At first glance one might describe its looks as a mix of Mayan temple and ornamented war bunker – sitting right in the middle of Hollywood, Los Angeles. Today it is one of the most exciting houses in California, nominated to Unesco’s world heritage.
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1919 (his first Los Angeles project) for Alice Barnsdall, the somewhat radical oil heiress who dreamed about creating a cluster of culture featuring theatres, cinemas, shops and a concert hall. At the end of the day, only the house was ever completed, aptly named after Barnsdall’s favourite flower, the Alcea – or Hollyhock.
Designed with the Southern California climate in mind, Wright drew a house with small outward facing windows. On the inside, porches, pergolas and an amphitheatre were laid out, whilst a small artificial water stream passes the open fire, leading out to the swimming pool. A series of rooftop terraces further extend the living space and provide magnificent views of the Los Angeles basin and the Hollywood Hills. Wright himself referred to it as California Romanza, using a musical term meaning “freedom to make one’s own form”.
As cool as it might sound, Hollyhock house was never that great to live in. The flat roof and concrete construction couldn’t handle the rain storms or the earthquakes. After a few years the project was abandoned and donated in its whole to the residents of Los Angeles. For many years, it was the home of an art center, but decay soon followed.
As of February this year, after six long years of renovations, the city has re-opened the location as a core element of the “Barnsdall Art Park” – a city park dedicated to the arts and multiculturalism. Just as was planned from the start.
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