4800 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Hollyhock House, located in Barnsdall Art Park on top of Olive Hill in the Los Feliz/East Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, is the first house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed in Los Angeles. The American Institute of Architects has recognized it as one of the most significant structures of the 20th century. It was the seventh building in Los Angeles to be declared a National Historic Landmark (2007).
The park is located on Hollywood Boulevard at Vermont, but you can’t see the Hollyhock House from the street, since it’s surrounded by trees. There is a parking lot next to Hollywood Blvd, with the entrance near the corner of Edgemont. You can also drive up through the parking lot and find spots along the loop road that circles the top of the hill.
The house is operated by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. After being closed for several years for major renovations, the house is open for self-guided tours. The entrance is through the Visitor Center on the loop road, which is connected to the main house via a long pergola. There is no photography allowed inside. See the website for hours and admission.
The striking building was a commission from oil heiress, theatre aficionado and social activist Aline Barnsdall, who planned for the house to be part of an art and theatre colony. It was like pulling teeth for her to get the design out of Wright, who was otherwise occupied building the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo during the entire construction time from 1919 to 1921.
He was trying to make an international comeback after multiple personal scandals in the US. Final features of the Hollyhock House were actually designed by another famous name in LA architecture, Rudolph Schindler, who Wright brought from Chicago to work on the project. Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright, also worked on the original construction, even before he later qualified as an architect. Barnsdall eventually fired Wright, but brought Schindler and Lloyd Wright back to finish the job.
The hollyhock was Barnsdall’s favorite flower, and Wright’s design incorporates multiple variations of a geometric hollyhock motif on on textured concrete blocks called textile blocks and also in the stained-glass windows, carpets and furnishings. Exterior walls cantilevered slightly inward give a vague interpretation of a Mayan temple, leading some to call the architectural style Mayan Revival, but Wright called it California Romanza. Water flowed from a square pool in front of the house under the building into a moat around the fireplace and back out into a water feature in the courtyard. Like many of Wright’s concepts, that didn’t work out so well, having a tendency to flood the living room.
Nothing about the final design and construction of the 17-room house was very practical or comfortable, so Aline Barnsdall and her daughter never really lived in the house. With the cost overruns and the lack of a solid design for the theatre, she gave up on the arts colony idea and started work on donating the house to the City of LA before it was even finished. The City rejected the donation initially, but in 1927 the property was transferred with the condition that the California Art Club could lease the house for its headquarters for 15 years, and that Aline Barnsdall could stay in a smaller house on Olive Hill referred to as Residence B, which has since been demolished. She lived there until her death in 1946.
To create exhibit space in the house, the California Art Club knocked out two en suite guest rooms on the south side of the building to create a gallery, and that space currently has an exhibit of the original designs, drawings and history of the house.
In the 1940s, Lloyd Wright was contracted to do some renovations and made some significant changes, including completely redoing the kitchen and turning the sun room into an open patio. He was brought back again in the 70’s to make further alterations. The current restoration of the first floor is predominantly back to the original 1921 Frank Lloyd Wright design, with the exception of Lloyd Wright’s 1940’s kitchen.
Here is a preview of the beautifully restored Hollyhock House and see some of the details that were uncovered, and some of the second floor spaces not open to the public.