Art Hash: Art, Blended
Something I’ve always loved about cities like New Orleans and Savannah is the sense that the streets, even the very energy of the city, are haunted–in some romantically gothic way– by ghosts of the past. I could hardly make my way through the heavy humidity of New Orleans–ceiling fan slowly rotating in the hazy heat of a sunlit French Quarter bar and beads of sweat hanging on my cocktail glass–without feeling like Jean Lafitte was sitting there beside me. There’s an almost visceral connection to history on a highly personal and intimate level.
To my unabashed glee, I’ve discovered those same sensations in Los Angeles–a town simultaneously au courant and romantically haunted by glamorous (or tragically debauched) spectres of years gone by. Nothing brought that home for me like a recent visit (or two or three) to the Ennis House–Frank Lloyd Wright’s textile block ode to the Mayan temples. Perched high in the Hollywood Hills near the Griffith Observatory and standing guard over modern-day hipster Vermont Avenue and Los Feliz, the Ennis House can be transportive–and nothing beats a nighttime look at the city lights below.
For someone who adores architecture as much as I do, it’s almost pitiful that I hadn’t been to Wright’s colossal design– after all, I’d sat outside Figaro Cafe countless times, notebook laid out before me and scribbled in absent-mindedly while I sipped a coffee (sometimes) or glass of wine (more frequently) under the restaurant awning, my gaze lazily drifting north–to the house. You can’t miss it, but in the cacophony of traffic, people-watching, and other buildings of you almost don’t see it.
If you usually associate Wright with the pioneering Prairie School style–and don’t particularly care for it–the Ennis House just might make a Wright convert out of you yet: Soaring ceilings, tall windows, and horizontally oriented multi-terraced outdoor space allow the space to breathe. Views for miles from all southern-vantage windows bring the cityscape home.
Designed in 1924 for Mabel and Charles Ennis, the home is constructed from concrete blocks with a repeating Mayan motif carved in relief. Incorporating Wright’s typical style of totality–each element melding seamlessly with next from the massive iron gates to the wisteria motif mosaic above a living room fireplace–the intimacy of the residence belies its size: a massive 10,000 square feet. Hidden nooks on the south-facing terrace feature ‘arrow-slits’ in a curved wall, both enveloping the passer-by and confronting them with the now urban scene below, while a swimming pool on the northern side seems to sit improbably against the mountain.
And, best of all, if you listen very carefully you can almost hear a McFarlan roadster pulling up to an exuberant Roaring 20s cocktail party inside, laughter spilling out on the terrace, and the ghosts of Los Angeles past clinking their glasses in joyful celebration.
The Ennis House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has been declared a Cultural Heritage Monument by the City of Los Angeles. After years of rehabilitation by the Ennis House Foundation, it was sold to business executive Ron Burkle in July 2011. It’s often referred to as the Blade Runner house.