Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings in California include many works from various stages of his artistic development. Considered together, these offer a good insight in the evolution of his style.
Differently from the front-page works visible elsewhere in the US, the buildings in California are mostly privately owned still today, so on one side they are totally part of the urban landscape and not just museums – they are still used for their intended function. On the other hand, they are not accessible to the public. To say it all, some of them are up for sale and a few in a state of disrepair. You may try scheduling a visit with a seller sometimes, but you’ll probably receive no answer if you say you just want to take pictures, at least if you ask to go for free…
Anyway, in some cases even looking at these buildings from the outside may be interesting for architecture-minded people, and this is usually possible.
The following photographs show some of FLW’s buildings in the metro areas of LA, SLO and SF. They are listed in chronological building order.
The following map allows to quickly check the position of the sights listed below. These are not all FLW sites in California, but only those I’ve visited and which are described in this page.
Hollyhock House – LA
This house is also known as Aline Barnsdall’s house, from the name of the lady who commissioned it. The building is an exception in the panorama of FLW’s houses in LA, for it is usually opened to the public (see website here for visiting info). It was designed and built between 1917 and 1920, some 18-20 years before the famous ‘Fallingwater’ (Kaufman’s house) in Pennsylvania.
Similarly to most buildings of FLW in California, the typical prairie style with exposed red bricks is altered to include concrete elements studied to prevent excessive heating. The decoration, the balanced use of very simple shapes to create an articulated façade and the prevalence of horizontal lines are all characteristics of FLW’s architecture which can be appreciated also here.
The place can be reached easily on 4800 Hollywood Blvd., on top of a small hill. Parking inside is possible.
Charles Ennis House – LA
This private house is located on the same hill as the Griffith Observatory, and has a wonderful panorama to the south and LA. With respect to other works of FLW, this is particularly massive and develops consistently along a vertical direction, while still retaining a good proportion between the area of the base and the overall height. Another distinctive feature is the façade composed of prefabricated concrete blocks, a feature that can be found also in others FLW’s houses in LA. Ennis house dates from 1923-24, when the size of LA was exploding.
You can reach the house on 2607 Glendower Ave. Public parking possible nearby.
Samuel Freeman House – LA
This smaller private house is particularly interesting for it was damaged by some seismic activity and looked in partial disrepair when I last visited in 2014. This made it possible to come close to it and have a close look to the prefabricated concrete bricks constituting the basic building module. The plant of the house is more complicated than Ennis house, but the size is comparatively much smaller, and the building less imposing. Similarly to Ennis house, Freeman house dates from around 1923.
It can be approached easily on 1962 Glencoe Way, a quick detour from Hollywood Blvd. and Franklin Ave., very close to the Hollywood Bowl. Limited public parking around.
John Storer House – LA
This is a private mansion built in the same years as Ennis and Freeman houses (around 1923), with which it shares much of the architectural features, including the building materials. It is comparable in size to Freeman’s house, but is more mimetic, cause it is separated from the road by a small garden and built very close to the side of the hill.
It is located on the hilly section of Hollywood Blvd., exact address 8161, to the west of the intersection with Laurel Canyon Drive. Very limited public parking nearby.
Wayfarers Chapel – LA
The design of this chapel at a first glance is a departure from the traditional prairie and usonian styles adopted for residential buildings by FLW. Yet at a closer look you realize the main features of functional-organic architecture are all there, reflected by the choice of materials and the inspiration of the shape of the chapel taken from natural structures.
Once inside you feel like being in contact with the exceptional surroundings, which are not just in the backstage, but all around in the premises of the chapel.
The complex dates back to the late Forties. It is on the tip of the beautiful Palos Verder peninsula, south of LA. The exact address is 5755 Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes. No serious walking necessary for visiting, the place is open to the public and is in the list of historic landmarks. Website here.
W.C. Morris Gift Shop – SF
This shop was the result of a radical restoration of an existing space between 1948 and 1950. The very central location next to Union Square has made it the perfect place for art galleries and luxury exhibition rooms. Actually until recently the place hosted an art gallery. The spiral ramp leading to the first floor was inspired by the Guggenheim museum in New York City, which FLW had started designing in 1943. The brick façade is a one-of-a-kind example in Wright’s production and in the panorama of San Francisco.
The address is on 140 Maiden Lane, .1 miles from Union Square.
Anderton Court Shops – LA
Barely noticeable after somewhat losing its architectural unity due to later additions, this building shows its FLW roots thanks to the vertical spire, typical also to other designs of this architect. The building dates from 1952, and was conceived as shopping center. Since then the property has been divided, and some changes to the facade applied.
Centrally located on 333 N. Rodeo Drive.
Kundert Medical Clinic – SLO
This building was completed in 1956 and specifically designed as an ophtalmological clinic – a unique example in the list of works of FLW. It turned out to be one of the last designs by this architect, who died in 1959. The building makes the best use of a standard size lot in central San Luis Obispo. Today it is still used as a clinic. The red bricks, flat shape, and the assembly dominated by horizontal lines are typical to the style of FLW.
The address is 1106 Pacific Street, San Luis Obispo. You can park right in front of the building, which is centrally located.
Marin County Civic Center – SF
The place was designed beginning 1957, but it was not completed until 1966, well after the death of FLW. This is one of the few institutional buildings of FLW, and unique in the panorama of American public offices. The location in the hills of San Rafael is very quiet and relaxing, and the building is hard to spot until you get very close.
The view from the terrace and the side walkways is very relaxing, as the building is still today surrounded by nature. The warm tones and the ‘human proportions’ of the inside invite to spend some time there, differently from more usual public buildings.
The area can be reached on Peter Behr Dr., San Rafael – there are actually several ways of approaching it. Large parking to the back of the building.