It’s not always easy being a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast in Los Angeles. This is particularly true for those wishing to step inside some of the game-changing architect’s most iconic works, namely the quartet of textile block-style residences built in quick succession on the hillsides of Los Angeles County in the early 1920s: Millard House (1923), Storer House (1923), Freeman House (1923) and, last but not least, the Ennis House (1924).

These distinctive L.A. homes, among Wright’s most treasured — and, at times, most endangered — works in the United States, are all off-limits, privately owned by billionaires and/or currently on the market for seriously big bucks. In other words, aside from rare and exclusive tours, they’re a no-go for the general public.

And then there’s the Hollyhock House. The big, beautiful and, most importantly, city-owned Hollyhock House.

Serving as the once-dusty crown jewel of the Barnsdall Art Park, an arts complex in East Hollywood that also includes the Los Angeles Municipal Art Galley, a theater, conservatory and other cultural facilities, Hollyhock House has been open to the public as a museum since the mid-1970s. But for the past six years, the National Historic Landmark has been roped off as part of a $4 million restoration project. Needless to say, the temporary loss of the only publicly accessible Wright residence in Los Angeles has been rough-going for Wright enthusiasts and admirers of landmark California architecture — lots of hand-wringing and longingly staring at coffee table books was involved, I imagine.

Hollyhock House in California

Like Wright's Ennis House in Los Feliz, Hollyhock House is an example of Mayan Revival architecture. (Photo: joevare/flickr)

Hollyhock House has had its fair share of damaging leaks

Similar to other Wright-designed residences, the flat-roofed Hollyhock House has had its fair share of damaging leaks. (Photo: oevare/flickr)

Next month, the patient public will be rewarded as the Hollyhock House reopens following a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. The home's grand return on Feb. 13 will be directly followed by a marathon open house event — a 24-hour period of glorious, self-guided tours the following day.

After Feb. 14, when the 24-hour tour extravaganza concludes, the home will be open to “Walk Wright In” tours on Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are $7 for adults. Arrangements for group and guided tours will also kick in at this time.

Although not part of Wright’s textile block series in Los Angeles (despite frequently being lumped together with the aforementioned homes), Hollyhock House is from the same era. It was completed in 1921 as the first Wright-designed home in Los Angeles. And unlike those homes, all named after Wright’s clients, Hollyhock House is named in honor of the client’s favorite flower: the alcea, or, as the bold and beautiful hummingbird-magnet is better known, the hollyhock. Wright incorporated representations of the hollyhock throughout the property including decorative flourishes on the roofline, exterior columns and garden planters. Many of the interior furnishings, custom-designed by Wright, are stamped with the stylized likeness of the flower as well.

The client in question was Aline Barnsdall, a legendarily kooky oil heiress and certifiable art nut who collaborated with Wright on a master plan that would transform her 36-acre estate, then known as Olive Hill, into a sprawling arts complex with a focus on her self-produced avant-garde theater productions.

Due to what historian Cheryl Lee Johnson, writing for the Barnsdall Art Park Foundation, describes as “financial and artistic differences,” this larger vision was never realized. In fact, Wright, who was largely in Japan overseeing the construction of Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel during the building of Hollyhock House, and he delegated much of the work to his eldest son, Lloyd Wright, and assistant, Vienna-born Rudolph Schindler. Lloyd Wright and Schindler went on to become highly regarded architects in their own right, although neither reached that proto-starchitect status enjoyed by Wright.

Hollyhock House pictured in 1921

An exterior view of the Hollyhock House shot in 1921 by legendary architectural photographer, Julius Shulman. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

East facade and gardens of Hollyhock House

A view of the Hollyhock House's east facade and gardens shot in 1921 by Shulman. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Johnson writes of the strained relationship between Barnsdall — the "ultimate iconclast" — and the mercurial celebrity architect under her employ:

Without Aline Barnsdall, Frank Lloyd Wright would never have come to California. Yet, with Frank Lloyd Wright, Aline, like many others, had a stormy, emotional and bizarre relationship. They were kindred spirits in many ways, railing at conventions and each other, both sometimes petulant, and he forever imperious.
It was Barnsdall who reached out and bankrolled Frank Lloyd Wright after his notoriety killed his domestic practice. She was enormously generous, supportive and patient, while Wright was consumed with his personal travails and the construction of the monumental Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.
Although considered a classic example of Mayan Revival architecture, Wright himself referred to Hollyhock House as being built in the California Romanza-style, a term meaning “freedom to make one’s own form.” It is huge — 5,000 square feet and 17 rooms in total — an imposing jumble of canted stucco walls, fountains, colonnades, rooftop terraces, and cast-stone ornamentation centered around a central courtyard.

Barnsdall hated every last inch of it.

Never actually moving into the home once completed and continuing to feud with Wright, Barnsdall and her daughter (Barnsdall was a single mother, scandalous for a woman of such social standing at the time) instead took up residence in a small secondary home on her property. “While its details and architectural breakthroughs place it in the pantheon of famous Wright houses, it was not what Barnsdall either wanted or was willing to live in,” explains Johnson of the massive home.

Views of Hollywood Hills from Hollyhock House

Hollyhock House's hillside locale at Barnsdall Art Park makes for stunning views of the Hollywood Hills. (Photo: superde1uxe/flickr)

Close up Hollyhock House stone ornamentation

A close-up of Hollyhock House's elaborate cast-stone ornamentation. (Photo: superde1uxe/flickr)

In fact, Barnsdall attempted to offload Hollyhock House and a small amount of surrounding land as a donation to the city of Los Angeles before it was even finished. She envisioned it would be used as a public library. The city, at the time, politely declined Barnsdall’s offer. In 1927, however, Los Angeles accepted the donation and took control of Hollyhock House. Wright and Barnsdall continued to spat — and make up — for many more years.

Hollyhock House has served numerous functions over the years including art gallery and headquarters for the California Art Club. Up until 1974 when the structure was transformed into a public museum following a major restoration effort, the high-maintenance abode had managed to slip into a serious state of disrepair, as Wright’s structures easily tend to do. In 1994, the structure sustained significant damage in the Northridge earthquake and was closed for several years for repair work and structural overhauls.

This latest round of preservation work, funded by a mix of city, state and federal sources, aims to restore the home to its original splendor and position it as the historic centerpiece of the thriving arts complex originally envisioned by Barnsdall. According to a joint press statement issued by the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and the Barnsdall Art Park Foundation, the home’s “floors, windows, doors, decorative molding, and long-forgotten paint colors have been recreated with utmost attention to detail.”

Says Mayor Garcetti: "Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House is a crown jewel of Los Angeles architecture. Restoring this landmark to its original glory is a great example of how the city can preserve its unique history while providing Angelenos access to art in everyday places."

Exterior of Hollyhock House in 1921

An exterior view of the Hollyhock House shot in 1921 by Shulman. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Living room of Hollyhock House in 1921

A view of the Hollyhock House's living room shot in 1921 by Shulman. All furnishings and fixtures were also designed by Wright. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to National Historic Landmark status (2007) and designation as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, Hollyhock House is among the 11 Frank Lloyd Wright structures in the running for inclusion as a single UNESCO World Heritage site. Others sites include Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Taliesin, Wright’s original home and studio in rural Wisconsin.

This is all quite the honor for a Wright residence that’s often played second fiddle to the Ennis House in nearby Los Feliz. In a city where a building’s greatness is often judged by the number and quality of its film appearances, Hollyhock House has limited screen time, perhaps best known for appearing as the "temple of the Piranha Women" in a 1989 exploitation film titled “Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death.” On the other hand, both the exterior and interior of privately owned Ennis House have enjoyed starring roles in numerous music videos and a slew of decidedly more well-regarded films including “Blade Runner,” “The Karate Kid,” “Black Rain,” “Rush Hour,” “Day of the Locust” and, of course, “House on Haunted Hill.”

Lack of cinematic achievements aside, Hollyhock House, following six long years of extensive cosmetic touch-ups that any aging Tinseltown denizen would envy, is, at long-last, ready for her close-up. 

Via [Curbed LA]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.