Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Los Feliz: Frank Lloyd Wright

Los Feliz is another one of L.A.'s pleasant, walkable neighborhoods that people from NYC and the Bay Area tend to like. Vermont Avenue between Prospect and Franklin has restaurants, shops, cafes, and Skylight Books which, so far, is my favorite book store in Los Angeles. Los Feliz is also home to two large and distinctive houses built by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).

The magnificent Ennis House, built in 1924, is located at the top of the hill and looms over Los Feliz like a futuristic Mayan fortress. It is one of four houses, all in the Los Angeles area, that Wright built with patterned concrete blocks in the early 1920s. The somewhat ominous looking house has been featured in many TV shows and movies including Blade Runner.

In Frank Lloyd Wright's own words: "No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other." Here is the Ennis House rising out of its hill and mirroring the silhouette of the mountains in the background:

The Ennis House has a panoramic view stretching from the San Gabriel Mountains in the East over the entire Los Angeles Basin out to the Pacific Ocean and the Catalina Islands in the West. Here is a view of downtown L.A. from the front patio:

A view over Los Angeles from the side terrace:

The Ennis House is not currently open to the public, however, I was in the right place at the right time and got myself invited into the house during a private tour for some out-of-town donors. The interior of the house is gorgeous but has a slightly sinister feeling. Here are the pictures that I took of the living room and the raised dining room area:

The long, low hallway has layers of the same patterned concrete blocks that form the exterior of the building:

A close-up of the concrete block design:

The exterior windows and interior glass door panels include beautiful art glass in classic Frank Lloyd Wright designs:

This original glass mosaic above the living room fireplace is supposedly the only remaining glass mosaic in any Frank Lloyd Wright house:

The Ennis House includes three corner panorama windows with unbroken views over the city:

The Berendo Stairs lead up to the Ennis House from Los Feliz:

Down at the Southern edge of Los Feliz, the Hollyhock House, a Mayan-inspired concrete home that Frank Lloyd Wright built between 1917 and 1920 for eccentric oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, is less impressive than the Ennis House. However, it is nicely situated on a scenic hill that was previously an olive grove and which is now owned and administered by the City of Los Angeles as the Barnsdall Art Park. In addition to the Hollyhock House, the park includes a gallery, a children's art center, and an outdoor sculpture garden with beautiful views of the city and Griffith Park.

A view of the exterior of Hollyhock House:

The Hollyhock House was Wright's first building in Los Angeles and he experimented with integrating indoor and outdoor spaces to try to find a style that would work well for the temperate Southern California climate. The house is open for public tours, but I only recommend the tour for people who are specifically interested in architecture or Frank Lloyd Wright. The one hour tour that I went on was led by a somewhat belligerent docent and lasted for almost two hours. The house is also not one of Wright's more livable, attractive designs and, in fact, Aline Barnsdall herself only lived in the house for a few years before moving out.

The hollyhock was Aline Barnsdall's favorite flower and she requested that it provide the motif for the building. Here is a detail of the stylized hollyhock pattern that decorates the interior and exterior of the house:

And some actual hollyhock flowers from the gardens:

Another detail from the exterior of the house:

This house, refered to simply as Residence A, is the other original Frank Lloyd Wright structure on the Barnsdall Art Park:

A view of the Griffith Park Observatory from the Art Park:

Walk number 23 in my favorite book "Walking L.A." by Erin Mahoney Harris covers Los Feliz including the Barnsdall Art Park/Hollyhock House, the Ennis House, the Bonvue and Berendo stairs, and the nice part of Vermont Avenue. If you are from Berkeley and feeling homesick, the quiet residential streets off of Hillhurst and Vermont look a lot like the East Bay.

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  1. What a cool blog you have here! I'm the author of Walking LA and wanted to say thanks for saying such nice things about my book. I've often thought myself about how that part of Los Feliz reminds me of Berkeley.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment. I recommend your book "Walking LA" to everyone!

  3. Thank you for the interior pictures.

  4. To see shots of the interior was most satisfying. I had wondered and wondered what it would be like inside, and now I have an idea. Your pictures are art in themselves. I grew up in Los Feliz and now live in Alaska. Los Feliz will always own a part of my heart. Thank you for sharing your photographs.

  5. The Ennis pics. are great--given the current sad condition of the house. From the photos, fortunately, the house appears unchanged on the interior. I lived there (as Gus Brown's tenanat)--in the chauffeur quarters around the garage--from 1969 until 1972. The quarters were on 3 levels. Bedrooms over the garage, living room on main level with amazing picture window/view, and fireplace and the kitchen in a dungeon like room below the living room. Went through Sylmar earthquake in that house, and it seemed to do OK then. Almost burned in '71 (we evacuated) during a Griffith Park fire. And, oh, the parties and the tourists late at night . . . brings back memories.

  6. Thanks for your comment Jim. It must have been incredible to live there. I was lucky to get into the house on a really clear day when the view was absolutely stunning. I'll be curious to see who buys the house now that it is for sale again.

  7. Hi.

    I am absolutely loving your blog! It's very informative and fun. I'm too from the SF Bay but currently living in Perth Australia (I know!!), we plan to move back to CA within the next year and wish to relocate to SoCal this time. I'm currently obsessed with Los Feliz. Thanks for your blog!


  8. Wow! It makes me think of this wonderful but abandoned mansion in Toronto that had sat empty for decades. Vandals had been smeaking in and had been slowly chipping out murals and mosaics and architectural features (often wrecking them in thr process). A friend and I were able to sneak in and it was so sad to see all that beauty being trashed. Sadly, it was also the days before digital cameras and I wasn't able to photograph it.

    I think it is gone, now. Torn down to make way for ugly condominiums for people with more money than taste.

  9. Dude, I love your blog! Suddenly I wildly miss LA, where I spent 5 months in 1991. Kisses to you.

  10. Incredibly jealous that you got to tour inside. I'm anxiously waiting the day when they offer a public tour again (it supposedly part of the recent purchase agreement).

  11. Andrew (gerando on google earth pictures of the subject.)March 17, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    Wow the same thing happened to me! I just happened to be invited in on a private tour.
    We weren't allowed to take pictures inside so I'm very happy to see that you were lucky enough to get some. The view of downtown is framed so well in the corner glass window yet when the house was built there was barely a downtown visible due to the lack of skyscrapers there then. I bet F.L.W. would be very pleased with that view now.