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Three Small Houses in an Orchard

When I was a young boy, every evening my mother would read me a bedtime story before tucking me in for the night. She would spread out a stack of Little Golden Books and ask me to select the one I most wanted to hear. Usually, I would point to my favorite, The Little Red Hen. I never tired of hearing it again and again.

In that tale, The Little Red Hen found a grain of wheat, then asked the other farmyard animals for help with the planting, but no one volunteered. At each subsequent stage – harvesting, threshing, milling the wheat and baking the flour into bread – the hen again sought assistance, but on each occasion not a one budged. Finally, the hen completed her task and asked who would help her eat the bread. This time, all the animals eagerly rushed forward. But since no one had helped her with the preparation work, the hen turned them all away. With her own chicks, she gobbled up the entire loaf, leaving not a crumb behind. The moral: Those who aren’t willing to do the groundwork don’t deserve the fruits of the harvest.

The following essay concerns historic preservation, the ill-fated attempt to save a tiny gem – the famous “Three Small Houses in and Orchard” – designed in 1939 by one of the 20th century’s most renowned modernist architects, Richard Neutra. When precisely the wrong people gain control of the process, historic integrity is jettisoned and preservation ignored. The drama as it unfolded is the equal of any TV soap opera plot. I write about the project’s early history, my involvement with it, and what transpired when well-meaning but basically clueless local officials took over the project.

In many respects, this bizarre, protracted and convoluted story resembles a latter-day version of The Little Red Hen.

Posted June 20, 2013 by miltiadesmandros

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