Page C1.2 . 18 March 2009                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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The Textile Block Houses


The cement blocks — often referred to as "textile blocks" because they were woven together by strands of steel reinforcement — were cast in situ using molds patterned to produce a decorative effect and in some cases perforated to admit light into the interior. To enhance the organic effect, decomposed granite from the site was added to the mix.

An inconspicuous entry leads into a small, low-ceilinged vestibule. From here one emerges into the rear corner of the living room, below a low longitudinal mezzanine, entering finally into a soaring 15-foot- (4.6-meter-) high space. The south wall opens onto a balcony overlooking the lower arroyo. Additional light filters in gently through cruciform slits in the patterned blocks, an effect reminiscent of that created by the perforated stone screens found in Indian Mughal palaces.

Nicole Daniels, whose grandparents bought the house from Alice Millard, inherited it in a state of disrepair. She restored the house superficially on a limited budget, while stabilizing structural problems as best she could. To make the house livable, she brought in decorator Annie Kelly, initially to create an interior color scheme and then to work on the interior furnishings.

With Wright's own furniture way beyond Daniels's budget, Kelly turned to Wright's Asian influences to furnish the house. Here she successfully created interiors that responded to the house's Eastern character.

The house has since been bought by video director David Zander (who owns John Lautner's Schaffer House). It is now his turn to face the problems of restoring this most romantic of Wright's Los Angeles houses.

The architect Charles Moore, in his book The City Observed: Los Angeles, noted, "The two double-height rooms of La Miniatura seem to me among the most superbly habitable spaces in the world, at once grand and hieratic, and, on the other hand, cozy and intimate."

And Wright himself said, "I would rather have built this little house than St. Peter's in Rome."

Storer House

The second in Wright's series of textile block residences, designed for Dr. John Storer, rises fortresslike on a series of lateral terraces set into a Hollywood hillside. The Storer House faces south, sunlight filtering into its interior spaces through a colonnaded facade.

The interior surfaces are of the same material as the exterior, so that the entire structure enjoys an organic intimacy with its site. This continuity of materials also enhances the flow of space between interior rooms and adjacent exterior terraces.

The house was bought in 1984 by movie producer, and Wright enthusiast, Joel Silver. It was sadly deteriorated, but instead of doing a conventional renovation just to keep it "alive," Silver employed a team of experts led by restoration architect Martin Eli Weil, assisted by Wright's grandson Eric Wright and interior decorator Linda Marder.

Despite this comprehensive restoration, the house, with new owners, has recently succumbed to the fate of all Wright's concrete-block houses: a tarpaulin now covers the roof during the rainy season.

Freeman House

The Freeman House is owned by the University of Southern California, which is still working to restore it after extensive damage from a major earthquake in 1994. It was built for Samuel and Harriet Freeman in 1924 and is set into the crest of a steep hillside overlooking Highland Avenue in Hollywood. Third in the textile-block series, it was more forward-looking than the others.

Mitred corner windows, which were to become a familiar feature in modernist houses, made their first residential appearance in the Freeman House. Placed at the front corners of the house, where one would traditionally expect to see structural supports, they cascade continuously from the roof down to the sills of the bedrooms below.

The Freemans, who happily occupied the house for 61 years, were an active part of the city's cultural fabric. The living room functioned as a salon, frequented by a milieu that included Edward Weston, Martha Graham, Xavier Cugat, Richard Neutra, and Clark Gable.   >>>

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Just beyond the entryway to La Miniatura, a double-height living room receives daylight from glazed doorways opening onto a balcony.
Photo: Tim Street-Porter Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

Wright's Storer House was built on a steeply sloping site along Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Photo: Tim Street-Porter Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

Inside the Storer House, the main living space serves as an anchor for the house's split-level layout.
Photo: Tim Street-Porter Extra Large Image

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Storer House elevation drawings.
Image: Historic American Building Survey (HABS) Extra Large Image

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Storer House concrete block detail drawings.
Image: HABS Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

Concrete blocks form a screen in one of the bedrooms of the Storer House.
Photo: Tim Street-Porter Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

The main mass of the Freeman House in Los Angeles is cubical, with judicious subtractions at the corners and elsewhere.
Photo: Tim Street-Porter Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

L.A. Modern by Tim Street-Porter.
Image: Rizzoli Extra Large Image


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