it’s haunted.
In reality, the circular cottage on stilts was simply one of the many innovations of the late Spaid, who developed most of the Park Marina area into a business, residential and recreation area.
A wooden walkway lined with tiny white lights stretches across a Sacramento River inlet and leads to the home, now inhabited by Lynn Fritz. Tiki heads and iron embellishments in the entryway still evoke the Polynesian influence that Spaid carried through most of his Park Marina creations.
Just inside the front door, Fritz offers guests a cool beverage from behind a half-circle kitchen counter. To the right are a dining area and a small enclosed room which doubles as a laundry room and an editing suite for Fritz, a video producer. A series of cozy living rooms arcs around the left side of the house, ending at a bedroom that is set off by a folding screen.
The brown, green, black and white living rooms suits different moods; the brown one is preferred by her nephew, who doesn’t like leather, and she spends much of her time in the white one. A quick shuffle of furniture opens up plenty of space for meetings and parties. Floor-to-ceiling shelves are built into the interior wall that separates the living space from the core of the home, where the bathroom is.
Naturally, every inch of living space capitalizes on the bird’s eye view. Picture windows encircle the home. As the sun dips below the horizon, a westerly gaze reveals a majestic splash of pink and purple, while to the east, the sky remains a subtle blue.
“First thing in the morning, I look at the pond and see what the day is like,” Fritz says.
Outside, a wraparound porch with a built-in bench is a Zen-like spot to observe wildlife. Raccoons run along the handrail; beavers, otters, muskrats, turtles, ducks and carp splash in the water below, while swallows and an occasional bald eagle soar above. “One eagle flew by and I could have touched him,” Fritz says. During nesting times, she avoids walking on her porch for fear of dislodging mud swallow nests and sending them splashing into the water below.
As summer yields to winter, the water evolves from swamp to pond. “When it rains hard, it’s transformed,” she says.
An island below the living space features a fire pit, patio furniture, tiki torches and a small “creek,” where water is pumped up from the pond. A handful of eggs rest on the edge of the island; a pair of geese nest there every year.
A helipad sits atop an underground carport, a testament to Spaid’s affinity for aircraft.
Curiosity gets the best of some passersby. In addition to visitors who wander across the walkway requesting a tour (or a meal or a room for the night), the house has seen its share of pranks. Once, Fritz came home to find a basketball jersey on her dog.
The property where the Round House sits was a rock quarry during the construction of Shasta Dam. Spaid bought leases from the Kutras family in 1950 and transformed the gravel quarry into a Polynesian-themed recreation area. He built a miniature golf course in 1956 and a natural grass course in 1960 (Park Marina Golf closed in 2003).
In 1971, Spaid built the Round House. At the time, there was no inlet from the river; it was just spring fed, so he dredged it and pumped the water out.
He couldn’t afford a pile driver, so he set the pilings in concrete pumped under pressure, then set the house and pier on top. The pecky cedar home is built from 3-by-12s with a pole beam ceiling; the walls are six inches thick.
It carries rich memories for the Spaid family. Their grandchildren loved jumping into the water from the bridge and waterskiing in the pond. “It was an extended playground for us,” says Spaid’s daughter, Shirley Williams of Redding.
The home has been featured in Sunset magazine and on various North State home tours. In fact, the home is a prototype for other houses that Spaid wanted to build in the lagoon. Schematic drawings show a floating village, where motorized golf carts transport people from the “mainland” to each house.
“He had oodles of ideas,” says Spaid’s former wife, Shirlee. “He wanted to build a monorail from Park Marina to Hilltop Drive. He was always about 20 years ahead of his time. I used to ask him, ‘Don’t you ever rest?’”
The McConnell Foundation bought the major Park Marina leases from Spaid in 1995. Seven years later, Spaid died in an ultralight plane crash.
Now, The McConnell Foundation rents the home to Fritz – a psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, in private practice and active in many other facets of the community.
A Karuk Tribal Descendant, Fritz describes the home a sanctuary. In Native American culture, a “house in the round is very sacred,” she says.
“I feel very privileged to be here,” she says. “In May, I took the month off and spent it here. Most people would go on a vacation to stay at a place like this.”