LA Agrees To Fund Study of Wright House

Wright's Hollyhock House

Credit: City of Los Angeles

Even Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably America's most famous architect, isn't immune to the current economic downturn.

Wright's Hollyhock House, in Los Angeles, Calif., was scheduled to undergo an assessment that would evaluate the impact of earthquakes and other factors on the structure. The 1921 house was last used as an art education space but was deemed structurally unsound. The study was to be funded in part by the California Cultural and Historical Endowment, which in January froze all pending grants due to the state's budget difficulties.

While it seemed like Hollyhock's damage assessment, a crucial step in making the house safe for occupancy, might be another victim of the recession, this month project leader Robert Chattel AIA, of Chattel Architecture, Preservation, and Planning, announced that work would begin as scheduled, with funds provided by the City of Los Angeles, which has owned the building and surrounding 11 acres since 1927.

A Letter from Frank Lloyd Wright

"Well, the building stands ...
It is yours for what it has cost you.
It is mine for what it has cost me.
And it is for all mankind ... Whatever its birth pangs, it will take its place as your contribution and mine to the vexed life of our time."
From a letter to Aline Barnsdall

Built in 1921 for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, the Hollyhock House is now the centerpiece of the Barnsdall Art Park, an arts and culture space focused on promoting and supporting local artists. Hollyhock was Wright's second California commission, and its construction was largely supervised by famed architect Rudolph Schindler, who was then serving as Wright's assistant.

The house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark and a City of Los Angeles Cultural Monument, is a complex of split levels, steps, and roof terraces arranged around a central courtyard. Its style is often described as Maya Revival, and it features window and wall elements seen in later Wright projects such as Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Some preservationists wonder what the economic downturn will mean for historic sites. "Although fewer projects are breaking ground and fewer historic buildings [are being] demolished in the short term, tough times can help clear the way for approval of otherwise controversial projects," Mike Buhler, director of advocacy at the Los Angeles Conservancy, said in an e-mail. "Elected officials are less likely to block projects that promise jobs and economic development, even if these benefits won't be realized for years to come. In fact, we're busier than ever, as developers seek entitlements for large projects, many targeting historic buildings, that won't be built until after the economy recovers."


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