By Jodi Summers
The Millard House captures the romantic side of Frank Lloyd Wright. In his autobiography, FLW recounted his elation when he discovered the building site, "My
eyes had fallen upon a ravishing ravine . . . in which stood two
beautiful eucalyptus trees. . . . No one would want to build down in a
ravine out there." So fond was FLW of the property he designed for Mrs. Alice Millard, that he dubbed this three-bedroom, three-bath textile block villa â€œLa Miniaturaâ€ This divine property can be yours for $7.5 mmillion or thereabouts.
â€œI would rather have built this little house than St. Peterâ€™s in Rome,â€ revealed FLW about the Millard House. One of only five Wright textile block homes in Los Angeles, La Miniatura is set in a picturesque arroyo near the Rose Bowl. The official location is the Prospect Historic District â€“ a Pasadena neighborhood of admirable residences designed by such renowned architects as Charles and Henry Greene, Wallace Neff and Myron Hunt.
Originally designed for Alice (a.k.a. Mrs. George Madison) Millard, a dealer in rare books and antiques who knew Wrightâ€™s work in the Chicago area, La Miniatura uses more vertical lines than typical Wright designs. Built in 1923, La Miniatura features an open floor plan and the seamless indoor-outdoor flow, which is an identifying characteristic of FLWâ€™s designs. A father/son property, son Lloyd Wright designed an additional studio in 1926,
FLW believed that La Miniatura brilliantly reflected his intention to create "a distinctly genuine expression of California in terms of modern industry and American life."
The romance of this property comes from the dappled lighting that streams into the house through the carved, patterned blocks, and the scenic views from nearly every room. All three levels of the house revolve around a central chimney. The two-story living room opens to the pond and formal gardens; the textile block motif is pervasive throughout the home.
At Millard's request, Wright included rustic wooden doors and 18th
century Delft bathroom tile in the home's interior design. A long
corridor on the third level, featuring a redwood ceiling, leads to the
master bedroom, blossoming into high ceilings with views of the backyard arroyo and gardens. After the home was completed, Frank Lloyd Wright's son, Lloyd Wright, added a complimenting two-story studio/guest house, with a sleeping porch. The younger Wright designed the property's landscaping.
From 1919 to 1923, Wright spent time in Los Angeles, reinventing himself after the failure of his firm in Chicago. In was here he began experimenting with textile block designs (later to be used in the Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo). His goal was to develop a flexible building system combining the merits of standardized machine production to his own innovative creative vision. He
built a series of interlocking pre-cast concrete textile block homes in
Los Angeles. These include the Hollyhock House, Freeman House, Storer
House, Ennis House and our Millard House. Wright saw the relatively small scale of his textile block concept as a uniquely monumental, adaptable and efficient design which can closely follows the contours of the landscape.
La Miniatura was considered to be the most precious of Textile Block houses that Wright designed in the 1920s. It is constructed from a combination of plain-faced and ornamental concrete blocks, which were cast on site from molds designed by Wright. Many of the ornamental blocks are patterned with a design unique to the property; others are perforated with glass-filled apertures through which natural light flows into the home.
textile block method of construction consisted of stacking concrete
blocks three inches thick, cast in molds, next to and atop one another
without visible mortar joints. In all but the Millard House, thin
concrete and steel reinforcing rods were run horizontally and
vertically in edge reveals â€˜knittingâ€™ the whole together. A double
wythe was common, held together by steel cross ties, the cavity air
space serving as insulation,â€ explains William Allin Storrer in The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalog.
The block system was intended to be an efficient, low-cost method of building that incorporated ornament, but it proved to be time consuming and more expensive than traditional construction. The Freeman House featured 54 varieties of blocks - hand-created at a speed of 75-100 per day. 11,000 were needed to complete the whole house.
Issue for FLWs in LA is severalâ€¦ time and study have shown that Wright textile block construction style had inherent design flaws. The steel reinforcements used inside the blocks does not compliment the concrete block material. Concrete and steel expand and contracts at different rates in different temperatures; causing major preservation issues. Additionally, the composition of the concrete in the blocks and the way they have reacted with our air pollution â€“leading to premature decay.
The Ennis House â€“ which is currently on the market for $15 million is said to need significant renovation. The price may be negotiable, but the cost of restoration is not.
One of the most beautiful things is that the Millard House has already had significant restoration. When La Miniatura last sold in
2000 (for $1.3 million), it was reported that the cost of restoration
exceeded the price of the house. Inspection reports revealed that
"glass was incorporated internally into the concrete blocks by hand.
This method of construction caused the imploding/exploding difficulties
found in Wrightâ€™s other concrete-block houses in Los Angeles."
The University of Southern California owns the Freeman House and has worked diligently on its restoration. When they picked it up after the Northridge Earthquake, the property was actually sliding down toward Highland Avenue, and the walls were said to be bulging to the point of failure. The $1.5 million restoration focused on bolting the walls on the uphill side. Engineers also installed
10 caissons to be lowered by a crane for stabilization on the uphill
side. 12 caissons were placed on the downhill side. They removed about
700 damaged blocks (and cataloged them). 1600 new blocks were madeâ€”essentially the house was rebuiltâ€¦on a site said to be virtually inaccessible by construction machines.
historic Southern California properties are facing major conservation
issuesâ€¦and there are two schools with how to approach solutions.The
Europeans believe the architectâ€™s intentions are paramount; Americans feel the historic fabric is more important, perhaps because weâ€™re a younger nation. Buy great real estate and you, too, may have a say in history.
Listing agent: Crosby Doe,(310) 428-6755,Mossler & Doe