Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Lloyd Wright Architecture on TV

The central courtyard of the Sowden residence. 
I caught a brief flash of architecture during a promo spot for the upcoming TV series I Am the Night starring Chris Pine and Patty Jenkins. It was the Sowden residence designed by Lloyd
Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright's son. It looks like the house features prominently in the limited series starting January 28, 2019 on TNT.

The first time I saw this Lloyd Wright masterpiece, before renovation. 
The Sowden residence, built in 1926, is a quirky landmark on Franklin Avenue. This is the Los Feliz neighborhood, contiguous to Hollywood and not far from the senior Wright's more famous projects, the Ennis house (1924) and the Hollyhock house (1921). You may notice similarities to the Ennis house in my previous blog entry.

The Sowden project is an enigmatic landmark, with only a glimpse of the facade visible from the street. The architecture, usually described as Mayan revival, is closed and secretive. Exotic and mysterious, shrouded in thick vegetation it could easily be a pagan temple from an Indiana Jones movie. Rarely are its interior secrets revealed to the public; it looks like they will be fully exposed in this new TV production. The plot is a fictionalized account of the notorious Black Dahlia murder mystery of 1947.

The Sowden house has endured several ownerships. At the time of the Black Dahlia case it was owned by a corrupt Hollywood doctor, George Hodel, who was actually a suspect. That sordid tale is recounted by Hadley Meares in an fascinating on-line article.  This is worth reading before seeing the TV series, just to keep the facts straight.

The Sowden residence was recently restored and listed for $4.888 million. You can explore the house virtually by clicking this link to a 3-D walkthrough used to market the house. Another interesting thing to try is exploring the Sowden residence form the air using Google Earth (5121 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles). What appears to be a very complicated piece of architecture in photos is actually quite simple. The schema is a rectangle with a flat roof. A courtyard is carved out of the center with all major rooms opening to it. This explains the blank walls on most of the exterior. Front and rear, two high-pitched roofs animate the architecture with Churrigueresque-like decoration against planar surfaces.

The Sowden residence is one of the most unusual homes in America. But it is a perfect fit for Los Angeles.
Vintage photo.
Lloyd Wright's floor plan and east side elevation.
Recent photo from the courtyard looking in.
The living room.