Frank Lloyd Wright’s Los Angeles Textile Block Houses

Things to Do, Travel Tips — By Noah Albert on April 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm

In 1922, Frank Lloyd Wright opened an office in Los Angeles and embarked on his textile block phase.  Textile block refers to construction using cast concrete blocks that are woven together with steel rods. Mayan architecture was major influence on the design of  these buildings, giving them a monumental air. Wright insisted on using soil and gravel from the site in the casting of the blocks. As a result of this added material, the blocks are all in terrible shape now: the impurities present in the mix have caused water penetration and rapid deterioration.

Concrete blocks at the Ennis-Brown House

Concrete blocks at the Ennis-Brown House

Although it did take quite some time for them to gain acceptance, these houses have been recognized as historically and culturally significant works. Considerable time and money is spent on maintaining them, as there have been problems with the both the blocks and the foundations. The interiors of the four textile block houses are not open to the public, however the facades are memorable and impressive.

Although it does utilize patterned concrete blocks and is conceived in a similar mode, the Hollyhock House is not officially a textile block house.  I have added it to this list, mostly because the interior it is open to the public at various times during the week.

Millard House – 1923

Built for the rare-book dealer Alice Millard, this was the first of the these textile block houses. This one was actually built without the steel rods. Located in a natural arroyo, the house emphasizes the integration of interior and exterior. The accompanying studio/guest house was added later and designed by Frank’s son Lloyd Wright. If you are on the market, the property was recently restored and is for sale for 6 million dollars.

Gate at the Millard House

Gate at the Millard House

Storer House  – 1923

This home was built for the John B. Storer, a homeopathic physician from Wisconsin. The house features a large two-story living room that opens onto the front and back of the house. Evidently, this building was not Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite, though it seems like a pretty nice house to me. In 1984, the movie producer Joel Silver bought this place and spent a fortune on a major restoration. He has since then sold the property.

The Storer House on Hollywood Boulevard

The Storer House on Hollywood Boulevard

Freeman House  –  1923

This house was built for Samuel and Harriet Freeman; it is located in the Hollywood Hills and overlooks Highland Avenue. The Freeman’s lived here for over six decades and and entertained many Los Angeles notables in their ‘salons;’ guests to these events included Clark Gable, Martha Graham, Edward Weston and Richard Neutra. In 1986 the house was donated to the University of Southern California. It sustained major damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Although millions have been spent on this building already, the restoration remains a work in progress. According to Architecture Week, this house features the first use of mitred corner windows in a residential building.

The Freeman House

The Freeman House

Ennis-Brown House  – 1924

Saving the best and largest for last, the Ennis-Brown house is pretty much monumental. The damage to the foundation suffered in the 1994 Northridge earthquake was also grand, resulting in more than 5 million dollars of restoration work. Evidently the house is no longer about to slide off the hill, although more work to the building is still needed. Recently the foundation that own the property has placed it on the market, claiming that a private owner with the funds necessary to maintain the property is needed. Directly across the street at 2622 Glendower Avenue is the Wirin House, a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument designed by Richard Neutra.

The Ennis-Brown House near Griffith Park

The Ennis-Brown House near Griffith Park

Hollyhock House  –  1921

OK, the Hollyhock house is not really a textile block house; this structure pre-dates that specific technique.  I have included it here because it is a major Frank Lloyd Wright building and with its references to pre-Columbian architecture is conceived in a somewhat similar style. Finished in the early 1920’s, this was Wright’s first house in the Los Angeles area. Rudolf Schindler moved to the Los Angeles to oversee construction; Richard Neutra also worked on the project. Tours of the inside of this building do occur on a regular basis.

The surrounding Barnsdale art park is a nice place to relax with an pretty great view of Hollywood. The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery located on the hill as well is a nice feature of the site.

Interior of Hollyhock House

Interior of Hollyhock House

Exterior of Hollyhock House

Exterior of Hollyhock House

In general, Los Angelas is filled with important Modernist residential architecture. There are more Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Los Angeles, including the Arch Oboler House, the Wilber Pearce House, the Sturges House and the Anderton Court Shops. And there are more Lloyd Wright houses as well. Check out my architectural guide to LA for the locations of assorted architectural highlights in Los Angeles.

[Photos courtesy of lisa_eglinton, Ron's Log, colros, wikimedia commons, and Daniel Williams]

Tags: Architecture, Barnsdall Art Park, Ennis-Brown House, Frank Lloyd Wright, Freeman House, Historic Los Angeles, Hollyhock House, Lloyd Wright, Mayan, Millard House, Moderne, Modernism, Offbeat L.A., pre-Columbian, Storer House, Textile Block