- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once wrote that a home should not simply be plopped on a hill: “It should be of the hill, belonging to it, so hill and house could live together each the happier for the other.”

After weeks of drenching rain in Southern California, it turns out that one of Mr. Wright’s landmark creations, a Mayan-inspired concrete-block compound featured in several movies, is so much of its hill that safety inspectors this week declared parts of it off-limits.

Across Southern California, the storms have relented, but some homes on hillsides and mountains are slowly slipping or coming apart.

In the hills north of downtown Los Angeles near the Griffith Observatory is Mr. Wright’s Ennis-Brown house, which looks like a temple straight out of an “Indiana Jones” movie and was a location for such movies as “The House on Haunted Hill,” “Blade Runner” and “Grand Canyon.”

The house was declared uninhabitable earlier this week after inspectors found a retaining wall was crumbling. Pressure from the sliding soil was causing heavy stones to pop out of the wall. After a second look, city officials gave the go-ahead for people to enter the main building, which was erected on bedrock. But other parts of the compound remain off-limits.

“The main building isn’t going anywhere,” said Bob Steinbach, a spokesman for the city Department of Building and Safety. “We want them to shore things up so there are no further problems.”

The house, built in 1924 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was named for original owners Mabel and Charles Ennis and the couple who donated it to the Trust for Preservation of Cultural Heritage in 1980. The nonprofit organization opened it to the public, giving tours of its intricate stone and ironwork, art-glass doors and luxurious pool.

The compound has needed repairs for several years because of its age and damage suffered during the 1994 earthquake. It had been closed since December for the renovation and is not expected to reopen until the summer.

The trust’s executive director, Franklin De Groot, said there is greater urgency to fixing the compound now because more rain could worsen the damage.

“The longer we wait, the more possibility of damage and cost exists,” he said.

The organization has chosen Mr. Wright’s grandson Eric Lloyd Wright as the project’s primary architect. The federal government is providing about $2.5 million, but officials estimate as much as $10 million more is needed to complete the restoration.

The Ennis-Brown house was one of the first homes to be built from concrete block. Mr. Wright, who died in 1959, built 350 to 400 homes, and all but 60 endure.

“He felt that if you built a house, you build it to last for a long, long time,” said Bruce Pfeiffer, director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Mr. Pfeiffer said he can recall only one instance in which a Wright house lost a battle with nature: A waterfront home in Mississippi was destroyed by a hurricane in the 1960s.


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