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Arts and Entertainment

Frank Lloyd Wright's Iconic Hollyhock House Will Be Getting Its Own Virtual Reality Tour

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On Wednesday, Los Angeles City Council approved $133,000 in funding for the creation an online virtual reality tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Hollyhock House.

The 1921 Mayan Revival-style home is more than just an L.A. icon—it's also a National Historic Landmark that's considered to be one of Wright’s masterpieces. However, because the house was designed in 1919—seven decades before the landmark passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that public buildings be handicap-accessible—parts of the home remain inaccessible to those with disabilities. The structure can't be retrofitted to make it more accessible because of its historic landmark status, according to Urbanize LA, who first reported the story.

Undated portrait of Aline Barnsdall holding her daughter, Betty. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
The story of the structure began in 1919, when Pennsylvanian oil heiress Aline Barnsdall purchased a 36-acre site in East Hollywood on what is now Barnsdall Park and commissioned the famed architect to build a theater where she could produce avant-garde plays. The project soon "morphed into creating a performing arts complex that included her residence," according to the Department of Cultural Affairs. Only three of the structures for Barnsdall's grand plans were produced before the philanthropist and art collector fired Wright, citing costs as the reason for terminating the contract, at least according to the Department of Cultural Affairs. The New York Times remembers things a little differently:

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But [Frank Lloyd] Wright was so wrapped up in preparing to build the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo that he neglected her project, handing off oversight to his less experienced son Lloyd and Rudolph Schindler, an employee at the time. Costs soared, and she fired Wright midconstruction (later hiring Mr. Schindler to finish up). Disappointed by the experience and the house, Ms. Barnsdall donated it and the ancillary buildings, with 12 acres now known as the Barnsdall Art Park, to Los Angeles in 1927.

In 1927, she gave the land (and the structures) to the city to serve as an arts center in honor of her late father, Theodore Barnsdall. It became a public museum in the late 1970s, after undergoing a city-led renovation. Hollyhock House is operated by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, which provides educational programming, conservation services and tours of the historic site. It reopened in 2015 after undergoing another extensive renovation.

A 1945 photograph of a sign at Barnsdall Park. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
Hollyhock House gets its name from Barnsdall's favorite flower, ornamental tributes to which are incorporated throughout the site. The home's architectural significance simply can't be understated. It's currently under consideration for the Unesco World Heritage List (which includes the Stonehenge and the Taj Mahal), and was the first home built during Wright's California period. According to Hollyhock House curator Jeffrey Herr, the building also "influenced Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, and thus California modernism."

The virtual reality tour will allow DCA to provide "virtual access to previously inaccessible areas of the location to visitors with disabilities," according to a city report. Previously inaccessible areas of the structure will be available through both an on-site virtual reality tour and remotely through a web browser. The tour will expand the accessible area of Hollyhock House by 210%, according to the report.

Hollyhock House (Photo by Joshua White)
“This vote by the City Council will allow everyone, everywhere, the opportunity to visit the Hollyhock House,” Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell said in a statement. “The video project will make the amazing historic landmark accessible to more people than ever before, shattering the notion of limited access due to challenges because of its unusual design or obstacles inside the structure."

Hollyhock House is located at 4800 Hollywood Boulevard at Barnsdall Park.

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