Without leaving any trace, thieves entered a warehouse in South Los Angeles six years ago, made their way into a small, locked storage room and stole extremely valuable and rare lamps and chairs designed by two of America’s most famous architects, but USC never reported the theft to campus authorities or Los Angeles police, according to a published report.
The loot the thieves stole had a potential value of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.
Two floor lamps and a cushioned chair designed by noted architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler, respectively.
Ninety years ago the lamps adorned a home owned by wealthy arts patron Samuel Freeman and his dancer wife, Harriet, owned. Both Wright and Schindler did work inside the home.
Samuel Freeman died in 1981 and his wife died in 1986. Childless, the couple left the home and furnishings to USC.
The Freeman house then sustained major damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
In 2000, in advance of the repair work on the home, USC moved the furniture to the architecture school’s rented warehouse on 24th Street in South Los Angeles.
Some of the furniture was locked away in the small storage room.
In 2012, a visiting facilities staffer went to the warehouse and noticed that the Wright and Schindler items were missing from the locked room.
Kenneth Breisch, an associate professor who oversaw the graduate program in historic preservation, told the newspaper that there was only one key to the locked room and it was kept by the facilities department.
The staffer who realized the items were missing called Breisch and asked him if he knew anything about it.
Breisch said he told the staffer no, and he alleged the staffer told him that campus police would be notified. Breisch declined to identify the staffer to the Times.
“I just assumed they were taking care of it,” Breisch told the Times. “I just assumed, I think, that it probably didn’t consist of anything of value (otherwise) I would have heard more.”
The lamps are said to be quite rare and coveted by collectors.
An almost identical piece sold at an auction two years ago for $100,000.
Schindler’s chairs are also in high demand and have an estimated value of $25,000 each.
Despite what seems to be valuable losses, no one at USC filed a theft report with campus police, the LAPD or the school’s insurance carrier, according to the Times.
It apparently remained secret until the summer of 2017, when the Times received an anonymous email describing the theft.
The newspaper contacted USC in January, but a university spokeswoman expressed skepticism about the Times report. A search of campus databases also turned up nothing about such a theft.
Eventually, USC’s new Office of Professionalism and Ethics found the report was true.
On Jan. 22, campus police filed a theft report with the LAPD, identifying the missing furniture. It was the first time in more than six years that the LAPD heard about the crime.
The report then was passed on to the department’s art theft detail.
In a statement issued by USC to the Times, the school said it was fully cooperating with the investigation. University officials said USC would review procedures and security measures related to the Freeman house.
LAPD Detective Don Hrycyk told the newspaper there was no forced entry so someone probably had access to the only key.
USC has refused to name whomever had access to the room.
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