L.A.’s Modernist Ruins

Ruins of the Little Dipper School. photo by Elena Gomez via metrodaypass.com

When I was a docent at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock house, I became fascinated with the ruins of the Little Dipper school on the side of the hill. Co-designed by the dream team of Wright, R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra, it was meant to offer a holistic, European-style elementary education including music, art, theater, and dance. By 1924, as its costs soared, patron Aline Barnsdall stopped construction. Today, what remains are fragments of walls, stairs, and foundations, marked with grafitti and littered with dry olive leaves. Another Schindler ruin exists in Compton, as mentioned this week in the Los Angeles Times. His Bethlehem Baptist Church was completed in 1944 and is now sadly run-down and looks unused.

Schindler’s Bethlehem Baptist Church. Photo via CurbedLA

In 2002, artist Sam Durant wrote a short piece for Artforum on the Baptist Church, noting:

In the eight and a half years since the uprising in LA the Schindler House has been restored and South Central hasn’t changed much. I’ve never been able to separate architecture from thoughts like these. I can’t see buildings as entities disconnected from their conditions. I look at carefully composed period pictures of modernist designs and I wonder, What is not being shown, what is out of the frame? These nostalgic images, reflecting a past that never was, promise a modern lifestyle without conflict. Schindler’s work resists these conditions. The church offers evidence of his commitment to modern architecture’s utopian posture as it quietly lives on, and decays, in South LA. . . .

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