June 28, 2012

Photo Essay: Frank Lloyd Wright Ennis House, Exterior (Updated for 2018)

[Ed: New photos and an update added 2/4/18 8:24 AM PT]

When our urban ramble on Day Two of The Big Parade took us past the Ennis House in Los Feliz...

...I was reminded that I actually had several unpublished photos of the famed Frank Lloyd Wright-designed (and Lloyd Wright-built) behemoth.

I guess it's about time I share them.

The house is strikingly recognizable because of its concrete textile block architecture...

...whose relief ornamentation is reminiscent of ancient Mayan temples.

The house, built by Wright out of 27,000 concrete blocks (manufactured onsite) in the 1920s, was remodeled in the 1940s for a new owner...

...who wanted to add a pool to the north terrace, and a billiard room to the interior.

It has sustained significant damage over the years—namely in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the particularly rainy 2004-5 season.

Some tiles are cracked. The rebar holding the tiles together is rusted.

As it is, Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are known for being leaky.

Many of the textile blocks - far beyond repair - have been replaced in recent restoration efforts...

...though historically there had been a coating added to the exterior to try to protect the tiles (and keep the water out).

Most of that light-colored coating has been removed, though some of it - cracking and peeling - still remains.

Reportedly, the neighbors don't love the house...

...nor do they love the attention it draws to the neighborhood...

...not only because of its striking presence...

...but also its frequent depictions in such TV shows and movies as Blade Runner, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Twin Peaks.

Although it's a historic landmark at the city, state, and national levels...

...skulking around it is discouraged...

...particularly around the former chauffeur's quarters...

...which is where the current caretaker lives.

In 2011, Ennis House was sold to billionaire Ron Burkle, who vowed that he was committed to its continued rehabilitation.

UPDATE: At the time, my thoughts were somewhere between "Yeah right" and "I sure hope so." But The Ennis Foundation had struggled to keep up with all of the repairs the house required—both in terms of funding and manpower—so the idea that a private owner with the interest, money, time, and resources might come in and "save the day" was exciting.

Given what other private owners have done to a lot of other historic properties, though, there were plenty of reasons not to get any hopes up too high.

Now, seven years after I first visited, I'm happy to report that the house appears to be doing great (even after a wet 2016-7 winter). The sealant remains on a lot of those textile blocks—and probably will, as long as there isn't a better method of keeping the water out.

One advantage that the Ennis House has is that Burkle doesn't live in it. In fact, no one does (aside from the caretaker in the chauffeur's quarters)—which means no one has insisted that the kitchen be modernized or that a flatscreen TV be installed.

Some might say that's a disadvantage, though, because most houses are built to be lived in—not just to be enjoyed on an intimate level, but also to evolve with their various owners and residents. The two major periods of significance for the Ennis House—the 1920s and the 1940s—share a somewhat equal weight in the architectural and historical narrative of the house.

But now, the behemoth stands frozen in time and, by and large, vacant. It's cold in there, despite all the natural light that the leaded glass windows (by Judson Studios) allow in.

Must this landmark be preserved in isolation? Is keeping it away from humans the only way to save it?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House, Interior (Updated for 2018)
Photo Essay: Barnsdall Art Park's Hollyhock House, Closed for Renovations
Photo Essay: The Persistent Unfinishing of Hollyhock House
Photo Essay: The Aztec Hotel's Mayan Legacy

June 26, 2012

In Search of the Avoidance of Doubt

"Est-ce que tu vas continuer?" my French teacher, Corinne, asked me when I arrived to class tonight, indicating that it's the last week of the early-bird special for current students to re-up and sign up for their next course.

"Non," I replied, "parce que je n'ai pas d'argent," bemoaning my impending doom of my job ending this week and no other subsequent work lined up.

Qualifying my answer, I said, "Mais...Je crois que je dois étudier le Basic." After all, at some point, when I do have more money, I do want to continue to learn French, but I feel foolish for having placed into too advanced of a course for my ability level.

"Le Basic?!" Corinne laughed, and told me I was ridiculous, that I could speak French very well.

"Oui, je peut parler," - I can speak it, and I can read it aloud - "mais je n'ai pas le vocabulaire! J'ai oublié tout!" I've lamented since the beginning of class that I seem to have forgotten everything from my five years of studying French, over 20 years ago.

"Tu as le vocabulaire!" Corinne protested.

"Je crois que je suis stupide." I confessed my suspected stupidity to her, and to the couple of students who'd also arrived early to class.

Corinne then said something to me in French that I didn't understand, and, upon my quizzical look, translated it into English:

"It's always the best students who have the most doubt."

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Run for the Hills

I have never, in my life, been a runner.


But lately, I've found myself wanting to run, springing forward, arms swinging, unprovoked, just to move ahead, more quickly.

I had somewhat of a running epiphany a little over a year ago in Joshua Tree when I was late to my Keys Ranch tour, and my car was stuck behind a locked gate, necessitating a practically jetpack-fueled run up a long driveway to meet my tour group. Sure, I was running downhill most of the way. But it wasn't so bad.

Since then, I've witnessed plenty of trail runners in LA, particularly in Runyon Canyon, where they wear very little, and carry a bottle of water, or an iPhone, at most. But I haven't really felt like I belong with them - like I'm one of them - though occasionally I'm descending a trail so steep, I'm paralyzed by fear, and instead of taking it as slow as possible or scooting on my behind, I rip it off like a Band-Aid, running down it like hell, hoping to God I'm able to stop myself at the bottom.

Two weekends ago, I was running late to pick up tickets from the Hollywood Bowl, and, for fear of missing out, ran most of the mile-long uphill climb there from my car parked in a lot on Selma.

And the funny thing is, it felt good.

It felt so good that sometimes at night, when I'm walking around my neighborhood, I just want to run home.

I'm not in a hurry.

I just want to run.

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June 25, 2012

Photo Essay: The Hidden Fire Roads of Tuna Canyon

I was supposed to go to a BBQ in Santa Monica on Saturday, so I took the opportunity to go head west early and go hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, an infrequent destination in my explorations of the various trails of LA County.

I didn't feel like revisiting Solstice Canyon (one of my favorite hikes), and I'd already been to Temescal, Topanga, and Will Rogers, so I set my sights on the lesser-known Tuna Canyon, just west of Topanga State Park, not to be confused with La Tuna Canyon in Burbank.

I knew it would be a bit off the beaten path, and solitary. I knew the trailhead would be hard to find, requiring you to wind through the surrounding hills, up and around the canyon park rather than the straight shot Tuna Canyon Road, whose short one-way stretch prevents approach from the south.

Its elusiveness drew me in.

When I arrived, I wasn't sure I was in the right place except for the one landmark I knew to look for: an abandoned phone booth. As I was confirming my location and surveying my surroundings, two blonde dogs came bounding towards me, sniffing and barking, cowering at my outstretched hand.

I looked for an unmarked yet obvious fire road...

...which turned out to be marked...

...and obvious.

A short walk up from the trailhead, there are two choices of fire roads to take: on the left to Hearst Tank, and on the right to Big Rock.

I took them both.

On the Hearst Tank fire road trail, the path winds around, steadily ascending in a gentle slope, with the ocean gradually revealing itself in the distance, looking south upon Santa Monica.

The sky and the ocean were equally blue.

Less than two miles in, I reached a saddle, a couple perched atop. Not wanting to disturb them, I kept moving...

...til I reached the end of the trail, where fellow hikers have laid out a kind of maze made of stones and trinkets...

...with messages of love and peace and belief spelled out in pebbles...

...and a variety of shells...

...placed in a variety of positions.

Heading back north towards the Big Rock Lateral...

...the ocean breeze was cooling under the hot sun...

...even when I couldn't see it.

Soon, amongst the power lines and the ridges in the distance, the ocean opened up again...

...passing old rusty vestiges...

...and other traces of others who have trodden [Ed: corrected from "have tread"] this path before.

Unlike the Hearst Tank climb, the Big Rock Lateral trail actually descends...

...dropping a few hundred feet towards the ocean...

...with plenty of vegetation...

...and the shores of Malibu spread out below.

All in all it's just over five miles to do the whole thing, though there are some extension trails and various other offshoots you can take to lengthen the hike.

Once you're done and back to your car, it's a relatively straight shot back down to the PCH, now going the right way - heading south - along the one way Tuna Canyon Road which had to be bypassed on the way up.

I changed into my party dress at my car, wiping the sweat (and dirt) from my face with the towel I keep in my car for swimming. Mid-change, another dog - this time a black one - came barreling towards me, panting and sniffing as I pulled my hiking pants off from under my skirt.

A few minutes later, I was back in civilization, and could barely recall how I'd gotten to Tuna Canyon in the first place. I may never find it again.

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