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Wright / Schindler Furniture Stolen!
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Craig



Joined: 04 May 2005
Posts: 553
Location: California

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 10:10 am    Post subject: Wright / Schindler Furniture Stolen! Reply with quote

From today's LA Times, two disturbing thefts:

The thieves seemed to know exactly what they were looking for.

They entered an unmarked warehouse on a South Los Angeles side street, moved through a warren of file cabinets, yellowing papers and jettisoned desks, and breached a small storage room.

Inside was a cache of furniture designed by two of the most celebrated American architects of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler.

The thieves made off with two of Wright’s striking floor lamps and a cushioned chair believed to have been designed by Schindler — a haul with a potential value of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Six years after the heist at the USC warehouse, the identities of the perpetrators remain a mystery.

There is a second puzzle: Why didn’t the university report the theft to police at the time or seek the public’s help in recovering the irreplaceable pieces?

Detectives only learned of the larceny in recent weeks, after an anonymous letter to the Los Angeles Times revealed the crime.

The architect, already famous and enjoying a midlife sojourn in California, ringed the living room with tall windows that provided dramatic views down Highland Avenue and of the surrounding hills.

The furniture he fashioned for the room included the 6-foot-high cast iron and glass lamps. His protege, Schindler, later worked on the house, adding his own unique furnishings.

For decades, the Freemans’ eclectic crowd of artists, scientists and leftists savored the home and its decor. “Casablanca” actor Claude Rains was a regular at the couple’s so-called salons, and Harriet Freeman feted legendary choreographer Martha Graham at a dinner party in the living room.

Samuel Freeman died in the living room in 1981. Harriet suffered a stroke and spent her final months in a bed in the living room. She died in 1986. Childless, they left the home and furniture to USC, hoping the university would treasure the property as a site for meetings, classes and historic preservation.

The Freeman House suffered severe structural damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Tiles tumbled from the house and broke. It took the university years to secure more than $1 million in restoration funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other sources.

Around 2000, in advance of the work, USC moved the contents of the home, including the Wright and Schindler furniture, to the architecture school’s rented warehouse. The brick facility on 24th Street, formerly a city power station, has a cavernous interior with at least one separate, locked room.

Some broken tiles were stored in the main room while the furniture was placed in the locked area, according to people familiar with the warehouse. For the next decade, the pieces that had delighted the Freemans and their guests would sit in the dark, glimpsed only occasionally by USC faculty, staff and students.

There was no sign of a break-in or vandalism, and nothing but the Wright and Schindler furniture seemed to have been taken.

Kenneth Breisch, an associate professor who oversaw the graduate program in historic preservation, said that as far as he knew, there was only one key to the room and it was maintained by the facilities department.

The staffer who had discovered the missing items contacted Breisch to see whether he knew anything. Told no, the staffer said he planned to alert campus police, according to Breisch.

In fact, the stolen floor lamps and chair had significant value. The lamps are particularly rare and coveted by collectors. A nearly identical piece Wright made in the same period for a Hollywood Boulevard residence sold at auction two years ago for $100,000.

Told of the lamps’ theft recently, architect and author Thomas A. Heinz, the foremost expert in Wright’s interiors, exclaimed, “Wow. Wow.”

“Because these are so rare, I would say it’s a tremendous loss,” said Heinz, adding that Wright created about a dozen such lamps.

Schindler’s chairs are also in demand. Last July, two of the architect’s redwood “sling” chairs were reported stolen from an Olympic Boulevard storage unit rented by the Friends of the Schindler House, the nonprofit that maintains the architect’s former West Hollywood residence.

Board member Robert Sweeney told the police the chairs were original to the Kings Road landmark and estimated their value at $25,000 each.

Despite the clear value of the items taken, no one at USC filed a report with campus police, LAPD or the university’s insurance carriers. Word of the theft circulated among some at the architecture school, but few, if any, outsiders were told.

It remained a secret until last summer when someone’s conscience appeared to have been prodded by a listing at a Chicago auction. The listing described the lot for sale as a “textile block from the Samuel Freeman House, Los Angeles” and identified the seller as a private collector in Chicago. It was a 16-inch square, the size of the original Freeman blocks, and had discolorations indicating decades in the elements. It sold for $5,000 in June.

Weeks after its sale, The Times received an anonymous email describing the warehouse theft. The author also included a link to the auction and wrote that even if the sale was not connected to the theft, it was troubling. How could the tile have fallen into private hands when its ownership had passed directly from the Freemans to USC, the writer asked.

A search of campus police databases and inquiries to half a dozen employees turned up nothing about a theft, she said. But further investigation by USC’s Office of Professionalism and Ethics, a new unit set up after recent scandals, determined that the tip had merit.

On Jan. 22, campus police filed a report with the LAPD, identifying the three missing items. The university blamed the 6½-year delay in contacting authorities on a miscommunication between employees, according to police.

“It’s quite alarming, frankly, that there’s a gap,” said Lt. Perry Griffith of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Southwest station, who reviewed the report before handing it off to the department’s Art Theft Detail.

In a statement, USC said it was fully cooperating with the police probe and pursuing its own internal investigation.

“The university is reviewing its procedures and security measures related to the Freeman House and its assets,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. She added that the university “is working with its risk management team on the insurance claim process.”

LAPD Det. Don Hrycyk of the art theft unit said his investigation was at the preliminary stage.

“There was no forced entry, so it looks like someone who had access to a key,” Hrycyk said.

USC declined to identify those with access to the room and said in a statement, “It appears unlikely that there was only one key, however we expect that to be part of the investigation.”

The passage of time had made dusting for fingerprints and other forensic techniques all but impossible. Memories have faded, and witnesses are out of reach.

“A lot of these people are no longer at USC,” Hrycyk said.

The tile auctioned in Chicago is not part of the LAPD investigation, he said. USC said it had “no verification” as to whether it was stolen from the house.

Jeffrey Chusid, a Cornell University professor who is a leading authority on the Freeman House, said the auctioned tile appeared to be an original. Chusid, who lived in the house when he taught at USC in the 1980s and 1990s, said it was unlikely to be one that fell from the home during the earthquake because those were largely broken. During the 1990s, a vandal pried a tile from the street-side of the house, he said, “and that might be floating around.”

Richard Wright, the president of the Chicago auction house, said the seller told him he obtained the piece several years ago from a dealer. Wright said he believed that the tile was originally from the Freeman House’s garage and that it was removed after the 1994 earthquake.

“It’s my understanding that there was some restoration done to the house,” Wright said. “Given the not-great condition, it had been a tile that had been replaced.”

Wright said the collector who consigned the tile had attested to the legal title of the concrete block. Still, he said that in the world of art auctions, “it is not always perfectly clear how things get out.”

It is situated on a narrow, winding street that dead ends on a cliff side and has little parking. To the rare visitor, the home’s disrepair is obvious, with splintered wooden beams, peeling paint and gaps in the cement-tiled walls.

USC said it is examining “options to ensure there’s a promising future for the Freeman House.”

“It’s always been hard to make it a priority of the university,” Chusid said. “It’s just unfortunate.”
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17787
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for posting, Craig. Lacking an explanatory headline, the piece begins sort of like a mystery tale --
perhaps fitting to the subject.

"Inside job" (my term) seems to fit the bill, here . . . ?

This photo. from page 78 of "Wright in Hollywood" (Robert L Sweeney, 1994), might have served as an
illustration to the Times piece -- if the bench shown is the "chair" reported in the piece ?

Sweeney, normally thorough in his reporting, does not mention a Schindler chair in connection with the
house; however, Schindler is said to have furnished two Freeman bedrooms in 1928.

Perhaps Schindler provided chairs to go with his dining table ?

The photo is credited to USC by Sweeney:




Last edited by SDR on Sun Feb 03, 2019 10:59 am; edited 1 time in total
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Modmom1



Joined: 03 Dec 2017
Posts: 105

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 10:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Inside job? Why wouldn't the first theft be reported?

By weird coincidence, if google searches would lead one to be a suspect I would be on it. I've been researching Schindler and Wright tables for inspiration for the dining table we are designing.

Last Friday I had someone knock on the door mid afternoon on a freezing day, something that never happens. The person was not dressed for the weather, I brought him inside and he turned out be the owner of a Schindler House in LA who was in town to interview a possible presidential candidate. Although I was familiar with Schindler, I never spent much time researching his work. The polar vortex and following heavy snow had me homebound providing the perfect opportunity to research.

In research, I learned that Schindler designed a cubist floor lamp in 1926 (Lovell Health House). Was this several years before the Wright cubist lamp? Schindler'a sofa and sling chair are incredible. Enjoyed looking at his work and reading about the relationship between Schindler and Wright.

Anyway, the owner was a very nice guy and just published a book on his property, The Walker House, for those interested: https://www.amazon.com/The-Walker-House-RM-Schindler/dp/8469767631

(our table is still in design. We have 8 (DCW) Eames chairs that we've had for many years for seating if anyone has any suggestions)
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wrightasrain



Joined: 28 Mar 2017
Posts: 16

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

https://www.wright20.com/auctions/2018/06/important-design/330

https://www.urbanremainschicago.com/all-original-c-1924-hollywood-hills-samuel-and-harriet-freeman-house-geometric-textile-block-salvaged-from-the-exterior-facade-during-extensive-renovations-25023.html

https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/4930322_421-frank-lloyd-wright-designed-element
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17787
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Mod mom. The Schindler Lovell residence is the beach house; the Lovell Health House is Neutra's. I'll look for images of Schindler light fixtures, which are particular favorites of mine, too . . .

For the USC theft not to be reported might suggest that the cover-up came from the source, and/or from the abettor(s), of the crime ?



Here is the entirety of Sweeney's discussion, in "Wright in Hollywood," of Schindler's interior work at Freemen, pp 76, 78, 79:








And here are four interior views of the house; I am not able to immediately date these photos, other than to say that the first two are from "In the Nature of Materials," 1941.

In the first and fourth photos we see what I now realize are cantilevered side chairs which are Schindler's:







. . .


Last edited by SDR on Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:42 am; edited 2 times in total
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peterm



Joined: 13 Mar 2008
Posts: 6075
Location: Chicago, Il.---Oskaloosa, Ia.

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Modmom-

Which Wright cubist lamp are you referring to? The Schindler floor lamp can be seen in several Wright houses, including the reproduction at Jacobs 1.
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Matt2



Joined: 30 Dec 2018
Posts: 117

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have to agree with one letter writer after the article...that this house should have been sold to a private party who would have restored it. Look at the state of the other block houses in private hands...and now look at Freeman. Granted Freeman may have more problems than the others in terms of foundation, but a private owner like a Joel Silver would have done a better job in caring for this house.

Perhaps the best thing for the house now is to dismantle it...sell off all those blocks for $5000 each (as one apparently earned at auction)...and use the money to start rebuilding the structure with a better foundation and materials.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17787
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Would a reproduction of a Wright house on its original site be a unique phenomenon ?

Here's a shot of the Wolfe house of Schindler, showing a floor lamp that appears elsewhere in the work, including a reproduction seen in photos of the restored How house:




Last edited by SDR on Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:50 am; edited 1 time in total
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peterm



Joined: 13 Mar 2008
Posts: 6075
Location: Chicago, Il.---Oskaloosa, Ia.

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here we can see reproductions of the tall Taliesin lamp and the Schindler lamp, neither of which are original to Jacobs 1:

https://www.pinterest.com/amp/pin/399061216957044576/
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Modmom1



Joined: 03 Dec 2017
Posts: 105

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My bad, SDR. The lamp is in the Lovell Beach House.

Andrew Romano (owner of Schindler's Walker house 1922-26)) posted a lovely interior of Schindler's Lovell Beach House which shows 2 cubist lamps, one that is either resting on a book shelf or mounted on the wall below clerestory windows and the other on the floor near the window next to 2 Eames molded plywood chairs. I asked and Andrew told me the lamps were from 1926. I haven't seen the photo in my searches and he noted it was difficult to get into the house.

He also noted that there is a documentary by @valentina.vision and a TV show by Josh Gorrell in the works.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Photo taken at the How house; credit Michael La Fetra:

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/e1/c1/74/e1c174f16e37efa01936211e9ef9cb05.jpg
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Modmom1



Joined: 03 Dec 2017
Posts: 105

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 12:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Not that lamp. Both (2 different lamps in the Lovell BeachHouse) are much more similar to the Wright cubist floor lamp I believe known as Taliesin2.

I don't know how to share it but found this older photo of it:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/26599454021505150/
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 12:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Mm. Where did Mr Romano post his photo ?

There is an early photo of the Walker dining room on this page; it can be enlarged:

http://www.foragemodernworkshop.com/books-magazines/the-walker-house

S
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17787
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 12:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh -- you're talking about the stacked lamp at Lovell ?

https://i.pinimg.com/564x/d7/86/64/d7866465a68e9dc2b217a516f4d50e12.jpg

Pretty cool, isn't it . . . !

S
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Modmom1



Joined: 03 Dec 2017
Posts: 105

PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 12:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Andrew posted it on his instragram: andrew_romano

He credits the photo to someone else but unfortunately my wifi is buggy and I can't access it. Interesting person to follow.


Last edited by Modmom1 on Sun Feb 03, 2019 12:16 pm; edited 1 time in total
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