Hollyhock House Reborn

Mayor Garcetti does the honors on a warmer than usual LA winter Friday the 13th.  A ribbon cutting ceremony marking an end to the six-year renovation of the "Hollyhock House", one of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpieces, his first in Los Angeles. The golden hues of sunset cast a Hollywood glow of glamour on  the infamous landmark on a lonely hilltop estate.  A soft breeze jingles the olive leaves into a gentle applause. This architecture and cultural gem is once again alive for the community to swoon.

Possibly one of the most iconic installations in the house.  Wright's bas relief, skylight, fireplace and moat (hidden from view).  Reproduction period furniture. Photo by Aimee Gilchrist                                         

Possibly one of the most iconic installations in the house.  Wright's bas relief, skylight, fireplace and moat (hidden from view).  Reproduction period furniture. Photo by Aimee Gilchrist                                         

Much like the fate of the historic Broadway theaters of Downtown LA and Clifton's Restaurant, the Hollyhock House has been off limits while it underwent a massive renovation to control leaks and structural earthquake damage, as well as restore the heritage of the house.  Several renovations, two overseen by Lloyd Wright in 1946 and 1974 {the son of FLW}, had left the house in a purgatory state, somewhere between it's original 1920's modern style, the 1940's and the 1970's.  It was in desperate need of attention if it were to stay standing in the next century.

A house of this progressive modern style could not have mirrored the owner any better.  Aline Barnsdall was an eclectic figure of the 20th century.  Born to an oil baron father and artist mother, Aline traveled the world, acquiring the better things in life and developing her passion for live performance and theatre.  Instead of choosing to marry, she is know for telling her partner, "Let's not philander -- let's be honest and direct, and live together".  Shortly after moving to LA, she had founded a successful children's theater called the Little Theater in the Downtown Broadway Theater District, and became pregnant with her only child.  She'll choose to raise her daugher nicknamed "Sugartop" as a single mother, unheard of at this time.  Her wanderlust spirit settled for a moment on the idea of a theater complex which found a home years after conception, on quiet 36-acre olive orchard in Los Angeles.  At the center of the plan was architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

This original sculpture was originally on the exterior entryway but moved to a safer location inside the house.  Photo by Aimee Gilchrist

This original sculpture was originally on the exterior entryway but moved to a safer location inside the house.  Photo by Aimee Gilchrist

The first portion of the theater complex was to be Aline's home and the focal point of the property.  Plans included an actual theater auditorium, lake, restaurant, lecture halls, and artist living quarters many of which were never built.  They broke ground in 1920 on the Hollyhock House, named for her favorite flower, pouring concrete for an elaborate California Romanza {think Mayan/Japanese style}. But in time, Aline and Wright argued and disagreed on the design, timeline and budget of the project (not an uncommon scenario for anyone working with FLW).  Aline fired Wright and hired his frontman, Rudolph Schindler (another genius modernist architect with many fine works in Los Angeles) to finish the project.  Wright was hardly around for the Barnsdall project, as he was busy with a competing project, the intricate Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.  Aline found frustration in the leaky structure, tight quarters, and damp air of home.  Her traveler's spirit calls her away to Europe, and the 12 acre, 5,000 square foot home and hilltop lawn are gifted to the City for a library and public park, although she keeps the surrounding land as her own.

Ornamental Hollyhock can be seen all over the property.  Aline's favorite flower forever memorialized.   Photo by Aimee Gilchrist.

Ornamental Hollyhock can be seen all over the property.  Aline's favorite flower forever memorialized.   Photo by Aimee Gilchrist.

Things took a turn for the worse and Aline saw many disputes with the City, and the property for years will see many temporary tenants.  After her death, the park and property went into extreme neglect, but was thankfully revived and the City began to take control of the park.  In 1963, the Hollyhock House is placed on the National Historic Monument and plans for a permanent art gallery soon thereafter. Groups such as the Friends of Hollyhock have stepped in to raise funds for landscape renovations and the Barnsdall Art Park has been a well-maintained community backbone for the property.

Tours can be arranged Thursday-Sunday via their website here.

We have a book recommendation to accompany this post. Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan. It's a quick read of historical fiction, but well-researched and based on primary sources like letters and journals. It paints a picture of Frank's life from the point of view of one of Wright's long-time girlfriends. The surprise ending makes the book worth reading alone. Do yourself a favor and don't go reading anymore of his bio or wikipedia page until you read the book if you want to be surprised. You can get in on Amazon here or your local public library.

Thanks to Barnsdall Art Park, The LA Times, and KCET for providing a good foundation for this blog post.