When the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Samuel Freeman House in Los Angeles went up for sale for the first time ever last summer, there were fears that the National Register of Historic Places-listed home could be facing a lifetime of neglect or worse. Owned by the University of Southern California (USC) School of Architecture for more than 30 years, the textile-block house required more than $1 million in renovations after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, and, beset by roof leaks, water infiltrating the blocks, and structural rust, whoever did purchase the building would have to be able to afford its continuous upkeep.
As of last week, the speculation is over. USC has sold the 2,884-square-foot, two-bedroom building in the Hollywood Hills to L.A. developer Richard E. Weintraub at a massive discount on the condition that he pay for the “extensive” repairs needed. As the Los Angeles Times points out, USC first listed the 99-year-old home for $4.45 million, before cutting the price to $3.25 million; Weintraub reportedly only paid $1.8 million.
Despite his profession, preservationists shouldn’t be too worried, as Weintraub is bound by a permanent conservation easement that prevents demolishing, redeveloping, or building incompatible additions onto the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. Public tours will also be conducted four times a year under similar conditions currently in place at the Ennis House, another textile block home (and arguably the most famous of the four in L.A. that Wright designed) that was sold to a private buyer in 2019.
Although only a third of the size of the Ennis House, the Freeman House is no less historically important. Built into a steep slope and constructed from 12,000 concrete blocks textured with Mayan-inspired reliefs cast around steel armatures, commissioners Samuel and Harriet Freeman ran the house as an open salon that attracted artists, photographers, and left-leaning thinkers. In 1986, Harriet donated the building to USC; this month marks the first time the Freeman House has traded hands in a private transaction.
For Weintraub, the purchase reportedly marks the latest acquisition for a collector interested in 20th century West Coast architecture popularized by the iconically cool photos of Julius Shulman. For the university, the sale means offloading a property it could never fully afford to stabilize, and, as the LA Times notes, a move away from historic home stewardship in general as the school seeks to reorient itself back toward teaching and research.