Tell Me A Story, Roderick Grant ...

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SREcklund
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Tell Me A Story, Roderick Grant ...

Post by SREcklund »

As I talk with the folks around Hollyhock House that have been there for more than a year or so (of which there are sadly very few), your name always comes up with regards to the reproduction living room furniture. Unfortunately, no one seems to have much of the story, just snippets. Since I've sort of positioned myself amongst the new crop of docents as the "master of obscure facts and interesting stories", I would love to get the story from the source, if you wouldn't mind sharing ... :-)

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Not at all. Just keep in mind, you asked for it.

I joined FOHH in Sept. 1980. On the first night of training, Curator Ginny Kazor talked about the living room furniture, and stated that it was her goal to reproduce it. She hoped to find someone who could reconstruct drawings from what little evidence survived, dark photos, a few detailed drawings of the (unbuilt) light shades and lamps, and rough sketches in RMS's hand. I said, "I can do that," which took her aback, but she jumped at the opportunity, gave me as much information as existed, and I went to work.

I spent more time studying the dark, fish-eyed period photos than actually drawing, but eventually, using what documentation I had, and the obvious fact that it complied with the 4'x4' grid of the house, I got some preliminary drawings done. As FLW said of Unity Temple, "It looks easy enough now, because it's right enough now, but it wasn't easy at all." One of the hardest parts was the decorative trim around the tables. There was no drawing nor any clear photos to go by.

Ginny found out that Don and Virginia Lovness had a blueprint of the couches; while we were at the opening of the Wright Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC in '83, we met them and set up a visit. In April '84, while attending the SAH conference in Mpls, we drove out to their house (docent Keith Koening was with us) to see the drawing. I was hoping for confirmation that my drawings were accurate, but the print was either a preliminary design or the builder of the furniture ignored difficult details. The troublesome trim was nothing more than a simple Greek key, and there were some odd angles in the seat. Since "as built" is the rule, I went back to relying on the evidence I had, and eventually got it done.

Throughout the process, Ginny was trying every imaginable way to fund construction without having to depend on funding from the Cultural Affairs Dept., which owns the house; Los Angeles, which has owned Hollyhock since 1927, has been a terrible conservator, and would not have spent the money on the project itself. Some time in the 80s (my dating is bad) the ASID sponsored a project to 'redecorate' interiors at the house. Elizabeth Montgomery was one of the decorators. When we showed her an original pillow covering and the almost matching fabric that had been donated, she said it was unacceptable, and found a source in Germany that could produce an exact replica of the original fabric at no cost. That ruffled some feathers with the person who arranged the original donation, but the improvement was worth it.

Just before committing to construction by master craftsman James Ipekjian, a photo turned up in the files of the L. A. Times that showed the clearest image of the trim known, and Jim figured out how to replicate it. One fact about the replicas, Jim's work is vastly superior to the original. Around 2000, the two square tables from the original showed up at auction. Ginny and I went to see them and measure for accuracy (perfect to the fraction of an inch!), and saw how rough the original work had been.

There were a few touches that were not done. There is a very clear, measured drawing of glass 'n' brass shades designed to fit on the underside of the caps on the large posts that support the torchiers, with a light projecting out of the corner of the post, turned on by a dangling chain of the sort commonplace at the time. While these were not made, the posts were bored to accept wiring in the event that it is ever decided to add them. On the side of the torchiers facing the fireplace were toggle switches. It was decided (not by me) not to include them. Table lamps meant to stand on the ends of the couches to light the small writing tables, for which detailed measured drawings exist ... up to a point ... were deemed too costly to execute, along with 4' tall versions of same intended for the built in tables at the east and west ends of the room (which I also drew).

Other work on the living room that I did included replacing fluorescent lighting with incandescent (plan, not installation) and plan and color (along with Ginny) for the carpet. Clark Pardee not only determined the original color for the ceiling, but personally painted it. Another restoration done by pros paid for by Ginny's funding is the fireplace pool. I voted in favor of rebuilding the bridge, finishing the gold highlights in the relief above the fireplace opening and executing the fireplace screen, but nothing came of that.

Ginny located an original wall sconce that had been designed by RMS and had hung in the loggia. She, Jim and I went to the owners in the Valley and made field notes on the dimensions. I drew a full-scale plan, but in the end, Jim, who was not entirely won over by my eccentric drawing conventions, borrowed the light and made two reproes from it first-hand, which was, of course, the smart thing to do. Carla Lind, first director of FLWBC and in charge of restoration at Meyer May, evaluated the restoration projects we had done on a shoestring at Hollyhock (before the carpet), and estimated we got $300K worth of work, which had cost us less than one tenth of that.
Last edited by Roderick Grant on Mon Jun 01, 2015 4:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

SREcklund
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Location: Redondo Beach, CA

Post by SREcklund »

Thank you so much for sharing. I don't know how other here or at the House feel, but to me, this sort of stuff is gold - in many ways, just as valuable as the stories of the original construction.

Feel free to bury me is this sort of stuff any time!

As an aside, what is your understanding of the fate of the original set? The official statement seems to be that they disappeared "sometime before 1974", but this was the first I'd heard of pieces coming on the market.

Roderick Grant
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Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 7:48 am

Post by Roderick Grant »

There is a photo of the two small, square writing tables joined together and sitting in the bay of the master bedroom. They survived for awhile, but then mysteriously (and most likely illegally) disappeared for decades. The seller at the auction bought them at a yard sale.

The rest of the structure was removed at some unknown date, stored at some unknown location and disappeared at some unknown time. One story that has hung around for a long time is that they were stored at the Greek Theatre and used to construct sets. No evidence that the story is true, however.

There was a time when the house was boarded up and horribly vandalized. In the 40s, it was used as a sort of USO for WWII veterans with alterations done by FLW and Jr. In 1954, an addition was designed by FLW that used the kennels as a spine for an exhibition space, along the lines of the one in NYC, for the traveling show of FLW's work. The well-known photo of FLW, seated, contemplating the Larkin Building, on the cover of Guerrero's book, "Picturing Wright," was taken in that building. The structure remained until the new museum was built in the 70s. With its translucent roof, the temperatures inside soared. At one exhibition, paint on a Van Gogh began to peal off. That's when it was decided a new building was needed.

A friend of mine, who was in his teens in the 40s, said he used to go up to the park for wild parties held in Residence B when Edmund Teske lived there. His memory of the place is not sharp, but he said it was a mess. The false story that the skylight in the Hollyhock living room used to retract so one could see stars reflected in the pool (a notion idiotic on the face of it) may come from the fact that a similar skylight in Res. B was broken, allowing weather to come in. We all know it never rains in California, but, boy, let me warn you, it pours, man, it pours!

SREcklund
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Post by SREcklund »

> The false story that the skylight in the Hollyhock living room used to retract so one could see stars reflected in the pool

I heard a docent (a new one, at that) quote that very story just yesterday, so you can understand why getting it right is so important to me. I intend to correct those errors in the current docent crop.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

One easy way to refute the skylight story (which was perpetuated by Anne Baxter in her narration of the BBC documentary) is geometry. Sit or stand anywhere other than directly over the pool and try to figure out how you could possibly see stars reflected in the pool if the skylight were not there. The angles don't match up.

Tom
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Post by Tom »

I agree, "this stuff" is gold.

Iowegian63
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Post by Iowegian63 »

Wait, there was a bridge over the moat? Can you elaborate (I too am a current Hollyhock House docent)

and about the skylight...I am sure I read somewhere that Wright himself said you could see the stars reflected in the water of the moat. Now that could have been hyperbole, or it could mean that Lloyd replaced the art glass in the skylight in the 40s.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Inaccurate history repeated by docents may reflect a tendency found throughout Wrightdom: observers tend to project their fantasies and desires upon the man and upon his works, making a perfect architect and perfect buildings out of the (naturally) less-than-perfect reality. The Bard of Taliesin North himself contributed to the legends, of course !

What a man (and his crew) does is what we are left with -- a more-than-overflowing cornucopia, it seems to me. The truth is quite enough . . .

SDR

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Iowegian63, there was a concrete slab that connected the outer edge of the pool to the octagonal hearth, the width of one side of the octagon. In Donald Hoffmann's book on Hollyhock, page 63 (Hoff/63), there is a plan showing the bridge, and on pages 64 and 67 are early photos showing it in place. Mono 4/148 has a cross-section of the fireplace showing the bridge with a drain (which can be seen in the Hoffmann photo). Drawings also show the bridge in Mono 10 pages 10 and 19. Why this has not been restored, I cannot say. Often restoration is affected by the biases of the restorers. I suppose there are those who think the pool looks better without the bridge, but that's no excuse for not restoring it. Same with the toggle switches on the torchiers.

I doubt that anything FLW wrote himself would refer to a retractable skylight, and anything anyone else wrote on the house, even if they claimed to quote FLW, would be wrong. It never happened. Look at the cross-section Mono 4/148, and you will see how the skylight was originally constructed, a slab of wire glass laid over a 2x4 frame with the fixed art glass lay light below. No moving parts. The current construction on the roof is by Lloyd in the 70s (Hoff/108).

Another detail that doesn't belong in the original is the small, fixed window on the north wall of the living room near the doorway to the music room. That was added by Lloyd in 1946, and appears in a plan published in the red portfolio in the 80s. The original is shown in Hoff/70, which also shows how mottled the wall and ceiling paint was originally, rather than flat; and the grill between the concrete column and the wall, in front of the electric wall heater, which also shows on Hoff/66.

On Hoff/60 is a photo of the folding doors in the loggia, which show that they were paired folding doors, not all hinged together in two sets as is now the case with the 'restoration.'

All historic photos and documents of the entrance from the car court up to the entry show 6 steps up from a concrete pad that extends to the niche. There are now 5 steps. A 6" layer of Macadam was placed over the court, pad and up the riser of the first step. The pad may well still be under that fill. The material covering the drive was decomposed granite, not Macadam.

There was another major repair job in 1968. Photos are in a blue binder. I believe that is when the huge, cylindrical metal cistern was removed from the garden terrace. It was also when Lloyd's '46 cabinetry in the music room was removed. Lloyd put it back in the 70s.

Iowegian63
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Post by Iowegian63 »

I didn't mean to suggest that Wright said the skylight was retractable, only that you could see the stars through the art glass. I tried to find the reference today and all I could find was Edgar Tafel (in Apprentice to Genius) suggesting you could see the stars reflected in the fireplace water feature.

Thanks for the information on the bridge, I'm going to hunt down the images.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Try it yourself. You will readily find that it is impossible. The art glass is not transparent, and the angles are all wrong to see anything. I don't know where Tafel got his idea, but it is not so.

CEP
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Post by CEP »

I was active at the house in the 1980s and can verify Rod's assertion that we got a lot of things clarified, confirmed, on the radar and on track for both active and future restoration efforts on said shoestring budget - something I'm quite proud of in retrospect.

A few remembrances - Rod, Ginny and I visited the Schindler archives at UCSB one day, as we were always looking for new or undiscovered details regarding the house. I'm not sure if this was something known in advance or not, but that day we did come home with a copy of a presentation blueprint of the furniture made for Barker Bros - what I don't remember is the importance to Roderick for his scaled drawing work. We also went on a field trip to Jim Ipekjian's studio during the construction of the furniture - it was a real treat to see the work as it was being created. The three of us were also at the house the day Jim delivered the goods - it was an arduous task getting the pieces loaded into the house and then assembled but seriously goose-bump inducing when completed! Unfortunately, my strobe died that day and of course I had low speed film in my camera, so I've only got a few grainy photos of the installation. The honor of being the first one to sit on the new furniture in situ - and rightfully so - went to Ginny Kazor.

Early on in the carpet research project, we flirted with Bentley Mills about getting involved and they initially agreed to a gratis carpet if we were willing to use a synthetic (as they did at Robie) versus wool. Ultimately things didn't work out and by the time the carpet that's now installed happened, I'd switched jobs and was no longer involved with the house. I'm not sure who ultimately got the job of recreating it but I will say it's pretty great!

Reidy
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Post by Reidy »

Another point about that skylight is that the surface directly below it is a concrete hearth. Concrete is not a good reflector of starlight. If water had come down the shaft it would have landed on the hearth and only later seeped, laden with ashes, into the surrounding pool.

pharding
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Post by pharding »

Thank you Roderick for all that you did. Everything that you touched was done with highest level of professionalism.
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | www.harding.com | LinkedIn

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