A Brief Tour of the Hollyhock House

01
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Mr. Wright Goes to Hollywood

The 1921 Hollyhock House exterior, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
The 1921 Hollyhock House exterior, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

How is your ranch-style home like a mansion built on a Hollywood hill? It could be a descendant. When Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) built the Hollyhock House in southern California, architect Cliff May (1909-1989) was twelve years old. A decade later, May designed a home that incorporates many of the ideas Wright used for the Hollyhock House. May's design is often called the earliest example of the Ranch Style that swept the US after World War II.

Why is Hollyhock House important architecture?

Wright's house for Louise Aline Barnsdall (1882-1946) was the first of ten houses that the Chicago-based architect would eventually build in the Los Angeles area. Constructed in 1921, the Barnsdall House (also known as the Hollyhock House) illustrates important shifts in the evolution of Wright's designs and ultimately American house design.

  • Wright broke from the Midwestern Prairie Style to develop a rambling ranch style appropriate for the developing Western frontier. With Hollyhock, Wright is at the forefront of creating "a regionally appropriate style of architecture for Southern California."
  • Barnsdall sought to integrate Art and Architecture with her vision of an experimental arts colony she called the “Olive Hill Project." Her patronage, at the birth of the American film industry, was an investment in American architecture.
  • When Wright and Barnsdall were thinking alike, their vision of Modernism forever transformed California. Hollyhock House curator Jeffrey Herr cites "the intimate links between indoor and outdoor living" as a characteristic of southern California architecture that was established with the Hollyhock design.
  • Although Wright's reputation was firmly established in the Chicago area, the American careers of both Richard Neutra and Rudolf Schindler began with their work with Wright at Olive Hill. Schindler went on to develop what we know as the A-Frame house.
  • Home "branding" took root at the Barnsdall house. Hollyhock, a favorite flower of Barnsdall, became a motif throughout the house. This was Wright's first use of textile block construction, incorporating fabric-like patterns into concrete block.
  • Wright set the tone for American Modernism in residential architecture. “We can’t learn anything from Europe," Wright reportedly told Barnsdall. "They have to learn from us.”

At the same time Hollyhock House was being built in Los Angeles, Wright was working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Both projects evidence a mix of cultures—Wright's modern American ideals combine with Japanese traditions in Tokyo and Mayan influences in Los Angeles at Hollyhock House. The world was becoming smaller. Architecture was becoming global.

About This Photo Gallery:

The City of Los Angeles is home to many architectural treasures, none more intriguing than Hollyhock House. The Department of Cultural Affairs manages this and four other entities in Barnsdall Art Park, but the focus of this photo journey is on Hollyhock House. Built between 1919 and 1921, the house realized by Wright for Barnsdall is an architectural experiment among landscaped gardens, hardscaped pools, and galleries of art on Olive Hill.

Sources: DCA @ Barnsdall Park, City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural A (PDF); Aline Barnsdall Complex, National Historic Landmark Nomination, prepared by Jeffrey Herr, Curator, April 24, 2005 (PDF), p.4 [accessed June 15, 2016]

02
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Cast Concrete Columns

Concrete colonnade of the Hollyhock House
Concrete colonnade of the Hollyhock House. Photo by Ted Soqui / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis News / Getty Images

Frank Lloyd Wright used cast concrete for the colonnade at the Barnsdall residence, much as he did for the massive 1908 Unity Temple back in Oak Park, Illinois. No Classical columns for Wright in Hollywood. The architect creates an American column, which is a mix of cultures. The material Wright uses, commercial concrete, makes Frank Gehry's use of chain link fencing seem conventional 50 years later.

The 6,000 square foot house itself is not concrete, however. Structurally, hollow clay tile on the first floor and wood frame on the second story is covered with stucco to create a temple-looking masonry structure. Jeffrey Herr explains the design this way:

"The house's overall dimensions are approximately 121' x 99', not including the ground-level terraces. The house is visually anchored by a continuous cast concrete water table projecting from the plane of the lower portion of the wall on which sits a lower section of wall smoothly rendered in stucco and pierced at various points by window and door openings. Above this section of wall, at heights varying from 6'-6" to 8'-0" above the water table, is a plain cast concrete belt course that forms the base for the cast concrete frieze bearing an abstracted hollyhock motif. Above the frieze, the wall cants inward at approximately ten degrees, extending above the plane of the flat roof to become a parapet."
"Walls, varying from 2'-6" to 10'-0" (depending on the grade), extend outward from the building mass to enclose terraces. They are composed of various materials, including brick and hollow clay tile, all covered in stucco. The water table and caps are of cast concrete. Large cast concrete plant boxes decorated with a variant of the hollyhock motif are positioned at the ends of some of the walls."

Source: Aline Barnsdall Complex, National Historic Landmark Nomination, prepared by Jeffrey Herr, Curator, April 24, 2005 (PDF), p.5 [accessed June 15, 2016]

03
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Rambling, Open Interior

Interior of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California
The Music Room (left) of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California. Photo by Ted Soqui / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis News / Getty Images

After passing through the 500 pound cast concrete doors to the Hollyhock House, the visitor is met with an open floor plan that defined Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture for years to come. The 1939 Herbert F. Johnson House (Wingspread in Wisconsin) may be the best future example.

At Hollyhock, the dining room, living room, and music room are all within reach from the entry. The music room (left) held high technology—1921-era audio equipment—behind a wooden latticework screen, like a mashrabiya from a more ancient architecture.

The music room overlooks the expansive Hollywood Hills. From here, sitting at the piano that no doubt occupied this space, one could look beyond the olive trees planted by Joseph H. Spires and watch the development of the neighborhood—the 1923 erection of the iconic Hollywood sign and the 1935 Art Deco Griffith Observatory built atop Mount Hollywood.

Sources: Hollyhock House Tour Guide, Text by David Martino, Barnsdall Art Park Foundation at barnsdall.org/barnsdall/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/barnsdall_roomcard_book_fn_cropped.pdf [accessed June 15, 2016]

04
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The Barnsdall Dining Room

Up a few steps to the dining room of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California
Up a few steps to the dining room of Hollyhock House, 1921. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

Up a few steps to the dining room, the Hollyhock House visitor is greeted with familiar Frank Lloyd Wright details:

Like many of Wright's custom home designs, furniture was part of the architect's plan. The Hollyhock House dining room chairs are made of Philippine mahogany.

Source: Hollyhock House Tour Guide, Text by David Martino, Barnsdall Art Park Foundation at barnsdall.org/barnsdall/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/barnsdall_roomcard_book_fn_cropped.pdf [accessed June 15, 2016]

05
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Hollyhock Chair Detail

Detail of the geometric back of the dining room chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Hollyhock House
Detail of the geometric back of the dining room chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Hollyhock House. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images (cropped)

Jeffrey Herr, curator of the Hollyhock House, delights in the intricate yet simple design on the "spine" of the dining room chairs. Indeed, the geometric shapes, thematically expressing hollyhocks, also envisions human vertebral architecture in this visual pun.

06
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The Remodeled Kitchen

Kitchen of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California
Kitchen of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

Off the dining room in the "public wing" of the house is the kitchen and servant quarters, which are connected to the "animal cages" or kennels. The narrow kitchen seen here is not the 1921  design by Frank Lloyd Wright, but a 1946 version by Wright's son, Lloyd Wright (1890-1978). What this photo doesn't show is the second sink, which is seen better from another point of view. The 2015 renovations to the house reverted many rooms to the 1921 Barnsdall-Wright design. The kitchen is the exception.

Learn More:

07
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The Barnsdall Living Room

Living room fireplace of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California
Living room of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

Frank Lloyd Wright was known to showcase the fireplace as the center of the home, and the cast concrete modern chimney design at Hollyhock House is the center of attention.

Unlike his Prairie style homes, Wright used the Barnsdall House to experiment with all of the feng shui elements of nature—earth (masonry), fire, light (skylights), and water. Wright had originally concocted a water-fed moat around the hearth—an interesting idea, perhaps, but one that pragmatically didn't work out. The water feed was disconnected soon after Wright left the project in 1921.

Source: Hollyhock House Tour Guide, Text by David Martino, Barnsdall Art Park Foundation at barnsdall.org/barnsdall/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/barnsdall_roomcard_book_fn_cropped.pdf [accessed June 15, 2016]

08
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Central Living Space

Complicated interior ceiling in Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California
Complicated interior ceiling of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California. Photo by Ted Soqui / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis News / Getty Images

The house is U-shaped, with all areas radiating from the center living room. The "left" part of the U is considered the public areas—the dining room and kitchen. The "right" part of the U is the private quarters (bedrooms) emanating from a hallway (an enclosed pergola). The Music Room and Library are symmetrically located on either side of the Living Room.

Ceilings are hipped in these three main living areas—living room, music room, and library. In keeping with the theatricality of the property, the height of the living room ceiling is made more dramatic by sinking the area a full step from its surroundings. Thus, the split-level is integrated into this rambling ranch.

Source: Aline Barnsdall Complex, National Historic Landmark Nomination, prepared by Jeffrey Herr, Curator, April 24, 2005 (PDF), pp. 6,8 [accessed June 15, 2016]

09
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The Barnsdall Library

Interior library of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California
Interior library of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California. Photo by Ted Soqui / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis News / Getty Images

Every major room in Hollyhock House has access to exterior space, and the Barnsdall Library is no exception. Large doors lead the reader to the outdoors. The importance of this room is (1) in its symmetry—the words held in the Barnsdall Library are equivalent to the musical notes from the Music Room, symbolically separated by the living room—and (2) in the incorporation of natural light, bringing the outside in to even the quietness of a library.

The furnishings here are not original and the nesting tables are even from another era, designed by Wright's son during the 1940s renovation. Lloyd Wright (1890-1978) supervised much of the construction while his father was in Tokyo, working on the Imperial Hotel. Later, the younger Wright was enlisted to preserve the house to its originally intended state.

Source: Hollyhock House Tour Guide, Text by David Martino, Barnsdall Art Park Foundation at barnsdall.org/barnsdall/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/barnsdall_roomcard_book_fn_cropped.pdf [accessed June 15, 2016]

10
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Pergola of Privacy

Long hallway at Hollyhock House in Southern California
Pergola hallway at Hollyhock House in Southern California. Photo by Ted Soqui / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis News / Getty Images

The original intent of this hallway was to provide entry to the "private" wing of the house. Bedrooms with individual lavatories came off what was called an enclosed "pergola."

After Aline Barnsdall donated the house to the City of Los Angeles in 1927, the bedroom walls and plumbing were eliminated to create a long art gallery.

This particular hallway has been extensively remodeled throughout the years, yet its function is significant. Wright's 1939 Wingspread may not look at all like Hollyhock House, yet the compartmentalization of public and private functions is similar. In fact, architects today incorporate the same design idea. For example,  the Maple Floor Plan by Brachvogel and Carosso has an "evening" wing and a "daytime" wing, equivalent to Wright's private and public wings.

Source: Hollyhock House Tour Guide, Text by David Martino, Barnsdall Art Park Foundation at barnsdall.org/barnsdall/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/barnsdall_roomcard_book_fn_cropped.pdf [accessed June 15, 2016]

11
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Master Bedroom

Interior room of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California
Interior room of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California. Photo by Ann Johansson / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis Entertainment / Getty Images

The story behind this unfinished master bedroom is typical for anyone familiar with Wright's expensive design experiments and exasperated clients.

In 1919, Aline Barnsdall had purchased the land for $300,000, and the building permit estimated $50,000 for Wright's work—a gross underestimate, although higher than Wright's estimate. By 1921, Barnsdall had fired Wright and enlisted Rudolph Schindler to finish the house. Barnsdall ended up paying upwards of $150,000 for completing only part of Wright's master plan.

Source: Hollyhock House Tour Guide, Text by David Martino, Barnsdall Art Park Foundation at barnsdall.org/barnsdall/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/barnsdall_roomcard_book_fn_cropped.pdf [accessed June 15, 2016]

12
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Who was Aline Barnsdall?

Indoor / Outdoor area of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California
Indoor / Outdoor area of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in southern California. Photo by Ted Soqui / Corbis via Getty Images / Corbis News / Getty Images

Pennsylvania-born Aline Barnsdall (1882-1946) was the daughter of oil tycoon Theodore Newton Barnsdall (1851–1917). She was a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright in spirit and in deed—creative, passionate, defiant, rebellious, and fiercely independent.

Drawn to the avant-garde, Barnsdall first met Wright when she was involved with an experimental theater troupe in Chicago. Moving to where the action was, Barnsdall made her way to the growing movie industry of southern California. She almost immediately made plans for a theater colony and artists' retreat. She asked Wright to come up with the plans.

By 1917 Barnsdall had inherited millions of dollars after the death of her father, and, just as importantly, she gave birth to a baby girl, whom she named after herself. The young Louise Aline Barnsdall, known as "Sugartop," became a child of a single mother.

Barnsdall bought Olive Hill in 1919 from the widow of the man who had planted the olive trees. Wright eventually came up with grand plans that suited Barnsdall's theatricality, although she and her daughter never lived in the house that Wright built. Barnsdall Art Park on Olive Hill in Hollywood, California is now owned and run by the City of Los Angeles.

Learn More:

Sources: Hollyhock House Tour Guide, Text by David Martino, Barnsdall Art Park Foundation at barnsdall.org/barnsdall/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/barnsdall_roomcard_book_fn_cropped.pdf; When East Hollywood's Barnsdall Art Park Was an Olive Orchard by Nathan Masters, KCET, September 15, 2014; Theodore Newton Barnsdall (1851-1917), by Dustin O'Connor, Oklahoma Historical Society; Aline Barnsdall Complex, National Historic Landmark Nomination, prepared by Jeffrey Herr, Curator, April 24, 2005 (PDF), p. 16 [accessed June 15, 2016]

13
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Preserving the View

Exterior terrace with views toward the Hollywood Hills
Overlooking the Art Deco Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Hills sign. Photo by Araya Diaz / Getty Images for Barnsdall Art Park Foundation / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

A series of rooftop terraces expanded living space to the outdoors—an idea not very practical in Wisconsin or Illinois, but one that Frank Lloyd Wright embraced in southern California.

It's good to remember that buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright were often experimental. As such, many are deeded over to nonprofit and government entities who have the collective means for expensive structural repairs and upkeep. A case in point is the fragile roof terrace, which has been closed to tourist inspection. Between 2005 and 2015 major structural renovations were made inside and outside, including water drainage systems and seismic stabilization to mitigate earthquake damage.

Statement of Significance:

With Hollyhock House, Wright crafted a high profile example of open-space planning and integrated accommodation for indoor-outdoor living that informed his own later domestic work as well as that of other architects. These components became elemental features of “California type” houses built across the country in the mid-twentieth century.

The architectural significance of Hollyhock House helped designate it as a National Historic Landmark on March 29, 2007. The story of the Barnsdall Art Park points out two more important aspects about architecture today:

  • Historic preservation and restoration are vital to preserving America's architectural history.
  • Wealthy patrons, from the Medicis to the Barnsdalls, often are the ones who make architecture happen

Learn More:

  • Aline Barnsdall's Olive Hill Project by Jeffrey Herr, 2015
    Buy on Amazon
  • Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House by Donald Hoffmann, 1992
    Buy on Amazon
  • Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House and Olive Hill by Kathryn Smith, 2006
    Buy on Amazon
  • Cliff May and the Modern Ranch House by Daniel P. Gregory, Rizzoli, 2008
    Buy on Amazon
  • Houzz TV video narrated by Jeffrey Herr, curator of the Hollyhock House
  • The Man Behind the Ranch House by Joseph Giovannini, The New York Times, July 3, 1986

Sources: About Hollyhock House, Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles; Aline Barnsdall Complex, National Historic Landmark Nomination, prepared by Jeffrey Herr, Curator, April 24, 2005 (PDF), p. 17 [accessed June 15, 2016] [accessed June 15, 2016]

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Craven, Jackie. "A Brief Tour of the Hollyhock House." ThoughtCo, Feb. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/tour-of-the-hollyhock-house-4053184. Craven, Jackie. (2017, February 10). A Brief Tour of the Hollyhock House. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tour-of-the-hollyhock-house-4053184 Craven, Jackie. "A Brief Tour of the Hollyhock House." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tour-of-the-hollyhock-house-4053184 (accessed November 24, 2017).