Handed Down – An Interview with Ian Schindler, part 1 of 2

schindlers and chases at kings road, 1923 Pauline Schindler, Nov 1943 steve wallet architect schindler family tree 11-15-2013Ian is the grandson of Rudolph Schindler

Adolphe Tischler told me something about 20 years ago, he said to me: “Your grandfather was a liar.” “Why?” “He said the house would cost this much”, gesturing below his waist, “and in fact it cost this much”, gesturing around his head, “and he knew perfectly well how much the house would cost from the beginning.  He was absolutely right, because had we known, we probably wouldn’t have gone for the house.  But now I’m very happy to have done it, it changed my life.”

He went on to explain that once the construction had started, RMS informed him that a steel pillar was required to make the house earthquake safe, and that hadn’t been in the original designs.

It is unquestionable that parents have a strong influence on their children. What that influence is and how it affects their children is much harder to figure out. In this interview, done by email in 2013, Ian and I try to untangle this question a little bit.

Many thanks to Ian for this interview. And thanks to Ian and his sister Margot for their permission to use the photos of Rudolph and Pauline Schindler. The photos are used here under the creative commons license, Schindler Family Collection, Courtesy Friends of the Schindler House.  

For the perfect accompaniment to this interview, you can’t do better than the music of Guillaume Schindler, Ian’s son.  

Steve Wallet: What kind of person was your father?

Ian Schindler: My father had an unusual skill set.  There were things that were easy for him, that other people found difficult, and other things that most people found easy that he found difficult.  He laughed a lot.  He was a very creative man.  He liked solving problems, engineering problems, math problems, problems in other sciences, and mechanical problems.  He liked tinkering.  I remember him fixing televisions, his car, all sorts of things around the house.  He had very wide interests.  He used to love to spend hours in a library or reading periodicals.  He was not much of a communicator.  For example Judith Sheine related that my father would call her and say “hello”, followed by a long pause.  Then he would say something about an impending Schindler event followed by another long pause.  Finally Judith would ask whether he would like a ride to the event to which he would answer “yes”, and then hang up (Judith used to live a couple of miles from where my father lived with my sister and her family).

Because my father frequently came up with innovative solutions to problems, I learned the important fact that solutions are usually not unique. He thought outside of the box.

What were his interests, occupation, passions,….?

He was interested in virtually everything: art, science (he had a masters in physics), technology, history.  Very much interested in different cultures.  A strong environmentalist.

Your father had an unusual childhood. His parents, Pauline and Rudolph Schindler (RMS), lived unconventional lives. What effects do you think that had on your father? Were there things about him that you think were an effect of that childhood? Were there things about him that were a reaction to or against that childhood?

My father’s childhood had a very strong effect on him.  Pauline would not allow him much time with his father.   She was very anxious when he was young and after a very short time with his father, she would need to have him back with her.  RMS took him to the movies once and Pauline became so anxious that she went to the movie theater and had them stop the film so that she could recover Mark.   My father spent most of his childhood between his mother and his maternal grandmother.   He once told my mother that when he was with his mother he would dream of being with his grandmother, and when he was with his grandmother, he would dream of being with his mother.  In times of adversity he would explain that he had had a very difficult mother, and hence could learn to put up with just about anything.

Pauline was very controlling.  When I was young I had a certain foreboding about going to visit her because she expected me to follow strict rules and had such strong opinions.  She would talk to children like adults.  She would not tolerate crying or misbehaving.  The foreboding ceased when I got older, because I learned how to defend myself intellectually.  She loved intellectual stimulation and discussion.  I remember very interesting discussions on various topics with her after the age of 16.

I don’t know if not spending much time with his son was a problem for RMS or not.  In any case he did not fight hard enough for rights to see his son to win many victories.  I suppose working hard on plans and construction takes time.

It is also clear is that my father’s upbringing freed him from feeling obligated to follow a traditional path.  He was not afraid of being different.

What kind of father was he? Again, what effect did his childhood and his parents have on him as your father?

He was a very discreet father.  He did not spend much time with his father, and he did not spend much time with his children when we were young.  To avoid traffic, he shifted his schedule so that on weekdays he got up after we had left for school and didn’t return home until we had already dined.  We might have spent some time watching television together.  He did teach us a few yoga postures, told us funny stories, and sometimes helped us with our homework.  But our mother was our main source of information about family matters.  On weekends he would spend lots of time working on projects that would make us all rich one day.  The projects all fell apart for different reasons.

How do you think his parents’ fame, especially his father’s, affected him and what did it mean to him? Was he proud of his father, did he unhappily stand in his father’s shadow or a bit of both?