Modern Design for – Hollyhock House

Hollyhock House is back – much of its magnificence restored. Begun in 1919, and commissioned by oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, it was Frank Lloyd Wright’s first project built in Los Angeles. Set on a 36-acre site where Hollywood meets Los Feliz, it was part of an unrealized plan for an extensive performing arts center. Wright was away periodically working on the Imperial Hotel in Japan, so much of the work fell to project manager Rudolf Schindler and Wright’s son, Lloyd, a landscape architect. Cost overruns led Barnsdall to eventually fire Wright, and hire Schindler; she never lived in the house, donating the property and 12 surrounding acres to the city of Los Angeles in 1927. 

Over the next 70 years the house endured several disfiguring and misguided renovations as well as deterioration over time. Rehabilitation began slowly in 1998 culminating with the last three years of intensive work, and the opening last week for public viewing. The restoration was supervised by curator Jeffrey Herr with the aid of Hsiao-Ling Ting of the city's Bureau of Engineering.

Herr says, “What you see when you come to visit the residence that Wright created for her is not like a house you could ever imagine. It is monumental. It looks like a temple. It dominates the top of a hill from where you could actually see the Pacific Ocean on a clear day." Ms. Barnsdall’s favorite flower, the hollyhock, is a motif seen throughout the house, often in a geometric or abstract form. An excavated piece of original stucco allowed the team to reproduce the original color and texture of the exterior, which also carries on the flower stalk stylization.

The modernist entryway has been transformed back in time from 1970’s concrete flooring and can lights to its historically correct plaster hollyhock reliefs. Ceiling molding carved by woodworker Erik Mortensen and vintage door handles and latches complete the authentic look.

The living room’s focal point is a striking fireplace with bas relief in the hollyhock theme. It is lit from above by a detailed skylight, and flanked by recent reproductions of the original couches.

Original furniture, however, is back in its place in the dining room, featuring chairs whose backs hold carvings of the tall, bold flower. During reconstruction Herr discovered that a change in the original height of the roof had restricted the view from the room’s clerestory windows, the roof was realigned and light and views restored to Wright’s original vision.

Herr concludes, “The house contains the germination of what I think you can easily say became California Modernism."

To plan a visit click here.

Photos by Elizabeth Daniels ​