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www.ambiente.us    MAY | MAYO 2010

Rediscovering an American Treasure in Pasadena | Frank
Lloyd Wright’s Millard House
By Herb Sosa

The adventure began innocently enough.  I was in Pasadena for a wedding, when I ran
across a local magazine featuring one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s earliest uses of concrete
block and the catalyst for future designs using decorative concrete tiles.   Naturally, as
a lifelong fan & zealot of all things FLW, I had to see it for myself.  My experiences at
and in other Wright buildings have been nothing short of spiritual for me.  Actually being
in the 1952 Price Company Tower & office building in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and
seeing first-hand a FLW designed & fully furnished space did it for me. Follow that up
with a fancy party at the 1929 Richard Lloyd Jones home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I
was hooked.

Somehow it took us 3 days to find this architectural jewel.  No one seemed to even
know of its existence, and with every dead end, our determination grew to find it. NOTE:
Pasadena has about five-hundred streets named Prospect, and we saw them all
before finally asking a charming jogger who pointed us to Prospect CRECENT… and
there it stood in all its glory.  

The home, with its history, mystery and leaky roof, is currently on
the market for $5,950,000.00 - A bit out of my price range,
but well worth it to live in a piece of American History.
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A few years after its completion, Millard asked Wright to design a smaller, separate book
studio and guest house adjacent to the house. The commission was given to his son
Lloyd Wright who concentrated the ornamental block around doors and the windows. A
sleeping porch on the mezzanine opens to the double height ceilings of the main studio.
The perforated block screens light as it does in the main house. Lloyd Wright
subsequently designed the landscaping for the entire property.

Wright was exceptionally pleased with
La Miniatura. In his autobiography, he wrote, “The
whole mass and texture of the home made the eucalyptus trees more beautiful, they in
turn made the house walls more so”

Mrs. Millard is in the house
As we peered though the windows and gardens and took hundreds of pictures, one
definitely gets a sense of a presence there.  As someone who has always loved old
properties and lived in and renovated many of them, I am well aware of the living history
walls can tell and carry, and have never shied away because of this.  This house is
different.  Though Mrs. Millard is long gone and several other owners have lived there, one
can’t help but feel her presence.  Feel her watchful eyes staring at you from her window,
smiling at visitors who are in awe at the peaceful elegance that is the Millard Home &
Gardens.  Or maybe it is Frank Lloyd Wright, proudly and unapologetically gushing over
his near perfect balance of nature and man made beauty.


I had no choice, Olgivanna. I was under oath. - Frank Lloyd
Wright, immediately after a court appearance when he was
asked his "occupation" and answered saying he was "the
worlds greatest architect" - Oligvanna his wife was present in
the courthouse and chided him on the answer.
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ABOUT THE ARCHITECT

Frank Lloyd Wright spent more than 70 years creating designs
that revolutionized the art and architecture of the twentieth
century.  Many innovations in today's buildings are products of
his imagination.  In all he designed 1141 works - including
houses, offices, churches, schools, libraries, bridges,
museums and many other building types.  Of that total, 532
resulted in completed works, 409 of which still stand.  

However, Wright's creative mind was not confined to
architecture.  He also designed furniture, fabrics, art glass,
lamps, dinnerware, silver, linens and graphic arts.  In addition,
he was a prolific writer, an educator and a philosopher.  He
authored twenty books and countless articles, lectured
throughout the United States and in Europe, and developed a
remarkable plan for decentralizing urban America (Broadacre
City) that continues to be debated by scholars and writers even
to this day - decades after its conception.  


Wright is considered by most authorities to be the 20th
century's greatest architect.  Indeed, the American Institute of
Architects in a recent national survey, recognized Frank Lloyd
Wright to be "the greatest American architect of all time."  
"Architectural Record" magazine (the official magazine of the
American Institute of Architects) declared that Wright's
buildings stand out among the most significant architectural
works during the last 100 years in the
world.
                                   – Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
"This is the first of four textile-block houses constructed in the
Los Angeles area. Its two-story high living room is delicately lit
by pierced, patterned block and overlooks a lovely pool
surrounded by lush gardens deep in the ravine-traversed
site...The face relief patterns of the blocks vary for each project.
The method of construction consisted of stacking concrete
blocks three inches thick, cast in molds, next to and atop one
another without visible mortar joints. In all but La Miniatura, thin
concrete and steel reinforcing rods were run horizontally and
vertically in edge reveals 'knitting' the whole together. A double
wythe was common, held together by steel cross ties, the cavity
air space serving as insulation."

                     - William Allin Storrer. The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright:
                        A Complete Catalog
ABOUT THE HOME
Wright was in the midst of another burst of exceptional creativity when he was
approached about the Millard residence, also known as La Miniatura. In 1906
Wright had designed a house for rare book dealers George and Alice Millard in
the Highland Park neighborhood of Chicago. They moved to South Pasadena in
1913 and, after the death of her husband, Alice Millard expanded the business
to sell European antiques and called on Wright once again to design her home,
but insisted on he using many of her antiques, including doors & tiles, and
offered him $10,000 for his services – a modest amount event then, for a
visionary of his caliber.

Wright was completing the Hollyhock House in Hollywood for the oil heiress
Aline Barnsdall as well as the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo at the time and has
successfully used patterned concrete blocks in both, so when Mrs. Millard
presented him with this project, he quickly convinced her on a Mayan ruins
theme, incorporating further the evolution of his block technique.  Millard agreed
with the concrete block if she could contribute her own taste to the house - An
ornate fire screen in the living room, rustic wooden doors and 18th century Delft
tile in the bathrooms, just to name a few. Wright is said to have been so excited
about his sympathetic client and the charming site that he reduced his fee to
accommodate her budget. Millard had purchased the land on Prospect
Crescent near many other residences designed by distinguished architects
including Charles and Henry Greene, Wallace Neff and Myron Hunt. Wright
positioned the house within the embrace of a natural arroyo so that the living
room elevation opens onto an oval pond and lush gardens. Though most of
Wright’s early buildings were oriented horizontally to relate to the horizon of the
mid-west, the Millard house is distinctly vertical. The pattern cut into or stamped
onto the block was drawn from Pre-Columbian motifs and modernized as a
cross surrounded by four holes. Wright mixed sand from the site into the
cement so the building would be authentically integrated with its location.

"What about the concrete block? It was the cheapest (and ugliest)
thing in the building world. It lived mostly in the architectural gutter
as an imitation of rock-faced stone. Why not see what could be done
with that gutter rat? Steel rods cast inside the joints of the blocks
themselves and the whole brought into some broad, practical
scheme of general treatment, why would it not be fit for a new phase
of our modern architecture? It might be permanent, noble beautiful."  
                                                                                                             - Frank Lloyd Wright
My visit to the Millard house was moving,
religious and inspiring.  To walk amongst
greatness and touch the master works and
concrete sculpted beauty was breathtaking
and exciting yet oddly peaceful.  The trickle of
water from the multiple water features and
graceful Koi fish transport you to a temple
vibe…The perfect setting to take tons of
pictures and crunch some digits and figure
out how we can afford to
buy this place!
                                    
  - Herb Sosa
For more on this great Architect, visionary
and his works, visit:
www.franklloydwright.org



CLICK HERE for more Herb Sosa



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