Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House
Mayan Revival Meets Los Angeles Modernism
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright between 1919 and 1921, the Hollyhock House on Olive Hill in the East Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles marked a Modernist departure from the prominent architect's early Prairie Style that made him famous. It was just Wright's second project in California, after the George C. Stewart House in Montecito near Santa Barbara, completed in 1909.
The Hollyhock House, commissioned by oil heiress and theater producer Aline Barnsdall, was a boldly conceived amalgam of Mayan, Aztec, Asian, and Egyptian influences. Wright himself dubbed the residence a "California Romanza," whereas critics referred to his eclectic design as Mayan Revival. The home takes its name from Barnsdall's favorite flower and the structure even incorporates abstracted versions of the hollyhock in its stonework, textiles, art glass, and interior decor. Likewise, actual hollyhocks were planted throughout the grounds.
Because Wright was working on the grand Imperial Hotel in Tokyo concurrently, he summoned his protégé Rudolph M. Schindler from Chicago to serve as project manager for the Hollyhock House along with his son Lloyd Wright. As construction stalled given Frank Lloyd Wright's focus on the Imperial Hotel, Barnsdall grew impatient and frustrated with the increasing budget. In 1921, she fired Wright and hired Schindler to complete the rest of the Hollyhock House and build a Director's House (House A), the Oleander House (House B), and a pergola and wading pool on Olive Hill. Schindler also convinced architect Richard Neutra to move to Los Angeles and contribute designs for a smaller building on the grounds.
Schindler's notable additions to the Hollyhock House include interiors for Barnsdall's bedroom, camouflaged locks, exterior sconces, and other design elements. The asymmetrical larger bottom molding of the sconce presently offered is a function of its having been installed directly underneath crown molding set in a concrete vestibule. This aligns with Schindler's circa 1923 renovations to the Hollyhock House and only two such sconces are known to have been used within the interior.
Before long, Barnsdall gave up hope that the Hollyhock House would ever be realized to her satisfaction, although she retained Schindler as principal architect until 1948. Rather than inhabiting the sprawling complex, with its seventeen rooms and seven bathrooms, or turning it into an artists' colony, Barnsdall opted to donate Hollyhock House and the eleven acres on which it sits to the City of Los Angeles.
In 1927, the site began transitioning to a public art park dedicated to the memory of Aline Barnsdall's father, Theodore. Hollyhock House was named a Los Angeles cultural-historic monument in 1963 and a National Historic Landmark in 2007. Following an extensive restoration from 2005 to 2015, the complex reopened to the public and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019, which made Hollyhock House the first modern American architectural project to be conferred with that honor.
Rudolph Michael Schindler was an Austrian-born architect and designer who came to define the landscape of mid-century modernism in Southern California. His education began at the Imperial Technical Institute in Vienna from 1906 to 1911 before studying under Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos at the Academy of Fine Arts from 1910 to 1913. Schindler eventually sought the mentorship of Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago. In 1920, he was hired by Wright to oversee the important Hollyhock House commission in Los Angeles. Schindler would remain in California for the rest of his life.
His iconic home and studio, the Schindler Chase House on Kings Road, set the stage for California Modernism. The construction featured a minimalist approach and linear form built in sleek concrete with sliding glass doors opening to gardens — all of which became staples of the Southern California style. The space was designed for communal living and Schindler shared the space with his wife Pauline among many other important figures, including Richard Neutra and John Cage. Between the years of 1920 and 1953, Schindler designed numerous residential commissions such as the Lovell Beach House (1922), Rodriguez House (1942), Kallis House (1946), and the Tischler House (1949). While Rudolph Schindler’s death was untimely, his legacy and philosophy continue to be celebrated in his iconic structures.
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