Ennis House

Added by Talene Montgomery, last update: August 17, 2012, 11:57 am

Ennis House
North Entrance, source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityprojectca/3763017379/in/photostream/, date: 7/27/2009
Location
2607 Glendower Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
United States
34° 6' 58.3992" N, 118° 17' 34.44" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Residential (RES)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):

National Register of Historic Places (October 14, 1971), California Historical Landmark (October 14, 1971), Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (March 3, 1976)

History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned by Charles Ennis and his wife Mabel to build them a 6,000 square foot house.

Dates: Commission / Completion:1923 / 1924
Architectural and other Designer(s): Frank Lloyd Wright with son Lloyd Wright. Lloyd Wright supervised construction and prepared working drawings for the Ennis House.
Others associated with Building/Site: Owners Charles Ennis and his wife Mabel
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): In 1940, radio personality John Nesbitt purchased the house and commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a swimming pool on the north terrace. In 1980, owner Gus Oliver Brown donated the house to the Trust for Preservation of Cultural Heritage, initiating a $250,000 restoration project. The restoration was conducted by Eric Wright, son of Lloyd Wright and grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright. The Dennis Company was commissioned as contractor. Restoration involved the removal and replacement of crumbling retaining wall blocks, which were cast in a light concrete substitute material. In 2006, the Ennis House Foundation initiated a $6.5 million restoration and stabilization project to remediate damages caused by the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and the mudslides of 2005. This included the installation of 20 steel caissons to secure the house to the underlying bedrock, extensive replacement of textile block, and the replacement of the roof. The project team included construction manager Alfatech Cambridge, general contractor Matt Construction and its subcontractors, structural engineer Melvyn Green and Associates, preservation consultant Historic Resources Group, art-glass conservator Judson Studios, and architect Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Current Use: As of 2011, the use is pending. The Ennis House has been placed on the market for sale to a private owner. To protect it from demolition, the Ennis House Foundation has put a conservation easement on the property.
Current Condition: The house is still in need of extensive repair, though its condition has been stabilized by the foundation’s 2006 intervention.
General Description:

The Ennis House is a two story concrete masonry structure arranged along the slope of a hill along a longitudinal axis. The entry is situated at the west end of the house, across from the motor court and garage at the west end of the site. The entrance is characteristically Wrightian in that a low, dark foyer prefaces the dramatic procession up into a high, light-filled space. The upper floor serves as the primary level, linking a dense cluster of social spaces organized around the entrance stair above the foyer. Two private bedrooms are located along the eastern end of a long colonnaded gallery. The gallery unites and defines the overall composition of the house and interweaves the interior rooms with extensive outdoor terraces.
The exterior walls of the house – unlike the other three textile block houses – are battered in a manner similar to the Hollyhock House, though here the effect is achieved by offsetting the stacked textile blocks. The flat roof and ceiling are made from teak and are not expressed on the elevation.
The textile block walls which characterize the heavy massing of the house were designed and constructed as cavity walls to allow for visual continuity of material into the interior. The blocks were left 'natural' in tone and use an aggregate found on the site as a means of integrally linking the house to its site. Due to the modular nature of the concrete textile blocks, each major programmatic space is articulated as a separate, yet integrally connected volume.

Construction Period:

The Ennis House – and the textile blocks which comprise it – was assembled on site by hand. Aluminum molds were used for casting, but due to the imprecise nature of molding on site, there was a considerable margin of error amongst the blocks. The structure’s double wall design helped to accommodate the imprecision of each component, but a good deal of shimming was required, complicating and extending the construction process. According to Frank Lloyd Wright, “None of the advantages which the system was designed to have were had in the construction of these models. We had no organization. Prepared the moulds experimentally. Picked up ‘Moyana’ men in the Los Angeles street, and started them making and setting blocks – The work consequently was roughly done and wasteful. None of the accuracy which is essential to economy in manufacture nor any benefit of organization was achieved in these models.’

Original Physical Context:

The innate drama of the Ennis house is underscored by its siting high in the hills behind the Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles. Its longitudinal orientation is informed by the shape of the site and Glendower Avenue, which wraps around the site on three sides. Though the two long facades of the house are nearly identical in character, each side's relationship to the site is very different. The north facade more intimately relates with the hill extending about it, while the south facade's upper terraces extend down to the ground in great retaining walls viewable from the city below.

Evaluation
Technical Evaluation:

The textile block used at the Ennis, Storer, Freeman and Millard houses was so named for the method of laying steel rods horizontally and vertically along grooves inset into the edges of the blocks, much as a warp and a weft interweave in a textile. In theory, once the blocks were stacked and rods laid, grout would be poured into the cores, locking the steel with the concrete block. By weaving steel reinforcing rods within the grid of blocks, the design eliminated the need for a plastic mortar joint between blocks. This in turn eliminated the need for skilled stone masons on the job, theoretically decreasing the cost of labor of the project. Various patterns could be cast into the face of the 3-1/2” thick blocks during manufacturing to lend specificity to the otherwise standard nature of the components. At Ennis House, a single, asymmetrically patterned block type is used in alternating courses as well as to graphically delineate openings. Double walls of the textile blocks were used as a means of keeping moisture out of the interior with steel wires placed 32” on center to keep the double walls tied together.

Social:

The Ennis house was constructed as a personal residence for Charles Ennis and his wife. Despite the vastness of the building, however, the main house only has two bedrooms. Charles Ennis only lived in the house for four years, until his death in 1928. His wife Mabel Ennis then sold the house in 1936. A series of owners followed in succession until Gus Brown donated the house to the Trust for Preservation of Cultural Heritage in 1980. As much as the house has been praised for its monumentality, it has also received criticism for a general lack of domestic character.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
The compositional flexibility afforded by the textile block is evidenced by each of the four textile block houses. The material’s modularity places formal emphasis on clear geometric massing, which clearly distinguishes these houses from the low-lying horizontality of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie houses. In addition, the integration of pattern into the building’s structural components developed out of Wright’s conception of unifying architecture and decoration.
Historical:

In the early 1920s, Frank Lloyd Wright built a series of four experimental “textile block” houses in Los Angeles. After designing his first California commission – the Hollyhock House for Aline Barnsdall – in 1921, and while finishing the second Imperial Hotel in Japan (1915-1923), Wright shifted his focus towards developing a method for affordable residential building. Wright became interested in the potential of concrete block as a means to simplify the process of construction. He resolved to elevate the ubiquitous material into a “noble” one through the application of unifying geometric motifs as wells as through the concealment of joints and reinforcing.
Of the four textile block houses constructed – the Millard House, Freeman House, Storer House and Ennis House – the Ennis House was the last to be designed and built. Wright designed the house for the businessman Charles Ennis and his wife Mabel. At 6,000 square feet, it is the largest of the textile block houses to be constructed. Its design was also the most monumental of the four, an effect compounded by its prominent siting on a hill at the top of Vermont Boulevard in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.

General Assessment:
The set of four textile block houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles in the early 1920s is notable for Wright’s effort to prototype a flexible and affordable construction method for modern dwellings. The Ennis House, in particular, is significant for Wright’s attempt to establish a local architectural vocabulary for Los Angeles by drawing on Mayan motifs and forms. He extended those themes he had tested in his first Los Angeles residence, the Hollyhock House, and articulated them through his new textile block system. Yet while the set of houses serve as the paradigm for Wright’s textile block system, their experimental nature and imprecise construction have left them each in precarious condition. The Ennis House has suffered the greatest deal of damage, from destabilizing natural disasters to detrimental remedial measures. Despite extensive restoration efforts already taken, the house will continue to require a great deal of maintenance if it is to live on into the foreseeable future.
Documentation
Text references:

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, "In the Nature of Materials: The Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright, 1887-1941,"New York, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 75-77; Kanner, Diane, “A First Peek Inside Wright,” Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1980. Maddex, Diane, "Fifty Favorite Houses by Frank Lloyd Wright,"Thames&Hudson, 2000, 63-69; Pfeffer, Bruce Brooks and Yukio Futagawa, "Frank Lloyd Wright Selected Houses 8," ADA Edita, 6-18, 92-96; Reborn, A.N., “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Textile-Block Slab Construction,” The Architectural Record, Vol. 62 No. 6, Dec. 1927, 448-452; Storrer, William Allin, “The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright,” 217; Wright, Eric Lloyd, "Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Automatics," in "Frank Lloyd Wright|The Houses," Rizzoli 2006, 458. Zimmerman, Scott, "Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright's California," Peregrine Smith Book Co., 1992, 20-24; "Frank Lloyd Wright: textile block houses," Space design 1984 Sept., no.240, p.63-78; "The pioneering age of concrete blocks: Frank
Lloyd Wright's textile-block houses,"Detail Apr. 2003, Vol. 43 Issue 4, 310; "Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House for Sale," Los Angeles Conservancy, LA Conservancy Website, http://www.laconservancy.org/issues/issues_ennis.php4

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