Wright built several houses in the Los Angeles area, but only four used an innovative building process called the Textile Block System. Utilizing the textile block, Wright built the Millard House, the Storer House, the Freeman House, and the Ennis House to challenge himself, as he explained in Bruce Crooks Pfeiffer and Gerald Nordland’s book, Frank Lloyd Wright: In the Realm of Ideas, “ “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.”
The buildings were constructed with precast concrete blocks with elegantly patterned and roughly textured surfaces. Except for the Millard house, the square blocks were reinforced by an internal system of metal bars. Unfortunately because they were built before epoxy coatings, the rebar ended up rusting and degrading the concrete.
Let’s take a look at one of Wright’s mesmerizing Textile-Block Houses.
The first residence was commissioned by Alice Millard, a rare-book dealer who previously commissioned Wright for a home in Highland Park, Illinois in 1906. Built in 1923 the house is also known as La Miniatura, It is 2,400 square feet, consists of a vertical three-story block, rests on an acre of gardens, and cost $17,000. The studio was added in 1926 and was designed by Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright.
La Miniatura was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and is internationally recognized as one of the most architecturally important properties in the world and has undergone a multi-year restoration. In 1996 it was sold for a little over $1 million, in 2008 for $7 million, in 2009 for $5 million, and was again listed in 2010 but has remained unsold as of December 2011.