August 25, 2015

Photo Essay: Music, Architecture, and the Rescue of the Heifetz Studio

Los Angeles has saved its share of historic structures by moving them.

Photo: Harold Zellman Architects Associates

But this was the first time I'd seen a building that was originally outside be moved inside another building to avoid demolition.

Last weekend, the Southern California Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians hosted architect Eric Lloyd Wright—son of Lloyd Wright and grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright—on a panel discussion with Colburn School President Sel Kardan and historian Dana Hutt... talk about how this music school came to rescue the music studio of virtuoso violinist Jascha Heifetz... placing it inside a new building on its Downtown LA campus.

The studio itself was originally connected to the main house by a breezeway, and it once was surrounded by patios and even had an additional room that didn't make it in the move. But, according to Colburn President Kardan, clearly the emphasis was on the interior and not the exterior in this restoration.

In 1948, Heifetz had commissioned his friend, starchitect Lloyd Wright, to build a musical sanctuary for him, adjacent to his extant Coldwater Canyon home in Beverly Hills. Having also contributed to an early version of the Hollywood Bowl, Lloyd Wright understood the connection between music and architecture, the visual acoustics of design.

Besides, the Wrights were a musical family, Frank always playing Bach and Beethoven at night, and serving as musical director over his family orchestra. Lloyd Wright played cello—although not very well, as reported by his son Eric, who himself played the flute, accompanied by his brother on the viola.

Since the studio was originally outside, with no close neighbors to complain of noise, it wasn't soundproofed much. And unlike most musical studios, it featured large glass windows which both let light and nature in, and sound out. Heifetz could gaze out at Beverly Hills while taking a break, or looking for a little inspiration.

So why is the view so different now, as it overlooks the new Broad Museum? Actor James Woods bought the Heifetz property in 1989, two years after Heifetz passed away, and planned to demolish the studio. In response to the resulting preservation alarm, Woods offered the studio for free to anyone who would pay to move it (and ultimately razed the main house down to its foundation).

The Colburn Conservatory stepped up, dismantled the studio into pieces, labeled everything, and placed it into cold storage to wait for its new home to be completed. Six years later, they painstakingly reassembled the hexagonal studio as closely to its original specifications as possible, but now inside another building.

Inside, the redwood paneling and tented green ceiling (strikingly similar to that of Hollyhock House) evoke both musical instruments and performance spaces...

...creating acoustics ideal for both violin masters and their students.

Heifetz taught violin to many aspiring musicians throughout his later career, so it seems fitting that his studio be relocated to a music school...

...where his presence can be felt strongly, through his framed handprints on the walls...

...his collection of musical dictionaries and other books...

...his 1940s-era television hidden behind a wall...

...his McIntosh stereo system...

...and his water-resistant, aluminum violin...

...which he used to bring down to and play by the beach.

The furniture, designed for the studio, was also rescued and moved to Colburn. But even the studio's current occupant, the conservatory's Jascha Heifetz Distinguished Violin Chair Robert Lipsett, hasn't sat in or even touched Heifetz's former seat.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Museum of Misfit Houses
This House Has a New Home

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