Tackling the Textile Block

John Waters, AIA, is the Conservancy’s preservation programs manager.

In late May I met with University of Southern California faculty members Trudi Sandmeier and Ken Breisch, as well Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation trustee Heather Lenkin, at Wright’s 1924 Freeman House in Los Angeles. Sandmeier, who is director of the Graduate Programs in Heritage Conservation at USC, is the current faculty liaison with the house, which has been owned by the USC School of Architecture since the mid-1980s.

The last of Wright’s Los Angeles textile block houses, the Freeman House is a fascinating site for the discussion of preservation issues. Soon after occupying the house, the Freemans brought in another major figure of 20th-century architecture, Rudolph Schindler, to make alterations, which he continued to do until his death in 1953. These modifications included built-in furniture, cabinetry and the altering of certain walls, as the Freemans adjusted the house to their lifestyles. Schindler’s interventions make for a complex site with a layered history, where preservation concepts, such as “period of significance” are not easily addressed. Additionally, the experimental nature of Wright’s textile blocks made them a challenging material from the beginning. Last, but certainly not least, the house suffered significant damage during the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

On this visit, we were not only able to experience the spectacular view looking south from the living room down Highland Avenue, we examined the extensive reinforcing work done after Northridge to stabilize the main portion of the house. The process of reinforcing included the replacement of certain original textile block walls with reinforced concrete walls, the installation of steel trusses that span the living room roof, and, least conspicuously, the pouring of concrete caissons and piers that support both the house’s north, street-side wall, and the street itself.

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