Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hollywood House Hunting: The Ennis & Sowden Houses

My father was a great builder of things - furniture, gates, a structure to house the pool equipment, theater scenery.  I, however, have done nothing to maintain his legacy.  Anything more advanced than an electric screwdriver is beyond my construction ken.  Hindsight graces me with the blessed guilt I feel for never apprenticing my dad, never absorbing his rich knowledge of the way things work.  As big a disappointment as I must be to my dad, Lloyd Wright must have been an equal source of genuine pride to his own father, Papa Frank Lloyd Wright.

Due to an extremely superficial knowledge of both architectural history and the location of Falling Water, I suppose that I've always associated Wright architecture strongly with locales east of the Rocky Mountains.  In spite of my ignorance, California (and the rest of the nation) shares equally in the wonder of America's most renowned architectural family.  Thankfully, two homes in Los Angeles, CA ensure that the adage "Like father, like son" will not die with Mr. Tiny.

The Ennis House (1924) - Los Angeles, CA

Built in the Mayan Revival style, Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House is as much a part of the Los Angeles landscape as the Chinese Theater or Griffith Park, in the foothills of which The Ennis House stands.  Thousands of textile blocks create an imposing hillside facade, reminiscent of many of the great architect's other works but with a little extra drama/adventure/whimsy that we'll call "The Hollywood Treatment."

Aren't these gates incredible?!!
 A definitive example of Wright's signature organic style, we always wish we could go beyond
those beautiful gates to explore the property and to get an uninterrupted view of the city.

The concrete "textile block" of The Ennis House has suffered over the years from dereliction and the elements.
Fortunately, the landmark structure has been undergoing a complete rehabilitation since its most recent sale in 2011.

The architecture and Wright-provenance alone are enough to make The Ennis House a classic sightseeing destination.  Although, movie buffs that we are, we can't escape our fascination with the home's cinematic history.

From House on Haunted Hill (1959) to Blade Runner (1982),
so many productions have used The Ennis House for location
shooting and for set inspiration, that the house has its very own 
IMDb page!

Timothy Dalton as Neville Sinclair and Paul Sorvino as Eddie Valentine in a scene from The Rocketeer (1991)
Incidentally, this is one of Mr. Tiny's all-time favorite movies; it's got everything -
nazis, mobsters, romance, action, adventure, old Hollywood, and even a zeppelin!!!

Like a chip off the old, Mayan, concrete textile block, Lloyd Wright (FLW's eldest son) designed The Sowden House.  A miracle of modernism, the younger Wright created incredible depth and dimension with a combination of glass and textural block.  This house too not only carries with it the Wright cachet, but also the intrigue of Hollywoodland lore. 

The John Sowden House (1926) - Los Angeles, CA
The lush vegitation makes passersby on busy Franklin Avenue feel as if they've stumbled upon a lost Mayan temple.

Commissioned by a reputable artist in the 1920s, by the 1940s someone allegedly far more sinister inhabited the home's storied walls.  In 1947 Dr. George Hodel, a respected surgeon, became a key suspect in the grisly Black Dahlia murder.  While he went unprosecuted for the crime, the doctor's own son believes that Elizabeth Short was murdered and mutilated inside the house, by his father, before being abandoned by the roadside in Leimert Park.  Shrouded in conspiracy and legend, the case continues to inspire Hollywood storytellers.

A more savory entry in the history of the home is its role in The Aviator; although the well-known screen siren never lived there alone or with any of her three husbands (Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra), The Sowden House stood in for the glamorous Ava Gardner's (Kate Beckinsale) Hollywood manse in the Howard Hughes biopic. 

Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Beckinsale, and Martin Scorsese on the set of The Aviator (2004)

I love both of these masterpieces of Wright architecture, as much for their Hollywood history as for their living proof that modernism was not solely a mid-century invention.  Moreover, I truly appreciate a son perpetuating his father's legacy; I hope that I can make things "Wright" by emulating my own father (if not in my ability to operate a hammer without removing my thumbnail).  If you are ever planning a self-guided architectural tour of Los Angeles, be sure to include The Ennis and Sowden Houses on your itinerary!

The Ennis Houses
2607 Glendower Ave
Los Angeles, CA

The Sowden House
5121 Franklin Ave
Los Angeles, CA


Mr. Tiny


  1. HOW AWESOME! That house is amazing...and I love all the history behind it. IT reminds me of the The Murder House from Season One of AHS, for some reason. That gate makes me incredibly jealous. I wish I could pull that look off in the burbs!

    1. Can you believe I'm too big a scaredy cat to watch AHS?! It lt looks so good (Jessica Lange!!!) but too scary. I guess I just need to buck up and watch it (in the middle of the day...with all the lights on).

  2. Wonderful post. I recall seeing the Sowden house on one of those ghost hunter shows. The interior is incredible., including a huge bathtub that would just fit in with the Black Dahlia story.

    1. The house is both incredible and incredibly spooky....I would totally live there!!!