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C California Style

Early photographs show the moat-like water feature. PHOTO: Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood. PHOTO: Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library
There are 130 art glass windows in the house. PHOTOS: Joshua White/jwpictures.com
The bas-relief fireplace in the living room as repointed (refilling the mortar between the cast concrete blocks). It was cleaned-but not over-cleaned. "It doesn't need to be pristine because it's not," says curator Jeffrey Herr. PHOTOS: Joshua White/jwpictures.com
The bas-relief fireplace in the living room as repointed (refilling the mortar between the cast concrete blocks). It was cleaned-but not over-cleaned. "It doesn't need to be pristine because it's not," says curator Jeffrey Herr. PHOTOS: Joshua White/jwpictures.com
Concrete "hollyhocks". PHOTOS: Joshua White/jwpictures.com
View into the Courtyard. PHOTOS: Joshua White/jwpictures.com

Back to the Future

by C California Style

Few homes can credit not one but three architects of extraordinary provenance for their creation.

Atop a lush hilltop in East Hollywood, Frank Lloyd Wright, son Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler gave life to Hollyhock House. This gem is pre-Columbian-gone-art deco: Palenque temple-like concrete pillars, roof terraces and balconies around its contemplative courtyard. Water was intended to flow throughout, even around the monumental bas-relief fireplace. While the structure’s namesake flower creeps about planters and glass windows, its abstract rendering also adorns tall frieze units on the exterior. Over many decades, however, the property fell into gross decline. Now, following a three-year, $4.5-million restoration via grants and private donations, the National Historic Landmark reopens for public viewing.

For curator Jeffrey Herr, the first challenge in restoration wasn’t only cracks so wide that you could see daylight or flat-roof water damage; it has been uncovering Hollyhock’s “real” design. “This house has almost gone away several times and changed, with a lot of details gone missing,” says Herr. “This was the opportunity to reinstate some of the history, some of the details that made it an exotically fabulous place.” 

In 1919, the free-spirited oil heiress Aline Barnsdall imagined a 36-acre arts complex offset by Sunset to Hollywood boulevards, Vermont to Edgemont avenues. She commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a theater, a director’s residence, actor’s housing and studio/retail spaces for artists. In 1921, he was also busy working on the Imperial Palace Hotel in Japan, so he charged his son, Lloyd Wright, with the project. Complications with contractors ensued, and the elder Wright hired a young Austrian architect from his Chicago office, Schindler, to replace his son. Lloyd remained the landscape designer. 

What she got—that is, before Frank Lloyd Wright and Barnsdall’s tempestuous business relationship led to the architect’s firing—was Hollyhock and Residences A, still in dire need of restoration, and B, razed in 1954. Barnsdall rehired Schindler to finish Hollyhock so she could gift it to the city in 1927. The Olive Hill Foundation hired Lloyd Wright to renovate Hollyhock House in the 1940s and he gutted Schindler’s work. Lloyd also returned for a 1970s restoration and reversed some of his own 1946 changes—but not all. 

Herr consulted archival images to assemble an authentic working history. “In almost every instance we opted to go back to 1921. There was testing and analysis and painting to try to get as close to the original as possible.”

With project architect Hsiao-Ling Ting, this overhaul went macro (drainage replacement) to micro (replicating period screws). In the dining room—one of two with Wright’s furniture designs—the beige walls were resurfaced and returned to a glorious olive/tan hue. “In the scheme of things, $4.5 million is a whole lot of money—but it’s not nearly enough. What really eats up money is craftsmanship,” Herr adds. 

Finally, by recreating missing decorative molding throughout, Herr believes there’s an extra dimension of purity. “We know Wright was experimenting with the use of interior space and how to open it up. You’ve got choices. He defines entry with the molding. Those are his ‘doors.’”

With Hollyhock House’s doors opening, the Barnsdall Art Park, too, gears up for high season. Caught up from the past, this Olive Hill oasis is now ready for the future. 323-644-6269; hollyhockhouse.net. 

Written by Alison Clare Steingold