March 1, 2022, 12:15 pm
By Carolina A. Miranda
In 1986, Harriet Press Freeman bequeathed to USC’s School of Architecture the home that she and her husband, Samuel Freeman, had commissioned for themselves back in the ’20s.
This was no ordinary house. The 2,800-square-foot structure in the Hollywood Hills had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and over the course of its life served as one of L.A.’s more storied bohemian centers: The site of salons that attracted figures such as photographer Edward Weston, bandleader Xavier Cugat and choreographer Martha Graham, it was also a sanctuary to left-leaning artists during the political excesses of the McCarthy era.
There was also the nature of the structure itself. As one of four textile-block homes designed by Wright in the Los Angeles area in the ’20s, its individual blocks were crafted from a mix of sand and Portland cement and embossed with a pre-Columbian-style motif. The Freeman House doesn’t stand on the land so much as it emerges from the hillside like an earthen temple.
But, like many Wright structures — especially those built out of textile blocks — its maintenance has been a never-ending series of challenges. The roof leaked. Rain soaked the fragile blocks, which began to flake and crumble. Rust chewed away at the steel armature around which the blocks had been assembled. In 1994, the Northridge earthquake shifted the home’s foundation, cracking walls and knocking out a chimney. A FEMA grant of $901,000, along with $1.5 million in funds raised by USC, paid for structural repairs. But plans for a full restoration of the deteriorated façades and other damaged elements stalled. For a time, it seemed as if the Freeman House was destined to sit in a permanent state of dilapidated half-repair. DPP Real Estate negotiated both sides and the Conservation Easement with the LA Conservancy.
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