Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House

In the middle of busy Los Angeles, California on what is called Olive Hill, is a small oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city. An amazing piece of architecture, Hollyhock House, sits at the top of the hill, perched over the East Hollywood section of the city. Constructed of concrete with intricate designs, Hollyhock resembles a Mayan temple more than a residence. After many decades of neglect and numerous restorations, the home is returning to its former glory and becoming a showcase of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's influence in California.


Hollyhock is situated on what was a former thirty-six acre olive grove purchased by Aline Barnsdall for $300,000 in 1919. It was the last of the city's "superblocks." Barnsdall, an American oil heiress, envisioned an art and theater community including an amphitheater, promenades among the olive groves, a residence for Barnsdall, buildings for the training of actors and dancers, and income producing buildings.

Barnsdall was the daughter of oilman Theodore Newton Barnsdall. Her family amassed a fortune estimated at $15,000,000, with large land holdings in Oklahoma and California. As a young woman, she toured Europe with her father and became interested in radical causes, which later led to a friendship with anarchist Emma Goldman. Barnsdall was also heavily influenced and interested in theatre, producing a season of Los Angeles Little Theater.

Hollyhock was Wright's second project in California. At the time he was commissioned by Barnsdale, he was also constructing the Imperial Hotel in Japan. Wright is known for his personal involvement and supervision of construction. However, unlike all of his other projects, he could not dedicate himself to overseeing Barnsdall's project. In his absence, he hired architect Rudolph Schindler to oversee construction of the home.


The plans for the home were delayed many times by Wright, who was preoccupied with his project in Japan. Wright and Barnsdall had multiple arguments and disagreements over the design. Upset with the timeline, cost overruns, and the design, Aline fired Wright and hired Schindler to finish the project. At the time he took over, Schindler mostly focused on finishing the second floor of the home.

Wright often sought dramatic sites for his homes, however with Hollyhock House it was built at the crest of the hill, most likely at the direction of Barnsdall. The home was named Hollyhock after Barnsdall's favorite flower, native to Asia and Europe. The hollyhock theme is carried out in multiple places around the home. For example, the stem of the hollyhock can be found along the roofline and at the rooftop’s corners, as well as in many of the art glass windows and furnishings.

Central courtyard.
The house is laid out around a central courtyard inspired by Spanish colonial gardens, which is enclosed on all but one side. Inside, the house is a complex system of split levels, steps, and roof terraces around the courtyard. Portions of the concrete block and stucco exterior walls are tilted back at eighty-five degrees, which give the home a "Mayan" appearance. Once construction was complete, the home contained seventeen rooms and seven bathrooms. The glass in the home was manufactured by Los Angeles-based Judson Studios, a fine arts studio specializing in stained glass since 1911.

Like many Wright homes, the entrance is designed to make you feel as if you are entering a cave. As you walk into the living room, the space opens up. The living room, by far the largest room and focal point of the house, features a bas relief fireplace made of cast concrete blocks. At the foot of the fireplace is a three-foot pool with a skylight above; it ties in the classic and spiritual four elements: earth, water, fire and air, a hallmark of Wright's designs. Wright designed the home to have water flow through it from a pool in the courtyard into an underground tunnel to the fireplace pool, and out again to a fountain on the living room side of the house. The system never quite worked as promised and in today's controlled museum environment, will not be restored to working order.

Fireplace and bas relief at in the living room.
The dining room features an octagon table for six. The chairs surrounding the table feature spines like hollyhocks. The adjacent kitchen, with mahogany countertops and a cork floor, is long but narrow and features a number of mirrors.

However, Barnsdall was never impressed with the house. She rarely stayed there. In 1923, she surprised the City of Los Angeles by offering Hollyhock House and twelve acres to Los Angeles as a public library and park. She would live in Residence B. The city declined, but in 1927 accepted her offer. As part of the agreement, a fifteen-year lease was given to the California Art Club for its headquarters, which it maintained until 1942. The donation also required that the site be only used for art and cultural purposes. Barnsdall lived in Residence B off and on until her death in 1946 at the age of sixty-four.

As with many historic sites, the costs to maintain such a complex have always been a strain to the City of Los Angeles. At one point, the city contemplated the site as a recreation complex with volleyball courts and a pool. Another proposal included demolishing all of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on the property, including Hollyhock. Fortunately, none of those plans ever came to fruition. Instead, the city kept true to Barnsdall and have turned the park into a cultural center and is now home to the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, the Junior Arts Center and adult art programs, and the Gallery Theatre.

Dining room with original Frank Lloyd Wright table and chairs.
The house was used in the 1989 film Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, starring Shannon Tweed and Bill Maher.

The home has been renovated numerous times over the past seventy years. Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright's son, remodeled it in 1946 and between 1974 and 1977, the home underwent yet another restoration to remove incorrect and incompatible additions under his guidance. The home was damaged by an earthquake in 1994 and once again was closed for refurbishment.

Hollyhock House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2007. In 2008, the house was submitted by the National Park Service in a grouping of nine Frank Lloyd Wright homes to be considered for designation as a World Heritage Site. After an extensive $4.3 million, four-year restoration, Hollyhock House reopened in February 2015 to much fanfare and delight. Future projects for the site include restoration of the motor court, a museum store in the former garage, and the restoration of Residence A.

Thanks to guide Dell Turner!

Additional photos of my trip to the Hollyhock House on Pinterest


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