The Freeman House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright features unique textile blocks that are in the midst of being restored.
Some of the Freeman House’s famed textile blocks have been stolen and reappeared at auction. Photo by Liz Kuball.

Seeing a significant Mid Century marvel sitting dilapidated is enough to tug at the heartstrings of any self-proclaimed modernist. But seeing the project so neglected that it allows for theft is inexcusable. At least, that’s what local preservationists are saying to the University of Southern California (USC) after it was revealed last week by the L.A. Times that the school failed to disclose the theft of several furniture pieces originally from a Frank Lloyd Wright home under their ownership.

The theft, which included a cushioned chair designed by Rudolph Schindler as well as two lamps designed by Wright himself, had been from a storage room inside a former power plant, where USC’s architecture school had been storing the pieces along with some of the home’s unique textile blocks. The items had been meticulously inventoried in 2000, when the school began its renovation of the property, but the renovation, and the stored pieces, have sat relatively untouched in the nearly 2 decades since.

14 years, to be exact, as this theft occurred 6 years ago and went unreported by the university.

To local L.A. modernists, the Freeman House is a focal point of preservation. Built in 1924 on a hill in Hollywood, CA, the house is one of only four FLW-designed textile-block homes using cast concrete. The house was acquired 1986 by USC, whose architecture school took on the task of repairing and renovating the house nearly two decades after the property sustained severe damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake. But the repairs have gone unfinished, and an architectural icon remains closed off to the public.

The Freeman House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright sits on a hill in Hollywood surrounded by palm trees.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed this Hollywood Hills home in 1924 for Samuel and Harriet Freeman, for whom the house is now named. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library. 

Naturally, the revelation of the theft has many preservationists looking to USC for answers regarding how they plan to continue the mission that began in 2000—and do it properly.

“When an institution is gifted historical objects, archives or properties, that is a sacred trust. People donate rather than sell their treasures because they want them to be protected and made available for scholars and future generations,” says historian and author Kim Cooper in a quote originally reported by Curbed. “If USC has lost sight of this obligation, the university needs to find it again, and fast.”

Cooper isn’t the only passionate voice rising to question the situation. Designer Tim Champ, who lived in the Schindler-designed DeKeyser House down the street during the renovations, described the lack of precautions taken at the property itself.

“The Freeman House was often left open and unsecured,” Champ said via Twitter. “I’m surprised it wasn’t completely looted or worse.”

At best, this story is an example of how essential preservation is to Mid Century masterpieces. At worst, it’s a rally crying for staunch preservationists to call into question the abilities of an organization that manages several important sites of Los Angeles architecture.

Which side you fall on? Find out by reading the rest of the story here.