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Sam Hall Kaplan

Flamboyant Designer's Legacy: Architects in Their Own Wright

February 14, 1987|Sam Hall Kaplan | Kaplan also appears in The Times' Real Estate section.

On any list of great architects who have practiced in Los Angeles, inevitably near or at the top is the name of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Indeed, the controversial designer, whose flamboyant career spanned 70 years and spawned various innovative, expressive styles, was one of the greatest architects to practice anywhere.

And though Wright only practiced sporadically in Los Angeles, producing relatively few buildings, his efforts here, as elsewhere, were singular and generated much debate and recognition.

Among Wright designs that can be seen here is the Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park, at Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard; the Ennis House at 2607 Glendower Ave. in Los Feliz, and the Freeman House, 1962 Glencoe Way in Hollywood Heights.

Actually, substantially more productive and, arguably, equally as creative in Los Angeles was the great architect's son, Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. But though he worked under the name of Lloyd Wright and generated a variety of distinctive buildings, he really never could disassociate himself professionally from his father.

"Grandfather cast a heavy shadow," Eric Lloyd Wright commented a few days ago while discussing the career of his father, Lloyd Wright. "If father could have somehow used another name there is no doubt his work would have received much more of the recognition he deserved, and deserves."

The discussion with the younger Wright was prompted by a modest exhibit of his father's drawings that attracted favorable notices when shown recently in Tokyo and New York. It was hoped that the exhibit could be seen in Los Angeles, but so far no gallery has been made available.

"It really seems a shame, for almost all the drawings are for projects in Los Angeles," said 58-year-old Wright, who also is an architect of note. "This is where father did most of his work."

Wright explained that his father began working in Southern California in 1915, first for the noted planning and landscape firm of Olmsted and Olmsted, assisting in the design of that year's San Diego Fair and Balboa Park; then for a time for the legendary Irving Gill.

"It was during World War I that grandfather asked father to come to L.A. to help him with the construction supervision of the Barnsdall House," added Wright. "They worked together on a number of projects until about 1924, when father said grandfather told him after various disappointments that he was going to go back to Chicago, adding that 'I'm fed up here. You're young enough to take Los Angeles.' " (The elder Wright, who was then 55, lived 35 more active years, dying in 1959. Lloyd Wright died at the age of 88 in 1978.)

On his own in Los Angeles, Lloyd Wright quickly garnered a number of commissions. Among the more notable in the 1920s was the Sowden House, at 5121 Franklin Ave. in Los Feliz. Here Wright tried to improve upon his father's experiments with ornamented concrete block, using it to decorate a distinctive entry that challenges the street.

Of distinction also is the Samuels-Navarro House, 5609 Valley Oak Drive in nearby Hollywood, designed in 1926. Here again Lloyd Wright experimented with ornamented concrete block, lending details to the house that hint of the Art Deco Moderne style then gaining in popularity.

Also in the Hollywood Heights area is the Otto Bollman House, an expressive stucco-framed, pyramidal-topped structure at 2200 Broadview Terrace, perched on the side of a hill near the High Tower.

Quite different, and quite magnificent, is Lloyd Wright's design for the Wayfarer's Chapel above Palos Verdes Drive South, near Portuguese Bend in Rancho Palos Verdes. Built in 1951, the chapel is a glass gem set in a grove of redwoods, the branches of which embrace the structure.

Eric Lloyd Wright explained that the redwoods were planted according to his father's plan after the church had been built. "He anticipated the redwoods growing and enclosing the chapel," Wright said, adding that his father always did the landscape plan.

For most of his career Lloyd Wright worked out of a studio he designed along with his residence at 858 N. Doheny Drive in West Hollywood. The studio is now used as a real estate office, appropriately for the firm of Mossler, Deasy and Doe, which specializes in properties of historical interest.

The multiple use of the structure recently was declared illegal by the city, raising all sorts of fears that the landmark might have to be altered. But the city has since backed down, and an amicable settlement is indicated.

"It is important that the integrity of the design be preserved," said Eric Lloyd Wright, who for a time had lived in the building and also used it as a studio. Much of his practice involves restoring buildings designed by his father and grandfather.

"There is really a distinct difference in their work, especially my father's later works," added Wright. "Unlike that of many of grandfather's former apprentices, my father's work was not imitative. I know my father wanted very badly to be remembered as an architect in his own right, just as I want to be."

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