Everyone who’s still employed in the U.S. and who is not absolutely certain that they now occupy the last house they’ll ever own has had the thought: “The real estate market’s depressed and interest rates will never be this low again in a hundred years. Perhaps MY bargain dream house is out there.”
The big-name architect when my generation came of age was Frank Lloyd Wright. His influence on the architectural trade was vast. Even our modest 1955 California ranch house has a feature inspired by Wright’s ideas: its low-ceilinged entry. In the 1920s, Wright designed a number of houses in the Los Angeles area, the most well-known of which is “Hollyhock House,” officially named “Barnsdall House” after the woman who commissioned it. That’s also the only L.A.-area Wright home you can tour; I recommend the tour. Equally notable are his four “textile block” houses that look like they were patterned after Mayan temples (click on any photo to view a larger image).
You can see all of these houses to one degree or another from the street, though none are open to the public. But, even better, now … you can own one! In an unusual circumstance, two of Wright’s textile block houses are for sale right now: the Ennis House and the Millard House, better known as “La Minatura,” in Pasadena. If you ever wanted to live in a F.L.W. house, at least in L.A., you may never have a better opportunity, because they’re not only available, but the depressed real estate market has driven prices down, even at a time when these two properties are in the best condition they’ve displayed in decades.
The only time we have made an attempt to see La Miniatura, we found the view almost entirely obscured by trees.
That photo gives you a glimpse of the studio building which Lloyd Wright built to his father’s plans, and a tiny slice of the main house in the background. CLICK HERE for the Wikipedia listing on La Miniatura. Asking price recently reduced from $7.7 million to $4.99 million. What a bargain.
With a spectacular view over the Los Angeles basin, the other house for sale, the Ennis House, is relatively easy to view from the street, although you want to be careful about where you park along the steep, narrow, curving Glendower Drive, as you can see in this photo.
Don’t block someone’s driveway, because towage will be prompt and expensive in that neighborhood. This property had been in dire need of large-scale engineering and conservation before a group of high-profile individuals established a foundation and raised a reported $16 million to get the work done. Here’s a photo of the massive project in progress. This photo was taken some time ago, and the work is now complete, although potential buyers are cautioned to have about $6 million in reserve for additional preservation.
Now the sale of the property is languishing, with the price recently reduced from $15 million to $7.5 million. Folks, we’re slashing prices as never before! These one-of-a-kind FLW starter homes will soon be gone, so act now!
Of course there are likely to be a few additional costs associated with maintaining 90 year-old buildings — especially ones designed by The Master, for whom practicality was always a tertiary concern, at best. In the case of the Ennis house, located on a steep hillside and with half an acre of land, you’ll have your hands full, as will your army of gardeners and your maintenance crew (you DO have an army of gardeners and a full-time maintenance crew, don’t you?)
CLICK HERE to visit the official Ennis House site, including the statement from the foundation about placing the property up for sale.
In the case of the Millard House, it’s another large property; the two structures — the house and the separate studio — are both located in the bottom of an arroyo that tends to fill up with water during heavy rain. Oh yes, water. Mr. Wright had this penchant for ignoring water and all that it can do. The current owner has mostly restored the place, except for “a few roof leaks,” according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. There was the clever idea Wright had at Barnsdall House to let water from the ornamental pool drain through the living room, into a kind of moat around the fireplace, and out the other side of the house into another pool. That’s the sort of wack-a-doodle idea a kid might have, but one depends on the world’s most famous architect to also consider that if the low point on the north side of the house lets water flow into the living room, then the whole property is going to drain there when it rains. Oh, brother. Later, Wright translated this idea on a larger scale to his famous Kaufmann House in Pennsylvania, “Fallingwater.” It seems like such a spectacular idea, having Bear Creek run right through the house, and it is truly one of the world’s most dramatically appealing structures, unless you own the place when water levels rise a bit or the non-marine materials get a bit, um, exposed to moisture. Again, maintenance crew standing by.
Mr. Wright also had a problem with the concept of roofs: as in the fact that they shouldn’t just block out the sky to control the lighting inside and keep birds from flying in, but also keep water out. So, both these houses, as well as every other structure he built, so far as I can tell, has certain, uh, roofage challenges. Perhaps the $16 million covered that for Ennis House, at least. In his defense, his pioneering work on reinforced concrete did make some of his structures paragons of strength. The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo withstood an immense earthquake and, when it came time to demolish it, proved nearly indestructible.
One final note about buying these houses. You can buy them, yes, but they’ll still be called The Ennis House and The Millard House. They won’t be the Jazassky House or the Cabezaloca House, no matter who gets ’em. “Where you going to dinner tonight?” “Oh, to the Ennis House.” “I don’t know the Ennisses.” “Dinner’s not with the Ennisses, we’re having dinner with the Jazasskies, but they live in the Ennis House.” Confusing. You’ll just have to accept it. You’ll also need to get used to the idea of not going out into the driveway in your jammies to pick up the paper in the morning, because there’s going to be some tourist out there with a camera. You can invite Paris Hilton or someone over to give you tips on preserving your privacy. Nyuck nyuck nyuck.
There are certainly plenty more sites out there about both of these houses and Wright’s other work once you start poking around on the Web. HERE is one relatively concise page, although it omits the Millard House.
Photos of Ennis House courtesy of and copyright 2010, Brian Nixon. Access Mr. Nixon’s blog of animation and artwork from the “Blogroll” in the right-hand navigation column. No copying or redistribution without express permission.
Note that this article has been updated and corrected from its original version, courtesy of information gleaned in an article in the August 27, 2010 edition of the Los Angeles Times by reporter Jori Finkel. The prices have been corrected, as well as a few details regarding the size and status of the structures.
2015 update: Ennis House did find a buyer, and the restoration, as we understand, is quite far along, if not complete.
© Brad Nixon 2010, 2017