This dramatic Wrightian icon is on claass HAUS today.
Somewhat of an unappreciated and neglected figure within the annals of American architectural history, Lloyd Wright spent his career creating some of the most iconic (and interesting) structures of twentieth-century Southern California. Highly accomplished in his own right (he worked with the Olmsteds and Irving Gill), the oldest son of Frank Lloyd Wright struggled to escape his legendary father's long and lingering shadow (can you imagine?). Even so, the younger Wright managed to carve out his own long and accomplished career, one defined by a bold and innovative approach to modern design.
Blending soaring forms, unusual materials, and an almost spiritual affinity for the natural landscape, Lloyd Wright adapted his father’s principles of organic architecture to create his own independent style. In a synthesis of nature, exotic details, and a regionalized modernism, Wright’s designs embraced the theatrical and the unusual- characteristics on full display in two of his most notable works, the transcendent Wayfarers Chapel and the neo-Mayan Sowden House. Like these more recognizable designs, Wright's Samuel-Novarro House fuses a flair for drama and a reverence for nature to create a stunning gem-like residential form rising from the Southern California landscape.
Designed for Louis Samuel, the personal manager for silent film star Ramon Novarro (best known for Ben-Hur), the Mayan Revival house is situated in the Oaks neighborhood of Los Feliz. Completed in 1928, the multi-level residence is nestled into its sloping lot, the smooth concrete surfaces of the facade contrasting with the elaborate system of terraces carved into the hillside. Reminiscent of architect Irving Gill's work (Wright worked for Gill during the 1910s), the unadorned white walls of the Wrightian monument are accented with elaborate copper detailing- the oxidized green hue popping against the austere planes. In many ways his father’s son, Wright utilized horizontal bands of windows, organic ornamentation, and a nature-hugging composition to define the design's modern pedigree. Like a masonry fortress emerging from the Hollywood jungle, the Samuel-Novarro House is a masterful juxtaposition of concrete and glass, daring forms and sprawling landscapes.
A notable piece of Hollywood history, the story behind the Samuel-Novarro House is almost as dramatic as Wright's unusual architecture. In a shocking cinematic twist, Ramon Novarro discovered that Louis Samuel (also rumored to be his close companion) had been embezzling money from the actor's holdings, using much of the stolen cash to pay the mortgage on the Wright-designed home (and leaving Novarro with less than $200 in his bank account). To avoid a scandal, Novarro quietly settled with his former manager, assuming ownership of the Los Feliz house in 1931. The legendary MGM star would go on to live in the residence for several years, commissioning Wright to expand the property's gardens and the interior in 1932.
Over the years, the Samuel-Novarro residence has housed a long list of celebrities, including Leonard Bernstein, Diane Keaton, and Christina Ricci. The property has recently undergone an extensive restoration and is listed as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
You can read more about Lloyd Wright here and here.
Image at top:
By Stilfehler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.