Harriet and Samuel Freeman House | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

Harriet and Samuel Freeman House

UPDATE: On September 15, 2022, at 10:00 a.m., the owner and their project team delivered an informational presentation for the proposed rehabilitation of the Freeman House to the City of Los Angeles's Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC). Following the presentation the CHC formed a task force to work with the Office of Historic Resources (OHR), the Conservancy, and property owner as an added measure to ensure compliance with historic preservation standards.

Located in the Hollywood Hills, the Freeman House is the smallest of four Southern California textile block residences designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built during the 1920s. For nearly sixty years, Samuel and Harriet Freeman lived in the home. In 1986, at the time of Harriet’s death, the home was donated to the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Architecture who stewarded the property until its sale in 2022. As part of a condition of the sale, the property is now under a conservation easement with the Los Angeles Conservancy. In February of that year, the Freeman House was sold to a new private owner with the easement in place.

Wright’s design was completed in 1925 and shortly thereafter in 1926 the Freeman’s began to undertake a series of interior alterations which reflected their personal tastes rather than Wrights. The owners commissioned notable modernist architect and Wright protégé Rudolf Schindler to design and supervise the work. The Freeman’s developed a close personal relationship with Schindler, who served as the family architect until his death in 1953.

Schindler’s work in the house included creating a downstairs apartment for Sam Freeman after the couple separated, converting the garage and lower loggia into a rental apartment, and designing suites of furniture for the living room and Harriet’s bedroom.

After Schindler’s death, the Freeman’s engaged several prominent Southern California architects early in their careers. These include Gregory Ain, John Lautner, and Eric Lloyd Wright, all of whom contributed to the architectural legacy of the residence. 

Following the property’s donation to USC by Harriett, the Freeman House experienced significant damage caused by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. In 2000, after the building was deemed uninhabitable, USC commenced with seismic repair and stabilization of the house. At that time many of the interior fittings and finishes were removed and placed in storage. Due to the significant cost of rehabilitation and desire to see it transferred into private ownership with safeguards, USC chose to sell the building in 2022.

Before its sale in 2022, the Freeman House was owned by only two owners throughout its nearly 100-year history. The Freeman’s, original owners of the property, inherited their fortune from Samuel’s late uncle. After visiting the Hollyhock House, the couple used their inheritance to hire famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright to build their dream home.

During their sixty years living at the house, Harriet became known for the salons she held in their living room, attracting some of L.A.’s more influential artists, thinkers, and Hollywood stars. Photographer Edward Weston, architect Richard Neutra, and choreographer Martha Graham were just a few who attended the parties. Following World War II, the home became a sanctuary for left-leaning artists targeted during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.

As with many Wright-designed buildings, the home quickly became plagued with maintenance issues upon its completion. The textile block construction, which used dirt from the property to make structural cement, has experienced severe water intrusion for almost a century. During rainfall, the porous cement soaked up leading to the internal rebar system's rusting and eventual failure. When originally built, Wright ignored the need to waterproof the textile block parapet roofline with flashing. Rumor has it that after a major rainfall Samuel created his own flashing using halved aluminum cans. After lining the parapet, Wright drove up, saw the cans, and drove off never to return again.

In Wright’s absence, the Freeman’s hired some of L.A.’s most influential modernist architects to make the house their own. Shortly after the property’s completion the Freeman’s hired Rudolph Schindler who became the family architect until his death in 1953. During that time, Schindler designed furniture, created a downstairs apartment for Samuel after the couple split, and built a rental apartment for income after Samuel’s retirement. Following Schindler’s death, the Freeman’s enlisted the services of architects such as Gregory Ain and John Lautner.

Shortly before her death in 1986, Harriet Freeman bequeathed the property to USC’s School of Architecture. At that time, the University raised half a million dollars to restore the property, which had begun to fall into disrepair. In addition to the funds raised by USC, Harriet donated another $200,000.

However, the property required more work than initially anticipated after it experienced substantial damage from the Whittier earthquake in 1987 and the Northridge earthquake in 1994. Following Northridge, USC secured a $901,000 FEMA grant and raised more than $1,000,000 for emergency stabilization. The cost of repairs became more than USC could fund, and in 2021 the University chose to sell the property to a new owner who would be better suited to restore the historic home. In 2022, USC sold the property to a private owner.

As a condition of the sale, the property would be placed under a conservation easement with the Los Angeles Conservancy ensuring the property’s integrity as a historic building would not be compromised.  

Photo courtesy Architectural Resources Group

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