Frank Lloyd Wrong

Thieves steal Frank Lloyd Wright and Schindler furniture pieces around Los Angeles

Furniture and building components designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolf Schindler have gone missing from the USC-owned Samuel Freeman House in Los Angeles. (Courtesy National Parks Service)

Someone has stolen key works of furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and R.M. Schindler from a University of Southern California (USC) storage facility.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a pair of lamps designed by Wright and a cushioned chair by Schindler disappeared from a South Los Angeles warehouse in 2012. The items, likely worth tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, were brought to the storage facility from the Samuel Freeman House, a textile block–style home designed by Wright in 1923.

According to The Times, the theft had gone unreported until recently, when a reader sent an anonymous letter to the newspaper detailing the suspected theft.

The Samuel Freeman House is located on a slope in L.A.’s ritzy Hollywood Hills. It is designed to take advantage of the changing grade to make the three-story home appear from the street to be shorter than it actually is, according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website. Like the Ennis, Storer, and Millard homes, the Freeman Residence is built on a modular grid from thousands of 16-inch precast concrete blocks—12,000 in this case—designed by Wright to unify aesthetic expression and structural assembly. The resulting home cascades down its rugged site, revealing a partially-submerged bedroom level and descending terraces.

Samuel Freeman House

Floor plan of Samuel Freeman House taken from HABS documentation (Courtesy National Parks Service)

Throughout its life as a private residence, the Freeman home hosted salons and other gatherings. In 1986, the owners donated the home to the USC School of Architecture. Like several other textile block homes, the structure was heavily damaged in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake; it was structurally stabilized by the university in 2005. The home is currently undergoing additional renovations due to the earthquake damage. The textile block homes were built using only the aforementioned blocks and with little in the way of shear walls, lateral structure, or other seismic safeguards. While Wright designed the initial structure, Schindler renovated and added to the residence in the decades after it was completed.

See here for a full set of Historic American Building Survey drawings and other information on the Freeman House.

Since USC acquired the home, it has been used extensively as an educational tool and venue. In 2000, as USC geared up to renovate the home, the items in question were moved to the storage facility.

Samuel Freeman House

Photo of the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Samuel Freeman House in Los Angeles (Los Angeles/Wikimedia)

A few years later, the items had disappeared. According to The Times, the circumstances surrounding the stolen furniture are somewhat strange.

First, the items were located in a locked room that could only be accessed by a limited number of people. There are no suspects as of yet, but it appears that whoever stole the pieces likely had previous access, as investigators have not uncovered signs of forced entry into the storage area.

Second, despite word of the missing items reaching the upper levels of the USC School of Architecture administration, the theft went unreported to authorities for years.

And then there’s the issue of a recently-auctioned textile block believed to belong to the home. According to The Times, one of the home’s original blocks recently fetched $5,000 in an online sale. It is believed that the slightly-damaged block was removed from the home’s garage, perhaps directly after the Northridge quake or during the renovations.

To boot, several other furniture works by Schindler were recently stolen from another storage facility in Los Angeles, this one managed by the Friends of the Schindler House, a nonprofit that maintains Schindler’s former residence in West Hollywood, home to the MAK Center for Art and Architecture. It is unclear if the two thefts are connected.

According to the report, the Los Angeles Police Department is conducting a preliminary investigation into the missing pieces.

Related Stories