On the quiet, sloping Hollywood Heights neighborhood, above a bustling Los Angeles, sits one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s lesser-known gems: the textile-block Freeman House. Built in 1924, it’s a modernist, Mayan-inspired residence that integrated sand found on-site into the ornamental concrete block foundation, evoking the geometric look in nature Wright was famous for. Despite falling into mild disrepair, the magic of the house (and a bygone Hollywood era) still shines through as passersby take it all in as a stop on one of the new self-guided architectural trails launched this summer by the nonprofit organization Friends of Residential Treasures: Los Angeles (FORT:LA).
Each of the downloadable trails is curated by architects, scholars and educators at the intersection of their combined architectural interests and the visionary design concepts that originated in Southern California—the world-famous works of iconic architects Rudolph Schindler, John Lautner and Richard Neutra among them. Three trails are currently available: 1920s Nights, Postwar Japanese American Architects and Small Neutra Houses. All span numerous neighborhoods across Los Angeles and are categorized by style, period and designer.
“When you go from one end of the city to the other using these houses as waypoints, you’re going to experience an entire spectrum of what it means to be an Angeleno,” says Russell Brown, founder of FORT:LA. “There’s a playfulness that we’re trying to approach the topic with. But we’re also providing some real information and understanding.”
Brown, in true Angeleno fashion, is a filmmaker by day, but created the nonprofit to promote, preserve and celebrate L.A.’s art and architectural legacy in 2018. Although the trails follow a set itinerary, Brown encourages mixing and matching destinations for a choose-your-own expedition across the city. For example, on the 1920s Trail (which includes Wright’s Freeman House) you can travel back in time to cinema’s early golden age of energetic, experimental art and architecture. With stops at the Malibu Adamson House (now a museum), the Schindler House in West Hollywood and the Los Feliz Anthony House, this trail winds through Malibu, West Hollywood, Outpost Estates and Franklin Hill.
People visiting L.A. are often unaware of the distinctive role that Los Angeles played in the evolution of 20th-century residential architecture; many might opt instead for drive-by celebrity home tours and selfies with pink terrazzo stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In addition to enlightening travelers, Brown also hopes to inspire locals to venture beyond their familiar territories. “It’s not just about understanding architecture or seeing houses,” he says. “It’s about having an adventure in the city and seeing things you didn't know were there.”
FORT:LA also awards a fellowship for architectural research, houses an online architectural archive for exploration, offers virtual home tours, and has plans to launch interior tours of select homes. There are roughly 15 trails set for release in the coming months, including a September launch of author and photographer Tim Street-Porter’s trail, “Decade-by-Decade: The Houses of the 20th Century.”
“If you approach it with a spirit of adventure you don't necessarily have to be an architecture geek to enjoy going on the trail,” Brown says. "This is something you can do by yourself or with one other person and still have a really good time.”