Ennis-Brown House in Trouble

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More on Ennis-Brown House

Postby davidk6 » Fri Mar 18, 2005 12:20 pm

Looks a bit better than it did before.
Dave


Inland Valley Daily Bulletin


Homes designed by hill, destroyed by hill
Rains alter lives, L.A. landscapes
By Greg Risling
Associated Press


Friday, March 04, 2005 - LOS ANGELES - Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once wrote that a home should not simply be plopped on a hill: "It should be of the hill, belonging to it, so hill and house could live together each the happier for the other."

After weeks of drenching rain in Southern California, it turns out that one of Wright's landmark creations, a Mayan-inspired concrete-block compound featured in several movies, is shifting so much on the hill that this week safety inspectors declared parts of it off-limits.

Across Southern California, the storms have relented, but some homes on hillsides and mountains are slowly sliding apart, and the risk of landslides remains.

In the hills north of downtown Los Angeles near the Griffith Observatory is Wright's Ennis-Brown house, which looks like a temple straight out of an "Indiana Jones" movie and was a location for such movies as "The House on Haunted Hill," "Blade Runner" and "Grand Canyon."

The house, built in 1924 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was named for original owners Mabel and Charles Ennis and the couple who donated it to the Trust for Preservation of Cultural Heritage in 1980. The nonprofit organization opened it to the public, giving tours of its intricate stone- and ironwork, art-glass doors and luxurious pool.

The building was declared uninhabitable earlier this week after inspectors found a retaining wall was crumbling. Pressure from the sliding soil was causing heavy stones to pop out of the wall. After a second look, city officials gave the go-ahead for people to enter the main building, which was erected on bedrock. But other parts of the compound remain closed.

"The main building isn't going anywhere," said Bob Steinbach, a spokesman for the city Department of Building and Safety. "We want them to shore things up so there are no further problems."

The structure has needed repairs for several years because of age and damage sustained during the 1994 earthquake. It had been closed since December for the renovation and is not expected to reopen until the summer.

The trust's executive director, Franklin De Groot, said there is greater urgency to fixing the compound now because more rain could worsen the situation.

"The longer we wait, the more possibility of damage and cost exists," he said.

The organization has chosen Wright's grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright, as the project's primary architect. The federal government is providing about $2.5 million, but officials estimate as much as $10 million more is needed to complete the restoration.

The Ennis-Brown house was one of the first homes to be built from concrete block. About 400 of the homes Wright designed were built, and all but 60 endure.

"He felt that if you built a house, you build it to last for a long, long time," said Bruce Pfeiffer, director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Pfeiffer said he can recall only one instance in which a Wright house lost a battle with nature: A waterfront home in Mississippi was destroyed by a hurricane in the 1960s.
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Postby SDR » Fri Mar 18, 2005 2:18 pm

Long-time Wright associate Pfeiffer may be (understandably) exaggerating Wright's interest in building longevity; what the poet-architect really seems to have been after, is demonstration of eternal architectural IDEAS, recognizing (without, as far as I know, acknowledging) that very little of man's work remains indefinitely in its material form. I am indebted, for this view, to a Wright historian of the present generation, who expressed this opinion in Ken Burns's film about Wright, of a few seasons ago. His name escapes me, though it may be Connors (?)

I am glad to hear that the Ennis-Brown house's basic structure seems to be stable and unthreatened. Perhaps modern building technology will be able to (relatively) permanently improve on the (apparently) faulty original structure of the retaining wall, just as a major, modern structural intervention seems to have saved Fallingwater from an early demise.

[Those interested in the full story of the construction of Fallingwater, including attempts to improve its structural characteristics without incurring the Wrath of Wright (!), will find several sources in the literature, beginning with Donald Hoffman's monograph, published by Dover in 1978.]

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Postby nichols » Fri Mar 18, 2005 4:15 pm

Re: Gamble House

"the interiors of Doc's house were filmed in another Greene and Greene creation, the Blacker-Hill House. (Those interiors were recreated later on a soundstage for Part III.)"

http://www.bigwaste.com/bttf/docs_mansion.shtml

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Postby SDR » Fri Mar 18, 2005 5:07 pm

Thanks, Mr Nichols. That answers at least one long-held question for me!

Ya gotta love these self-appointed guardians of our cultural history (oops -- is that us?). The writer's notes on Greene and Greene, and the houses mentioned, are at least as complete, informative and error-free as most of the literature on this subject that I am familiar with -- one cringes at some of the "facts" presented by well-meaning amateur "historians"!

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More from NYT on Ennis-Brown House

Postby davidk6 » Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:43 pm

The New York Times
April 24, 2005
DIRECTIONS | ARCHITECTURE
Falling Because of Water
By JOSEPH GIOVANNINI

Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis-Brown house, the templelike extravaganza he built on a plateau in the Los Feliz hills in Los Angeles, may soon be more of a ruin than the Mayan structures that inspired it. Southern California's record rains this year have aggravated damage from the Northridge earthquake in 1994, and the once commanding house is in visible decline. The base on which it appears to rest has deteriorated, and great chunks of the south retaining wall have sheared off. The house, a milestone in Wright's career (and a frequent set for fashion shoots and movies, including "Blade Runner"), has been placed on the World Monument Fund's most-endangered list, and inspectors have tagged as unsafe parts of the retaining wall, the motor court and chauffeur's quarters. Franklin De Groot, executive director of the nonprofit foundation that owns the house, said that it had raised about $3 million, but that the cost of stabilizing the structure is estimated at $5 million.

Damage to the Ennis house began well before the recent rains or the 1994 earthquake. It is one of five structures Wright built in Los Angeles and Pasadena in the 20's using textile blocks - squares of cement and an aggregate cast in molds that left complex geometric imprints. But the blocks were not adequately pressed, hydrated and cured, so they absorbed moisture. Over the years, the water has rusted the steel reinforcing bars and exploded the surrounding grout, causing the blocks to crack and flake. And from there things just got worse.

The first of the houses, the Millard residence in Pasadena, leaked from the beginning; it is now tarped and awaiting restoration by its owner, the film producer David Zander. The architecture school at the University of Southern California owns the Freeman house in the Hollywood Hills and has rebuilt the foundations and supporting structure; students have been casting new blocks from the original molds.

Designed in 1924 for wealthy clothiers, the Ennis house was the most grandiose of the block houses in Los Angeles, and at 10,000 square feet, one of Wright's biggest anywhere. The problems there were aggravated when an owner sealed the blocks with a coating that trapped water inside, accelerating the damage. Dissolving behind the sealant, the complex patterns of interlocking squares are losing their clarity. Halting that deterioration and restoring the exterior would be a huge task because of the sheer scale of the building. For now, though, the goal is to stabilize and restore the retaining walls according to plans prepared by Eric Lloyd Wright, a grandson of Wright who has worked on rehabilitating most of the Los Angeles block houses.

Adding to the time pressure, unless more money can be raised, grants that the foundation has obtained will expire before the end of the year. (Donations can be made at the foundation's Web site, www.ennisbrownhouse.org). When Wright built the Ennis-Brown house, it looked unassailable and eternal; these days, it's looking very mortal.


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Postby PreserveLA » Tue May 10, 2005 12:40 pm

This just came through from the "Skunks of Los Feliz:"

"The Ennis-Brown house may finally receive the funding necessary to stabilize and restore the earthquake and rain-damaged structure. Councilmember Tom LaBonge has inserted a request for FEMA money to be used to repair the home and grounds into the city's 2005-2006 Federal Legislative Program."

http://theskunksoflosfeliz.blogspot.com/2005/05/ennis-brown-house-may-finally-receive.html

As I understand it, the issue with the Ennis-Brown House's rehabilitation has always been the ability to use FEMA money received in 1994 following the Northridge earthquake. Up to now, the funds received have not been enough to cover the present costs of rehabilitation, and timing of the work has also been a factor. Thanks to LA County being declared a Federal disaster area because of the rains, it seems La Bonge's application may help the Ennis-Brown House bridge this funding gap.
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Postby SDR » Fri Jun 03, 2005 12:58 pm

A friend forwarded this link, to a page from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's site, listing the Ennis-Brown house as one of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places 2005."

www.nationaltrust.org/11Most/2005/ennis.html

"History: Designed in 1923 for Charles and Mabel Ennis, the Ennis-Brown House is the last of the four Wright-designed textile block houses built in Southern California in the 1920s. Wright designed an interlocking system of identical pre-cast concrete blocks that were stacked dry without mortar joints. The textile block system created a single building component that could integrate structure, ornament, and inner and outer walls."

While I hate to denigrate in any way the admirable work being done by this group and others on behalf of the property, I must point out, in the interest of historic accuracy, that, as far as I can tell, no example of the textile block system employed by Wright was ever "stacked dry without mortar" -- although this possibility was mentioned after the fact by Wright, in his Autobiography of 1932, when he wrote only, "If I could eliminate the mortar joint I could make the whole fabric mechanical. I could do away with skilled labor. I believed I could and began on "La Miniatura." ["Wright in Hollywood," R L Sweeney, p2]

According to Sweeney, the first block house (La Miniatura) was assembled with expanded metal mesh embedded in the mortar joints for reinforcement, with the third and fourth (the Ennis-Brown) houses using the ultimate variation, steel rods set in grooves cast into the edges of the blocks, with grout in all joints. While this is not the same as a full mortar bed, it cannot be said to be a "dry" or mortarless system.

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Last edited by SDR on Thu Aug 04, 2005 8:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby SDR » Thu Aug 04, 2005 8:46 am

August 4, 2005


Three Groups Join in Effort to Save Wright's Ennis House

By HUGH EAKIN

In a last-ditch effort, a consortium of preservation groups has assembled a plan to save the Ennis House, a striking 1924 building by Frank Lloyd Wright in the Los Feliz Hills above Los Angeles.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, together with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and the Los Angeles Conservancy, has created a foundation to raise the millions of dollars needed to rehabilitate the house, which suffered critical damage in a 1994 earthquake and again in heavy rains last winter.

Reminiscent of an Aztec or Mayan temple, the sprawling building is the largest of the four houses that Wright built in the Los Angeles area in the 1920's using an experimental form of concrete block construction. After the flooding, in which large chunks of the building's facade fell off and the south-facing retaining wall failed, the house was briefly "red-tagged" by the city's Department of Building and Safety as unsafe for entry.

The new entity, called the Ennis House Foundation, has a plan in place to begin emergency work on the house within 60 days, said Robert Leary, chairman of the foundation.

As of yesterday, the foundation, which now owns the building, had met the basic requirements necessary to obtain $2.1 million in earthquake relief money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Leary said.

On Monday, the foundation received a city building permit, as well as authorization it needed from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs to do work on a designated city Cultural Heritage Monument.

The campaign to save the house has been led by the actress Diane Keaton, who is on the board of the new foundation. She faults the Hollywood community for not taking more of an interest in the house, which has been featured in films like "Blade Runner" and the original "House on Haunted Hill."

"It should really be saved by my community, the film community, because it's been used so many times," she said in a telephone interview. "As an actress, I've always been drawn to the drama of the place."

To qualify for the FEMA money, the project's organizers must demonstrate that they have access to matching funds and a viable rehabilitation plan in place.

The house's previous caretaker, the Trust for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, was approved for a $3.1 million FEMA grant in May 1999, provided that it fulfilled the criteria. But it was able to raise only a portion of the matching money, and only $1 million of the FEMA grant was released, an agency spokeswoman said. The remaining $2.1 million is to expire on Sept. 10 unless the matching funds can be raised.

Through intensive efforts over the past few weeks, this financing - in the form of donations, bank loans and pledges - has now been "virtually secured," Mr. Leary said.

Even if the initial stabilization work can begin as planned, however, the house faces significant financial challenges. According to several people involved in the project, the overall work needed could total $12 million to $15 million.

The fund-raising effort began in earnest in early June, when the National Trust placed the Ennis House on its list of 11 most endangered historic places. (The building was also on the World Monuments Fund's recently released biennial list of 100 most endangered monuments in the world; it had been on the previous list as well.)

In June, the National Trust joined with the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy to start a rapid overhaul of the building's administration.

The result was the dissolution of the old trust late last month and the creation of the Ennis House Foundation, run by an 11-member board including two trustees from each of the three groups involved.

Several people involved with the house cited the financial ineffectiveness of the previous trust, which was established in 1980 by the last private owner, Augustus O. Brown, as a factor in the building's continued decay. Although it allowed the public to visit the house on guided tours, that trust did not have much of a public profile and lost what few assets it had in the 2000 stock market crash.

In 2002, the trust received a $100,000 grant from the Getty Foundation for emergency work, including the installation of two large steel supports, which now hold up what remains of the building's retaining wall, but money for a large-scale effort remained elusive.

"It became a house museum in the hands of a nonprofit organization without an adequate endowment," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust. "And this is unfortunately too common a practice. These houses really need endowments, because visitation alone will never support them."
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ENNIS HOUSE FOR SALE

Postby nichols » Fri Jun 19, 2009 9:50 am

For Sale?!?!
The Ennis house is for sale?!?!!!

http://www.reuters.com/article/artsNews ... M020090619

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Postby Perks » Fri Jun 19, 2009 10:22 am

Buy it for the low price of only $15 million, install some granite counters & crown moulding, and flip it for $18 million!
Andy Perkins, Broker/Owner
Perkins Realty Group

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Postby Joe » Fri Jun 19, 2009 10:49 am

Perks wrote:Buy it for the low price of only $15 million, install some granite counters & crown moulding, and flip it for $18 million!


word.

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Postby SDR » Fri Jun 19, 2009 10:58 am

Rather: Buy it, remove the marble floors and Spanish ironwork, and bring it back into line with what Wright intended. Remember, this one "got away
from" the architect before it was even finished. A strong-willed client, and an absent architect, meant that some of the details are totally wrong. In
addition to the above, there is a screen that never got built, at the dining room.

In real estate as in restaurants, sell the sizzle; Authentic trumps almost anything else, in high-end historic structures. What is Neutra's Kaufmann
house worth, now that it has been perfectly restored ?

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Postby retromotelguest » Fri Jun 19, 2009 12:06 pm

" keeping our discussion Light Hearted, Positive and FRIENDLY "

I've been involved as a professional in historic preservation for twenty-five years now (even quit for ten years because of the politics and my need to be honest and act on behalf of the public), so frankly, I don't know how you could possibly do the above on this section of the forum if you have even a modicum of passion about keeping historic buildings as a part of the built-environment. All you need to do is peruse down the list of topics on the Preservation Discussion and see the numbers of structures lost (mirrored, I believe, in Southern California by the numbers of great open-spaces filled-in by sprawl, such as is happening now on the Santa Barbara coast), and it's easy to get angry.

Yup, frankly, I'm disgusted by the sale of this property from the public sector back to the private-sector. We are not just talking a typical historic building here. Millions of dollars of public funds went into the previous repair of this property, and it was NEVER MENTIONED that the building could go back to a private owner. Like many, I donated money to the Trust for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage way back and the Ennis House Foundation during a more-recent fund-raising drive -- in addition to tax-dollars I paid -- all because I considered this one of the most important properties in L.A., and I certainly would have NEVER done that had I known the property would be closed again to the public, which barely had time to visit the property during the short time it was open between repair campaigns. Of course I'm happy I helped pay, in my small but painful way, for the building to be stabilized ---- but so that some wealthy bastard could enjoy it...??!! What's next -- should we start selling parks and National Landmarks --- that the public repairs first --- to the rich because we cannot afford them? Whoops, I forgot -- Southern California has already done that kind of thing over and over again this past century, and is in the process of trying to steamroll a private highway though the State Park at Trestles/San Onofre. What a bad example to set for students, who in Southern California rarely get to really immerse themselves in really GREAT architecture (or truly great art). And in a place that has the wealthiest "upper-middle"-class in the entire country!

I certainly hope there is one hell of a restrictive covenant attached to this property that requires complete and proper restoration as well as a minimum of 15 days per year public access for tours. Otherwise, all of the very-wealthy individuals who are making this decision will be once again limiting and segregating the educational opportunities of all of the working people whom they love to have around to perform their cheap-labor but hate to provide a quality education to.

Thanks for letting me rant here. You can delete it or censor it anyway you like now, 'cause I now get to relay it to the Ennis House Foundation and the National Trust... :wink:

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Postby SDR » Fri Jun 19, 2009 12:21 pm

You won't get any argument from me. Of course, I'm a known anarchist and bomb-throwing radical. . .!

8-)

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Postby retromotelguest » Fri Jun 19, 2009 3:21 pm

Thanks for the chuckle... it's so easy to get frustrated and I think I expect too much, but I guess it could be true that if you question the lack of educational resources or public facilities in the Western U.S., you might as be an anarchist! Well... maybe just a plain old commie or socialist...

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Postby sky » Fri Jun 19, 2009 3:25 pm

Bender been palling around with Bill Ayers again?

I won't begrudge you your rant, r-m-g, especially if you gave the foundation money, but it looks to me like they're trying to make the best out of a bad situation. It's all about the pesos, and there isn't much of that left in the public sector. It might work out very well in the end.

Of course, it also might not.

What are you willing to sacrifice, insofar as the building's integrity, to save the building?

Suppose that for five years, they filmed "Jon and Kate Plus 8 Live in the Ennis-Brown House" there, and then it reverted back to the foundation? (Or better, "The Octomom Lives in the Ennis-Brown house"!)

If having some wealthy bastard live there means saving it, it's not the best solution, but it's better than many alternatives. And it is often the case that wealthy bastards wind up giving such properties back to the public. Whether it happens through altruism or as a tax-dodge it really doesn't matter.

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Postby SDR » Fri Jun 19, 2009 4:03 pm

Well, we'll probably get a nice article in Architectural Disgust with the new owner's decorator's furnishing choices, anyway. . .
like we did with La Miniatura, or Lloyd Wright's Novarro house, a few years back. So it's not all bad !

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Postby egads » Fri Jun 19, 2009 10:15 pm

A couple of points here, although I'm not really trying to make one.

The Ennis house's neighbors are adamant that ongoing public tours are not going to happen. It would serve them right to have a wealthy owner living there and giving a huge parties. Throw in a bunch of disruptive film shoots as well. The right owner could make a few visiting architectural buffs seem calm. In the past twenty or more years I've never gotten into that place. I even had some clients who lived nearby. I could just never figure out how you were supposed to visit. The news stories I have read do say the new owner will have to preserve and make the house available for tours at least once a year. That's better than what we have now. I do think it's weird that after using donations the house is to now be sold. What will the foundation do with the money? Use it for restorations of other significant needy sites? (VDL research house anyone?) If so, then the donated and taxpayer money is perhaps not wasted.


With respect to La Miniatura, the furnishings I saw when it was last (and rarely) open were brought in by a local antique dealer just for staging purposes. Wright designed little or no furnishings for that house as the original owner had antiques herself. It was also said that her own stuff (like any collector) changed as the years went by. That house has blue Delft tiles in the baths that was original and very un-Wright. As far as I know, the current owner does not live there and barely ever did. He spent a lot of his own money doing restore and repair. Although when I saw it, it had a blue tarp on the roof! :roll:

I think most of these places are best lived in and opened regularly for special event tours. Someone around to observe a leak is a good idea.
We cannot depend on volunteer docents who are not there at night. A wealthy person (or their housekeeper) will get a bucket or call the plumber. At La Miniatura for instance, there is a large drain in the gully above the house. Branches, leaves and other debris must be kept out of it. The house has suffered several times from this being neglected.

I terms of what and how to restore, how pure, well I am mad that the wonderful Schindler furniture that was at the Hollyhock is now gone. They want to make it as "Wright" as possible. Like the work done there by Schindler and Neutra is somehow less important.

See? I can rant too!

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Postby SDR » Fri Jun 19, 2009 10:40 pm

Huh ?

I think we're all ranted out for the night, maybe. :roll:
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Postby Joe » Sat Jun 20, 2009 8:58 am

politics and religion... we don't talk about them hear. why you ask? people have strong opinions and often lack respect for others when communicating on web forums like ours. flame wars erupt and chase away members; forums die. So back to Pleasantville or the back of my hand!!

you can be frustrated about how the Ennis-Brown House is being handled, but don't bring education funding, throwing bombs, and Bill Ayers into the discussion.

thank you.

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Postby SDR » Sat Jun 20, 2009 9:33 am

A sense of humor is apparently not a prerequisite for the management of this forum. . .!

hear ?


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Postby Joe » Sat Jun 20, 2009 9:44 am

SDR wrote:A sense of humor is apparently not a prerequisite for the management of this forum. . .!

hear ?


SDR :D


just throwing water on it now before someone else reads and reacts in an unPleaseantville sort of way 8-)

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Postby egads » Sat Jun 20, 2009 9:50 am

In my household, humor is the religion.

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Postby sky » Sat Jun 20, 2009 10:57 am

I didn't think there were any flammable rants here. It looks like a pretty civil discussion to me. Also this looks like a building worthy of the passions being expressed.

I think I made this comment once before, but Pleasantville was pleasant in name only. It was a very intolerant place for most of the movie. Maybe a better metaphor is a modern Mayberry. (Of course that would make you Barney Fife, Joe. Take that as a compliment - everyone loves Barney Fife, and he kept Mayberry safe for many years!)

And finally, I think we're all indebted to egads for clearly stating what needed to be said. (See the definitive rant here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ke5Mr5eCF2U)

Now, will someone take this thread back to being about the Ennis-Brown house, please.

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Postby egads » Sat Jun 20, 2009 11:57 am

Ben Affleck's doing Keith Olbermann on SNL is a favorite of mine:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYbI1zS2Pmk

I think rant on internet boards are only a problem when a fellow poster is attacked personally. Or even that their opinion is disparaged in a mean way.
Above I try to offer some facts (in my opinionated way) that may help others to form their own.

So about the Ennis, Ennis-Brown it is no more right? AFAK, for an second owner to have their name attached to a house, they have to have had the original architect add or remodel. Lautner's Sheats-Goldstein fits this convention. I think the Nesbitts actually did have Wright do the basement.

Edited to correct the name of subsequent owner.
Last edited by egads on Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:08 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby ch » Sat Jun 20, 2009 12:24 pm

Of the four textile block houses in LA, the two which are privately owned (Storer and Millard) are in fantastic shape, while the two that are institutionally owned are dying a slow death (Ennis and Freeman).

I can understand your anger after donating money to preserve the Ennis, but personally I would forgo being able to tour these houses rather than to watch their continued deterioration.

I think that USC's removal of all the Schindler designed work in the Freeman house is nothing short of criminal. I'm sure that Harriet would have never handed the house over to them if she knew that would happen. She hired Wright for a year, she employed Schindler for his lifetime.

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Postby Joe » Sat Jun 20, 2009 1:36 pm

some people can take it, some can't. I don't need to find out who :wink:

modfan
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So......

Postby modfan » Mon Jun 22, 2009 7:59 am

This can't be the last word can it? Yup it'll be private again but what exactly are the deeds and restrictions on it anyway? Can't they work it out where it's owned like it is now and they 'rent it out' like they other comment posted film a Octomom or a J&K &+8 to raise some revenue....
I mean really seems to me there could be some more outta the box thinking here. Perhaps the fndn. coulda managed it's finances better etc.
And with the recession in real estate selling it would mean getting a low ball sale $ for it. In a way this does some kinda fishy like that recent closing of the Motion Pic. home even after all those wealth A list celebs supported it. Seems to me there's more to this story than whats being reported.

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Joe
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Re: So......

Postby Joe » Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:25 am

modfan wrote:...Seems to me there's more to this story than whats being reported.


I think you may be right.

egads
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Postby egads » Mon Jun 22, 2009 9:15 am

I think the heart of this is my first point above. The foundation had planned to open as a house museum as so many Wright sites are. To do so would probably increase their fundraising. But there have been numerous reports in the local papers that the neighbors have vowed to fight this.

Now they have a loan coming due in a down economy. Without an angel, they have no choice but to sell.


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