Monday, August 22, 2016

Sowden House Shoot, Pt. 1

It's a home in the Los Feliz area of Hollywood with an architectural pedigree by Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright) and surrounded by an air of mystery, thanks to allegations that one of the most notorious murders of all-time might have occurred within its Mayan Revival walls. It was also seen in the Martin Scorsese movie "The Aviator." I am referring to none other than the Sowden House.

Built in 1926, I first discovered it back in 2005 when it was one of the stops on a Hollywood history bus tour. It seemed to pop up out of nowhere, hidden by all of the trees and vegetation that almost completely blocked it from street view. Flash forward ten years later: I had read a book by Steve Hodel, son of Dr. George Hodel (shown here in a mug shot):

...claiming that his father had killed Elizabeth Short (aka The Black Dahlia) inside the Sowden House where he and his family lived from 1945-1951.

Short was brutally murdered and then her naked body was moved to a vacant lot a few miles away. To this day, the case still remains officially unsolved. The more I knew about this place, the more I wanted to get inside. Finally, eleven years after I first saw this amazing structure I finally got my wish. To be able to enter the gate and walk up the steps was incredible; entering the house itself was even more so!

Here's a vintage shot of Dr. Hodel inside the house:

and how it looks today:

At the Library of Congress website, you can see even more vintage shots of the house, circa 1940:

The house was remodeled in 2001 by Xorin Balbes; while much of his remodel/restoration work was praised, he was criticized for adding a pool and spa to the center courtyard area. It kind of kills the flow of the home and makes it much harder to travel back and forth between the rooms via the courtyard.

I also wasn't real crazy about the slate floor.

But let's face it folks...regardless of these issues, this place is still a showstopper! Seeing these images of the vintage bathrooms really makes me sad, as the original design has been completely obliterated by the remodel.

While the revised bathroom is amazing, there is very little to set it apart from a luxury suite at any modern day establishment.

A few more interior shots for today:

Many have claimed this place is haunted. As for my opinion...I didn't really feel anything. The place has been so overhauled that it doesn't really give off much of a vintage vibe, let alone one of being haunted. Maybe it would be different if I had been there at night.

Come back tomorrow for part 2!

More Sowden House photos at my main website.

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Chuck said...

Dave, you get invited to the best house tours.

Thanks for sharing with the rest of us!

Chuck said...

Just so I have the house geography right, is there a peaked, large-windowed sitting room on both short ends of the courtyard? And are all rooms accessible from interior corridors or other rooms, or do you have to cross the courtyard to get to some of them?

Stuart Powley said...

It really bothers me when a new designer comes into a vintage home and wants to put their "Stamp" on it. I understand that sometimes it's at the request of the new owners, but in my opinion if you don't want an historic home, don't buy one. There is a reason these homes are considered artworks...and it ain't you. Rant over.

Dave DeCaro said...

Chuck - Yes, large windows on either end of the courtyard. There is an interior corridor through the entire house. You can cross over through the courtyard, but the pool makes that very difficult. Stu - preaching to the choir!

Chuck said...

Stu, completely agree. In this case, the designer didn't overwhelm the new owners with his own ideas - he was the new owner. It was his place and he was going to be living there, so I guess he could do what he wanted with it, but I don't have to like all of what he did.

Dave, thanks for digging up the Library of Congress photos to give us an idea of what the place looked like before the remuddling. Any idea of when they decided to change the color scheme from monochromatic?

Michael Joyce said...

Dave – Great post. That house is fantastic.

I used the house for a TV MOW, Brave New World, I produced in 1998. The network wanted us to capture Huxley’s story year of 2540AD. Being on a limited budget we decided to use architecture in the LA area and suggest that it was sometime in the future (maybe alternate universe). The Sowden House became in our story the residence of Leonard Nimoy who played Mustapha Mond (the Controller). We shot several scenes in the house.

Sorry they have done some of the new remodeling, but I can attest the building need some tender loving care to help it’s structural integrity – otherwise a strong earthquake could do it severe damage.

Anonymous said...

If any ghost should be haunting this place, it should be that of Frank Wright, hounding the owner for mutilating the architecture.

Dave DeCaro said...

Anonymous (it's always an anonymous poster): since the building was designed by Frank's son, Lloyd, I don't think FLW would be the one doing the haunting. And although I don't necessarily agree with the pool or some of the design choices, overall, the place is still pretty stunning. I don't think mutilate is the word I would use.

Michael - Thanks for the extra info!