Frank Lloyd Wright, who could be difficult, met his match in Aline Barnstall. He built a house for her. She never lived in it. He liked to control every detail and Aline was an art collector. To keep her from hanging her art inappropriately in HIS design, FLW tilted walls. She fired him in 1921 for cost overuns but, ironically, she died in the house he built for her.
Between 1921 and 1940, Frank Lloyd Wright created 7 houses in the Los Angeles area. The first was Aline Barnstall’s, which became known as Hollyhock House. Four of these Wright dwellings were completed in 1923. One of them is the Ennis house just south of Griffith Park. It can be seen from Hollyhock House and has starred in several mainstream films like House on Haunted Hill and the original Blade Runner. Only one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s LA homes, Hollyhock House, can be visited. The rest are privately owned and not regularly opened for tours. Hollyhock is atop a mountain in the Barnsdall Art Park and is opened to the public with some restrictions, like no inside photography, from Thursday through Sunday between 11 am and 4 pm.
Ruth & I really enjoyed being in it on our recent trip to LA. If Hollyhock House is any indication, FLW’s California homes are very different from his low-to-the-ground Midwest prairie-style designs and for mainly affluent West Coast clients. Very different from Oak Park, they’re far more light-filled. The California lifestyle was clearly taken into consideration in conceiving them. However, Wright didn’t understand Los Angeles rain patterns so leakage is a problem. Barnstall wanted Hollyhocks, her favorite flower, incorporated into the design and Wright, apparently in a good mood at the time, abstracted them for her and used the motif copiously.
The main rooms seen on the tour are mostly impressive. Original Wright furniture is elegantly on display in the dining room, my favorite. The hearth is center-focus in the living room, which contains Tiffany vases and an unusual triangular sofa that is a reproduction made by its original manufacturer. Many outdoor spaces seem like extensions of the indoor spaces and make this elegant house seem larger than it is. Wright mainly used cast concrete in Hollyhock Houses’s design and its many windows are clearly Wrightian art glass. Of the 130 he created, 100 survive. The long, covered entryway reminded me of a Mayan temple.
Aline Barnstall was a free spirit. She had one child fathered by an actor. She named her Louise Aline, but Louise went by the nickname Sugartop. Sugartop inherited the house when her mother died in 1946. I was curious about what happened to both of them. When I pressed the staff for more information, someone told me to get and read a book called The Oilman’s Daughter.
Unlike Ennis, which has been in several films, Hollyhock House has only appeared in one movie, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. Really.