If you’re an architectural buff, or a fan of the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, then you’ll want to be certain to drive by the Ennis House when you visit Los Angeles.
The design of the house is based on the ancient Mayan temples and is a style referred to as Mayan Revival architecture. The structure is of interlocking pre-cast concrete blocks he referred to as textile blocks. Concrete, by the way, was a relatively new and unused building material when the house was constructed in 1923, but Wright felt it had great potential.
This masterpiece home has a number of distinctions to its credit. Among them it is the most expensive Wright designed home ever sold. It’s a Hollywood icon and has appeared in over 80 movies. It was listed as one of the top ten houses of all time in the Los Angeles Times. It’s also listed in the Department of Interior National Register of Historic Places, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is a designated California Historical Landmark and a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
The house was designed in 1923 by Frank Lloyd Wright for Charles and Mabel Ennis and it was constructed in 1924. It consists of two buildings. The main house and a chauffeur’s house across the drive. The main house is approximately 10,000 square feet.
A unique feature is that within the textile blocks the design resembles a stylized “g” which has been thought to be a nod to the Masonic order that Charles Ennis belonged to. The order had a compass with the letter “g” for God at its center.
The house changed hands in 1940 when i was purchased by media personality John Nesbit who added a pool on the north terrace. The house changed hands several more times and was finally donated to the Trust for Preservation of Cultural Heritage by Augustus O. Brown, the eighth owner of the house.
The Foundation announced the house was up for sale in 2009 with an asking price of $15 million. In the wake of the great economic collapse of 2008, it probably wasn’t a good time to list such an expensive house. It didn’t sell until 2011 and then for a mere $4.5 million to a business executive named Ron Burkle.
Burkle listed the house for sale for sale in 2018 at the price of $23 million. It sold in 2019 for the price of $18 million, making it the most expensive Frank Lloyd Wright designed home sold.
Renovation of the Ennis House
Even before construction on the Ennis House was complete, it was showing signs of structural instability. Concrete blocks had cracked and lower sections of the walls had buckled. The use of decomposed granite to color the concrete blocks added impurities to the concrete mix and made it unstable.
The house suffered significant damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Record rains in the 2004 – 05 rainy season added to the deterioration. It was red tagged (no entry allowed) as unsafe after the rains, but was downgraded to yellow which allowed limited entry in 2005. The Ennis House Foundation estimated it would cost $5 million to stabilize the building and $15 million for full restoration.
In 2006, a FEMA grant was issued to help with the restoration. Also a $4.5 million loan was taken out to restore the property. The restoration was completed in 2007 at a cost of $6.4 million.
Ennis House in the Movies
The house was first used as a shooting location in 1933 for the movie Female. The exterior of the house appeared in the 1959 movie the House on Haunted Hill. It also appeared in The Day of the Locust, Blade Runner, The Karate Kid, Black Rain, The Glimmer Man, The Replacement Killers, Rush Hour, and The Thirteenth Floor. It’s also been extensively used in fashion photo shoots, commercials and music videos.
Visiting the Ennis House
As far as I know there are no tours of the house permitted in current times, and it is not open to the public as it was in the past. But you can drive by and see it from the street. It sits above Los Feliz Boulevard in the hills in the shadow of the Griffith Observatory. The address is 2655 Glendower Ave, Los Angeles, CA.