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Lloyd Wright

John Sowden House, ca. 1926, 5121 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, National Register

Photo: John Sowden House, ca. 1926, 5121 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, designed by architect Lloyd Wright. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Photographed by user:LosAngeles, 2008, (own work) [cc-by-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed November, 2014.


Lloyd Wright, Architect, 1890-1978

Born on March 31, 1890 in Oak Park, Illinois, Lloyd Wright [†] experienced a childhood in some ways similar to his father's [Frank Lloyd Wright]. As Harriette Von Breton states, "He was nurtured in an environment designed by his father... received his primary and high school education from many of the same aunts and uncles who also taught his father—in the same environment that shaped his father... It is little wonder that the son reflects the father in so many ways." Like his father, Lloyd's childhood education included Friedrich Froebel's geometric exercises, and an emphasis on music.

In 1907, Lloyd followed in his father's footsteps and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin at Madison, studying Engineering and Agronomy. In September 1909, Lloyd's father announced his decision to abandon his home with his mistress Mamah Cheney, stating he was "deserting my wife and children for one year, in search of a spiritual adventure." Lloyd, nineteen years old at the time, knocked his father to the floor. However, as his father worked in Berlin on the Wasmuth Portfolio later in 1909, Lloyd withdrew from school and joined his father to help prepare drawings.

Lloyd, interested in landscape design, returned to the US and became a draftsman in the office of the Olmstead brothers. In 1911, Lloyd moved to San Diego to work in the Olmsteads' nursery, and then entered Irving Gill's office in 1912. Gill had been a fellow apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright's in Louis Sullivan's Chicago office in the early 1890s. In 1915, Lloyd moved to Los Angeles to join Gill and Olmstead in development of a plan for the City of Torrance. Thus, Lloyd Wright's career was not only influenced by his father's work, but continues from a long line of American masters. In addition, his work as a landscape designer influenced Lloyd's approach to architecture, as his projects often originate from a thoughtful integration of building and site. For Lloyd, "the building, the exterior retaining walls and stairs, the fountains and pools, together with the trees and other plants, form a complete tightly knit whole, and that part of the scheme made up of the four walls and roof was not enough to stand on its own."

In 1916, Lloyd opened his own office and began to design motion picture sets at Paramount Studios. He then married and briefly moved to New York as an airplane designer. In 1919, he returned to Los Angeles to work with his father on the Barnsdall project (Hollyhock House). It was at this point where Frank Lloyd Wright's presence once again became the dominant element in Lloyd's life and Lloyd's career became much more about architecture as opposed to landscape architecture. As David Gebhard states, "with his father in Los Angeles, the only real choice was architecture." Thus "Lloyd's intense relationship with FLW and his work would, with varying results, mark his own architecture as it developed in the 1920s." During the 20s, in addition to his collaborations with his father, Lloyd Wright was well-known for his own dramatic house designs, and the designs for the first two shells of the Hollywood Bowl, the second of which "was an acoustical success, copied the world over."

Though Lloyd was successful in creating innovative, dramatic architectural works, he still faced obscurity in comparison with his father. For example, it is a little-known fact that Lloyd's first house, for Henry Bollman, is "a concrete-block structure that actually predates the far more celebrated group of concrete-block houses done by Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles in the 1920's." Lloyd's career in Los Angeles is of great significance, and much of his work has been recognized by the National Register. A few examples of listed properties are Lloyd's own studio in West Hollywood, the Derby House in Glendale, the Sowden House in Los Angeles, and the Wayfarer's Chapel in Portuguese Bend. Apparent in these works is Lloyd's conception of the California House, a fortress-like form that totally protects inhabitants from trespass from the outside world, instead enclosing a court or garden where the Southern California lifestyle can be experienced in open privacy. "Compared to his father, Lloyd not only understood what could be done with vegetation and its relationship to a building in California, he was also much more receptive to the opening up of the interior space to be out-of-doors." This blurring of interior and exterior space is part of the legacy of modern architecture in Southern Californian, and one which Lloyd Wright helped to pioneer.

In the rich avant-garde architectural environment of twentieth-century Southern California, Lloyd Wright "explored the fertile intersection of modernism and regionalism." Lloyd's evocative courtyard houses were a direct result of place, their forms inspired by the climate of Southern California, with a vocabulary that related directly to the American character. Like his father, Lloyd "related that his effort... was to establish a link and a continuity with that which was architecturally indigenous to America." Lloyd inherited his father's ideals and his tastes for "Oriental rugs, Japanese prints, the Arts and Crafts movement, and the pre-Columbian Mexican and Southwestern American Indian culture." The knit-block houses were one physical embodiment of this "indigenous" regionalism, and appealed to the Wrights' aesthetic. Decorative, modular concrete elements became a recurring theme in Lloyd's work, a theme continued with his design for the Karasik House. Lloyd's Los Angeles houses "epitomized his talent for merging his own brand of Expressionism ... with his and his father's interest in Southwest Indian cultures."

Lloyd Wright "never denied that he owed the best of himself to the strong genetic and cultural influences of the indomitable Frank Lloyd Wright." As Thomas Hines summarized, "Lloyd Wright was, in a sense, a tragic figure, caught throughout his career in the shadow of his superhuman father. Both blessed and cursed by that paradoxical relationship, he nevertheless created, in his own truncated oeuvre, architectural marvels both on paper and on the land."

† Audrey Sato, Harold Zellman and Associates, Architects, Karasik House, Los Angeles, CA, nomination document, 2011, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.


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