For sure, there is a ton of questions I should have asked. But at age 16, I hadn’t honed my interviewing skills whatsoever. Nor did I take notes as I’m sure Mrs. Freeman shared with me a lot more information than I remember now. Harriet Freeman lived into her 90’s, passing away in 1986.
What about the idea of a Frank Lloyd Wright designed Theatre in Balboa Park?Â That was perhaps on somebody’s mind when he was invited to speak here in 1955 when the idea of building a new civic theater was first being considered.
Frank Lloyd Wright was no stranger to San Diego over the years But the region has nothing to show of his work. This story written by Carol Olten fills in the details of that story.
I had the chance to work with Carol in 2008 as I did research for my documentary film “Four Decades of Historic Preservation in San Diego County.” She’s just the person to talk to about La Jolla History. And about the time Frank Lloyd Wright spent there and in the San Diego region.
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: enriquedlcm.tumblr.com
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,Â 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.
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.
Sturges House interior view. Source: sdrdesign.com
From the Historic Designation report, City of Los Angeles.
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.Â 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.Â 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. 60Ëš and 120Ëš 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.Â 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.Â When construction was finally complete, it include 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 couldnâ€™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 didnâ€™t leave that door off too!”
Springbough, driveway, carport. Wright preferred a carport, not a garage.
Springbough, driveway, carport.
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.Â 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.Â 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.
The H.C. Price Residence, Phoenix, AZ, 1954.
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. HeÂ 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.”
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:
I surveyed a number of Northern California Frank Lloyd Wright structures in April of 1971. One of my favorites is the Bazett House in Hillsborough, 1939. It is one of Wright’s finest “Usonian” houses. This is a category of house characterized by reduced building cost via simplified design.
Wright’s Usonia doctrine includes flat roofs. “Visible roofs are expensive and unnecessary.”
Carport instead of garage. Slab foundation–no basement. Simplified plumbing. Radiant heating.
This house was designed with a hexagonal grid or layout. Note the playful pattern this creates with the glass living room wall. Wright loved blending where exterior space ends and interior space begins. It is a common trait for the Usonian houses to be wide open toward the garden, but closed and private on the side facing the street. That closed side was often butted up along the street to maximize garden space and vista at the open side.
Wright utilized a cost efficient wall system known as “Board and Batton.”
“It is possible to build the inside and outside of the house in one operation,” Said Wright.
The system consisted of a plywood core with a moisture-proof membrane. Finished horizontal bands of wood were placed over the core inside and out, secured by screws.
Wright’s Usonian houses were not large. The most generous amount of space was devoted to the living area. The kitchen was galley like. Modest bathrooms. The Bazett House is 1,480 square feet.
The building was over budget. $7,000 was the allocation but projected costs were nearly $12,000. Yet the Bazetts by all accounts were enthusiastic owners.
Many of Wright’s over runs have been highlighted and widely publicized.
However Architect Bob Green, once an apprentice to Wright, offers some perspective on the subject.
“..It was said that all of the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright leaked, and all were over budget. Not true! He did many houses for teachers, college professors and people not highly paid and who did not have the money for the building to be much over budget. And as far as leaking roofs: maintenance must be done on buildings–as well as cars–or in time neither will not work very well.”
Sadly there was trauma for the Bazetts. The birth of a still born child. After only two years of residence, they moved out and lived separate lives.
The residents I spoke with were the second owners of this property. They were kind enough to talk about their life in a Frank Lloyd Wright house and allow me to take these photographs.
They said living in this house is a perpetual source of fascination. Every day brings some new light, pattern, glow, shadow or reflection they hadn’t seen before. From morning to night. From Winter to Summer. “The house always delights us with surprise and wonder. It is uplifting to live in this beautiful space. We’re as thrilled now as the day we moved in.”
The closed side of the house facing the street. The purpose of the patterned cut out window design is mainly decorative and for interior lighting effect.
The owner’s story I enjoyed most was about waking up early one Sunday morning to the sound of “squeak, squeak, squeak.” They went to look and viewed the unmistakable low brim hat, the flowing cape, walking cane hooked over an arm, and dapper attire of non other than Frank Lloyd Wright as he stood outside cleaning windows with his handkerchief.
Many a Wright owner I’ve spoken with had similar stories. Wright showing up with an object of art and knowing exactly where he wanted it placed. Wright coming in an moving furniture around, arranging things.
He liked to say his favorite design was “always the next.” It seems these unexpected appearances indicates he also he had old favorites as well.
He was with his father in Chicago that day, August 14, 1914, when the call came. “Taliesin destroyed by Fire.” John Lloyd Wright accompanied his father Frank Lloyd Wright on the first departing train. The news, learned in fragments during the trek, couldn’t have been worse. They found not only the house destroyed , but Wright’s mistress Mamah Cheney, for whom he built Taliesin to share, brutally murdered along with her two children. A household employee, gone crazy, set the blaze and bludgeoned the fleeing victims with an ax.
John was at his father’s side to help lift the woman, whom FLLW left his mother for, into a plain box coffin lined with flowers from Mamah’s Taliesin garden.
A Portion of the original Taliesin Wright built to share with Mamah Cheney.
John’s mother Catherine had refused to grant FLLW a divorce so he could marry his mistress. With Victorian era morality prominent then, such a relationship was extremely scandalous. He built a house for the Cheneys in his own neighborhood, Oak Park, Illinois. For Wright to “take” the client’s wife caused outrage. When people saw the architect and Mrs. Cheney happily riding about together in Wright’s Roadster people condemned this as an unabashed flaunting of an immoral lifestyle.
Edwin and Mamah Cheney Residence, Oak Park, Illinois. 1903
In 1909 The couple fled to Europe escaping the controversy for a year. He left behind his wife and six children. These decisions and choices only worsened people’s indignation at home. Taliesin came about as their retreat and safe haven in the quiet countryside of Spring Green, Wisconsin. This vast tract was home territory of his mother, aunts, uncles and grand-parents.
For John the events were a traumatic seal to an otherwise happy carefree childhood. Though in his last year of school John faced classmates shaming remarks and attitudes.
As children he and his five siblings were an unruly lot at Frank Lloyd Wright’s house and studio in Oak Park. In reality there was only one parent figure, mother Catherine. Father was more like a sibling, playmate or rival than a parent. Catherine ran the household. She raised and educated the kids.
Wright’s Home and Studio, 1889, Oak Park, Illinois.
FLLW however created a fantastic atmosphere. The children loved the barrel vaulted playroom he built. It was stocked with playthings appealing to Wright as much as the children. There were building blocks fashioned after the Froebel kindergarten toys he knew as a child. He brought in “funny mechanical toys.” And introduced them to Bach, Beethoven and Mozart just as he had been. It could be said Wright designs are especially appealing whenever he took children into account. (See Wingspread an inventive custom design for clients with children).
FLLW Residence and Studio, 1889, Oak Park, Illinois.
In many respects these Oak Park years were a party. “Papa’s parties were best of all. He had clambakes, tea parties in his studio, cotillions in the large drafting room; gay affairs about the blazing logs that snapped and crackled in the big fireplace. From week to week, month to month, our home was a round of parties. There were parties somewhere all of the time and everywhere some of the time.” Famously, or infamously, it was typical for the Wright children to run amuck while clients and guests were entertained.
Those memories must have seemed distant that day John helped shoulder Mamah’s box coffin to its final resting place at Taliesin.A life in architecture was not a choice he made right away. Like his father he attempted University studies. The end result was also the same; he dropped out. In 1911 he abandoned his mid-west homeland for opportunities on the west coast. He found Portland, Oregon. He worked there briefly with a paving contractor. Later he joined up with his brother Lloyd in San Diego who was employed with landscaping Balboa Park for the Pan Pacific Exposition. Among John’s early odd jobs was pressing clothes. That lasted all but three days when he burned a garment.
John fondly remembered the Oak Park parties, clambakes and social gatherings.
A realization came upon him that a career in architecture was conducive to such a lifestyle.The Pacific Building Company located on University Avenue in east San Diego had a sign out “Draftsman Wanted.” The firm provided both architectural design and contractor services. Some of the draftsmen were from Irving Gill’s firm. Wright drew “cobblestone bungalow” designs before promotion to the Chief Designer’s table.
Looking to move his career up a notch or two, John took a position with the Los Angeles firm of Harrison Albright. Mr. Albright designed the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego along with numerous commissions for John D. Spreckles. John really had to “work his way up” at that office. He was a designated chauffeur, errand boy and one-finger typist. But some architectural assignments finally came his way. A house in Escondido which he adapted from one of his father’s projects in Illinois.
Golden West Hotel, John Lloyd Wright, 1913.
And the Workingman’s Hotel (Now called Golden West Hotel) in downtown San Diego. John at 20 years of age explored many of the design elements he enjoyed using his entire career.
But he was still relying upon reference books and the helpfulness of others to render his ideas architecturally. He sought more education and experience.
“I did not want to ask Dad to take me into his office for he had not encouraged me toward this end, so I wrote to Otto Wagner, the great Austrian architect who had a school of modern architecture in Vienna. I asked Mr. Wagner if I could serve him as apprentice for a few years in exchange for my room and board. His prompt reply translated was: “.. .Come on…”
“I felt I was on the way toward making Dad proud of me, so I wrote to him asking his help to buy the ticket to Vienna. I enclosed photographs of the Wood House and the Workingman’s Hotel. He telegraphed: “Meet me in Los Angeles in two weeks…” He thought his office would be better for me than Otto Wagner’s. “I’d like to know what Otto Wagner can do for you that your father can’t do!” This was the way he invited me to work for him.”
John came to know the pressure, discomfort and turmoil many offspring of brilliant famous people came to know. A dominating shadow difficult to escape.
FLLW put John in charge of his Chicago Office in 1913. He enrolled John in engineering courses as well. It was also about this time John married his first wife Jeanette Winters whom he met in Los Angeles.
One of FLLW’s major commissions came in Autumn 1913, the Midway Gardens. His client Ed Waller, whom already lived in a FLLW house, said “I believe Chicago would appreciate a beautiful garden resort. Our people would go there, listen to good music, eat and drink. You know, an outdoor garden something like those little parks around Munich where German families go.”
The dining hall chairs at Taliesin West are from Midway Gardens.
Midway Gardens was near completion when that August 14th call came. “Taliesin destroyed by fire.”
A lull followed the tragedy. Midway Gardens was completed. Then John’s focus was designing children’s toys. It was a talent seemingly rooted in his childhood experiences with toys FLLW had brought into the Oak Park home and studio. The best known John Lloyd Wright toy invention was “Lincoln Logs.”
The next big FLLW commission came in 1917, the Tokio Imperial Hotel. John was appointed on site supervisor. FLLW was very hard on both his architect sons, Lloyd and John. In John’s case FLLW was negligent in paying earned and due salary. In Tokio some funds came in from a smaller Japanese project the Wrights were working on. When John subtracted what was due him and wired the remainder to his father in the U.S. a telegraphed response was received the next day. “You’re fired. Take the next ship home.”
John learned a great deal from his work on Midway Gardens and Imperial Hotel. But much of his time spent after returning from Japan was, again, designing toys. He marketed his product at Marshal Fields Department Store. His brand icon was a red square similar to his father’s signature icon.
In 1920 John took up residence again in an apartment at his childhood home, the Oak Park House and Studio. In 1921 he married his second wife Hazel Lundin. His first child Elizabeth was born there in 1922.
John and his family moved to Michigan City, Indiana in 1923. There in an enclave along Lake Michigan called Long Beach he settled in to build his independent architectural practice. There was a sign. “John Lloyd Wright, Architect” followed by the red square signature icon. John forged a style that paid respect to his father’s principles of Organic Architecture. Yet he consciously filtered the influence. To exercise his own architectural language.
John Lloyd Wright balanced work with time spent with his family. His toy designs were tried at home by his children, Elizabeth and John Junior– “Jack.” They enjoyed an enchanted childhood just as John had with all the toys FLLW brought home.
This Long Beach chapter of John Lloyd Wright’s career represented 15 years of solid creative work. There were numerous fine homes and public works that included an acclaimed school design and a police station. The culmination of his career to this point came with a commission called “Shangri-La.”
Frank Welsh, his wife Frances and step son Lou spent summers at a rented place in Michigan City called “Tree Tops.” But they wished to build their own place. Frances’ son Lou, as a student at the University of Chicago, became familiar with and admired Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House of 1909.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, Chicago, Illinois, achieved international renown in 1909.
One day there in Michigan City Lou drove by a sign which caught his eye. “John Lloyd Wright, Architect.” Lou thought “Oh my god, he must be related to Frank Lloyd Wright.” He looked him up and found out he was the son.
He told his mother Frances “Well of course the architect you need is this man John Lloyd Wright. And he lives right here in town.” He found out he designed the school there as well. When John Met Francis “electricity” was generated. Perhaps keeping in mind the calamity created by his father’s affair, the relationship that developed between John and Frances was professional and social. The circumstances bringing them together took a long time to develop. John was reluctant to leave his family.
Frances was previously married to a man with the last name Gordon. This was Lou’s father. Frances was a professional writer; a successful metaphysical writer, teacher and practitioner associated with the Christian Science Church. However the Christian Science Church accused her of being a heretic for her independent thinking. There was an inquisition and they tried to kick her out of the church.
So Frances became independent. With her shock of red flaming hair she had a dramatic charismatic presence. All the people she’d been healing, helping and teaching followed her. She had an appeal and persona much like Aimee Semple McPherson.
One man following her away from the Church was also a Christian Science teacher and healer named Frank Welsh. He too was an attractive charismatic figure. A handsome white hair man that was 15 years her senior. The two of them were a dynamic force attracting students and devotees near and far. They held coop at their Michigan City retreat, “Tree Tops.” The two eventually married; Frank adopted Lou.
The success of their enterprise is what led them to John Lloyd Wright and the creation of Shangri-La. It was also called “House of Seven Levels” because of the unique multi level way Wright saddled the structure amongst dunes. Shangri-La was the 1938 culmination of all his experience and skill.
There was one additional cast member in this scene. A wealthy woman who was distantly related to Frances. Frank allowed her to also live at Shangri-La. Having a second woman living in the house caused problems between Frank and Frances. The arrangement greatly irritated Frances. She wanted Frank to ask her to leave, but he wouldn’t do it. She still loved Frank, but when he allowed the woman to remain Frances decided she had enough. She kicked both of them out of the house.
The John and Frances romantic relationship incubated over a long period. In 1942 it hatched. The couple drove to Reno and each got divorces. Then they married. Several factors led them to move away from Michigan City. John was in a similar situation as his father faced. Having left his family to be with a wife’s client evoked hometown disapproval. It is speculated John’s biography of FLLW “My Father Who is on Earth” was indirectly autobiographical as well. Especially in his sympathetic portrayal of the FLLW and Mamah Cheney affair.
Another parallel with John and his father: he also experienced a career changing fire at his studio. His papers, projects on drawing boards were destroyed in a blaze.
More than wanting to rebuild John wanted a fresh start. , Frances wanted to leave Shangri-La and her memories from there behind.
They headed to La Jolla, California where they had friends, The Kelloggs, owners of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. John and Francis stayed there while looking around. When Francis stood upon a hill in Del Mar she brightly said “This is a great place. Let’s build here.” It was a fairly sizable stretch of land. The idea was for John to build their house, then sell off parcels which he also would design houses for. John and Frances built their Del Mar house in 1947.
John Lloyd Wright, in similar respect with his father, was prone to bad judgment and decision making concerning money and business. For instance, he made precious little on his “Lincoln Logs.” He sold his interest too cheaply. When it came to his undeveloped land in Del Mar–which today is among the most valuable pieces of real estate in California–JLLW practically gave away the lots.
The Mckinley family bought one lot that John built a house for. Peggy and Horace Smith, friends of the Wrights, bought another one and built a Wright house. And Bea Kelly bought a lot. She was going to use John as an architect. However Francis and Bea Kelly got into a fight–two hot tempered red heads–and that proposition ended. The parcel sold for $1,200. That was cheap even for that day.
One of Wright’s worst lapses of Judgment concerned maintaining his Architect’s License. When he moved to California from Indiana he didn’t bother to renew his Indiana, Illinois and Ohio licenses. He didn’t want to pay the fees. Any of those certificates would have granted him “reciprocity” in California. He landed in deep legal trouble for practicing architecture without a license. To add insult to injury he was so far removed from the days when he studied engineering that when it came to applying formulas and figuring out problems he never encountered in practicing practical architecture, he failed the exam. More than once.
By this time Frances’ son Lou Welsh and his wife Pat lived in Los Angeles. He practiced Law there. It turned out JLLW was fortunate to have a skilled lawyer for a step son. John’s troubles seemed almost continual. However In the end, to practice his livelihood, John could only state he was an “Architectural Designer,” not an Architect. Even though in all practicality it is not uncommon for established architects to not do their own engineering and number crunching.
Lou had rendered over $10,000 worth of legal work for the Wrights. Payment for those services was in the form of Wright’s next door lot and a JLLW house plan. Lou and Pat paid the construction costs.
“Lou and I met on a blind date,” said Pat Welsh, and It was ZOOM! We were married six weeks later.”
“It was either marriage or never see each other again as I was going on to a job first up north–in California–and then to New York. Getting married looked like the right thing. It felt like the right thing. We took the plunge and I think it paid off.
“We lived in various places from Malibu to Claremont for about 5 years. I taught at Scripps for the last year or two as an assistant in Humanities One, which is the Ancient World. We moved down here and built the house. I lived next door to the Wrights for 28 years which was an interesting experience. ”
John and Frances–The Lifestyle and atmosphere of The Wrights
One of John Lloyd Wright’s guiding principles is “There are no insignificant details.” The slogan pertains to the design elements within his structures. However it actually reflected in their lifestyle as well. Their distinctive choices in colorful clothes, cars, jewelery and accessories made them noticeable individuals.
Pat Welsh remembers “They were flamboyant people. They dressed in a flamboyant manner. John wore a ten-gallon Stetson hat. He always had a cane which he didn’t need. He sported the cane, as his father did too, and pointed to things, swaggered with it on the street. He wore very attractive slacks and gabardine shirts, a silver chain around his neck that had been his grand mothers watch chain, I think, and he had a watch on it that he kept in his pocket. He always smoked a cigar. The ash would grow long and kind of drop down his jacket.
“Francis wore silk gowns that flowed and very very teetery high heels. As she grew older she wore a wig. And she had long eye lashes that were applied–by me! Long red finger nails–even though she liked gardening and was pretty good at it. Lots of make up. They were very dramatic and very well known in La Jolla.
“They went to La Jolla every Wednesday. In those days there was no market in Del Mar, I also went to La Jolla once a week — did all the grocery shopping and took my children when they were little with me. A delightful trip, about 8 miles. There was no freeway then; we took the coastal road. It was a lot quicker getting into La Jolla than it is now–there were very few lights, and it was easy. That was kind of an outing, but I went on a different day.
“The Wrights would go to La Jolla, do their grocery shopping and go to the clothing stores whether they bought anything or not. They liked to go to Magnums. Francis wore a lot of silver jewelry, big rings, and a lot of turquoise, and dangling ear rings. Flaming Red hair. They were quite well known that way.
“The Wrights in the very early days had a Jaguar. it was gray and very handsome but ALWAYS breaking down. They sold that then had Cadillacs–the biggest and most fantastic looking; the most amazing colors they had to pay extra for. Francis never drove. She did when she was younger, but John did the driving.
“In front of their house was a brick wall, like a square, and inside that was poured concrete with a hole in the bottom. They called it The Plunge–It was a swimming pool. It had a wooden structure over it. In Spring they would clean it out every year–which meant I cleaned it out–and let all the water out. As long as it was fresh and nice we swam in it for a few weeks. And that was the end of it. It probably was very dangerous–but we did that. So there was swimming in The Plunge.
“They had a simple garden and patio. They had redwood garden furniture. And the landscape was really very Organic. Big Eucalyptus trees behind the house (Which Francis hated because they dripped leaves–and John loved because they were large). They always argued about it. That was part of their system–constant argument. Francis calling him her “water head.” Insults back and forth. But that’s the way they were. They were flamboyant and used to fight all the time but they loved each other. They came down to dinner every Saturday night and there was always a fight. They’d have a couple of drinks and then they’d fight. It was kind of funny but it did drive me kind of crazy because I like harmony. So I would go outside and get the dog out of the dog fence and take a few deep breaths and go back in!
“My children remember those evenings as marvelous. The Wrights were wonderful–the most loving, kind, thoughtful grand-parents to the kids. John was adorable with them–he loved the kids. He took them every Christmas to the Christmas parade in La Jolla. They took the kids out and bought clothes for them. Took them to Luncheon. They were just neat!”
To have seen John and Frances socially perhaps was a glimpse of the life John once knew with his mother and father at the Oak Park Residence and studio. Those days of clambakes, tea parties, and cotillions.
“We’d put on the music after dinner. The Wrights would dance around and cavort. Everybody would dance. We’d give little shows. And we often had guests–I thought it was good to have guests. Sometimes we’d then go up to their house. My children remember that as a very happy time with their parents, grandparents and guests. The dancing, the cavorting, the jokes, and the music. John played the piano. He played the violin–badly. And other instruments badly. There was always the story that his older brother who was a very good musician would hit him on the head with a dictionary for playing badly.”
In seems John had achieved a fun filled social life that figuratively hearkened Oak Park.
Welsh Residence, Del Mar, 1955, John Lloyd Wright. Pergola covered garden entrance. The Wrights typically didn’t offer “front doors.” Entrance by way of path, garden or patio was fairly common in their plans.
“Frances loved white flowers. She loved white geraniums. They always died on her because they’re the hardest color to grow. She was always replacing them. They had a simple dry garden, lots of rocks.”
Welsh Residence, Del Mar 1955, John Lloyd Wright. The bookshelf is one side of a partition. The opposite side is a utility room. The space is continuous under the slanted beam ceiling. Such spaces gave opportunity for indirect lighting.
“Wright’s interior design was a marriage of Oriental and American Indian art. They had a lot of good stuff. Some of which I still have. Some of which my kids have, especially my older daughter.”
Welsh Residence. A consistent Wright design element was indirect lighting. This “light shelf” seen here in the kitchen extends through all the rooms of the house.
“Francis I’d say was brilliant and talented. She made clothing, screens, jewelry. Wore a lot of Navajo silver. She did amazing art work, color work, lecturing and books. She was a brilliant woman. Frank Lloyd Wright adored her,” remembered Pat.
Pat and Lou knew other members of the Wright family. “There was one Christmas I remember as being difficult. John got into a fight with his brother Lloyd. The wives tried to break them apart. John’s mother Catherine and niece Anne Baxter were there “Anne Baxter opened a champaign bottle and the cork hit her in the eye. Anne was utterly sweet and came to visit from time to time–I loved her.” Eric Lloyd Wright and his wife–I liked very much,” said Pat.
“Frank Lloyd Wright visited once. He came to lecture in La Jolla and San Diego. My daughter Francie sat on his lap, but I was not here.”
Lou didn’t trust the senior Wright. He was certain that he would “fall” for Pat which would only lead to pain and difficulty brought on by Oglivanna, Mrs. Wright. Lou and Pat had been invited to a Wright Easter, but Lou found some “legal matters” to attend to instead. “We could have gone but he chose not to.”
Having the Wrights as in-laws and next door neighbors for 28 years wasn’t easy according to Pat Welsh. “But
amazing enough that is part of what drew me and Lou together.” Pat and Lou supported one another as they coexisted with such colorful individuals with strong if not dominating personalities.
In his later years John’s body of work reveals no real attempt to compete with his fathers highly stylized and dramatic designs. John chose to use the principles of FLLW’s Organic Architecture in a subtle yet faithful way. One could argue these homes, in their more gentle design statement, are more livable than FLLW’s. John felt the work was clearly his own and distinguished. Yet John continually faced a perception that remains to this day. People commonly believe his houses dotting Del Mar’s landscape are Frank Lloyd Wright houses.
In one regard John and his father had a unique bonding. John was with his Father when Taliesin burned and Mamah Cheney was murdered. He’s the only son who apprenticed with Wright, working on two landmark Wright projects–The Midway Gardens and Imperial Hotel. One might imagine the excitement and high hope John must have experienced during this time. Only to have the Father not cut paychecks and to fire his son for taking his due share. The senior Wright later treated John as rival more than a compatriot or son. And course FLLW was famously cruel to his rivals. His colorful antics make for entertaining reading today. But for John it must have been annoying and difficult to live through. And yet the two Wrights had similar tastes in lifestyle. An active social life. The dramatic clothing and hats. Fancy cars. Both Wrights married artistic, strong willed and independent thinking women. Both in different ways had poor money management and business sense. The senior Wright not paying his bills. John not wanting to pay his license fees.
John was fortunate to have Frances managing money and son in law to Lou sorting out his legal troubles. But relatively little was gained monetarily from his toy inventions and real estate investments. His lasting legacy is about the homes and structures he built. It must have been satisfying for him to know in his life time his community, Del Mar, regarded John Lloyd Wright as their treasure. And correctly so.
Pat Welsh is known for, among many other talents, her decorative walls. This is at her JLLW designed home in Del Mar.
She’s a movie star this 1948 house Frank Lloyd Wright built along the coast of Carmel, California. It appears in the 1959 teen coming of age movie A Summer Place starring Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. Along with the film’s popular theme song Wright’s copper topped house is about the best thing going for the movie. I haven’t seen it on anyone’s best films list.
There’s no more significant aspect of Wright’s approach to design than his blending of building material to the sight. The beautiful stone work here nicely rises from the jagged rocks of the coastline. The term “Dampfer” was used in Germany in 1908 to describe Wright’s famous Robie House in Chicago. It means “Ocean Liner.” Wright never objected to that. It seems he liked to think of himself as the one designer most closely associated with the term streamlined. This home of Mrs. Clinton Walker faces the Pacific Ocean protected by a nautically worthy sea wall.
The massive chimney supports the cantilevered roof so there is no actual weight upon the corbeling bands of glass providing a peripheral view of the Pacific Ocean and Carmel coastline. The Walker House isn’t unique among Wright’s work as a movie star. Arch Obler’s House on Mulholland Drive appears in the film FIVE. The Ennis House has appeared in numerous movies, perhaps most notable was Bladerunner. I will essay the Ennis House on a future post. It was inevitable Hollywood flirted with Wright. He was hugely famous and popular in the 1950’s. A celebrity as much as renowned artist with numerous highly noted appearances on television. Matching wits with Mike Wallace being one of the more legendary encounters. He was also the guest of Hugh Downs and Alistair Cooke among several others. There was quite a buzz about the fact Wright stole Mike Wallace’s prepared questions. And he refused to “rehearse” with Alistair Cooke. Being supremely confident of his ability to think quickly with sharp spicy answers, he didn’t want to lose any spontaneous edge with prepared or scripted material.
Although he was well into his 80’s, this was the most prolific period of his career. “I can’t get the work out fast enough.” His style was hugely influential in all realms of design, especially in the 1950’s. “They even copy my mistakes.”
Warner Brothers wanting Wright to design the sets for Fountainhead seemed a perfect plan. But Wright wanted his standard 10 percent fee. The Studio wasn’t keen on paying out that kind of money for sets. They explained that 10 percent of the sets budget was extreme. But considering this was the great Frank Lloyd Wright they agreed to pay it. However Wright wasn’t talking about ten percent of sets budget. He meant the entire movie budget. End of negotiation; end of discussion.
Alfred Hitchcock wanted Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Vandamm house that appears on Mount Rushmore in North By Northwest. But Hitchcock wasn’t about to pay Wright’s fee either. He instructed set designers to render a house with all the elements the public would recognize as Frank Lloyd Wright. To this day it is easy to watch the movie and think the house was by Wright. Hitchcock–always the master trickster.
Wright had another strong connection to Hollywood. Anne Baxter was his grand-daughter. Wright biographer Brendan Gill: “Having worked hard to gain celebrity, FLLW was happy to meet and mingle with other celebrities. He had reason to be pleased when one of his grand-daughters, actress Anne Baxter, became famous.”
Wright designed a home for Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. He was quite taken with the actress. A famous Wright quote: “I think Ms. Monroe’s architecture is extremely good architecture” Wright wanted no interruption and not be disturbed when presenting Marilyn with drawings and discussing plans. And that went for Mrs. Wright as well–everybody, “stay out!” Even at 90 years of age Wright especially enjoyed his designed environment when it was graced by Marilyn’s presence. Monroe and Miller never built their FLLW circular\rectangular house. The marriage ended.