In 1887, legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright began his career in Chicago at just 20 years old. When he arrived, the atmosphere bustled with raw energy and progress: The city was experiencing intense population growth and a development boom as contractors hustled to rebuild the metropolis following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Here, Wright became famous for creating the prairie-style home, a design characterized by low-pitched roofs, overhanging eaves, open-floor plans, and rows of casement windows designed to bring sunlight into living spaces. Some of Wright’s most avant-garde, radical works, however, aren’t sited in Illinois—you have to travel to the West Coast to find them.
Wright began working and living in Los Angeles in the early 20th century, and it was a particularly tumultuous time in his life. He had taken the prairie-style house design as far as he thought possible and was reeling from the murder of his mistress Mamah Cheney and her two children, who were killed by a servant at Wright’s Wisconsin estate, Taliesin. They were both married when they first met, but Wright considered Cheney to be the love of his life and was stunned by her sudden and violent death. Feeling both creatively stagnant and emotionally devastated, he opted for a change of scenery and headed west.
Wright has always had a bit of a contrarian streak: Whereas contemporary homes of the era favored layouts where rooms might lead into one another, he was an early pioneer of open floor plans. But on the West Coast, Wright let his imagination truly run wild. Inspired by Mayan and Aztec architectural design—despite never having visited a pre-Columbian Central American site—he constructed some of the most striking buildings of his career, including Hollywood’s architectural darling, the Ennis House, and the famed Hollyhock House.
Here are five Frank Lloyd Wright buildings you can see on the West Coast:
1. Ennis House
Where: Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California
Visit: Not open to the public except for private tours but is easily visible from the street
Blade Runner! House on Haunted Hill! Twin Peaks! Several iconic films and TV shows have used the Ennis House as a filming location—it’s appeared more than 80 times on the silver screen thanks to its temple-like, mysterious appearance. Built in 1924 for Charles Ennis and his wife, Mabel, this home was the last Wright created in the Los Angeles area in “textile block”-style—constructed from elaborately patterned concrete squares. At the time, concrete was a relatively new building material and Wright saw great potential in both its artistic malleability and affordability for housing. More than 27,000 blocks were used to create the four-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom home, and it’s considered one of the best examples of Mayan revival architecture in the country.
The Ennis House is privately owned (it was last sold in 2019 to cannabis entrepreneurs Robert Rosenheck and Cindy Capobianco for $18 million) and is currently not open to the public for visits. However, this striking and iconic house is easily visible from the street. If you are hell-bent on getting inside, you can contact the owners of the home via their website.
2. Gordon House
When: Wednesday–Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Silverton, Oregon
Visit: Tickets start at $20, thegordonhouse.org
The Gordon House is one of the last Usonian homes Wright designed (in fact, it was completed after the architect died) and is the only house he constructed in Oregon. Wright’s Usonian-style homes are simple and utilitarian in their design and were created with the intention of being affordable to middle-class Americans. Completed in 1963, the house was initially constructed in Wilsonville near the Willamette River and featured Wright’s signature emphasis on horizontal designs; it has a cantilevered roof. Cedar wood and painted cinder block construction materials as well as floor-to-ceiling windows helped blend the home into its natural surroundings. In 2001, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy saved the building from demolition (after the original homeowners died, the new owners wanted to make room for a larger, more contemporary house) and moved it to its current location in Silverton. In 2002, it was converted into a museum and is now open to the public.
3. Mrs. Clinton Walker House
Where: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Visit: Not open to the public but visible from the beach
With its fairy-tale-like cottages and breathtaking coastline, Carmel-by-the-Sea has long been a must-stop on any road trip along California’s State Route 1—and this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, the only one he designed with a seaside view, gives all the more reason to tap the brakes. The Clinton Walker House is not open to the public, but it’s built on Carmel Point’s beach, so curious passersby can get a pretty good look at the building from the sand (all beaches in the U.S. are public property). The home was built in Wright’s Usonian style but is unique in design: It was constructed to resemble the bow of a ship cutting through waves. The house was designed for Della Walker, widow of Clinton Walker, in 1951. She reportedly wrote to Wright that she wanted a house “as durable as the rocks and as transparent as the waves.”
The home is only about 1,200 square feet and, like some of his other Usonian-style houses, has a hexagonal shape. Three rooms have swoon-worthy views of the ocean through dramatic, large windows, and the living room boasts an imposing floor-to-ceiling fireplace. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
4. Hollyhock House
When: Thursday–Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: East Hollywood, Los Angeles
Visit: Tickets start at $7, hollyhockhouse.org
In 1915, oil heiress and socialite Aline Barnsdall approached Wright to commission a theater. As the two schemed up ways to make Barnsdall’s dreams into a reality, plans expanded to include commercial shops, an artist residence, cinema, two guesthouses, and a residence for Barnsdall—only the guesthouses and main residence were ever built. She requested that the hollyhock, her favorite flower, be incorporated into the design of the house. Today, visitors can find the flower (which can be easily spotted by its notched petals) in the home’s textiles, furniture, decorative glass, and stonework.
Much like the Ennis House, Hollyhock House was heavily influenced by pre-Columbian Central American architecture and also has a rather enigmatic, eerie air about it. In fact, upon completion, Barnsdall found Hollyhock too impractical to live in (plus, it didn’t have a theater, the reason she commissioned the project in the first place). In 1927, she donated Hollyhock House, a guest residence, and 12 acres of her 36-acre property to Los Angeles. Today, the spread is still managed by the city and even got that long-awaited theater in 1971. In 2019, Hollyhock House became the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the city.
5. Hanna-Honeycomb House
When: Open twice a year
Where: Stanford, California
Visit: Free, hannahousetours.stanford.edu
The Hanna-Honeycomb House is located on Stanford University’s campus and was constructed in 1937 for professor Paul Hanna and his wife, Jean. The house got its name from its hexagonal shape—there’s not a single right angle on the floor plan. It was Wright’s first foray into hexagonal homes and is considered to be one of the best examples of this uniquely shaped house design. The home was constructed using local materials, including boards made of redwood, San Jose bricks, plate glass, and local concrete. In addition to the main house, a hobby shop, storage building, carport, and guesthouse are on the property.
After living in the house for 38 years, the couple donated it to the university in 1975. The Hanna-Honeycomb house is open just twice a year for public tours, at Stanford’s Heritage Services discretion. Email them to find out when the next tour will be.