The Hollyhock House was the first house Frank Lloyd Wright designed in Los Angeles, part of a performing arts complex commissioned in the early 1920s by oil heiress Aline Barnsdall for an incredible 36-acre hilltop site on the Hollywood and Los Feliz border.
The house contains the “germination of what I think you can easily say became California Modernism,” says Hollyhock curator Jeffrey Herr.
But Wright was often away during construction, working on the Imperial Hotel in Japan, and building was mostly overseen by project manager Rudolph Schindler. When costs got out of control, Barnsdall fired Wright and eventually hired Schindler, and she never moved into the house, which had been designed around the icon of her favorite flower, the Hollyhock.
In 1927, she donated the property, with the surrounding 12 acres, to the city of Los Angeles, and over the decades since it was deformed over and over by bad renovations and general entropy. (Lloyd Wright oversaw two renovations, on in 1946 and one in the unfortunate design year of 1974.)
Following years of closure, the Hollyhock is now reopen with a beautiful, painstaking restoration that has brought many of its public spaces back to their 1921 magnificence. In 2019, the home was named as a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with seven other Wright buildings.
Herr supervised the restoration, along with Hsiao-Ling Ting of the city’s Bureau of Engineering, and Kevin Jew of the nonprofit Project Restore, which wrote the grant for the project.
The exterior was perhaps the easy part; they found a buried piece of stucco from the house’s heyday and were able to reproduce the texture and color so that Hollyhock is now more “harmonious” with the surrounding landscape.
The entryway, a Modernist version of a formal foyer, looks pristinely 1920s now, but just a few years ago had concrete floors, recessed lighting, and sliding glass doors.
Today it has been almost entirely reconstructed with historically accurate plaster, intricate ceiling moldings—originally stripped back in the ’40s—painstakingly created and aligned by a woodworker named Erik Mortensen, and accordion-folding glass doors that open to completely erase the division between house and courtyard, with actual 1920s door handles and latches.
Hollyhock’s centerpiece, though, is a showstopping hearth backed in an abstract, Hollyhock-themed bas relief, with a detailed skylight above and a pool below (it’s not filled, sadly; water isn’t very kind to the house).
Herr calls the fireplace “one of the best things [Wright] ever did.” The elaborate accompanying couches, which Herr calls “better suited for viewing Wright’s work than for conversation,” is a 1990s reproduction of original furniture.
The dining room still has its original furniture, incredibly, including a set of chairs with spines like Hollyhocks.
The clerestory windows that ring the room were removed during restoration, at which point Herr realized that a change in the roof height had cut off their bottom four inches years ago. So they put the roof back where it was; now the windows have the views they were intended to have, plus there’s a lot more light in the dining room.
The library and kitchen have only been returned to 1940s Lloyd Wright form (though the library’s donated books are all pre-1925). Meanwhile, most of the private rooms are still in the ’70s, but they won’t be open to the public anyway, because of ADA requirements. Herr hopes to makeover the house’s forecourt next, which has become a pretty unattractive parking lot.
Hours for self guided tours of the house are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. A 20-minute docent-led exterior tour is offered at 11:15 a.m., 12 p.m. and 12:45 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. A 40-minute docent-led exterior and interior tour is offered Tuesday and Wednesday at 11 a.m. and 12:30 pm. Admission for all tours is $7 for adults.