The Sturges

Historic photo of the 1939 Sturges House by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo by Wright’s photographer Pedro E. Guerrero, 1947. It is always interesting to find a photo where you can compare and evaluate the contrast between Wright’s timeless design and the bygone style of cars or fashion.
Image source:


Image source: The Guardian

The home was owned for long time by actor Jack Larson, who lived here until his death not long ago. He was famous for a role that accounts for only a small part of his overall career – playing Jimmy Olson in the TV version of Superman.


My Kodachrome slides of the Sturges House, Brentwood, CA from June of 1970.  It is an example of Wright’s Usonian design principles outlined in his books “The Natural House,” and “The Living City.” Wright preferred to say Usonian when the context was specific to the United States. The word American should never exclude Canada or Mexico, being they are also part of America. And not to forget South America.

The historic designation of this house points to the fact it is the only structure in Los Angeles representing his midcentury Usonian style of design and construction.

Most angles of the house show a windowless mass of either brick or shiplapped redwood. The stairs lead to a rooftop sunning deck. Carport is on the right.


Here is the side of the home with the broad redwood balcony that really opens up to let the outside in.
Peering down to the balcony from the rooftop sunning deck. Note the cut out at the top left where the stairs lead up from the driveway area seen in the earlier photo.

Full view of the rooftop deck.


Diagram showing the massing required to carry the weight of this bold cantilevered home. Wright’s apprentice assigned to help build this home was John Lautner who became one of the Century’s important Frank Lloyd Wright trained architects.

There are a number of design ideas that Wright returned to over and over in his career. This type of dramatic cantilevering was explored by Wright most famously in his “Falling Water” house in Pennsylvania.

SturgesColorInt-1 as Smart Object-1

Sturges House interior view. Source:

From the Historic Designation report, City of Los Angeles. 

Dog House

babysharks-minority-report-doghouse as Smart Object-1

Lucky was the dog that got his own Frank Lloyd Wright designed dog house. It is at the 1951 Frank Lloyd Wright designed Robert Berger House in San Anselmo, CA. The house is unique in a couple of ways. First it was a “do-it-yourself” construction project. From the years 1951 – 1973 Robert Berger built his own Frank Lloyd Wright house by hand, so to speak. And Second, it features the above custom designed dog house.



I got to meet Mr. Berger and his wife in April of 1971. They generously allowed me to photograph the house, and they enjoyed sharing information. He told me although the work could be physically demanding he had no difficulty following Wright’s plans and instructions even though he had no previous house building experience. It was designed so it could be built in phases. It began as a one bedroom house, then became three bedrooms with the addition of another wing.


Wright utilized a number geometric layouts for his Usonian homes. The Berger House is based on a diamond module. 60 degree and 120 degree angles.


Character defining features of Wright’s work. Generous use of rock, wood, and glass. The broad overhang. The mitered window corner.

The rock walls are made with wood forms. Desert rocks piled into the forms, and concrete pushed in to ooze between the rocks. It’s a technique Wright devised in the desert of Taliesin West.
As so often the case with a Wright home, you enter through a low passage way and enter a larger expansive space within. The cut out pattern windows are a Wright signature design feature.
A peek within. “The Hearth” was always a focal point of Wright’s living areas. When construction was finally complete, it includes Wright designed furniture.



Welcome to Springbough. Beyond the FLLW designed gate is the Frank S. Sander House in Stamford, Connecticut. Source Dami’s Findings


Springbough was completed in 1955. I had a chance to visit in August of 1980. The home since then went through a period of decline. But in 1996 was lovingly restored by Anne Del Gaudio.

It is a 2,200 square foot Frank Lloyd Wright designed home on 2.3 acres of land. Ms. Del Guadio bought the house after the death of her husband, a Scarsdale dentist. Buying this home was a new life for her.

Wright’s design, built onto a rock outcropping, makes her feel “connected to the earth,” she said, adding, “As a widow I need that grounding energy.”

Ms. Del Gaudio spent several hundred thousand dollars replacing 14 skylights and restoring all of the exterior mahogany to its original amber finish. She also repaired extensive water damage to walls and ceilings. “Wright never built a roof that doesn’t leak,” she said.

She made the house glisten. But in 2003 she put the house on the market.
“I babied the house,” Ms. Del Gaudio, 65, said. “Now it’s someone else’s turn.”

She enlisted the help of the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy to help find a sympathetic owner. Source NY Times


A sky-lit living space cantilevers over a rock outcropping. Wright was close to 90 years old when this house was built. It was also the most prolific period of his long career. “I can’t shake them out fast enough,” he said, demand for his work was that high.


Springbough, detail. Brick and Mahogany.


Springbough entrance. WoodDance studio has a story to tell about the restoration of these doors. It’s a bit scary!

“Not too long after I started working on a Frank Lloyd Wright home here in Connecticut I was asked to fix the front storm door because it was badly warped and one of the screws holding the handle in place had stripped out, leaving the handle a bit loose.

After altering the door in my shop I brought it back to the residence and set it outside. I left it leaning there against the stone wall in the carport while I worked on the jamb and passive side. I replaced the passive side and left for the night.

The next morning at 5:30am the garbageman stopped to collect the trash and for some reason, took the door as well.

When I showed up at the job site, just a few hours later, and couldn’t find the door, panic set in. We raced to phone the sanitation company. They said the door had been taken, dumped at the transfer station and had by now been driven over by large debris moving caterpillars. The original Frank Lloyd Wright front storm door was destroyed!

While working on this home, I removed some large boards of mahogany from the deck area. Every piece of this Frank Lloyd Wright original that I removed, I labelled and stored neatly in one of the out-buildings. I brought a few pieces to my shop and reconstructed the door using that material from the site.

Having the opportunity to affect repairs on what I consider to be an important structure, at times, holds more meaning to me than to the client. The work I do, in a way, can be a personal interaction between myself and the original Architect, Builder and/or carpenters. I have my hands on things that homeowners never see; the guts of a house. In a forensic sort of way, I can get a feeling for the job as it might have been for the crew putting it together.

Using wood that came from the house was important to me but furthermore I wanted to use wood that Frank Lloyd Wright likely had set his own hand upon.

Frank Lloyd Wright began using the red square symbol as his signature mark around 1904. This home was built in 1952. In this image we can see the original signature block on the left hand side.

Thank the lucky stars we didn’t leave that door off too!”



Springbough, driveway, carport. Wright preferred a carport, not a garage.


Springbough, driveway, carport.

La Miniatura


Photos from March 1972

In the early 1920’s Frank Lloyd Wright sought to create a new architectural vocabulary for California. One not based on Spanish Colonial, Mission, or Craftsman. Wright almost never pointed to inspiration for his designs, but one can certainly have a hunch he tapped the ancient Mexican and South American civilizations for the look of his concrete textile block homes in Los Angeles in 1923 and 1924.

The first of these homes was the Alice Millard House in Pasadena, 1923.

This was the second home he designed for this particular client. The previous one was done 17 years earlier in Highland Park, Illinois, for her and her late husband. Wright said he was proud to have a repeat client. “Out of one hundred and seventy-two buildings this made only the eleventh time it happened to me. So, gratefully, I determined she should have the best I had in my portfolio.”


Indeed it is regarded as one of his best. Brendan Gill wrote “La Miniatura is assuredly among the most beautiful houses to be found anywhere in the world, regardless of size.”

Gill questioned, however, the wisdom of the site chosen for the home. It is an arroyo. “For obvious reasons (it is) not thought desirable as a building site. So Mrs. Millard was able to acquire the arroyo property at a low price. Flying in the face of conventional prudence, Wright and she decided to build at the bottom of the arroyo, where a small pool would be dug to reflect the house.” All four of the textile block homes Wright built in L.A. in 1923 and 1924 had water damage issues. Gill may well have a point. But clearly both client and architect loved where the house was built.


“The interior is as exquisite in its shapeliness as the exterior and has a plan of remarkable ingenuity, comprising three full floors and terraces at four levels, with easy access to it surroundings and to the street.”


The concrete block as a construction material was not new in 1923. But Wright’s construction method was unique. As well as his attention to design pattern. He envisioned this becoming a low cost way to build elegant homes–a design goal he remained interested in decades after these first experiments. Unfortunately the textile block homes of this period all went over-budget and proved to be very difficult to build. They are imperfect works of great art. But as works of art they are very important in history. The effort to save these homes has been a challenging cause, if not heroic. The fate of the Millard house has been uncertain for years. One investor wanted to move the house to another site. I suspect it was determined to be infeasible, and would have been a disaster. From what I can tell the house is currently for sale. Here is the agent selling the home–providing some great interior shots for us to see.

Image Source Architizer, Scott Mayoral

A House On Bankers Hill

Mossholder Residence

Mom and Dad rented an apartment in this grand house at 5th and Grape, San Diego’s Bankers Hill, during World War II. They told about being able to nearly make eye contact from one of those windows with people in airplanes landing at Lindbergh.

1944 voter as Smart Object-1

Bill & Jeanne Soderberg

Mom and Dad in Balboa Park, a short walk from their home. The listing is from the 1944 Voter Register. Dad was a rifle instructor in the Marines. Mom worked in an aircraft factory.

Hawthorn To Grape 1906 SD 078

A map of the corner at 5th and Grape from 1906. It is the footprint of the house where Mom and Dad lived. It was the Mossholder Residence.

1909 MossHolder_ BarAssoc1

The Mossholder Bio.

Mossholder 245

What’s there today. The two grand homes on this side of the block were demolished for a parking lot. The retaining walls and stairs leading to the residences remain–the corner stairs covered in vines.


A glimpse of the original stairs and retaining wall at the corner of 5th and Grape. A sleeping bag indicates the vines provide shelter for someone still calling this corner a home.


As so often the case, great architecture was demolished to make parking lots.


The remnants of the second home on that block leveled for parking are very visible. And interesting to look at.


The medical clinic would do the neighborhood a favor by repairing and painting these doors. And help save a tiny slice of history too.


The stairs are still in use today.


Someone has taken the time to plant some flowers.

Mossholder257 as Smart Object-1

An impression at the base of the stairs. The same “stamp” is at both sides below the bottom step. Likely whomever built the stairs and retaining walls.


The 1908 City Directory shows a couple possibilities about the origin of the Jennings stamp.

Thanks to Sarai Johnson for providing some of these great visuals from her archives.

Pt. Loma Moderne

Although Frank L. Hope, Sr. worked in a variety of styles, he was notable as a pioneer Modernist architect whose streamline architecture of 1930’s influenced the acceptance and rise in popularity of Modernism in San Diego.

To call him Frank L. Hope, Sr. is not quite correct. His father, the actual Frank L Hope Senior was a railroad executive and prominent San Diego resident. His son is the above mentioned Frank L. Hope, Jr.

But then Frank L. Hope, Jr. had a son also named Frank L. Hope, Jr.  It has been suggested we leave Frank L. Hope, Sr. out of the discussion altogether. And refer to the son as Frank L. Hope Jr, the elder. And his son as Frank L. Hope, Jr. the younger.

Frank L. Hope, Jr. the elder, had worked with Requa, Jackson, Lillian Rice and William H. Wheeler before establishing his own firm in 1928. Hope worked on a number of important commissions including designing a number of custom streamline homes in Pt. Loma. He also designed a good amount of streamline commercial buildings including the 1936 Santa Fe City Offices 1200 Fifth Avenue NW corner at B Street, (demolished) and City Motors Ford (demolished last year).

His son Frank L. Hope Jr. the younger, joined the firm in 1955. Hope Jr, the elder, retired in 1965. The Hope Design Group through 3 generations of Hope family architects had a huge part in creating modern San Diego.

The big dumpster out in front is rather ominous, but the work permits applied for relate only to interior remodeling. SOHO is keeping a close eye on this to make sure the exterior character defining streamline elements are not destroyed.

Streamline Moderne is a part of the Art Deco period of architecture. Also in the Deco fold is Egyptian and Aztec Revival. Above, a Deco detail. The mail slot.

Shadow of a Doubt, Alfred Hitchcock’s Santa Rosa

1942 Hollywood publicity photo for Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. Photo from Santa Rosa Pressdemocrat

Hitchcock was captivated by the play Our Town. His creative mind was brewing a small town story that would become the film Shadow of a Doubt. He sought Thorton Wilder to write the script, and it proved to be a highly successful collaboration. Hitchcock considered a number of sites to represent his idyllic small American town. After careful scrutiny it was decided Santa Rosa would fulfilled his vision.

The Santa Rosa Depot is an important feature of Shadow of a Doubt. At the beginning this is where the murderous Uncle Charlie arrives. Hitchcock uses visual foreshadowing when the approaching train casts darkness over the whole station with a black cloud of smoke pumping from the locomotive’s smokestack. The depot figures prominently at the end as well when Uncle Charlie meets his demise there. The departing train puffs a barely noticeable trace of light smoke as the film ends.

The Shadow of a Doubt house.

Hitchcock and Wilder searched the town for the perfect house to match the one created in their script. The home owner was so proud to have his house chosen, he gave it a fresh new paint job. But that’s not what Hitchcock was looking for.

He got the owner to agree having the house painted again to look dirty! After shooting was done, Hitch made sure the house got yet another sparkling fresh coat of paint.

Hotel La Rose is seen in the film. A great looking historic hotel. Our friends who helped pass the nomination of the Homer Delawie home in Coronado to the National Register stayed here. A perfect choice!

The Empire Building in Old Courthouse Square is also in the film. It was built in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and completed in 1910.

There’s a glimpse of the old Kress in the film. Shadow of a Doubt was Alfred Hitchcock’s first full American production.

It sat vacant for years and it took dedicated effort by the community to save this 1937 Art Moderne jewel. It underwent a structural and architectural rehabilitation with a complete restoration of the exterior facade. Originally Rosenberg’s Department store, it is occupied today by Barnes and Nobel and Starbucks. Local businesses occupy the upper floors.

Another example of historic rehabilitation and restoration playing a key role in the revitalization of a downtown area.

Much of what was seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt no longer exists. But through some luck and preservation efforts, a sample of that time does remain.

A fantastic look back is found at Santa Rosa Then and Now.

Ding-Ding, Fill’er Up!

This forlorn VERY old Texaco station is in Healdsburg, CA.

In its day it would have looked something like these. Top, a restored Texaco station in Cowan, Tennessee Photo courtesy of Below, the toy Texaco station from the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. That’s for sure because I had one!

The Texaco stations were the creation of renown industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague. His work is some of the most iconic of the twentieth century.

I am particularly interested in the sign. It seems to me an earlier version of what became their best known sign, as seen in the toy above. This particular style I’ve only seen once or twice in various Google searches.

I believe the sign to be very rare, and I hope the folks in Healdsburg can at least save the sign, if not the station itself.

Here is a restored sign at the R.C. Baker Museum in Coalinga, CA. Photo by Dylan Szoshke.

R.C. Baker Museum

Restored historic gas stations ad color and interest to the fabric of our urban landscape. We learn about the changing look of industrial or commercial design over the decades. It points to the rise and dominance of the automobile in our culture. The need for speed and convenience. These are just a few examples of the teaching that historic buildings provide.

Adaptive Reuse.  SIGNAL STATION PIZZA Located at the historic gas station in St. Johns 8302 North Lombard Street (At North Charleston Avenue) Portland, Oregon

Adaptive Reuse. Packard’s in Ramona, is a popular coffee house.

San Diego Historical Resources Board Designation. Johnson’s Wilshire Gas Station 4689 Market Street, San Diego. The resource embodies the distinctive characteristics and character defining features of Googie architecture and retains a good level of architectural integrity from its 1962 period of significance.

The Appeal of Historic Design Features. This Gilmore Gas Station at the Fairfax Farmers Market in Los Angeles helps make this destination popular to locals and tourists alike.

Keeping Community Character. Mike Burnett (jumping) and Craig Abenilla (kneeling) own the Golden Hill architecture firm, Foun-dationForForm. Their plans to develop the site at 811 25th Street appears to utilize the mid century gas station at the site rather than demolish it. Kudos to you gentlemen!

It was a Texaco station with characteristic mid century design elements. Not nearly as old as Santa Rosa’s, but it is good news it won’t disappear. And we look forward to it it looking great, if not better than ever one day.

It should be illegal to paint over natural rock! Midcentury design elements at play here. A thick rock sign blade with circular cut out. Post and beam. Clerestory windows,  Board and batton wall effect.

The former Texaco Station at University and First is a vintage Walter Dorwin Teague era building. It would be wonderful to see great things happen to this resource as we’ve seen in other cases.

Mr. U-Haul, a Wright Desert Home, and Unsolved Mysteries.

The H.C. Price Residence, Phoenix, AZ, 1954. Image courtesy Raymond Carlson.

Frank Lloyd Wright began his never ending love affair with the Arizona desert in 1925. His first camp there was called “Ocotillo,” and was located near Chandler, AZ. He built his own home, studio and school of architecture–Taliesin West–later in Scottsdale.

The desert is sprinkled with some of Wright’s most inspired work as a result of this landscape having captured his imagination.

This house was built for H.C. Price who was one of Wright’s great clients. Wright’s tallest building, the Price Tower in Oklahoma, is an important building in Wright’s legacy. Wright also built homes for the Price children.

This residence is the length of a football field and has 4,781 square feet of floor space.

It was a gorgeous Spring day in April of 1972 when I came a knockin’ at this Wright masterpiece. The gentleman who answered the door was Sam Shoen. He  told me he was head of the U-Haul company–a multibillion dollar cooperation he started on a shoestring just after World War II.

With 11 children Shoen utilized all ten rooms, five master bedrooms and two servant’s rooms.

Wright created this atrium, a large shaded area with a cooling fountain. The “floating” roof captures breezes. It floats two feet above the walls on narrow steel pylons atop massive concrete block columns which end short of the ceiling and taper toward the floor. Wright’s timber burning fireplace keeps the area warm in winter.

The Master Architect’s beloved low horizontal lines blend peacefully with the desert.

Wright lavishly furnished the home–every detail is of his own design. Here are lounge chairs before decorated doors and screens.

Detail of a Frank Lloyd Wright custom table.

The living and dining room.

Built-in seating. This room, which opens to the atrium, can host a massive party.

Atrium lounge chair and door panel detail.

This silhouette visually defines the floating roof.

I won’t even begin to try and tell the story of Sam Shoen and his family. The Phoenix New Times News states “The story of the Shoen family feud is complex and twisted. There is so much intrafamily violence, it could be the basis of a Eugene O’Neill tragedy.”

Image Courtesy Raymond Carlson

It even made an episode of TV’s “Unsolved Mysteries.” A family of murder and mayhem! My day there in 1972 revealed none of that. Shoen was patient and friendly while I invaded his privacy with my camera.

I read a blog recently of someone trying to take pictures of this house and was NOT warmly greeted. The photographer lamented not being able to find any decent views of the home. Such a different world now than when I had this opportunity back in ’72. I doubt I would be able to get into very many homes like I did back in the day.

You can read more about the tragic Shoen family here: