Book on Frank Lloyd Wright House Wins International Award

April 25, 2014

A book chronicling the history of a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles and the struggle to preserve it has won a prestigious award from the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH).

Saving Wright: The Freeman House and the Preservation of Meaning, Materials, and Modernity (W. W. Norton), written by Jeffrey Chusid, an associate professor of city and regional planning, received the SAH's 2014 Antoinette Forrester Downing Award for an outstanding publication devoted to historical issues in the preservation field.

"[Chusid's book] is a landmark study in the field of architectural history and historic preservation," says the committee commendation. "Framed within a rich and vibrant historic context, Chusid's work explores the genesis of the house's design, its setting, the interactions between clients and architect, and how the unusual structure . . . was assembled."

Built in 1925, the Freeman House was an experiment by Wright to design a new type of architecture for the middle class, for modern America, and for the Los Angeles foothills. The "textile-block" construction of the home used 16-by-16-by-3-1/2-inch-thick concrete tiles reinforced by steel bars weaving in between the blocks.

Wright designed three textile-block houses in Los Angeles in the 1920s, which marked a transition from the Prairie School style to "a more modernist language," says Chusid, who once lived in the Freeman House and was its director and restoration architect.

The 2,500-square-foot house was built for Harriet and Sam Freeman, an avant-garde couple who lived in the home for 60 years. The University of Southern California's School of Architecture, which had previously been given the house by Harriet, took control of the property following her death in 1986. Chusid opened the structure to the public shortly thereafter, as well as using it as a venue for classes and student research.

In addition to structural problems stemming from deterioration of the handmade blocks over the years, the house was extensively damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. A $2.4 million stabilization project was completed in 2001, but the house is still undergoing restoration.

"Receiving this recognition from SAH was immensely gratifying; especially coming at the annual meeting held in Austin, where I taught for many years, in front of so many colleagues and friends," says Chusid.

The SAH award committee was chaired by Kim Hoagland and included Christopher Long and Mark Reinberger.

Last year, Saving Wright won the Mary Washington Center for Historic Preservation's 2102 Historic Preservation Book Prize and received an honorable mention for the 2012 Lee Nelson Book Award from the Association for Preservation Technology, Intl.

By Sherrie Negrea

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