Wrightwatch ’27

flwAugust 26, 1927
Madison, Wisc.

Frank Lloyd Wright was a favorite son of Los Angeles, where he threw off the Prairie mantle and began creating his kooky indigenous-flavored block houses (e.g., Storer, Millard, Ennis, Freeman) in contrast to the Spanish Colonial (or, say, Egyptoid Tudor Chateauxesque) prevalent in the Southland’s early 20s, before he said to hell with LA and lit out for his cursed home, Taliesin.  

There was much architectural buzz about Mr. Wright in 1927, as he’d already designed a theater model for Aline Barnsdall, who announced in January that she’d build the structure as part of her eight-acre “city cultural center” gift to Los Angeles of her own FLW Hollyhock House and property.


When the Smart People of to-day tour FLW’s block houses and consider his play of light over form, and gauge its relationship between the zig of Meiji woodblock prints and the zag of Walter Burley Griffin’s green thumb, they probably aren’t informed that ol’ FLW had a lurid past fit for any tabloid-worthy favorite son of Los Angeles.

For example, while married to Catherine Wright, he fell in love with another woman, one Mamah Borthwick.  Catherine wouldn’t divorce him, so Wright abandoned her and the six kids and went galavanting around Europe with Mamah.  On his return, Catherine still wouldn’t divorce him, so Wright brought scandal to Spring Green, Wisc. by shacking up with Mamah.  This was sorted out in short order when one of his domestics decided to utilize a Wrightian architectural principal—one door for all purposes—which made it easy to axe-murder seven people trying to flee a Taliesin you’d just set on fire.  And Mamah was one of those so axed.   

Catherine finally divorced Frank in 1922 on charges of desertion, so he could marry his new love, a morphine addict named Miriam Noel.  They married in 1923, separated in 1924; Wright began seeing Petrograd Ballet dancer Olgivanna Lazovich Milanov (thirty-three years his junior) in 1925 and was thereafter arrested in 1926 for violating the Mann (White-Slave Traffic) Act.  Oh, and Taliesin burned again, though this time without anybody being hacked to bits.

Frank getting popped by the feds, 1926 

divorceThe lucky Wright-drama followers of 1927 were treated to tales of Frank and Miriam’s divorce.  Today, Miriam was awarded $6,000 ($66,179 USD2006) immediately, $30,000 (330,889) in trust, and $250 (2,757) a month for life.  The cash settlement and Wright’s promise that he "would lead a moral life" preceded the court decree.

With a cushy settlement like that, you’d think that’s the last we hear of Miss Miriam.  You’d be wrong.  She spends the next few years loudly proclaiming Wright’s brutality and repellant morals, with much effort expended in Washington attempting to get Olga deported.  In a typical Miriam moment, July 14, 1928, she is arrested on a charge of malicious mischief after breaking miriaminto FLW’s rented La Jolla home while he’s up in Los Angeles:  “So thorough was the wrecking that the colored maid in charge of the house in Wright’s absence collapsed from the shock and was taken to the Scripps Memorial Hospital.  ‘About fifteen minutes more and I would have leveled the place,’  Mrs. Wright is said to have told police when arrested…damage to the La Jolla home is estimated at about $1000…Mrs. Wright smiling pleaded guilty and following the court action, swore out complaints against her husband and Olga Hinzenberg, also known as Olga Milanoff, charging them with being lewd and dissolute persons.”

Miriam finally expires in 1930.

We’ll keep you posted on all breaking FLW news. 

I’d keep an eye on that Schindler character if I were you. 

Bid Goodbye to All You Know

1927.  Transatlantic telephone calls and transatlantic flight.  The Model T gives way to Model A which shoot through the Holland Tunnel.  Stalin takes control of Russian and Bavaria lifts its ban on Hitler”™s speeches.  It”™s a new world.

And here in Hollywood, while the pictures begin to talk at you, the old world crumbles away.














Arthur Letts turned a bankrupt Los Angeles dry goods store into the mighty Broadway Department Store chain, and this was his home to prove it.











Please do not confuse this, the Letts Sr. house (and its world-famous gardens, all obliterated in 1927) with the Arthur Letts Jr. home.

For that house, designed by Arthur Kelly and built in 1927, still stands to this day.









And proudly.

Architectural Ramblings

Feb. 24, 1907
Eagle Rock

Architect Samuel Tilden Norton has designed a bank building for Townsend Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, The Times says.

Just to make research interesting, The Times misspelled his name as S. Tilton Norton. According to his 1959 obituary, his mother was the first Jewish child born in Los Angeles. After studying architecture in Los Angeles and New York, he designed the Wilshire Fox Building and Sinai Temple.

He was a board member of Temple B’nai Brith during its move from Hope and 9th Street to Wilshire and Hobart and was an honorary consultant on plans for the temple, which was designed by A.W. Edelman.

Norton was lifelong friends with Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, who presided over the funeral. Norton was a member of many professional, religious and social organizations, including Hillcrest Country Club, Nathan Strauss Israel Society, Jewish Federation, the Friends of the Hebrew University and the Zionist Organization of America.


E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com

Incendiary Ramblings

Feb. 5, 2007
Los Angeles

Here’s an architectural drawing of the O.T. Johnson Building, which burned in yesterday’s fire.

Looking north on Broadway at 4th Street. The burned structures are at the right.

And here are some snaps of the damaged structures:


E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com

Crime Bus to the Atomic Frolic, Las Vegas weekender Jan. 26-28

Gentle rider,

We’ll be crossing state lines and violating the Mann Act next month, when the Crime Bus rolls from downtown Los Angeles to Las Vegas on Friday January 26 to take a luxury coach full of party people to the first ever Mondo Lounge Atomic Frolic weekend at the Aruba Hotel. The price is $130/RT (including your Atomic Frolic ticket), and we’ll have you home late Sunday January 28.

Organized by members of the Los Angeles ModCom architectural preservation league now resident in LV, the event celebrates the style, music, art and culture of the great American cocktail era, with live bands, naked girls, neon and architectural tours, lectures (including one by our own Nathan Marsak), best-dressed Fez contests, beat poetry, documentaries, DJs, pajama parties and similar silliness.

So where does the Crime Bus come in? We’ll be transporting many of the Los Angeles attendees, with the weekend’s celebration starting the minute the bus doors close. There will be cool tunes and films, good company, games and surprises, with a detour through historic and scenic Route 66, a meal stop at a suitably retro establishment, and the debut of a new Crime Bus tour featuring tales of high weirdness from the high desert.

The crimes of old Route 66 are nothing like the citified tales told on previous Crime Bus tours. For more than a century, bad people have done terrible things under the vast desert sky, and all too often they’ve gotten away with it. High desert crimes are also odder than city crimes. On the Crime Bus, passengers will boggle at the tale of the Indian guide who cleverly spirited a new bride away from her young husband in 1920, giggle at the hijinks surrounding the premature 1890 death announcement of Wells Fargo messenger Ed Knickerbocker, shudder at the ghastly 1946 RV vacation of 10-year-old John Oedekerk, bit by a rabid dog in Indiana and chased across the country by needle-wielding public health officials, gape at the courage of cross-dressing 1930s teen Martha Adams who ran away from her religious maniac family with 53 cents in her pocket, and marvel at the miraculous tale of the 6-year-old girl kidnapped, bound and left in the hills in 1983 who was rescued when an airsick helicopter searcher landed to vomit and saw her Raggedy Ann doll in the dirt.

The Atomic Frolic is a benefit for the support of protecting modernism in Las Vegas, something that’s long overdue. And tickets are just $30. We hope to see many of our Crime Bus friends in Las Vegas during the last weekend of January. For more info on the Atomic Frolic, please visit
Want a spot on the bus? me to reserve. Again, it’s $130 R/T for the bus and the event.

Roving to Monrovia

Nov. 24, 1907

The Times real estate section takes a look at what was then the distant suburb of Monrovia, 22 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The writer notes the increasing use of concrete and stone, explaining that the cost of lumber is forcing builders to use other materials. The writer also notes the broad, shaded verandas of three featured homes as well as the outlines of their roofs.

The story highlights the home of B.R. Davisson on East Orange Avenue, H.M. Slemmons (or Slemon) on North Myrtle Avenue and the home of John C. Rupp at Ivy and Greystone, built for $6,500 ($133,403.21 USD 2005).

Without exact addresses, it would be difficult for me to locate the Davisson and Slemmons homes, but I took a pleasant drive out to Monrovia recently to look for the Rupp house and was happy to find
that it is still standing and in beautiful condition. In fact, it was nice to discover that the neighborhood has quite a few well-maintained historic homes; a contrast to the condition of the houses I located in Pico Heights.

I had a brief chat with the homeowner who gave me a tour of the grounds. He said that Rupp, a financier, built the home for his wife, but that she decided it was too far from Los Angeles and wouldn

Curb Appeal

Nov. 3, 1907
Los Angeles

Mrs. E.N. Eskey is building this 10-room house in Pico Heights, on Van Ness just south of Pico.

According to The Times, the two-story house (with basement) has a first floor divided into a reception hall with an oak staircase leading upstairs. The living room features built-in bookcases and a massive brick mantel. The dining room has a built-in buffet and china closet, with a pantry and kitchen.

The floors are quarter-sawn oak on the first floor and maple flooring in the rest of the house. The Times says there are four chambers, presumably bedrooms, a sewing room and a bathroom upstairs, as well as an alcove.

In the basement, a coal bin and a Rudd heater.

The cost? $5,000 ($102,617.85 USD 2005) a bargain by today

Salvation in the Round

October 21, 1907odd2
Highland Park

First there was Dr. Widney’s Bethel, built into the notch of a hill in the form of a letter “A,” and now the tony downtown suburb of Highland Park is up for another piece of religious architectural eccentricity.

The seceders from the First Presbyterian Church of Highland Park, under the leadership of Dr. F. P. Berry, have purchased an unusually triangular piece of ground, 134 by 135 feet at the corner of Avenue 56 and Ash.  Architect George Howard was given the task of designing a new church, and his solution to this awkward parcel problem for the good people of the newly formed Olivet Presbyterian Church?  Build in the form of a complete circle, fifty-eight feet in diameter, with a circular auditorium that seats 650.

Don’t know as to whether this unique structure was ever built, but do know that it isn’t there now.