Tim Street-Porter/Courtesy of Christie's
Ennis perches on the hills of its Los Feliz, Calif., neighborhood like a Mayan temple. "One hundred years from now, people will make pilgrimages to this structure," Wright once predicted.
Ennis perches on the hills of its Los Feliz, Calif., neighborhood like a Mayan temple. "One hundred years from now, people will make pilgrimages to this structure," Wright once predicted. Tim Street-Porter/Courtesy of Christie's
If you're house-hunting and have an extra $15 million to spare, there's a place with your name on it in Los Angeles. Known as the Ennis House, it's an architectural masterpiece designed by the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright. But, like a lot of old houses, it needs some work.
Drive past the grime and glitz of Hollywood toward the hills of Griffith Park and suddenly, there it is: a Mayan temple perched above the city. Ennis House is one of Wright's most famous creations — and not only to architecture buffs.
Tim Street-Porter/Courtesy of Christie's
The juxtaposition of natural elements — in this case, trees and fire — is a Wright custom. This glass-mosaic fireplace is one of only three ever made, and the last intact example.
The juxtaposition of natural elements — in this case, trees and fire — is a Wright custom. This glass-mosaic fireplace is one of only three ever made, and the last intact example. Tim Street-Porter/Courtesy of Christie's
A Damaged Beauty
The house has starred in several movies, from 1950s horror flicks to thrillers like Day of the Locust in the '70s. The house featured prominently in the '80s cult film Blade Runner, which is set in 2019 Los Angeles. Ennis House was the darkly elegant residence of the head of Tokyo's "yakuza," or mob, in Black Rain, starring Michael Douglas.
And, actually, it was rain that did extensive damage to the house's distinctive cast concrete-block exterior.
"When the rains of 2004 and 2005 came, there was substantial damage from the motor court, so it looked like the house was falling down the hill, because the blocks had totally tumbled," says Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy and an Ennis House Foundation board member.
So the house that starred in movies got what a lot of movie stars get: a facelift. A few years and several million dollars later, it's been partially restored.
And now it's for sale. The three nonprofit agencies that oversee the house agree that maintaining it is a financial challenge.
Dishman believes the house needs a buyer with deep pockets and a passion to own an architectural gem.
John Vincenti/Courtesy of Christie's
Ennis House, shown from the motor court looking toward the front door.
Ennis House from the motor court looking toward the front door. John Vincenti/Courtesy of Christie's
"What this house offers, really, it's a trophy property," Dishman says. "Some people have trophy wives — this is a trophy house."
The deep pockets have already been calling, says Aaron Kirman, a Beverly Hills real estate agent who deals in pricey, architecturally significant properties.
"It seems that the majority of the people that are looking are people that have multiple homes, in different cities, more or less all over the world," he says.
The house has only been on the market for a short while, but Kirman says they'll wait to find exactly the right buyer.
It's easy to understand all the avid interest if you visit Ennis House. The outside, with its high walls and sharp edges, is definitely dramatic, but it's the inside that takes visitors' breath away.
Enter the low, dim foyer and take a short flight of steps up to the living room, and all of a sudden you're in an explosion of space and light: the ceilings soar several stories. Beautiful windows with stained glass flourishes give a panoramic view of the city. The oak floors glow deep russet; the brass lighting fixtures gleam. The large windows bring the outdoors in — a Wright signature — but also provide something Wright houses are not famous for.
"That's one of the primary distinguishing features of the Ennis House," says Jim DeMeo, Ennis House Foundation's president. "When people come in they're just really floored by the amount of light, and it just really captures the beautiful Southern California sunlight at different parts of the day."
Throughout the house, there are the constant little visual surprises that Wright loved — variations in height, a window placed where one normally wouldn't be, the luxury of scarlet bathroom walls as a counterpoint to the sober elegance of wood and stone.
'Temple On A Hill'
All this has held up for more than 80 years. DeMeo says the architect predicted this just after he finished Ennis House in 1924.
"He said, 'You know, 100 years from now, people are going to remember this house as being literally the temple on the hill, and they'll make pilgrimages to this structure,' and it's very much true today," DeMeo says.
Recently, some of the pilgrims also have been prospective buyers, and one may add a new chapter to Ennis House's long history.