The lengthy restoration of Barnsdall Art Park's Hollyhock House, the first house in Los Angeles designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is coming to an end; soon, everyone will be able to walk inside and see the house designed for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, just as it looked in 1921 (or pretty close to it). The dwelling, which belongs to the city of Los Angeles, is a masterful work by Wright and has just been nominated (with several of Wright's other works) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it was kind of a mess for a while there. Blouin ArtInfo has interviewed Hollyhock's chief curator, Jeffrey Herr, who explains all the detailed work that went into bringing the house back to its original glory.
· The work on the house has been going on since 2010, but Herr says that whole year was basically just for research, as restorers planned out the work ahead. Repairs didn't start until 2011. The project will officially be over this month, when the house opens to the public for 24 hours beginning on February 13, 2015 at 4 pm.
· What precipitated this latest round of thorough repairs? Flat, leaky roofs plus clogged drains—both of which were issues at Hollyhock—are trouble on their own. Add a smattering of foundation issues left over from the 1994 Northridge earthquake, plus the regular challenges of caring for an older house (and an FLW at that)—"It's an architecturally complicated house with different roof levels, and different levels in the interior, and it sort of escalates into a very complex program of trying to maintain the home," Herr says.
· The silver lining of having to fix all those structural issues was that, in the process, workers happened to uncover a lot of original details, and that's helped restorers fill in the blanks about what Hollyhock looked like in the 1920s when it was first completed. (Black and white pictures alone are hard to go on.) "What we've been able to do is take a structure that, on the inside was in many ways over the years 'beige-d' out — it lost its lush, exotic feel, it lost a lot of architectural detail, and some of that was due to the problems with water penetration and maintenance, when they'd come in and fix things by making them more modern."
· The original, Frank Lloyd Wright choice is almost never the practical choice. Discussing a porch in the house, Herr says it originally "had 14 accordion glass panels that opened up and folded up. In the 1970s, Lloyd Wright [Frank Lloyd Wright's son, also an architect] said, 'That's kind of difficult to maintain, we'll just put in sliding glass doors.' Very '70s, very contemporary for the period, but changed the entire architectural feeling of that particular space. We now have 14 glass panel doors that accordion fold, so that we really can dissolve the wall between the exterior and the interior — which was Wright's intent."
· Now that the bones of the house are back in order, the next step is gathering period correct furnishings. "The Department of Cultural Affairs will continue to work on the interpretation of the interiors to bring them more in line with the way Barnsdall actually furnished the house — including reproducing missing pieces of the Wright furniture that he designed especially for Hollyhock House. " There's no timeline for when that project will wrap up.
· Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House Returns to Its Roots [Blouin ArtInfo]
· First Frank Lloyd Wright House in Los Angeles Finally Reopening [Curbed LA]