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Frank Lloyd Wright, And How To Kill An Afternoon

Posted by bmac on March 7, 2008

I was in L.A. yesterday, just for the day. Can’t really say why, but it was a paying gig. And yes, it was legal. I had the afternoon to kill, so I took a little field trip to see one of only four houses in all of Los Angeles designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. All the houses he designed there had a similar theme, a Mayan block motif.

I find myself fascinated by these houses, not only because I love Wrights design, but because they have an ominous, almost menacing look to them. The house I went to, the Ennis-Brown House, has been used in a bunch of movies for just that reason. It was featured in the original “House on Haunted Hill”, and it’s most famous cameo, Harrison Fords house in ”Blade Runner.”

ennis-should-work.jpg  usable-ennis-2.jpg usable-ennis-3.jpg  usable-ennis-4.jpg usable-ennis-9.jpg  usable-ennis-10.jpg

This house is currently in very bad dis-repair. Built around 1924, the materials Wright chose are composite blocks that aren’t weathering too well, and the ’94 Northridge quake as well as the 2005 deluge of rain that hit L.A. have taken their toll on this amazing piece of architectural history.

When I was there, there were only one or two guys working inside (The public can’t go in) but I understand it’s being renovated with donations from the public. My pictures don’t really capture the massiveness of this house, it’s enormous, taking up almost an entire block, and it’s no easy feat to get to. It sits high up in the hills of Los Feliz, just below the Griffith observatory, and the view is breathtaking, a panoramic of all of Los Angeles.

I like the little details that are uniquely Wright, like this porch light. usable-ennis-5.jpg 

I wish I got a less cluttered view, but click on it to see a little better. It’s a small thing, but here’s this stupid little porch light that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, kind of lost within this massive structure. Simple, but unmistakably FLW.

Or this doorbell. usable-ennis-6.jpg  Here it is in context. usable-ennis-8.jpg

Each block is 16 inches, if that gives you an idea of the size.

Just down the hill from this house, is a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. that I thought I’d check out while I was in the neghborhood, the Sowden House, which is also Mayan themed, and has been used in a zillion TV shows and movies.

sowden.jpg sowden-3.jpg sowden-4.jpg

It’s got the added attraction of being somewhat infamous, when it was recently tied to the Black Dhalia murder, by the son of the guy who owned it in the 40’s. He maintains she was killed and mutilated in this house. By his father. There were people in it, ( I believe you can rent it out nightly or weekly) so I couldn’t get too close, or linger around.

These houses evoke a kind of film noir darkness of old Los Angeles, old Hollywood, probably best captured in a film like “L.A. Confidential,” that I find fascinating. In fact, the Sowden House was used in L.A. Confidential. There must have been some twisted parties that went down in these houses.

Anyway, hope this isn’t too boring, but I enjoyed it.

17 Responses to “Frank Lloyd Wright, And How To Kill An Afternoon”

  1. You sure you weren’t in Tijuana by mistake?

  2. bmac said

    Pretty sure. I couldn’t find a donkey show.
    And I tried.

  3. I lived in San Diego for 32 years of my life and have been to Tijuana countless times. I have yet to find a donkey show.

  4. bmac said

    I think you have to go a bit further South for a good donkey show.

    Or maybe the donkey show finds you.

  5. nicedeb said

    That is an impressive house. I hope they are able to complete all the repair work that’s needed.

  6. S. Weasel said

    House on Haunted Hill scared the BEJESUS out of me as an infant weasel. I was apparently sat in front of the toob as a baby and absorbed bits of it into my backbrain. I was in my twenties before I saw the film again and realized where those horrible visions came from. (Now if I could only work out why I was frightened of yellow blinking caution lights as a child).

    If they used the real house for those exterior scenes, then it certainly is impressive. A massive thing squatting on top of a hill.

  7. bmac said

    Yep, it was used for all the exteriors, but then they go indoors and none of the design seems to flow into the house. Kind of surprised they didn’t catch that, but it was a simpler time….

    It does stick out like a sore thumb, surrounded by Spanish style mansions, but Wrights whole thing was to make the house compatible with it’s natural surroundings, and I’m sure in 1924, there was a bit more nature around it than there is today.

    It still would have looked spooky though.

  8. eddiebear said

    Cool stuff. I hope everything goes well in LA.

  9. Enas Yorl said

    ***Adds House on Haunted Hill to Netflix list***

    Pretty neat Bmac. One problem with FLW’s stuff is that they don’t seem to hold up real well over the long term. His most famous house “Fallingwater” was about to fall down and they stopped letting people go in it for a while. They had to put a lot of work into fixing and shoring the place up some years ago.

  10. bmac said

    I think a few his masterpieces like Fallingwater and the Ennis house, were built in kind of untennable locales to take advantage of the landscape, resulting in some problems.

    I’m shocked that any of the houses on the hill that Ennis is on are standing. In fact, as I was driving to it, I was trying to figure out how hard it must have been to get materials up there in 1924 with the vehicles that were available. It’s STEEP.

    It seems like one good rain would bring that whole hill down.

    Just about a mile or two from the Ennis house is the Hollyhock House (also Mayan block design)which has been restored completely and they give tours, but I ran out of time.

  11. S. Weasel said

    That wasn’t necessarily a recommendation, Enas. I bought House on Haunted Hill on DVD and it holds up for me, but maybe because a couple of scenes furnished my nightmares for years. It is actually VERY camp horror flick. Vincent Price sort of camp.

    Okay, it’s fun.

  12. Enas Yorl said

    Oh, I was a Vincent Price fan from back when I was a kid. I always loved catching one of his flicks on the Saturday afternoon “Creature Feature” TV shows. He made a bunch of these so there’s quite a few I’ve never gotten around to seeing.

  13. YAY! Vincent Price! That was the best. I got to watch my Abbott and Costello and then my Vincent Price shows.

    hhhhmmmmmmmm, wonder if it would creep my kids out the way it did me. It’s hard to get them to watch flicks in black and white. They’re like wtf?

    Oh and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. I always felt bad for Bob because he never got the woman and I would have rather had him than Bing.

  14. Enas Yorl said

    Bob Hope was teh bomb.

  15. Ooooo, nice post, bmac. I likes me some FLW.

    I just saw “The Rocketeer” for the first time in a while on cable — bad guy’s house has the Mayan block look. I know it’s cheesey, but I enjoy that flick. Sappy heroism, great score, and Jennifer Connolly is a pure knockout in it.

  16. bmac said

    Yep, same house Cuff.
    I’ve never seen Rocketeer, but I always heard it was good, I’ll keep an eye out for it.

    I think that was one of the last movies they shot in that house, before the Northridge quake. While there’s tons of exterior photos, there’s almost no interior photo’s available of this house, and I believe all the scenes in Rocketeer are interior, so I’d like to see it if only for that.

    And Jennifer Connelly.

  17. freshkids said

    Cool article.. I’m a big fan of FLW, and every now and then a post about a house of his sneeks on to my blog. Most recently the Millard House in Pasadana, CA, which recently went up for sale..

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