Photos from the Vault

Living in a redwood egg in 1970s San Luis Obispo

Freeman Freitag at his house. The redwood egg-shaped hemiellipsoid was a landmark built in the 1970s.
Freeman Freitag at his house. The redwood egg-shaped hemiellipsoid was a landmark built in the 1970s. Telegram-Tribune

Almost egg-shaped with triangular windows that glinted in the sun, the house was unlike any other.

It used to be visible from Highway 227 just south of Cold Canyon Landfill.

Some design choices are strongly tied to an era. We live in the era of granite countertops and flat screen TVs. Bungalows and Craftsman furniture feel like the 1920s. Mid-century modern — well, you are way ahead of me on that one.

Redwood, lines that elude square and unfinished stones all were an attempt to bring nature into a living space. Get out your macrame yarn: It is the 1970s. All we would need to make the picture complete is avocado appliances and harvest gold rugs.

The hemiellipsoid house is no longer there and if my recollection is correct the house was destroyed by fire. Telegram-Tribune reporter Jeanne Huber wrote the story and took the photos for this Feb. 4, 1978, story of a unique house.

Sometimes a heart needs to be broken to let the art pour out.

He lives beneath the stars

Freeman Freitag’s marriage had broken up and in the aftermath he’d drifted about Europe for a couple of years. By 1972, he was “tired of doing nothing. I needed to confirm myself to myself.”

He decided to return to San Luis Obispo, where he’d lived and taught electronics at Cal Poly for a few years. He planned to buy a few acres with a little house that needed fixing up.

But he fell in love with 30 outrageously beautiful acres, five miles south of San Luis Obispo on Edna Road, and he “went in way over my head” to buy the land. Now, five years later, he is nearing completion on a monument to his capabilities far beyond the little house of his plans.

Freitag’s house is a 45-foot high, 33-foot-wide dome outfitted with stained glass windows, a handmade copper sink, a huge iron wood stove that comes complete with a huge eye, a doorknob of volcanic stone and a floor-to-ceiling window filled with the sight of caves and cliffs outside.

Freitag’s project fairly swirls about its theme, a five-pointed star. The house is framed by redwood beams bolted together, and the building is crowned by a star of a window. The floor — Freitag’s current project — will be fitted together to echo the theme. The deck boards are nailed in a zig-zag pattern and a friend is making an appliquéd star quilt for his octagon-shaped waterbed.

Those details are evident to anyone who visits.

But there are other, more subtle features of the house. Its width is 33 feet — Freitag’s age when he started construction. The height was the corresponding distance called for according to the Golden Section, a geometrical relationship found especially pleasing to the eye since the days when the Egyptians used it in their pyramids. And hidden in his structure are notes to some future owner: “Why are you tearing my house down?”

Unlike most geodesic domes, which are based on hemispheres, Freitag’s house is a hemiellipsoid, so it soars higher than it stretches across.

The house sits on 75 poles anchored in concrete — evidence, Freitag says, of the fact he’d never before built anything. He said he now knows he put in 10 times as many posts as he needed.

Freitag said he’s invested about $30,000 in materials for the house, plus about 8,000 hours of work. Friends and hired hands helped at times.

Freitag said the house has changed his life in ways other than teaching him a lot about carpentry. It’s brought him a lot of visitors, so many that for a long time he gave up hope of doing anything other than leading tours on Sunday.

“I like that notoriety,” he said. “When I lived here (in San Luis Obispo) before I went to Europe, I was almost a recluse. Now I’m a completely different person.”

But he isn’t sure if he’ll stay in the house. He has dreams of selling it for a lot of money and building another fantastic house in Rio de Janeiro for a rich man with a beautiful daughter.

“This house seems too fancy for me at times,” he said. “It sort of gives me a playboy image.

“But hell, I don’t even read the magazine.”