Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House unites fire, earth, air, water

Beginning August 18, the public will once again be able to tour the first home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in LA: the 5,000-square-foot Hollyhock House. Located in Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood, the residence was closed during the COVID pandemic and underwent restorations to the cast stone work, art glass, wood finishes and exterior finishes. The entire house was reinforced against earthquakes and leaking roofs were repaired.

The house was commissioned by oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, who planned to make it part of an art complex. Wright completed it in 1921. Six years later, Barnsdall gave it to the City of LA, which has managed it ever since.

Hollyhock House is LA’s one and only UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning its significance transcends national borders and influences the development of architecture and culture in general. So says curator Abbey Chamberlain Brach.

Aline Barnsdall’s favorite flower was the hollyhock, so Wright incorporated abstractions from it when creating bands of cast concrete masonry that wrap around the entire building, Brach explains. The masonry is influenced by Mayan architecture.


Frank Lloyd Wright scorned what he called “the tawdry Spanish medievalism” of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in Los Angeles, looking instead at pre-Hispanic structures. With his design of Hollyhock House, he evoked, rather than imitated, Maya architecture. Here on the iconic west facade, the pronounced slope of the upper walls resembles that of the palace at Palenque in southern Mexico. The molded concrete embellishments relate to the dense patterns of Mayan facades that Wright admired. Photo by Amy Ta.


Aline Barnsdall’s favorite flower was the hollyhock, and Frank Lloyd Wright incorporated it into the design for her home using geometric abstractions in poured concrete, art glass, textiles and furniture. Photo by Amy Ta.

The interior is known for plenty of airflow and low ceilings. “Frank Lloyd Wright was 1.85m tall” so while he was a pretty average height for the time frame, it’s about the design and how you feel moving through these spaces. So the low ceilings allow that feeling of liberation when you enter the rooms themselves,” says Brach.

She continues, “Looking into the dining room just in from the foyer, there’s a shift in ceiling height and you really get the feeling that you’re arriving in the room itself.”

The dining table and chairs from the 1921 house are still there, she points out. The chairs have a high back that resembles the tall stems of the hollyhock flower, and they are reminiscent of vertebrae that run through the human spine.


The dining room, just off the foyer on the left, has warm wood surfaces, a hipped ceiling and art glass windows. It has many features typical of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Prairie-style homes. Here, however, he created a less formal open space where moldings and a shift in ceiling height are all that sets the dining area apart from the kitchen aisle. Photo by Amy Ta.


Frank Lloyd Wright preferred high-backed chairs in his dining room designs. They are high, creating an enclosed, intimate space for dining in the larger room. The original custom chairs here, gathered around a hexagonal table, have an abstraction of the hollyhock that looks like a vertebra and echoes the body of the seated person. Photo by Amy Ta.


Designed in the 1940s by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright, this remodeled kitchen features solid mahogany countertops and a high-quality custom stove. Lloyd Wright embraced general elements of his father’s original design for the house, favoring clean, modern lines, which he can see here. Photo by Amy Ta.

Wright designed furniture for the dining room and living room – the most ostentatious of spaces here.

“Wright is known for creating these total works of art…where he integrates the design of furniture, textiles, the windows are variations on the Hollyhock motif, carry through all those design elements and also make recommendations on the kind of objects an individual should make their home. fill with it,” Brach says.

She continues: “Barnsdall bought the Japanese screens here at Hollyhock House – two sets that were used in the living room via Frank Lloyd Wright.”


Frank Lloyd Wright designed custom furniture for the living room and dining room of Hollyhock House. The oak furniture in the living room has abstractions of the hollyhock, framing the view in the room and providing surfaces for displaying objects. At the far end of the room, a pair of Japanese screens purchased by Aline Barnsdall from Frank Lloyd Wright extends the view of the landscape from the western windows into the room itself. Photo by Amy Ta.

The most dramatic space of the house is the living room, with a fireplace that is “one of its most notable features.”

“We have restored the canal bridge. And yes, there is a moat for this fireplace. It’s a design that brings together the four classic elements…earth, air, fire and water. … Light [is] flowing in from top with art glass panels. There is a molded stone relief… over the fireplace,” Brach describes.


At Hollyhock House, Frank Lloyd Wright experimented with a new design element, water. It originally ran through the house, connecting the patio pool to another on the west facade. The water is said to have surfaced in the living room and was an integral part of the design of the breathtaking fireplace. Oversized benches faced this focal point like a podium, where—with striking cast stone, art glass above, and a moat around the hearth—fire, earth, air, and water converged. The cast concrete moat bridge has just been restored and completes this remarkable fireplace design. Photo by Amy Ta.


Wright believed that the hearth was the symbolic center of a home, and his residential designs reflected its importance. Here, the monumental fireplace features spectacular bas-relief sculpture with geometric abstractions of the hollyhock and other shapes seen throughout the house. Constructed from 17 individual cast concrete blocks, the relief adds to Wright’s unified design with a dramatic effect that goes beyond just hanging a painting over the fireplace. Photo by Amy Ta.

Brach says most of the furniture was recreated in the 1990s. But recently, someone bought the original small tables — which extend from the backs of large sofas — and brought them back to the house.

“It really is a remarkable survival [story] that 100 years after this house is completed, objects return to the site.


In 2021, Hollyhock House celebrated the return of two original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed sofa tables to the site. They are the only known permanent furniture from the living room to survive. Photo by Amy Ta.

From the living room, visitors walk to the patio garden, where artificial grass has been added to the private lawn. A few hollyhock plants grow there, although the flower usually doesn’t do well in late summer.


A few hollyhock plants are still in bloom in the patio garden of Hollyhock House, even in summer. With flowers running along the plant’s tall trunk, the hollyhock inspired Frank Lloyd Wright’s geometric abstractions throughout the site, including the poured concrete capitals on the colonnade pictured here. Photo by Amy Ta.

The rooftops of the residence can also be accessed via multiple staircases, where panoramic views show the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, Century City, and downtown LA.

“Key to Wright’s design was these livable roof terraces that he designed here at Hollyhock House,” Brach says.


The roof of Hollyhock House was intended as an outdoor space for Aline Barnsdall and her daughter. This staircase leads to the roof of the living room with panoramic views of Los Angeles. Photo by Amy Ta.


Decorative cast concrete finials flank stairwells on the roof terraces of Hollyhock House, offering another variation on hollyhock-inspired abstractions and aiding in navigating these outdoor spaces. Behind each finial is a planter (now covered to prevent leakage from the inside), which would allow cascading vines to run across the rooflines of Hollyhock House, as seen in images of Mayan ruins discovered in the early 20th century. have been published. Photo by Amy Ta.


This Frank Lloyd Wright-designed cast concrete roof terrace has a mask-like detail reminiscent of pre-Hispanic masonry, which the architect admired. Photo by Amy Ta.

After guiding KCRW through the 5,000-square-foot space, Brach says, “I’m very excited to have people back in the house [so they can] experience the interior again.”


A 15m enclosed walkway leads to the front doors of Hollyhock House, creating a sense of anticipation on arrival. Photo by Amy Ta.


This south-facing porch has striking art glass and would have been a safe place for Aline Barnsdall’s daughter, Betty, to play and an alternative to the adjacent terraced garden. Photo by Amy Ta.


The study lists nearly 1,000 books published in the 1920s or earlier. While only a few were owned by Aline Barnsdall, the collection represents her interests in art and literature, and most were gifts made by members of the local community. Photo by Amy Ta.


In 2021, curator Abbey Chamberlain Brach discovered a painting from Aline Barnsdall’s famous art collection for sale on eBay. With support from Project Restore, it was returned to Hollyhock House. “Mountains” was painted by Edith Truesdell, a member of the California Art Club (headquartered at Hollyhock House from 1927-42) and a club bulletin editor during that vibrant period in the house. Photo by Amy Ta.


In 1921, when Frank Lloyd Wright was finishing Aline Barnsall’s house, she bought ‘Three Dancing Nymphs’, a first-century Roman relief. She described it as “what I love most, except my relatives”, and installed it in the loggia. In 2016, this plaster replica was created from the original (now on display at the Getty Museum) using 3D scanning and computer numerically controlled (CNC) milling. Photo by Amy Ta.


This long colonnade runs along the north side of the central patio and leads from the servants’ quarters to the foyer of Hollyhock House. Photo by Amy Ta.


This baby grand piano from Behr Bros & Co., donated to Hollyhock House in 2019 by then-curator Jeffrey Herr, is at home in the music room. Frank Lloyd Wright long saw a connection between music and architecture and used the musical term for free form to describe Hollyhock House as a “California Romanza,” capturing the creative potential of the commission. Photo by Amy Ta.


This 1923 aerial view shows Hollyhock House in the middle of Olive Hill, Aline Barnsdall’s 36-acre estate. The house was intended as the center of a large art complex, which was only partially realized. Notice two figures swinging from the roof of the house above the living room. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific National Bank Collection.


Aline Barnsdall’s daughter, Betty, and a friend play on the west lawn of Hollyhock House, circa 1923. Credit: Collection of David Devine and Michael Devine, courtesy of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Hollyhock House.


The living room of Hollyhock House can be seen circa 1921. Photo courtesy of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Hollyhock House.


This portrait of Aline Barnsdall was taken in 1916 for the Little Theater of Los Angeles. Credit: Collection of David Devine and Michael Devine, courtesy of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Hollyhock House.

Leave a Reply