When Frank Lloyd Wright built the Hollyhock House, between 1919 and 1921, he couldn’t have imagined it would one day appear as the Piranha Temple in the 1989 movie Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. But perhaps not entirely by coincidence, he had designed it for a female client with an independent and adventurous spirit and a passion for the theatrical. And with this project—his first in Los Angeles—he was clearly beginning to explore the Mayan, or Mesoamerican, themes that would evolve throughout his work in Southern California.
Though a seminal project, the Hollyhock had a tumultuous history beginning with its design and construction. Later, it survived neglect and earthquakes. By the time the building—a house museum since the 1970s and a National Historic Landmark since 2007—closed three years ago for its most recent renovation, it was ready for a deep-tissue facelift. Its leaks were serious, and the exterior surfaces, slathered in fleshy beige paint, had acquired a texture that Hollyhock’s curator, Jeffrey Herr, likens to “creamed cottage cheese.” And the original golden shimmer of bronze flakes on interior walls was a distant memory. Clues to Hollyhock’s past have since emerged. When it re-opens to the public this fall, many long-vanished features will be revived, and sparkling.