Ennis, Anyone?

The fate of a crumbling Frank Lloyd Wright house in Los Angeles finally gains attention.

Ennis-Brown
Badly damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake and rainstorms this year, the Ennis-Brown House is in need of emergency stabilization.

Credit: David Boul

Fans of old horror flicks may remember the Ennis-Brown mansion from the Vincent Price thriller The House on Haunted Hill, the tale of a millionaire who holds a scary party and offers cash prizes to whoever will spend the night. In later years, the house also starred—along with Harrison Ford—in the futurist fantasy Blade Runner. More recently, actor Steve Martin took up residence there in Grand Canyon, as did the handsome vampire Angel in the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

These days, drama of a different kind surrounds Ennis-Brown. Earlier this year, the concrete-block masterpiece, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for a steeply sloping site northeast of Hollywood, was red-tagged by the city of Los Angeles after officials declared the building unsafe. Portions of a critical retaining wall had collapsed, partly because of near-record winter rains. Although the house's status has since been upgraded to yellow tag, public tours are still prohibited and use of the adjoining chauffeur's quarters and outdoor motor court remains hazardous.

The fate of the building—which had been deteriorating for years before the current crisis—remains in doubt. "The Ennis-Brown House, Frank Lloyd Wright's magnificent Maya-inspired home that has been a commanding presence in the Los Feliz hills since 1924, is endangered by serious structural problems that must be addressed as soon as possible," reads a notice placed on the Web site of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the city's chief preservation group, which is working to save the house. "Perched precariously on its hillside site, the house is, very literally, on the brink of disaster." In June the National Trust added the house to its annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The landmark also made this year's roster of the World Monument Fund's 100 Most Endangered Sites.

 

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