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Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr., American Architect, 1890-1978.

Wright, almost always called Lloyd Wright to distinguish him from his father, was himself a talented architect who never failed to turn out interesting work. He was principally active in Los Angeles, combining in his work influences running from his father's designs, from his extensive experience with landscape architecture, and from his work as a Hollywood and theatrical set designer. His best houses, from the great age of Hollywood in the 1920s, are fascinating stages for living, while several prominent Los Angeles monuments from his hand--the Hollywood Bowl, for example, and the concrete prehistoric animals posed in the La Brea tar pits--are (or were, before alteration) remarkably theatrical.

Wright's life and achievements.

Like his brothers and sisters, Wright was raised in an intensely intellectual atmosphere in Oak Park, Illinois. They regularly rubbed shoulders with important and interesting visitors, and were imbued with a love of music, theater, and the geometrical imagination provided by the Froebel kindergarten system. Lloyd was sent to his father's aunts' Hillside Home School in 1897, where his training was intensified and he was exposed to the same environment which had so formed his father.

He entered the University of Wisconsin Madison to study engineering in 1907, but, like his father, left before finishing. In Lloyd's case, it was because he had been summoned to Florence in 1909 to help his father prepare the famous Wasmuth Portfolio of drawings of his works which would influence a generation of European architects. Wright senior was in Florence because he found disapproval in Oak Park too hot after abandoning his wife and children (Lloyd, at 19, was the oldest of six) in an affair with Mamah Cheney, one of his clients' wives. Lloyd appears to have been very statesmanlike in following his father to help him draw up the plans for the portfolio. (But there are also stories of deep conflict between the two.)

Lloyd soon returned to the US, and eventually took work with the pre-eminent landscape architecture firm of Olmsted and Olmsted. It was here that he developed his skills as a landscape architect, and it was when O&O sent him to San Diego in 1912 to prepare landscaping material for the upcoming Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 that he began the relationship with Southern California which would last the rest of his life. Lloyd's move to SoCal also initiated a period of hopping from one job to another.

Lloyd ended up in the San Diego office of Irving Gill, one of the great Southern California architects, who then brought him to Los Angeles. Gill had worked with the elder Wright in the office of Louis Sullivan and helped the younger Wright for sentimental reasons. Downsizing led to Lloyd's being released from Gill's office in 1915; he turned his hand to outright landscape architecture in the middle years of the teens (this is when he put the critters in the La Brea tar pits). He also spent time designing (and drafting) sets for Paramount Pictures in 1917, and it is from about this time that he developed contacts in the theater and with the artistic avant garde in LA. (He married one of them, actress Elaine Hyman, in 1917; his son, Eric Lloyd Wright, continues the family architectural tradition.)

One of the central figures in this milieu was Aline Barnsdall, who in the early 20's summoned Lloyd's father to LA to build for her a theater and arts complex (surrounding a house for her) on a low eminence called Olive Hill. Lloyd gravitated back into his father's ambit in the 20s, perfecting his architectural skills in his employ while adding distinctive landscaping elements which distinctly improved the elder Wright's designs. It is in the twenties that Lloyd's career really picked up, with projects like the Hollywood Bowl (1927, remodelled 1928), supervisory work on various of his father's LA projects (where he learned the power of preformed concrete blocks to articulate structures and give atmosphere), and a series of stunning houses (see below). Lloyd picked up from his father the idea of pre-Columbian forms in his houses (pre-Columbian to resonate with the Latin American world without sinking into the banality of Spanish Colonial architecture, which was then in full revival).

SoCal is lucky Wright came and stayed; for while he adopted ideas from its theaters and landscape, he brought the forward-looking geometries pioneered by Wright senior. His 1928 drive-in Yucca-Vine market, which was pioneering in its adaptation of Wrightian modernism to the needs of an automobile environment, is rightly spotted by architectural critic Alan Hess as a model for the "Googie" (popularizing modern) commercial-strip architecture of the 1950s. Another forward looking design was his 1924 Oasis Hotel in Palm Springs which fuelled developments in that soon-to-be haven of midcentury-modern architecture.

The great depression hit Lloyd as hard as anyone, but he was lucky to have clients among the Hollywood elites, such as composer Alfred Newman (remodel, 1934, new house, 1949-52), actresses Claudette Colbert (remodel, 1935) and Anne Baxter (remodel, 1946--she was a Wright relative), and actor Charles Laughton (additions, 1952). They were able to float him projects of various sorts through the hardest years and continued using his services afterwards.

Though the typical "Ranch House" of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s owed much to Wright senior's developing Usonian style, to Bay Area architect William Wurster (cf. his famous 1928 Gregory Farm House, Woodbridge 123-126), to Los Angeles architect Harwell Harris (Moore et al. 260-261), and to Clifford May, Lloyd Wright also contributed to the development of this dominant vernacular form in midcentury domestic architecture (Weintraub 31). His Griffith Ranch House (1936) has many of the defining elements of later ranch houses: connection of the house to nature thanks to gardens, vine-covered redwood trellises, and masonry employing locally quarried limestone; open "zoned" planning (e.g. flexibly combined dining/living areas, etc); low cost; and low-lying, simple lines in the roof.

Wright's acknowledged masterpiece is his Wayfarer's Chapel, built in the years after 1946. Near the coast in Palos Verdes, it is a delicate structure in stone masonry, glass, and wooden trusses sited amid a forest of trees. (Wright the landscape architect wanted redwood trees but these died and were replaced.)

Lloyd Wright's houses.

Wright's best houses have to be seen to be believed. They combine Art Deco with stagecraft, often with Mayan-looking decorations in the concrete blocks he used. My favorite is perhaps his 1926 Sowden House, which combined an interior courtyard with an on-axis view to the city and an impossible concrete block facade which Charles Jencks laughingly called a "monster with too many teeth." The URLs offered below give ample illustrations to get a feel for his style while a few allow one to appreciate his feel for creating a stage set for living in his interiors.

As might be expected, Lloyd built in a number of his father's styles. His 1921 Weber House (his first house) is a competent essay in the Prairie Style, though the style was, unfortunately, fading at the time; his 1946-57 Mental Physics Institute in Yucca Valley is built of the "desert rubblestone" construction the elder Wright developed at Taliesin West; and the 1949 Dorland House is in the Usonian style.


URLs.
Sowden House: http://www.architecturetoursla.com/gallerypages/14.htm
Sowden House: http://www.hgtv.com/hgtv/remodeling/article/0,1797,HGTV_3659_2108692,00.html (Interior photos after a refurbishment.)
Sowden House: http://sundown.greyledge.net/pages/2001/02/sowden_house_i.html (See the blank facade walls which were designed with landscape in mind.)
Sowden House: http://sundown.greyledge.net/pages/2001/02/sowden_house_ii.html (Entry with fantastic art deco copper gates.)
Samuel-Novarro House: http://sundown.greyledge.net/pages/2001/02/samuelnovarro_house.html (Great facade with copper sheathing.)
Wayfarer's Chapel: http://www.seeing-stars.com/Churches/Wayfarers.shtml
Oasis Hotel and (I kid you not) the Institute of Mental Physics: http://www.csupomona.edu/~blemerton/Palm%20Springs/top20.html
Bollman House: http://www.architecturetoursla.com/shopping/hwood08.jpg (photoshopped, unfortunately.)
Derby House: http://www.sfvhs.com/lathumb/laphoto/LWright49.jpg
Adams House: http://www.laokay.com/AdamsResidence.htm (Lloyd working in his father's Usonian idiom.)
Colbert House: http://www.laokay.com/lathumb/laphoto/LWright23.jpg (not like L.W.'s other houses!)
Bowler House (1962): http://www.laokay.com/lathumb/laphoto/LWright421.jpg
Laughton House: http://www.laokay.com/lathumb/laphoto/LWright74.jpg (Wright merely did additions.)
Lloyd Wright House: http://www.laokay.com/lathumb/laphoto/LWright20.jpg (Wright's own house in West Hollywood.)
On-line catalog: http://www.laokay.com/LloydWright.htm
Hollywood Bowl: http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/about/history.cfm (But no period photos of Wright's work, alas.)
La Brea tar pits: http://www.parklabrea.com/?page=neighborhood_entertainment (Photo of one of Lloyd's critters.)

Bibliography with note.

My discussion of Lloyd Wright's life is deeply indebted to Gebhard and von Breten. My discussion of his works, particularly the houses, is deeply indebted to Weintraub's beautiful catalog, which is now the standard work on Wright.

Beveridge, Charles, with Paul Rocheleau. 1998. Frederick Law Olmsted. Designing the American Landscape.
Dunham, Judith, with Scot Zimmerman. 1994. Details of Frank Lloyd Wright. The California Work, 1909-1974. (On the elder Wright in CA.)
Gebhard, David, with Harriette von Breten. 1998. Lloyd Wright. Architect. (Reprint of 1971 exhibition catalogue.)
Gebhard, David, with Robert Winter. 1965. Architecture in Southern California.
----------. 1994. Los Angeles. An Architectural Guide.
Hess, Alan. 2004. Googie Redux. Ultramodern Roadside Architecture. (Wright legacy.)
Jencks, Charles. 1978. Daydream Houses of Los Angeles. (Ironic commentary on Wright's Sowden house, p. 71.)
Kamerling, Bruce. 1993. Irving J. Gill, Architect. (Wright employer.)
Moore, Charles, with Peter Becker, and Regula Campbell. 1984. Los Angeles. The City Observed. (See esp. the rich chapter on Hollywood: 223-263.)
Secrest, Meryle. 1993. Frank Lloyd Wright. A Biography.
Smith, Elizabeth, et al. 2001. The Architecture of R.M. Schindler. (Wright colleague, collaborator, and rival.)
Steele, James. 1999. R.M. Schindler. (Wright colleague, collaborator, and rival.)
Sutro, Dirk. 2002. San Diego Architecture. From Missions to Modern: a guide to the buildings, planning, people and spaces that shape the region.
Weintraub, Alan, with Thomas S. Hines, Eric Lloyd Wright, and Dana Hutt. 1998. Lloyd Wright. The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright Jr.
Woodbridge, Sally. 1988. Bay Area Houses. (New edition.)

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