RM Schindler’s Rose Harris House, 1942, History, part 2 of 5

Models, movies and stories

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Steve Schuh and his Schindler facebook page for pointing me towards the history of ownership of the Harris lot.

Thanks to the Anonymous Architect for pointing me towards Fred Fudacz, the owner of the Harris lot.

Thanks to Fred Fudacz for his history with the Harris lot, and for pointing me towards Jo Sadalla.

Extra special thanks to Jo Sadalla for sharing her memories of life at the Harris house.

Harris House history

I have been able to assemble much of the history of the Harris house since my first article.

1959, the Fire

On July 10, 1959 a fire of “incendiary origin” burned through the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles. The fire report 1 stated “The fire in the Willow-Glen canyon was of such intensity that fire fighters could not have worked to save houses with even the barest margin for personal safety; it is estimated the fire inflicted all the structural damage during the first thirty minutes of its activity.” “The control of the Laurel Canyon fire required 55 city engine companies, 8 county engine companies, 10 city auxiliary companies, 20 chief officers, over 30 Mountain Patrol personnel and many men with special duty assignments. Credit for control must also be shared with three County Camp crews, 100 or so police officers, many of whom actively fought fire, the various relief agencies, and the countless home owners who fought the fire with garden hose and shovel.36 homes were destroyed, including the Rose Harris house.

1974-present, Fred Fudacz

Fred lives in the house he built on the site of the Rose Harris house. He bought the lot in 1974 from Jacobina Caro and her daughter Jo. They told him that a famous house had been there before the 1959 fire. In 1974, 15 years after the fire, there were still scorched trees on the property.

The concrete foundations were the only things left from the Harris house. He completed his new house in 1976. It was built over the Rose Harris foundations, but is not supported by them. The level patio area seemed like the perfect spot for a new house, but the soils there were not sufficiently compacted to support a house. He had to locate his new house where Schindler had placed the Harris house, on the hillside. He still gets visitors who want to look at the site of the Rose Harris house.

1948-1974, Jo Sadalla in her own words

Buying the house

“My mother, Jacobina Caro, was working at the Actor’s Lab as a body movement teacher and director of children’s theatre. My father, Art Smith, an actor, had come from the Group Theatre in NY and was teaching acting. We were living in the Valley at the time.

I don’t remember meeting Rose Harris but I think my parents bought the house from her. My parents were friends with the architect, Gregory Ain and his wife, Ruth, who lived in the next house down the hill from the Harris house. I believe my parents found out the house was for sale while we were visiting the Ains (their house is still there). I would guess that Gregory Ain and Schindler knew each other.

Living at the house

I was about 6 when we moved into the Schindler house on Willow Glen Rd – about 1948. We lived there until 1959 when the house was destroyed in a large canyon fire.

The pictures you have of the Harris house must have been taken when it was first built, because when we moved in there was a huge amount of greenery covering the exposed rock facing the street and vines growing up in the built in trellis. There were also planters, pots and plants in the ground surrounding the patio. Large trees grew from the downhill side of the house, the tops of which were level with the living room windows, giving the impression of living amongst the tree tops.

My parents had the area to the left of the house filled in with dirt and we used that as a place to park the cars. We entered the house up a small flagstone stairway to the large patio, also of flagstone. We must have owned the lot to the left of the house. Lots of dump trucks of dirt were brought in to extend the land for parking. That must still be there.

There was an apartment downstairs that had a small kitchen/dining area, bathroom with a walk in shower and a room with a built in desk and bench that could be used for a couch. It had a small patio built of wood. When we moved in there was a renter there. We used the garage for storage, but there were flagstone steps from it, going left, then right, up to the front door. About a third of the way up was a small walkway to the apartment door. There was no curved ramp from the garage area.

We lived upstairs – I had the bedroom and my parents slept in the living room in a double bed that was a couch in the daytime. My parents’ bed at first was in the corner at the opposite end of the room from the fireplace and later against the wall on the other side of the kitchen. Later, the wall separating the bedroom and living room was removed. I moved downstairs. Originally there was a built in dining table that we removed. I don’t remember a built in piano area. Funny I can’t clearly remember the flooring, but I believe it was carpeted. We used the fireplace; an interesting shape. There was a place to store wood to the left of it. The larger windows in the house slid open; the smaller were cranked.

The kitchen windows faced the street. There were built in cupboards and an interesting arrangement for the waste baskets. There was a large panel hinged at the bottom under the sink that you pulled toward you from the top, and put garbage in. There was a swinging door from the kitchen into the living area, and a back door on the other end that opened to a kind of service porch, covered by the roof but not enclosed, where we had a freezer, washing machine. There were built in cabinets there as well as on the patio wall, I guess for gardening tools, etc.

The bathroom seemed quite large to me. It had a separate tub, corner shower, sink and counter and large built in cabinets that seemed like they went to the ceiling.

In the bedroom, under the windows, was a built in chest of drawers that extended outside, so it was flush with the wall inside. I’d never seen that before, or since. There was a trap door in the bedroom, I’m thinking it must have been about 3 feet square, that was hinged on one side. A ladder went down to a rather large storage space which we called the attic. It had no windows and was lit by a single bulb. We kept all kinds of things down there.

The patio and the house had a wonderful view of the mountains all around.  Yes, I guess the house was small but it didn’t feel that way to me. Perhaps because it was so open and airy.

 I loved growing up in Laurel Canyon. It was growing up in open space with lots of places to hike, play, hide out. Emily Ain and I had to walk quite a ways to catch the bus to Wonderland Ave School. During heavy rains, there were massive mud slides making it impossible to go to school or get down the mountain. We thought this was great fun. Although we lived in LA, I feel like I grew up in the country, and nature, and it imprinted on me in a wonderful way. We had hard, sad times in that house, and great ones too.

The Fire

We lived there until 1959 when the house was destroyed in a large canyon fire. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures that were taken of or in the house. We were back east at a wedding when the fire occurred and nothing was saved. The house burned a long time. The debris was all over the hill. Very sad.

We moved to a rental house in North Hollywood. Originally, my mom was going to rebuild on the site and had Gregory Ain draw up a plan. Money was an issue and it never got built. I think my mom was undecided about what to do and finally decided to sell the land.

Rose Harris

Emily Ain remembers Rose Harris. We both think we remember that she gave piano lessons and maybe we took a lesson or two from her. Emily remembers she had asthma, perhaps somewhat severe.”

The Model

My model shows the house when it was first finished in 1942, with sparse landscaping and without the future lower level apartment. The drawings for the lower apartment are dated 1944, so the 340 sf apartment was added sometime between 1944 and 1948, when Jo’s family moved in. I haven’t found any photographs of the house with the apartment. From Jo’s description, the apartment as built did not exactly follow the drawings, which is typical for Schindler.

The drawings 2 do not include a topographic site survey. I have reconstructed the site from the elevations, plans, photographs and lots of extrapolation.

Figures

1-7    Walking/flying around the house, starting at the front

8       Interior entry collage at the corner of the living, from fireplace to bedroom

Animations

“Rose comes home”  Rose parks in the garage, walks up the ramp, crosses the patio and enters the kitchen
“A Visit to Rose”  You park on the driveway, walk up the front stairs and take a tour of  the inside of the house.

Footnotes

1 “The Laurel Canyon Fire” at http://www.lafire.com/famous_fires/1959-0710_LaurelCanyonFire/071059_LaurelCanyon.htm
2 David Gebhard editor The Architectural Drawings of RM Schindler, (The Architectural Drawing Collection, University Art Museum, University of California at Santa Barbara, 1993) vol. 2, 137-139

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *