Los Angeles has been at the cutting edge of architecture since the beginning of the 20th century (Stiles O. Clements, Frank Gehry, Frank Lloyd Wright, Neutra), but the city and its residents haven't always appreciated the landmarks that contribute to its varied landscape. As a self-proclaimed history buff, I am ashamed that I have failed to get to know my adopted city better. Not many transplants do. Maybe the constant sunshine -- or the lure of Hollywood -- blinds us to the treasures to be found around every corner. One of my recent finds was the Hollyhock House, one of four homes the prolific and infamous Frank Lloyd Wright constructed in the 1920s, using modular concrete blocks as the main form of construction. I've known of the existence of these structures -- which also include the Ennis-Brown House, the Storer House (once owned by producer Joel Silver) and the Freeman House (owned by USC) -- for quite some time, and you'd think, since the Man and I are "fans" of Mr. Wright's work, we'd have made some effort to get a look at them over the years. We've been to his studio in Oak Park, Chicago and I've taken the tour at Taliesen West in Scottsdale, AZ (the Man golfed instead) and yet we failed to take advantage of his works in our own backyard.
Well, you can only imagine my delight when I learned that my new favorite wine shop -- Silverlake Wine -- had joined forces with the Barnsdall Art Park, where the Hollyhock House is located, for Friday night tours and wine tasting on the front lawn of this historic home. It's taken me a long time to get my ass into this wine shop, because it's not remotely in my neighborhood, but after attending several of their events, including this one, I'm completely hooked. They are one of the most innovative wine purveyors in the city, making wine both accessible and interesting, as well as fun and affordable. While they certainly carry the "big guns" from every wine region, their niche seems to be the smaller, unusual, maverick-type winemakers (this event featured Charles Smith wines from Washington State) who make wines that please the palate without breaking the bank. This event was a no-brainer for us. It was the perfect way to start our weekend and get rid of the work week woes.
You may wonder where Barnsdall Art Park is, but believe me, if you've lived in Los Angeles long enough you've been by it a million times. The house and gardens are located right on Hollywood Blvd. on a hill that used to be an olive grove with a perfect view of the Griffith Observatory and the classic structures of Hollywood. You can't see the structures from the street, which I guess was the point, so it sits over the city with an air of invisibility. Aline Barnsdall, an oil heiress, wanted to become a theatrical impresario, so she contracted Wright to build her a home where she could impress, entertain and socialize with the local talent. The location is perfect, but she became disillusioned with the house as costs began to rise and only lived in it on and off for five years before donating it to the city in 1927. It is the only house built by Wright in Los Angeles that is open for tours, and though I will go just about anywhere for a glass of wine, it was the chance to get into the house that really sold me on this event.
Granted, for your $15 you only get a 20-30 minute tour of two rooms, which was kind of a bummer, but the money all goes to the upkeep and restoration of the property, so it's hard to complain. They clearly want to whet your appetite to see the entire property and it sure worked on us. Though the wine certainly probably helped. From what I've seen of the other homes built by Wright in this period in L.A., this one is not as grand and expansive, but it still contains many of his signature touches and a few unique features like the front doors and a bas-relief design over the grand fireplace. The concrete blocks at each house feature a different theme and the Hollyhock flower, Barnsdall's favorite, is worked into everything from the landscaping to the windows to the furniture, giving this property its name, unlike the others which are named after their original owners.
While you can pretty much drink wine anywhere, this mingling of place and palate clearly intrigued many, because the event was packed. Fortunately, the grounds are quite expansive, so there's plenty of space for everyone to hang out without being on top of one another. Four pours for $25 is a pretty good deal, especially considering Randy and the crew from Silverlake Wine make sure to keep your glass half full. You're encouraged to bring your own food, but clearly no other alcohol, spread a blanket and enjoy the view. You can even bring your kids and dogs. I would get there as early as possible, though, because while parking is free, it's limited by the house, and it's a long walk up from the street level. Of course, there's plenty of wine to quench your thirst when you get to the top.
Tastings every Friday night in July from 5:30-7:30PM. To get your tickets, click here.
Hollyhock House, 4800 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90027
- By Lisa Dinsmore