Dining with Frank Lloyd Wright by Cora Neil

Overlooking Hollywood & Highland, a remnant of architectural history sits patiently for a return to glory. The Freeman House was built in 1923 by Frank Lloyd Wright for Samuel & Harriet Freeman. They lived in the house for 60 years before Harriet arranged for the house to be given to the USC School of Architecture. The years have not been kind to this once beloved home: the Northridge earthquake and the Los Angeles pollution have severely damaged the concrete textile blocks that make up the structure of the monolithic home.

Last week, some friends that were taking care of the house invited Matt and I for dinner. We enjoyed some good food and a glass of wine while the view—framed by the corner windows and small openings in the textile blocks—poured in.  It felt as if we were breathing life back into the house just as much as the reinforced concrete that has been added to shore up the foundation.

The gardens were originally designed by Wright's’ son, Lloyd Wright, and judging by the size of some of the euphorbia still on the grounds, I imagine they might be part of that original landscape. I mistook the gnarled and woody trunk of a pencil cactus in the corner of the lot for an oak tree at first glance. These massive plants made me think about nature's resilience. In 90 some years, a block of concrete is more fragile than the adaptive nature of these plants.

Lotusland : jewels in the garden by Cora Neil

Lotusland, the former estate of Polish opera singer Madame Walska, is an extraordinary place. Madame, as she was called, gave up her swimming pool to create the lotus pond that inspired the name of the estate. The grounds are designed as “rooms”, each having a theme. The blue garden, for example, is a collection of only blue hued plants and pottery.

A cycad garden was Madam's final masterpiece. I think It's the most telling of the relationship she'd built with her garden, as she auctioned off her jewels to pay for the rare species. She loved to incorporate gems and shells throughout the gardenscapes. My favorite is her pairing of cactus and coral creating a unique juxtaposition between terrestrial and aquatic.

I can only imagine the frustration of the landscape architects Madame Walska employed. The gardens don’t seem to follow any traditional garden design rules but that is what's so appealing about this place. There is nothing particularly pristine or fussy about the gardens which makes them approachable and inviting. She created a space that reflected and supported her interests: an outdoor amphitheater where she gave concerts, a garden sundial fashioned with the symbols of the horoscope, orchards, and grotesque garden gnomes that she buried during the war and later dug up to give them a new home. Touring the garden of this eccentric woman is like reading a memoir. 

 

Coming soon! by Cora Neil

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Things are heating up in the welding shop! I've been busy refining details and designing new items for the collection. Next stop on this maker train is the powder coater for a pop of color!