Barnsdall Park happens to be the home of the Hollyhock House, designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright. After extensive renovations the house just recently re-opened for visitors. I had to go see it. As a lad, the park happened to be part of my stomping grounds but this was my first time ever to tour the house.
This famous house, a National Historic Landmark and a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, sits at the summit of a hill that back when it was designed and built was know as Olive Hill. If the names Hollyhock, Barnsdall, or Olive Hill don’t ring a bell that’s alright because neither the house, the hill, nor the park seem to have much recognition outside of the Hollywood area.
For instance, the park is actually a hill that rises nearly 100 feet above two major boulevards that flank it: Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. But it’s totally dwarfed by Griffith Park in the background and worse yet, obscured by a string of numerous tall buildings. The only way to get sense that the park is a hill, you have to put yourself on the north side of it and look southward. Ah-ha! There it is!
Well, to put all these names in focus, here’s some local history. Once upon a time an enterprising man named Joseph H. Spires around 1890 or so bought the hill, all 36 acres. The property in the Township then known as Prospect Park- now called East Hollywood- rose high above the wide-open fields around it. The summit had a nice view of the Los Angeles Basin to the south and the mountain range to the north. Apparently Spires envisioned a hotel on top. However, until he could fulfill his vision he planted a commercial olive grove. The name that still lingers today? Olive Hill, of course. For a peek at the past through some interesting photos of the hill, Los Angeles of long ago (circa 1890), and the olive trees, click on this site: www.kcet.org.
The hotel never happened, of course. After his death, Spires widow sold the 36-acre parcel to Aline Barnsdall, an oil heiress from Chicago. Aline commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design and build an elegant home complete with a theater arts center. The home known as the Hollyhock House (named for Aline’s favorite flower- and the motif that adorns the building- the hollyhock) became a Los Angeles landmark.
Eventually Aline gave the Hollyhock House and a portion of the acreage to the City of Los Angeles with a stipulation that both the buildings and land be used to further local artistic and cultural activities. She named the site Barnsdall Park in honor of her father.
Today, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs carries out her wishes. It offers numerous activities through The Barnsdall Art Park Foundation. Thanks to the BAPF, during my visit I enjoyed the art gallery and checked out the latest creative works from local artists. What else does the park offer today? Here’s a short description of the various art activites and venues available at the park:
The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery offers a 10,000 square foot venue for art exhibitions: Their focus is to present emerging local artists. The art exhibits range from the quirky to profane- always interesting.
The Barnsdall Gallery Theater operates and rents a 299-seat theater with a number of different projectors including a HD digital projector. The purpose of the theater is to promote live productions (including dance and music), lectures, film showings and other events at the ”lowest possible cost”. Want to put on a show? Give them a call.
The Barnsdall Art Center and Junior Arts Center provides and supports quality art programs to educate and enrich the community. Schedules of art classes are tailored for adults as well as children. Sign up early because the classes fill up fast.
And of course the Hollyhock House is an architect’s delight. Only a couple of down stair rooms are available for touring, but you’ll be wowed.
If the Hollyhock House or any of the park’s art offerings I mentioned appeals to you go to the website www.barnsdallartpark.com for more information. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find and do at the park. I always am.
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Looking for more interesting places to take the kids and family? There are many County and City activites and venues in and around Los Angeles that offer fun and educational experiences for everyone. Click on these previous posts listed below for great family outing ideas:
Metropolitan Features including information regarding:
– Los Angeles Zoo
– Griffith Observatory
– The Arboretum
– Exposition Park
– Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History
– Santa Monica Pier