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A USC Architectural ‘Whodunit’

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Most folks love a good mystery! A twisting, turning plot that gets more complicated at every turn. Details become more blurred and facts become elusive in the best mystery. Now, the plot thickens around a story that involves USC, Samuel and Harriet Freeman and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler.

Samuel and Harriet Freeman commissioned Wright to design their home in the Hollywood Hills into an epic showplace for them. Wright did just that! He designed a breathtaking home and ringed the living room with tall windows that provided stunning views of Highland Avenue and the surrounding hills. Among the furnishings he designed for the home were six-foot tall iron lamps. Later, Schindler added his touches to the residence with his own unique furnishings. Samuel died in 1981 and Harriet passed in 1986. Their luxurious home and furnishings were left to the USC School of Architecture, trusting they would treasure the property as a site for meetings, classes and historic preservation.  Ah, the best-laid plans!

Over the years, USC School of Architecture quickly found out the true expense of maintaining and preserving this treasure and its contents. In 1994, the home was severely damaged in the Northridge Earthquake. It took over eight years to secure $1 million dollars from FEMA for the restoration work. In 2000, USC secured a warehouse with a large open space and one lockable storage room. The contents of the home were moved into storage and the lamps and sofa were locked into the smaller storage space. For 10 years, the contents sat in storage, sometimes glimpsed by USC faculty, staff and students. The plot thickens!

In 2012, USC staffers noticed the lamps and sofa missing. There was only one key in existence and no signs of forced entry or vandalism. Despite the obvious value of the items taken, no one at USC filed a report with campus police, LAPD or the university’s insurance carriers. Talk of the theft circulated among some at the architecture school, but few outsiders had any knowledge. Ultimately, someone with some intimate knowledge of the theft sent an anonymous email to the LA Times tipping them off. The Times worked with USC on the information and the school found enough validity in the information to finally formally report and investigate the crime. USC Police reported the incident to the LAPD in mid-January for investigation.

Now that the investigation is in the appropriate hands, this incident has created a great deal of concern for USC, the USC School of Architecture and the architecture community at large. The value of the missing items is considerable and classify this incident as a felony. It is the hope of most professionals that the items are recovered and returned to a restored property that pays respect to Samuel and Harriet Freeman, along with Wright and Schindler. The question remains — Whodunit?

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by Gerald Olesker, CEO, ADG Lighting