Outside Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Los Angeles home, mayor Eric Garcetti flashed a smile as he held a pair of giant scissors. The home that set the tone for Wright’s work, and put L.A. modernism on the map, was finally ready to be shown to the public after a five-year, $4.3 million restoration. An eclectic crowd of well-dressed architecture students, Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts and chic residents watched on from the 36-acre Hollywood hilltop as the Mayor cut the flowing red ribbon, signaling the beginning of the next, and hopefully final, act of Hollyhock House.
Generations of bad caretaking and sloppy renovations left the house in shambles over the years. And the strained relationship between Pennsylvania oil heiress Eline Barnstall, who commissioned the project in 1919, and Wright was at times volatile. The “saga of Hollyhock” was a phrase that reverberated throughout the ribbon cutting speeches. But at least those who understood the complexity of Hollyhock and its colorful turnovers could at least chuckle about them now.
After 94 years since the house found its home on a hill lined with olive trees and views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory, the home’s spaces have finally been restored back to its 1920 brilliance. So it seemed natural on the eve of Valentine’s Day for residents to fall in love all over again with a home that influenced the likes of Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler. Garcetti referred to the restoration as “a labor of love,” and it seemed as if the hundreds of visitors who walked through Hollyhock’s wide open 250-pound concrete front doors understood that as well.
Wright’s Hollyhock house was even nominated to be considered a prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site—the same list that includes the Taj Mahal and Easter Island. So for those who were unable to catch a glimpse of the L.A. home that may now become an architectural landmark known to the entire world, allow me to give you a walk through of the modern Hollywood masterpiece.
When I entered Hollyhock — complete with silly, but necessary paper booties over my heels — the view from the foyer looking into the living room was hard to look away from. Even if your taste tends to veer toward the opposite side of the design spectrum, Wright was a trail blazer in demonstrating how modernism really has something for everyone. The clean, simple living room of Hollyhock, free of unnecessary detail, is an example of the style at its finest.
You could say the fireplace in the 1920s-art deco style living room is easily the heart and soul of Hollyhock. The abstract hearth and its bas-relief plays right into the “Hollyhock” theme of the home, which was based entirely on Barnstall’s distinct love for the flower. And yes, the hearth does have a waterless moat around it. With an overhead sky light and a patio off the living room to the right, the room’s incredible lighting and warmth is hard to put into words.
Along with an upstairs bedroom-turned-art-gallery and an incredible courtyard, the 5,000 square-foot residence has a library I immediately wanted to commandeer. Jeffery Herr, Hollyhock’s curator, even populated the library by getting the entire L.A. community to donate books — as long as they were published before 1925 to keep up with the authenticity of Hollyhock.
The dining room was one of the few spaces with original furniture designed by Wright. The chairs even have spines that resemble that of the Hollyhock flower, distinctly engrained into the wood. The dining room windows were one of the extensive restorations of the home. The level of the flat roof had been altered by Wright’s son, Lloyd, in the 1940s and the original leaded art-glass windows had in result, been altered and reduced at the bottom by about four inches. Herr and architects were able to restore the roof’s original height, allowing more light to enter the dining room.
While trying to distance myself from the small camera-clad army of media I was grouped with, I stumbled into Hollyhock’s kitchen. Coming off from the formal dining room, it was evident the floors, windows, doors, decorative molding and even the paint color had been recreated to honor Barnstale and Wright’s vision.
Before the foyer was transformed back to its original brilliance, it was laden with concrete floors, sliding glass doors and stylistically incongruous recessed lighting that lined the ceiling. Now everything from the original 1920s plaster to the carefully designed ceiling moldings have been restored. Even the folding glass doors that literally erase the barrier between the house and courtyard has signature 1920s handles and latches.
I spent a good amount of my time waltzing around the courtyard, and with good reason: It was simply incredible. Looking much like it could have been the area of the home where plays could have been staged, the original idea of the moat in the living room was to have the water flow from the pool in the courtyard through an underground tunnel back inside to the moat, and out again to the courtyard fountain. Though absent of water, I was still mesmerized by it and of course by the complex system of split levels, steps and roof terraces that surrounded the courtyard.
The exterior walls were indeed a defining part of Wright’s work, and made you feel as if Mayans had their hand in the design. The walls are tilted back at 85 degrees, giving it a Mayan Revival-style feel. Wright was very fond of this type of architecture, and was an early proponent of it. Hollyhock House was said to be designed around the shape of temples from the ruins of Palenque in Southern Mexico. And at night…my God was the residence brilliant. The glowing ambience that emitted from the home made the 24-hour one-night-only opening of Hollyhock even more of a gift.
Nicole Theodore is an editorial assistant at Playboy.com. Follow her on Twitter.