Monday, November 22, 2010

LLOYD WRIGHT'S SOWDEN HOUSE

Lloyd Wright's Sowden House in Hollywood is said to be famous, but is it? For years I've lived within half an hour's drive of it, and I only heard about it for the first time last week.  Now I'm chomping at the bit to see it.

That's Lloyd Wright, not Frank Lloyd Wright. Lloyd was Wright's son. He also designed sets for Hollywood films. Maybe that's what accounts for the cheesy armoured guards at the entrance.

The house is also famous as the home of Dr. George Hodel, a wealthy doctor who is believed by some to have killed Elizabeth Short, the famous Black Dahlia. 


One of his accusers is his own son, former police detective Steve Hodel. Steve claims his dad was a sadist and a serial killer, and he lays out the case for that on his site (above). Short might even have been killed in the Sowden House.
  

Horrible though he might have been, you can't fault the doctor's taste in architecture.  With the blocks stacked in geometric patterns, and with the exotic landscaping, the house looks like a majestic jungle ruin. Here's (above) the view from Franklin Ave.


This (above) is the facade, pre-landscape. Gee, it's not the same without the trees and shrubs.  It reminds me of old Hollywood sets which were mostly blank punctuated by areas of great complexity.


  I'll digress to lament that for people with average incomes landscaping is prohibitively expensive.  Not only that but, beautiful trees take years to grow. For the first few years they don't seem to grow at all, because the tree is devoting all its energy into establishing a root system. It's as if you're planting for the benefit of the people who will own the house after you're gone.  

Even so, it's still worth doing. You could argue that landscaping adds so much to the value of a house, that whatever you put into it is free. 


The middle of the house (above) is a big, Mayan courtyard, covered with vines and flowers. I'll bet the original Mayans decorated their public buildings with foliage like this. 


Here's (above) a view looking at the back of the courtyard. No vines here. Do vines grow so fast that you can cut them back in the winter, and still have them cover everything in the summer? 

The swimming pool (a later modification) is raised, which is a nifty way to achieve scale. 

Here's a detail of the molded concrete supports. If Lloyd's dad had built this he probably would have used blocks, which in my opinion wouldn't have worked as well.  

As I said, Wright's son designed sets for the film industry. A number of films were shot here (above), one of the more recent being Scorcese's "Aviator."


Above, the master bedroom. The door it faces may be the big, barnsized, sliding door which opens out into the courtyard. If so, what a view to wake up to in the morning!


Here's (above) a detail of the living room.


This is the house (The two diamond shapes in the middle, above) seen from the air. The address is 5121 Franklin Ave, near Normandie and Franklin. There are no tours, but you can rent the place for a mere $3,900 a night. 


NOTE: Most of the info here was culled from a fascinating new book called "Weird Hollywood," which I'm reading now.



20 comments:

Steven M. said...

Thats some house.

$3,900 to rent it for the night, thats alittle steep.

Lester Hunt said...

Wow. I'm a life-long Wright fan and I had never heard of this place. I don't think I've seen it in any book about Wright. It looks like something he might have done while deranged by magic mushrooms or LSD.

Joe said...

Hi Uncle Eddie,

Joe Oesterle here, author of the book you've been reading - "Weird Hollywood." Hope you're enjoying the rest of it.

You're right, it's not a famous building if you're just a typical Angeleno... it's not even necessarily famous if you live on Franklin Ave. I did assume it was well known to local F.L. Wright fans, but according to Lester (the poster above) that is not the case either. Anyway, it is impressive, and cool and most of all, WEIRD.

I just took a brief tour of your site. Fun stuff. I'll definitely be back to check out your amusing ramblings from time to time.

Thanks again for mentioning the book, and feel free to check out my
personal blogsite thingee at wwww.JoeArtistWriter.wordpress.com.

Thanks,
Joe

pappy d said...

Dr. Hodel's daughter had some horrifying accounts of those parties.

Landscaping pays great dividends in home improvement. It's the most satisfying sweat-equity I ever put into the property, but if you don't think ahead you can get carried away. Can anyone in the L.A. area use a mature Red Flame seedless grape vine? The trunk is 4-5" in diameter, perfect for shading a patio, not so hot for covering my neighbor's avocado. I dig, you haul.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Steven: Yeah, it's a few dollars over my limit, too.

Lester: The author answered your comment below!

Joe: Wow! A comment by the author of the fascinating book I'm reading! I just took a look at your site and was much impressed. I look forward to going back! I hope you sell a zillion copies of "Weird Hollywood!

Oh, yes...and thanks for not getting mad about me using material from your book!

Pappy: Holy mackeral! A grape vine! I already have a grape arbor and I'm not sure there's room for another vine. Thanks much for the offer, though! I hope someone else here picks up on it!

Paul Penna said...

I love creative and interesting landscaping, but not when it interferes with significant or beautiful buildings. That's something that's frequently not taken into consideration these days as larger trees and shrubbery mature. In the case of the Sowden house, while the landscaping in the b/w shot is unimaginative, in the present photo it obscures too much of the structure's proportions; the big banana trees completely obscure the massive, cubist blocks of the facade. The building would be much better served with exotic but low-growing plants. Here, it's sort of equivalent to putting a coat rack in front of the Mona Lisa.

Joe said...

Well double WOW back at you sir. I'm honored that such an accomplished and talented artist is reading (and enjoying) my book. BTW, I did the illustrations too.

If you have a chance I'd love to hear your take on my Ani-Rants. (They are in the site I posted earlier... Below is a link to a brief episode - it would mean a great deal to me to know you checked it out. Feel free to give an honest crit. I'm very interested.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-03g4HaFd0

Thanks,
Joe

Joe said...

Oh, and Pappy D., I did mention Hodell's daughter, Tamar, in the story as well. Suffice to say Dr. Hodell ain't gonna win any posthumous Father of the Year trophies.

Anonymous said...

CORRECTION: This house is by Frank Lloyd Wright, JR. not Sr. who is otherwise known as Lloyd Wright. The son, not the father.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: Thanks for the correction, but I wish you'd cited a source. The "Weird Hollywood" book says Frank Lloyd Wright started the house and his son finished it, which is what I said in the post. Exactly how much each contributed to the house isn't specified In the book or the internet sites I referenced.

I mentioned the elder Wright in the blog title just to make it easier for people to find the post if they do an archive search.

You sound like you know how the work was divied up. If you're able I'd love to hear about it.

Joe: I watched some rants and had a good time. You got a decent number of hits considering that they haven't been up very long.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: Thanks for the correction, but I wish you'd cited a source. The "Weird Hollywood" book says Frank Lloyd Wright started the house and his son finished it, which is what I said in the post. Exactly how much each contributed to the house isn't specified In the book or the internet sites I referenced.

I mentioned the elder Wright in the blog title just to make it easier for people to find the post if they do an archive search.

You sound like you know how the work was divied up. If you're able I'd love to hear about it.

Joe: I watched some rants and had a good time. You got a decent number of hits considering that they haven't been up very long.

Paul: Hmmm...we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I like lush jungle motiffs, all the more so when they appear in urban enviornments where you don't expect them.

The blank walls aren't cubist in the sense that Picasso used the term. They appear to be plain old blank spaces waiting to be filled...not like the Samuel Navarro House where the blank wall is profound, and has no built-in planters infront of it.

SandraRivas said...

I can't believe I never heard of this place! When I get back to LA, I'm definitely stopping by. It looks really interesting!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Joe: Anonymous said that the Sowden House was done by Lloyd Wright exclusively. I just looked up the house on Wikipedia and that seems to confirm what Anonymous said. What do you think? Did the Wiki writer get it right?

Paul Penna said...

Eddie, I actually agree with you on the lush jungle motif angle. The banana trees are cool, but I think they'd be better more off to the sides and not obscuring the building so much. But the aerial view shows that the lot is too narrow for that. Otherwise, quite an effective choice of exotic-looking plants. I'd want a pith helmet if I visited the place.

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

I am supremely jealous.

Joe said...

Uncle Eddie and Anonymous,

Arrrrggghhhhh! Editors should be shot.

Just checked my original copy. Here is what I sent to the publisher.

"... the Sowden House is arguably one of Lloyd Wright’s most famous structures. Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, completed the home in 1926."

My guess is whoever was editing had just a little knowledge, (a dangerous thing) and decided I accidentally dropped the "Frank" in Jr.s name, so they added it.

I always triple check my sources, so this is particularly frustrating.

Of course, I can't get too upset, because even though I wrote this thing, (correctly I might add) I know I've said it was a Frank Lloyd Wright building to friends on occasion.

Also, thanks for checking out the Ani-Rants Uncle Eddie. I appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed 'em.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Joe: Thanks for getting back to me! i'll change the attribution to Lloyd Wright.

My guess is that your editor might have hit on an accidental truth. There is something of Frank in the structure. I can't help wondering if Frank did conceptual sketches and Lloyd modified them.

Houses that Frank made in his Mayan period used concrete blocks, which didn't always produce a pleasing effect. My guess is that Wright did an original sketch calling for blocks, and Lloyd chose instead to use molded concrete, which looks better. I'll add a picture showing the concrete in detail.

Anonymous: You were right! Thanks for the correction!

Joe said...

Uncle Eddie,

You may be right (Wright.) Frank could have doodled this, or even taken it to semi-blueprint, and the son either borrowed or lifted the design, but from recent readings, it looks like Jr was commissioned by a personal friend.

To be honest, when I found out about this editorial blunder, I was hoping my original info was wrong, and it was corrected by my editors, but a brief Googling so far has not picked up anything solid.

Editors should be hung and not heard.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Joe: Not to worry! Those things happen.

Anonymous said...

This house is now owned by a friend of mine who bought it from Xorin Balbes - who now lives in Hawaii.
I find it very impressive outside and inside.
However, it is a very cold interior - all bare floors and stone work.
Seeing pictures of the old court yard, I feel putting in this large of a swimming pool w/jacuzi was a mistake. It looks nice, but it takes up too much walking space in the middle.
Bottom line - for those who appreciate FLW designes, this is an awesome place!
RLS