Thursday, August 20, 2015

Photo Essay: The Persistent Unfinishing of Hollyhock House

I'd tried to revisit Hollyhock House when it reopened earlier this year as part of a 24 hour extravaganza, but after three separate attempts and facing three hour lines each time (even at 3 a.m.), I finally gave up. I wanted to be part of the event of it all, but not that much.

When I went back a few months later to try again, I didn't expect to see anything much different or new. But I was wrong. Like the City of LA itself, Barnsdall Art Park and its Hollyhock House unveil their treasures slowly to visitors.



Of course I'd seen it before, but I never knew that the line of enclosures that you walk through to get to the house were built as a "pet pergola"—intended as a kind of petting zoo for children. Historians and docents disagree whether any animals actually ever occupied the pens, but rumor has it that Aline Barnsdall had an emu, and her daughter "Sugartop" had a pony.



Everyone does, however, seem to agree that Aline's chauffeur lived in tiny quarters next to the garage...



...and that Aline used to drive her car up Olive Hill and across the motor court to park her car in there. The former garage has been converted into a Visitor's Center, where an exposed portion of the unrestored ceiling shows that the building—which looks like poured concrete—is actually a wood-frame structure covered in hollow clay tile and stucco.



The Hollyhock House has come a long way from its days of vacancy and dereliction, after the Olive Hill Foundation had hired Frank Lloyd Wright's son Lloyd to "reconstruct" much of his father's work when they moved in, building a new kitchen and removing a first floor powder room to excavate a basement to make room for multiple restrooms.



But as much as there is to see of the Hollyhock complex in Barnsdall Park, Aline Barnsdall's vision was never fully realized...



...and for years, the house and the entire project were considered unfinished.



The water features never really worked right (and still don't).



Although Lloyd Wright was rehired in the 1970s to put back the Frank Lloyd Wright features he'd taken out decades before, it's only recently that the area between the living room and the back courtyard has been enclosed again, as it was when it was originally built.



From there, you can see a tiny staircase that leads to a walkway connecting one wing of the house to another, though reportedly the upstairs has not been restored enough for the public to view...



...nor have the bedrooms, accessible from a long, daylit hallway (with a buddha relocated from the outside entrance to greet you at the end) but not yet open to the public. Unfortunately, there are a lot of areas inside—both downstairs and upstairs—that you can no longer walk around. The entire living room is now roped off, visible only from its perimeter. (And, unlike in 2011, no photos are allowed.)



Of course, if you recall anything from any visit to the Hollyhock House, it's the formalized, geometric renderings of Aline Barnsdall's favorite flower, the hollyhock, which abound both inside and out.



During my previous visits, I'd never walked around to the rear of the house, where an amphitheater-shaped pond suggests the theater complex that Aline always wanted.



The east-facing leaded glass windows (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, fabricated and restored by Judson Studios) would have given Aline a view of the sunrise, if she'd ever lived there. Now, they face Kaiser Permanente, which purchased much of the acreage surrounding Olive Hill.



Aside from the work that still needs to be done on the house itself, the restoration of the entire complex is also not yet complete. Among the Barnsdall Foundation's wish list items for future restoration include the Schindler Terrace, which is more or less a pile of rubble...



...and a secondary residence, called Residence A, a little farther down the hill.



Residence A was only one of two secondary structures actually built out of Aline's plans for an artists' utopia. Residence B, on the other side of the hill, was also built, but later demolished.

If nothing else, Aline Barnsdall is credited for bringing modernist architecture to LA, which is a pretty big thing. She'd met Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and brought him to California to work on this project for her. He, in turn, hired Rudolph Schindler to come work with him on it. Schindler later brought Neutra.

Aline didn't get what she wanted out of the Olive Hill property, but without her, LA would've looked very different.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Barnsdall Art Park's Hollyhock House, Closed for Renovations
Photo Essay: Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House, Interior
Photo Essay: Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House, Exterior