Travel restrictions established by the Covid-19 pandemic have redirected the gaze of Los Angeles residents to a nearer, oft-ignored horizon–and many are invigorated by this new vista. Compelled to work and study at home, Angelenos are awakening to the beauty of the region’s distinctive architectural gems scattered throughout its neighborhoods. Urban villagers throughout Los Angeles County have discovered the residential design treasures that often lie within walking distance–until now “hidden in plain sight.”
For casual visitors and dedicated enthusiasts alike, a frustrating array of logistical and information impedes a fuller enjoyment of the educational and aesthetic value of LA’s historically significant residential architecture. Interior tour options are limited to just a few of the better-known sites (e.g., Stahl House, Eames House), and almost no other venues are accessible to the general public for an affordable price. Online exploration of LA County’s architectural treasures requires navigating a motley collection of websites for scraps of information about the architects, history, or locations of the most important structures; all too often these searches prove futile.
Compounding the discordant patchwork of cataloging and archiving sources is the lack of a centralized and widely accessible “clearinghouse” of content and information, such as period or contemporary photos, maps to guide exterior viewing, original blueprints and plans, or tools which could be instrumental in celebrating these masterpieces. Most Angelenos and tourists are unaware of the distinctive role that Los Angeles played in the exciting trajectory of 20th Century residential architecture. Los Angeles County is graced by more than a dozen “Case Study” houses featured in Arts & Architecture magazine. These groundbreaking structures by pioneers including Neutra, Eames, and Lautner were experiments “to design and build inexpensive and efficient model homes for the United States residential housing boom [at] the end of World War II…” Visionary approaches to the contemporary housing crisis were conceived decades ago, and there are important lessons that can be learned from the mid-century design concepts originated in Southern California.
The impact of FORT: LA’s programs extend beyond architectural appreciation. It is all too common for Angelenos to become isolated by their routine commutes and the daunting logistics of leaving their neighborhood. FORT: LA programs will inspire residents to venture beyond their own “urban village” to experience other parts of the city, FORT:LA will leverage the region’s distinctive residential architecture to encourage Angelenos to learn and appreciate more about their neighboring communities.
FORT: LA was founded by Russell Brown, a native Angeleno who has long admired the region’s distinctive residential architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samuel Freeman House captured his imagination as a potential magnet for study and wider public access. As he learned more about the Freeman House and other architecturally significant homes, Brown was inspired to enhance the value of these unique community assets for the enjoyment of Los Angeles residents and visitors. Input from architects, designers, community leaders, and nonprofit experts led Brown to launch FORT as a tax-exempt charitable organization in 2018. Biographies of FORT: LA board members and Fellowship Advisory Committee members can be found at: https://www.fortla.org/leadership/
Since 2018, FORT: LA has created innovative opportunities to help Los Angeles residents and visitors celebrate our community’s distinctive streetscapes. Institutional development activities in 2018 included forming a founding board of directors, strategic planning, program development, and completing federal and state tax-exempt regulatory filings. Over the past two years, FORT: LA founded advisory committees to guide and support the development of the FORT Fellowship and the online FORT Trails programs. Advisory committee members include civic leaders and prominent architects, historians, educators, and private sector business leaders, and philanthropists. Several significant fundraising initiatives have provided financial support to FORT: LA’s capacity-building and program development activities. In early 2019, the MaddocksBrown Foundation awarded a 1:2 matching grant to FORT: LA, leveraging every gift and grant made through December 31, 2020. This grant has helped motivate giving from the Guardians of the FORT Donor Society and from every current FORT: LA board member. These funds allowed FORT: LA to engage consultants with expertise in website development, nonprofit management, fundraising and communications experts to support its founding, capacity-building, program design, outreach, and strategic/business planning activities.
From mission-aligned professional fellowships to customizable online touring tools, FORT: LA is positioned to facilitate accessible and exciting exploration of the history, impact, and legacy of the residential architecture of Los Angeles County. FORT: LA programs have seen steady development progress in 2019 and 2020, and are positioned for broader user adoption and expanded target population introduction over the next 12 months.