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...I was reminded that I actually had several unpublished photos of the famed Frank Lloyd Wright-designed (and Lloyd Wright-built) behemoth.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

1 comment:

  1. I grew up in a house at the foot of Glendower Ave. (from which most people drive up to the Ennis House). In the 1980s, the Ennis's owner constantly rented out the house for weddings and private parties: year 'round, sometimes every weekend. On nearby narrow streets, the parking situation became impossible. An awful mess!