It’s that time of year when Sundance breezes into the Wasatch Mountains with all its originality, creativity and excitement. Maneuvering around the Wasatch back, everyone is alert to spot stars at the gas station or in the grocery store line. Being star-struck with Hollywood has morphed to the theme of this week’s post: the connections between Hollywood and Frank Lloyd Wright.
The opening shot and the exterior above feature Wright’s George Sturges House in the Brentwood Heights neighborhood of LA. At the time he designed the home (1939,) the Moderne movement was captivated with motion and speed, as was Wright. Balanced on a base of brick, the home juts off in a cantilever over the cliff. Can you sense the movement he put into the design? The furnishings were largely original to Frank Lloyd Wright, including the butterfly chairs featured in the opening interior shot.
Partners Jack Larson and James Bridges owned the home at the time I made photos, and I immediately recognized Jack Larson as Jimmy Olson, cub reporter from the Superman TV series of the 1950s. In addition to acting, Larson worked as a librettist, screenwriter and director. James Bridges also acted but is better known as a screenwriter, film director, and producer. He wrote many of the episodes for the Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
The Storer House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1923, is located in Hollywood on Hollywood Boulevard. It is one of Wright’s concrete block homes that feature decorative blocks unique to each home. Joel Silver, a highly successful producer of action films including Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, lovingly restored the home under the direction of architect Eric Lloyd Wright. At the time I made the photographs, the restoration team was manufacturing replacement blocks.
Original furnishings and fabrics return the home to its unique beauty. People who restore historically important homes seem to rarely be sufficiently appreciated, but after seeing this home in progress and returning a few years later, I found the results dazzling.
When I met with Arch Obler, he told me I was the first to ask to make photos of his home for a publication. He was warmly gracious, and pleased to have interest in the gatehouse and studio retreat designed by Mr. Wright in 1940 as part of a larger project for Obler’s large Malibu ranch. Arch Obler was known to me from the Lights Out radio theater, and in addition to those scripts, he was a playwright, novelist, producer and director. Personal tragedies clouded completion of the project, including the dark time of Hollywood blacklisting. Sadly, I read that this autumn’s Woolsey fire extensively damaged the Obler structures.
Aline Barnsdall asked Mr. Wright to design her large home in East Hollywood as a spot to bring together the creative artists, writers and actors who were drawn to the area in 1919 to be part of the early movie industry. This is also a concrete block, or knit block home, and the decorative motif is the hollyhock, leading to its nickname as the Hollyhock House. Similar to the other block homes, the elements have taken a toll on the materials, but the City and non-profits are investing great efforts to repair and restore it.
I returned just a year or two ago to document the results of the restoration for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. This living room is now carefully curated and anyone touching any of the items for the photos wore white cotton gloves.
I’ll finish up with the Ennis House, designed and built in 1923 and located in the Las Feliz district above Hollywood. It is another of the Southern California concrete block homes inspired by Wright’s exposure to Mayan temple architecture. The Ennis home is itself a film star. Films, music videos, and commercials feature the home, and if you doubt me, rent Bladerunner or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
This home experienced earthquake damage and was unstable on the hill just after I first photographed it. Extensive investment was needed to save it, and I understand it is now again sound and was listed for sale this summer.
As far as making the photographs, each and every homeowner with film industry connections was supportive and wonderful to work with. For many, a photographer and assistant coming into a home is an intrusion and they are much happier seeing us leave than arrive. My experience with Frank Lloyd Wright homeowners is that they understood I had a job to do, they understood about contrast, glare and composition, and they did everything they could to make the experience easy and comfortable. I do have regrets: I wish I would have photographed the owners in their homes. It marked a moment in time that I should have captured.