Frank Lloyd Wright in California
If you are a fan of architect Frank Lloyd Wright or of great architecture in general, his California creations can be the focus of some great day trips. Head to one or all of his designs dotted throughout California from northern California to Los Angeles and lesser-known properties like shopping centers and medical clinics.
Originally from Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright's lived most of his early life in the Midwest. He had visions of bringing his work out west to California. Frank Lloyd Wright ended up stamping his signature designs throughout the California landscape. His first California design was the George C. Stewart House Montecito house near Santa Barbara in 1909. His last California construction was the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Redding, California, about 150 miles north of Sacramento in 1957.
You will find that almost all of his designs share something in common—most appear organic with their surroundings as if they sprung up from the nature around them.
In total, 26 buildings Frank Lloyd Wright designed in California are still standing. Remarkably, only two have been lost: Residence B at Hollyhock House and Wright's Harper Avenue Studio in Los Angeles.
The American Institute of Architects designated 17 of Frank Lloyd Wright's designs as most representative of his contribution to American culture. Three of them are located in California: Hollyhock House (1917) in Los Angeles, the V.C. Morris Gift Shop in San Francisco, and the Hanna House in Palo Alto.
Most of Frank Lloyd Wright's California designs were private residences, but he also created a shopping center in Los Angeles, a church in Redding, and a civic center in San Rafael.
Los Angeles-Area Buildings
In a day you can plan a day trip through the Los Angeles area visiting eight Frank Lloyd Wright constructions in Los Angeles.
Although he might be known best for prairie-style homes, he made other styles popular. In LA, you can see his famous textile-block houses. He designed only four in 1923 and all of them are located in the LA-area: Ennis House, Storer House, Millard House/La Miniatura, and the Freeman House.
From Taliesin West, Wright's winter home, Wright developed another style, desert rubble construction. Desert rubble construction uses rough stones and concrete that are shaped with a wooden form. Just outside LA, in Malibu, Wright created the Arch Oboler Gatehouse (1940), utilizing this style.
He developed the George D. Sturges House in Brentwood in 1939, the only true example of a Usonian-style house in southern California. He utilized this style mostly in northern California. The Wilbur C. Pearce House built in 1950 in the San Gabriel Mountains just outside LA has a Usonian feel to it.
San Francisco-Area Buildings
One way to have fun in San Francisco is to see the city by developing your own Frank Lloyd Wright scavenger hunt. First, start off with the V.C. Morris Gift Shop built in 1948 in Union Square. Its circular design was the early proof of concept for New York's Guggenheim Museum.
Wright's Usonian style of architecture was used a lot in the San Francisco area. The term "Usonian" was Wright's way of saying "American." He believed saying "American" was loaded with Native American references. "Usonian" represents the culture of the "U.S." These houses were designed for middle-income families. These small, single-story houses in the San Francisco area featured an indoor-outdoor connection and were often built in an "L" shape: the hexagonal Hanna House (1936), Sydney Bazett House (1939), and Buehler House (1948), and Arthur C. Mathews House (1950).
He utilized the desert rubble-style construction for the Berger House (1950) in the Bay Area's San Anselmo.
Buildings in Other Parts of California
A number of Frank Lloyd Wright constructions can be found outside of LA and San Francisco. For example, you can find a good representation of the desert rubble-style construction in the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Redding, California, about 150 miles north of Sacramento.
Other good examples of Usonian structures in the Central Valley section of California are the Randall Fawcett House (1955), Kundert Medical Clinic in San Luis Obispo (1955), Robert G. Walton House (1957), and the Dr. George Ablin House in Bakersfield (1958).
The only clubhouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1923 had remained in blueprint and concept only. Then, in 2001, Wright's idea came to life when it was constructed posthumously as the Nakoma Resort in the North Lake Tahoe region of California.
Open for Tours
Only a few Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are accessible to the general public. And even then, these sometimes difficult-to-maintain structures are closed for renovations. Check with each location before planning a visit.
- Marin Civic Center (1955) offers a docent-led tour of this extensive government complex once a month or you can do a self-guided tour.
- Hanna House is open for tours a few days a month.
- Hollyhock House is open after an extensive renovation. Restoration of other buildings on the property are ongoing.
- Ennis House was sold to a private owner in 2011. Conditions of the sale required that it be open to the public 12 days per year. Tours may be halted due to foundation restoration needed following the 1994 Northridge earthquake and massive rains.
- Mrs. Clinton Walker House in Carmel is open one day a year as part of a charity event (1948)
- Anderton Court Shops in Beverly Hills (1952)
- Kundert Medical Clinic in San Luis Obispo
- Pilgrim Congregational Church in Redding, California, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Sacramento.