Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House Exterior
Hollyhock House Rear Facade | © ArchEyes, 2020

Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned by oil heiress Louise Aline Barnsdall to design the Hollyhock House as part of the avant-garde theatre and cultural complex called Olive Hill. The complex was planned to be an artistic and cultural hub in Los Angeles; however, only the residence and two apartments were actually built. The Hollyhock House, located in the East Hollywood neighborhood, was completed between 1919 and 1921 and is considered one of Wright’s most important early works in Southern California.

Hollyhock House Technical Information

Simplicity is difficult to comprehend nowadays. It is now valiant to be simple, a courageous thing to even want to be simple. It is a spiritual thing to comprehend what simplicity means.

– Frank Lloyd Wright1

Hollyhock House Photographs

Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House Exterior
Hollyhock House | © ArchEyes, 2020
Hollyhock House Facade | © ArchEyes, 2020
© ArchEyes, 2020
Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House Aerial
Hollyhock House Aerial View | © Joshua White
Hollyhock House Exterior View | © ArchEyes, 2020

The Hollyhock House: Inspired by Pre-Columbian and Japanese Design

It all began when Wright and Barnsdall selected a 36-acre site, Olive Hill, to build her version of a theater campus where she would live with her young daughter Elizabeth. Her ideal plans included an actor’s dormitory, theater, director’s house, artist studio, shops, and a motion picture theater. However, during construction, multiple financial disagreements and personality differences between the two led to her firing Wright in 1921.

In response to Barnsdall’s request for a “half house, half garden,” the home is arranged around a central courtyard. At one end, it opens to a circular pool with a fountain in the middle, which is wrapped by semi-circular seating. He designed the massive residence with L.A.’s enviable weather in mind: the entire home surrounds a courtyard, and a connected outdoor counterpart mirrors each indoor space. The upper level provides access to rooftop terraces linked by bridges and staircases and offers impressive views of the Los Angeles basin and the Hollywood Hills.

Inside, spaces transition from tight corridors to large and open-plan rooms. Once completed, the huge house included seventeen rooms and seven bathrooms.

Wright turned to pre-Columbian Mexico for inspiration for the project, giving the home’s exterior the look of an ancient temple. These can be seen in the home’s inclined upper walls and arcades, which bear a similarity to the shapes of temples in Palenque, a Mayan city-state in southern Mexico built during the seventh century A.D. While the place touts a slew of other unique features, from its 250-pound cast concrete doors to camouflaged locks to art glass windows throughout, it also gives lots of nods to Barnsdall’s favorite flower, the Hollyhock.

Since Wright was simultaneously working on the Japanese Imperial Hotel, and with the approval from Barnsdall, he incorporated many Japanese details in the design of the Hollyhock House, including a set of authentic 18th-century Japanese screens. Since the originals were stolen during the house’s “dark years,” the ones seen in this article are reproductions. Along with the Japanese screens in the living room, there’s also a Buddhist sculpture at the end of a long hallway lined with art glass.

The massive fireplace is the home’s most drool-worthy feature, with its abstract Hollyhock motif etched into the cast concrete; the hearth was also meant for a grander purpose. It represents the element of fire, while the concrete is Earth, the skylight above represents air, and a pool below (now empty) serves as water.

The house is made of hollow clay and covered with stucco, a common building material in Southern California. Though this technique had been utilized to build L.A.’s City Hall and many other buildings of the era, Wright was being experimental, considering his past work with more organic processes.

Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House Living Room
The Hollyhock House Interior | © Joshua White
The Hollyhock House Interior | © The Journalist
The Hollyhock House Interior | © Christina House
Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House Entrance
Entrance | © Alexander Vertikoff
Living Room | © Joshua White

As Wright’s first house in Southern California, it marked a change from the Prairie style he had explored in the American Midwest and “consummated” in his 1910 Robie House in Chicago.

This residence marks one of the earliest examples of Mayan Revival, a modern architectural style that grew in the 1920s and 1930s. Wright also used the stacked shape of a Mesoamerican pyramid to inform his Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and is known as a critical leader of the movement.

Because the architect was designing the Imperial Hotel in Japan at the same time, he left a lot of decisions to his son, the lesser-known Lloyd Wright, and the Austrian-born American architect Rudolph Schindler.

Towards the end, Barnsdall fired Wright from the project, and Rudolf Schindler finished the house. He later urged Richard Neutra to join him in Los Angeles. Afterward, the trio—Wright, Schindler, and Neutra—all created projects in the Californian modernist style. Among Neutra’s standout projects from this period is the Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs, a quintessential example of mid-century modern architecture known for its innovative design that beautifully integrates the structure with its desert environment.

Over the years, the residence fell into disrepair due to earthquakes and design faults. In the early 2000s, Project Restore undertook a significant renovation of the residence, and it reopened to the public in 2015.

Barnsdall never lived in the house; instead, she donated it and the surrounding 11 acres to the city in 1927 to be used as a public park in memory of her father. It became Barnsdall Art Park, which has a nearby art gallery and community art center.

On July 7, the house became Los Angeles’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, part of an homage to eight Wright designs, including Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pa., and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

The Hollyhock House Floor Plan

Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House Floor Plan
Floor Plan of the Hollyhock House

About Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959) was an American architect, designer, writer, and educator. He designed more than 1,000 structures over a creative period of 70 years. Wright believed in designing in harmony with humanity and the environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. Wright played a key role in the twentieth century’s architectural movements, influencing generations of architects worldwide through his works.

Full Bio | Works from Frank Lloyd Wright 

  1. Frank Lloyd Wright – Hollyhock House and Olive Hill by Kathryn Smith