Colburn is home to the studio of famed violinist Jascha Heifetz. Originally located in Beverly Hills, the studio was carefully deconstructed following Heifetz’s death and rebuilt piece-by-piece at the Colburn School. A remarkable time capsule, the studio includes Heifetz’s original furnishings, photographs, and memorabilia.
Music has an incredible power to whisk you away to another place and time. It’s an entirely different experience, however, to be transported to another place and time by entering the intimate surroundings where an iconic musician composed, rehearsed, and spent his personal moments. That’s the surreal sensation people experience walking into the Jascha Heifetz Studio, located in the Colburn School’s Grand Avenue building.
“I played for Heifetz in this room when it was at his house in Bel Air. My memories are that I walked into another world at that moment, and it was a special world,” recalls Robert Lipsett, the Jascha Heifetz Distinguished Violin Chair for the Conservatory of Music.
“If someone told me at that time, this would be my teaching studio some day and it would reside inside a school that didn’t yet exist, I would have said that’s a bit too much to swallow,” he adds. “Now, it’s a monument, a sanctuary, a museum, and it’s where I work all rolled into one.”
Jascha Heifetz is regarded as a preeminent violinist of the 20th century. A child prodigy, he made his formal debut at age eight, earning the awe of the classical world by the time he appeared in Carnegie Hall at age 17.
“Nothing was ever the same,” says Lipsett. “He is the one who set the modern standard of violin playing.”
Becoming a naturalized American citizen in 1929, Heifetz began calling Los Angeles his home. In the late 1940s, architect Lloyd Wright, who was also a friend of Heifetz, designed the hexagonal building that sat adjacent to the violinist’s Coldwater Canyon home. The original floorplan contained the studio, a bedroom-office, small kitchen, and bathroom. It’s been reported that Heifetz spent much of his retirement in these private rooms.
After his death in 1987, actor James Wood purchased the property with the intent to demolish the existing structures. Before the first hammer came down, he let it be known that he would cooperate with anyone or any organization willing to assume the financial responsibility to physically remove and preserve the studio. First came the Los Angeles Conservancy, offering to sponsor a larger search. The Skirball Museum expressed a desire to house the studio and the Friends of Runyon Canyon envisioned it as a future visitors’ center. A Brentwood ophthalmologist even bid to have the studio added to his own Lloyd Wright home. Unfortunately, none of these offers panned out.
The idea of preserving the studio as a monument to Heifetz seemed to be waning in the early 1990s when Hortense Singer contacted Colburn’s then-Executive Director Toby Mayman on the chance the School would step in. Recognizing the historical and architectural value the studio represented as well as the inspirational value the environment could provide students, Mayman immediately presented the proposal to Richard D. Colburn. According to a 1999 article in The Los Angeles Times, the School’s benefactor promised $40,000 only if Mayman matched the sum. She accepted the challenge and succeeded. Next came the unprecedented task of dismantling, moving, and rebuilding the studio entirely inside another building.
Piecing Together the Future
Architect Harold Zellman managed the “reverse engineering” of dissembling the studio. His team photographed, labeled, and painstakingly wrapped each one of the nearly 1,000 pieces.
However, construction of the Grand Avenue campus needed to be completed first, so the dismantled Jascha Heifetz studio went into storage for years. Then in 1999, the pieces were unpacked and fastidiously reconstructed based on a computer model created during the dissembling. The challenge was to not only recreate the unique environment just as Heifetz left it, but also bring it up to current safety codes.
Today, the Heifetz Studio remains a moment in history. The room still houses the musician’s blue-green daybed, file cabinets adorned with cartoon clippings, the custom-built desk designed by Wright, and even a built-in television and turntable.
“Because there are no right angles and the shape of the ceiling, I can’t imagine a more ideal acoustic environment to teach in,” says Lipsett, whose has conducted classes in the studio for the past 25 years. “There is a golden element to the sound, an aura to the sounds. All the teaching spots in Colburn are great, but when I come into the Heifetz Studio, I have been transported to an older time. There is not a day that goes by that I am not humbled to work in this place.
“But, I have never, and will never, sit in the chair behind his desk. That is Heifetz’s place, and out of respect, I cannot sit there,” promises Lipsett.
Photos by Abby Mahler.