Art Collecting

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House combines fire, earth, air and water | Pro Club Bd

Beginning August 18, the public can once again tour the first LA residence designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright: the 5,000-square-foot Hollyhock House. Located in Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood, the residence has been closed during the COVID pandemic and has undergone restorations to engineered stonework, art glass, wood finishes and exterior finishes. The whole house was strengthened against earthquakes and leaky roofs were repaired.

The house was commissioned by oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, who planned to make it part of an arts complex. Wright completed it in 1921. Six years later, Barnsdall donated it to the City of LA, which has operated it ever since.

Hollyhock House is LA’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning its importance transcends national borders and influences the development of architecture and culture overall. So says curator Abbey Chamberlain Brach.

Aline Barnsdall’s favorite flower was the mallow, so Wright used abstractions from it when creating bands of cast concrete blockwork that run around the entire building, explains Brach. The stonework is influenced by Mayan architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright despised what he called “the kitschy Spanish medieval” of Spanish colonial architecture in Los Angeles, and instead considered pre-Hispanic structures. His Hollyhock House design evoked rather than imitated Mayan architecture. Here on the iconic west facade, the pronounced slope of the upper walls resembles that of the palace at Palenque in southern Mexico. The cast concrete decorations refer to the dense patterning of the Mayan facades that Wright admired. Photo by Amy Ta.

Aline Barnsdall’s favorite flower was the mallow, and Frank Lloyd Wright incorporated it into the design of her home with geometric abstractions in cast concrete, art glass, textiles and furniture. Photo by Amy Ta.

The interior is known for plenty of airflow and low ceilings. “Frank Lloyd Wright was 5’8” tall. Despite being a fairly average size for the time, it’s all about the design and how you feel walking through these spaces. So the low ceilings allow for that sense of liberation as you enter the spaces themselves,” says Brach.

She continues, “When you look into the dining room from the foyer, the ceiling height changes and you really get the feeling of being in the room itself.”

The dining table and chairs from the 1921 house are still here today, she points out. The chairs have high backs resembling the tall stems of hollyhocks, and they are reminiscent of the vertebrae that run through the human spine.

The dining room, just off the foyer on the left, has warm wood finishes, a hipped ceiling, and ornate stained glass windows. It has many features typical of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Prairie-style homes. Here, however, he created a less formal open-plan space, where only moldings and a shift in ceiling height separate the dining area from the kitchen walkway. Photo by Amy Ta.

Frank Lloyd Wright preferred high back chairs in his dining room designs. They stand tall, creating a closed, intimate space for dining within the larger room. The original custom chairs here, gathered around a hexagonal table, feature an abstraction of the hollyhock, which looks like a whorl and reflects the body of the seated person. Photo by Amy Ta.

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son Lloyd Wright in the 1940’s, this remodeled kitchen features solid mahogany worktops and a quality custom range cooker. Lloyd Wright borrowed general elements from his father’s original design for the home, favoring clean, modern lines, which he can see here. Photo by Amy Ta.

Wright designed furniture for the dining room and living room – the most eye-catching spaces here.

“Wright is known for creating these total works of art…where he integrates the design of furniture, textiles, the windows are variations on the hollyhock motif, carries all of these design elements through and also makes recommendations on the types of objects that an individual would add to their home.” fill with it,” says Brach.

She continues, “Barnsdall actually bought the Japanese canvases here at Hollyhock House – two sets used by Frank Lloyd Wright in the living room.”

Frank Lloyd Wright designed custom furniture for the living room and dining room at Hollyhock House. The oak furniture in the living room shows abstractions of the hollyhock, frames the view into the room and offers surfaces for the presentation of objects. At the far end of the room, two Japanese screens, purchased by Aline Barnsdall from Frank Lloyd Wright, extend the landscape view from the west windows into the room itself. Photo by Amy Ta.

The most dramatic room in the house is the living room, which features a fireplace that is “one of the most striking features.”

“We restored the Moat Bridge. And yes, there is a moat for this fireplace. It is a design that combines the four classic elements of earth, air, fire and water. … light [is] Flowing in from above with art glass panes. There’s a cast stone design relief…above the fireplace,” describes Brach.

At Hollyhock House, Frank Lloyd Wright experimented with a new design element, water. It originally ran through the house, connecting the patio pool to another on the west facade. The water would have surfaced in the living room and was an integral part of the design of the stunning fireplace. Oversized sofas faced this focal point like a stage where—with striking cast stone, ornate glass above, and a moat around the hearth—fire, earth, air, and water came together. The cast concrete moat bridge has just been restored and completes this remarkable fireplace design. Photo by Amy Ta.

Wright believed the hearth to be the symbolic center of a home, and his home designs reflected its importance. Here, the monumental fireplace boasts a spectacular bas-relief sculpture depicting geometric abstractions of the hollyhock and other forms seen around the house. Consisting of 17 individual blocks of cast concrete, the relief complements Wright’s unified design with a dramatic effect that goes beyond simply hanging a painting over the fireplace. Photo by Amy Ta.

Brach says most of the furniture was replicated in the 1990s. But recently someone bought the original small tables – which emanate from the backs of large sofas – and brought them back into the house.

“It is truly a remarkable survival [story] that 100 years after the completion of this house, objects are returning to the site.”

In 2021, Hollyhock House celebrated the return of two original Frank Lloyd Wright designed coffee tables to the site. They are the only known fixed pieces of furniture from the living room to have survived. Photo by Amy Ta.

From the living room, visitors can walk out into the courtyard garden where artificial grass has been added to the private lawn. A few mallow plants grow, although the flower usually does not do well in late summer.

A few hollyhocks still bloom in summer in the courtyard garden of Hollyhock House. With blooms running up the plant’s tall stand, hollyhock inspired Frank Lloyd Wright’s geometric abstractions throughout the site, including the cast-concrete capitals on the colonnade, shown here. Photo by Amy Ta.

The residence’s rooftops are also accessible via multiple flights of stairs, from where panoramic views include the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, Century City and downtown LA.

“The key to Wright’s design was these livable rooftop decks that he designed here at Hollyhock House,” says Brach.

The roof of Hollyhock House was to become an outdoor living space for Aline Barnsdall and her daughter. This staircase leads to the roof of the living room with panoramic views of Los Angeles. Photo by Amy Ta.

Decorative cast concrete finials flank the stairwells on Hollyhock House’s rooftop terraces, offering another twist on Hollyhock-inspired abstractions and aiding in navigating these outdoor living spaces. Behind each cross is a planter box (now sealed to prevent internal leaks) which would have allowed cascading vines to spill over the rooflines of Hollyhock House, as seen in images of Mayan ruins found in the were published in the early 20th century. Photo by Amy Ta.

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this cast concrete rooftop finial features a mask-like detail reminiscent of pre-Hispanic stonework that the architect admired. Photo by Amy Ta.

After guiding KCRW through the 5,000-square-foot space, Brach says, “I’m so excited to have people in the house again [so they can] Relive the interiors.”

A 50 foot enclosed walkway leads to the front doors of Hollyhock House, creating a sense of anticipation upon arrival. Photo by Amy Ta.

This south-facing porch has eye-catching art glass and would have been a safe place for Aline Barnsdall’s daughter Betty to play and an alternative to the adjacent patio courtyard. Photo by Amy Ta.

The study includes nearly 1,000 books published in the 1920s or earlier. While few were owned by Aline Barnsdall, the collection represents her interest in art and literature, and most were gifts from members of the local community. Photo by Amy Ta.

In 2021, curator Abbey Chamberlain Brach spotted a painting from Aline Barnsdall’s famous art collection for sale on eBay. With support from Project Restore it was returned to Hollyhock House. “Mountains” was painted by Edith Truesdell, a member of the California Art Club (headquartered at Hollyhock House from 1927 to 1942) and editor of the club’s bulletin during this lively period at the house. Photo by Amy Ta.

When Frank Lloyd Wright was finishing Aline Barnsall’s house in 1921, she bought “Three Dancing Nymphs,” a first-century Roman relief. She described it as “the thing I love most, apart from my relatives,” and installed it in the loggia. In 2016, this plaster replica of the original (now in the Getty Museum) was created using 3D scanning and Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) milling. Photo by Amy Ta.

This long colonnade runs along the north side of the central courtyard, leading from the servants’ area to the foyer of Hollyhock House. Photo by Amy Ta.

Gifted to Hollyhock House in 2019 by then-curator Jeffrey Herr, this Behr Bros & Co. baby grand is right at home in the music room. Long seeing a connection between music and architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright used the musical term for free form to describe Hollyhock House as “California Romanza”, capturing the creative potential of the commission. Photo by Amy Ta.

This 1923 aerial view shows Hollyhock House at the center of Aline Barnsdall’s 85-acre Olive Hill estate. The house was to be the centerpiece of a large art complex that was only partially realized. Note two figures waving from the house’s roof terrace above the living room. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific National Bank Collection.

Aline Barnsdall’s daughter Betty and a friend play on the west lawn of Hollyhock House circa 1923. Photo Credit: Collection of David Devine and Michael Devine, courtesy of the City of Los Angeles Department of Culture and Hollyhock House.

The sitting room of Hollyhock House can be seen circa 1921. Photo courtesy of City of Los Angeles Department of Culture and Hollyhock House.

This portrait of Aline Barnsdall was taken for the Little Theater of Los Angeles in 1916. Photo Credit: Collection of David Devine and Michael Devine, courtesy of the City of Los Angeles Department of Culture and Hollyhock House.

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