Frank Lloyd Wright only spent one year in Los Angeles, but the five houses he built here in the 1920s have become architectural icons. One of the so-called “textile block” homes, built for Samuel and Harriet Freeman in the Hollywood Hills, has recently been listed for sale by its longtime owner, the University of Southern California. The two-bedroom, 2,884 square foot, three-level residence inspired by pre-Columbian architecture, which has a floor-to-ceiling hearth and views of Hollywood below, is priced at $4.25 million.
The 97-year-old landmark has only ever had two owners. It was acquired by USC in 1986 after original owner Harriet Freeman, a former Broadway dancer and teacher, donated it to the school as a retreat for visiting architects. The dean of the architecture school, established just four years before the house was built, brought Freeman a bottle of champagne when she made the announcement and began raising half a million dollars to fix up the place. Freeman herself kicked in another $200,000 for restoration, nearly ten times the original construction cost of the house. The unique construction, including 12,000 interlocking concrete blocks that were cast on site and included a good helping of local dirt, had inherent problems which led to water damage, rusty rebar, and corrosion of the blocks.
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Freeman and her husband Samuel, who inherited his fortune from an uncle and ran a jewelry shop, hired Wright to build their dream house after visiting the magnificent Barnsdall home at Hollywood Boulevard and Vermont Avenue. Harriet held salons in the magnificent living room that attracted L.A.’s avant-garde; photographer Edward Weston, architect Richard Neutra, and dancer Martha Graham who mingled with stars like Clark Gable at the Mayan-inspired hillside estate for decades. “I’m an older person with younger ideas,” she told a reporter shortly before her death. “I’m embarrassed about how young I feel.”
The university’s hopes for a retreat faded and the home sat empty before being badly damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. More than $1 million in structural repairs funded by FEMA, the Getty museum, and USC were completed by 2002 and work moved to replacing damaged blocks. Using student labor, a 3-D printer, and a robotic milling machine, a team from USC began the task of replicating the melting blocks. It’s unclear how much work remains, but the house has not yet enjoyed a major restoration like Wright’s other L.A. properties. Film producer and architecture buff Joel Silver rehabbed the Storer House on Hollywood Boulevard in 2002, and business tycoon Ron Burkle’s restoration of the Ennis House (which played Harrison Ford’s palatial pad in Blade Runner) won a Los Angeles Conservancy preservation award. Burkle sold the property for $18 million in 2019.
Like the Ennis and Storer houses, the Freeman house is a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and has a Conservation Easement. This means that the property is protected against demolition and that any changes will have to be approved by the city’s Office of Historic Resources. The house also includes furnishings designed by Wright and Rudolph Schindler. The Los Angeles Police Department opened an investigation when two lamps and a chair from the house were stolen from a USC storage facility in South Los Angeles in 2012. The three pieces were valued at about $250,000. A single block from the house sold at auction for $5,000 in 2019.
Wright is the OG starchitect and only a handful of these buildings ever existed in California. Their care and feeding are highly specialized—and very pricey. Here’s hoping Sam and Harriet’s place finds the right buyer.
“The new owner has to be passionate about architecture,” listing agent Mike Deasy told Realtor.com. “And committed to the restoration.”
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