Again, I digress from some of my recent homeschool info topics to explore a niche very particular to Los Angeles. Because…I truly love architecture. Some of my favorite memories from my childhood were touring historic homes in Los Angeles. I can still remember the wonderful smells of those old homes.
As we homeschooled, I knew I needed to expose my children to those wonderful monuments (and memories) too. Here is a list of some of the great structures that are open for tours in Los Angeles, as well as some of the books I used as references for our 6-week architecture unit. Architecture is a subject that many do not seem to get to—but in our homeschool—I made the time! We did this unit when I had a 3rd and 6th grader, which seemed to work well from a maturity standpoint for the tours.
Projects & Assignments
My general approach was to stay away from academic or book work as much as possible and just get my kids to inspirational buildings that have knowledgeable people to share information about them. I believe that to really get the full impact of architecture—one needs to see it, feel it, and smell it.
The educational assignment: We talked about the Elements of Design (line, shape, value, color, space, and texture). My kids created a collage demonstrating their understanding of the elements. Then, as we toured each of these buildings, I asked my kids to look for and photograph the elements of design. They mounted these photos with the label containing that particular element in their year-end portfolio.
Additionally, after browsing Google Images for amazing architecture, I asked my kids to choose 1 building and 1 architect to research, from anywhere in the world! They completed a worksheet with their notes and then put together a powerpoint presentation with their research.
Some of these tours are very popular. Be sure to call and reserve ahead if recommended.
The Gamble House
This Pasadena craftsman bungalow style home of the Gamble family (as in Proctor & Gamble)–is one of the most concise and pristine examples of this type of architecture The home was finished in 1910, architects Green and Green designed not only the home, but the furniture and many of the lighting fixtures as well—it’s a complete roll out of room themes. The tour lasts about an hour, and they have a scavenger hunt that encourages kids to look for intricate details. A few years later I took my youngest, a second grader, and he enjoyed it. Whenever I talk about architecture, he asks me, “Is it as good as the Gamble House?” It’s nice to have this home be the point of reference!
My own personal point of view is every student in Los Angeles, 3rd grade or above, should tour this house. It is a fine example of craftsmanship.
The Hollyhock House
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and completed in 1921, this top-of-the-hill Hollywood home is a nice example of his cement block architecture. A portion of the home is open, and they have more recently included replicas of the furniture which makes the home more cozy. It’s open for tours various times and hours towards the end of the week. We took a 45 minute tour, which was perfect.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Free tours are available during the end of each week. The design of this downtown LA music hall offers immersion in the popular post-modern architecture of Frank Gehry. My daughter isn’t generally into modern art, but this was still her favorite tour even now. Visitors get nice views of the upper areas with close-ups of the stainless steel forms which make for great photos.
Sam Maloof House
This home, located in Rancho Cucamonga, was also amazing. We managed to hit it 2 years after our architecture unit. The tour features a visit to Maloof’s custom private residence, which was moved from its original home, in the path of the 210 freeway. Visitors can also see his wood storage area; one glance at these wood pieces, and one will quickly realize that not every piece of wood is the same! Maloof designed wood craftsman furniture that even the White House purchased. Maloof’s approach was innovative and unorthodox, and after touring his home, you will be able to appreciate the results. The tour was a little longer and a little more tedious than the others–though my 1st grader enjoyed it. In general, I would recommend this tour for 4th grade and above.
Designed by Lloyd Wright (yes, Frank’s son) and completed in 1951, this beautiful wood beam and glass chapel is worth the trip to Rancho Palos Verdes. It is free and open to the public daily from 10-5, but closed if there is an event. They also have a Visitor’s Center on site.
Lummis Home — ‘El Alisal’
This Highland Park home of famous turn of the century Angeleno Charles Lummis, located 15-minutes from downtown LA, is a nice introduction for children to life and residential space in California in the late 1800’s. In 1884 Lummis walked from Cincinnati to Los Angeles, through all kinds of hazards, and wrote dispatches along the way for the Los Angeles Times. This hand-built rustic craftsman river rock home created by Lummis himself is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10-3. There are usually knowledgeable docents to give more information about the home.
Located in Watts, kids will enjoy these vivid, strange spires embellished with crushed pottery, toys, and many other interesting found objects. Built by Simon Rodia in 1904, the spires were built to resemble a boat. Next to the towers is an art center and a garden studio. The towers are conveniently located next to the 103rd/Watts Towers Metro Blue Line stop; the site is open for tours Thursday through Sunday of each week. As of the writing of this article (2018), the towers are closed for renovation for the next 3 years. As a result the public is invited to attend a free outside-the-gate tour until the the structures are reopened.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Angeles
A truly modern but contemplative Catholic worship space located in downtown LA; I have to confess we did not make it to this one during our studies, but I plan to come back to it. They have free tours Mondays through Fridays at 1
La Miniatura (Millard House)
After touring the Gamble House in Pasadena, head around the block (literally) to this 1923 Frank Lloyd Wright home at 645 Prospect Crescent, Pasadena. Though it is not open for tours, simply standing outside the gate, one can see the home and the grounds fairly well.
This famous Victorian 1893 interior is beautiful to look at; while walking in downtown LA, one could not believe the incredible building that exists on the inside. The interior was featured in the original Bladerunner movie. Most of the time during business hours, Monday through Friday, visitors can quietly enter the lobby and admire the beautiful wood and rod iron work from the ground floor. Additionally, there are walking tours in downtown which often cover this building, hosted by the LA Conservancy.
Built in the 1980’s this iconic Los Angeles building was once one of the larger structures in the downtown skyline. Though everything else has now grown up around it, kids will enjoy going in the hotel and taking the exterior oval glass elevators.
Pacific Asia Museum
This Pasadena building is a wonderful museum with an intimate courtyard in the middle. The manageable size makes it a nice family visit. Kids will love the koi fish in the courtyard pond. They often have family events with food on Sundays, so this is a nice day to make a visit.
Pacific Design Center (pictured at top)
Located in West Hollywood, this interior design mecca is instructive for kids to see; it’s a important piece of the architecture puzzle. Spending 30 minutes to 1-hour browsing the innovative lighting, carpet, and furniture galleries–kids will surely find something they like!