Frank Lloyd Wright houses in movies

Movie Atlas: Featuring Frank Lloyd Wright

After finding out how many times the futuristic homes of architect John Lautner have appeared in movies, we decided to see if we could find some films featuring the works of his mentor. Surprisingly, given his remarkable legacy, there aren’t as many Frank Lloyd Wright houses in movies. And only one – the Ennis House – has really made an impact on the world of cinema. However, we did find a really interesting story about a famous Frank Lloyd Wright movie house that never actually existed…

 

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Clinton Walker Residence
A Summer Place (1959)
The first Frank Lloyd Wright movie home we unearthed was this beach house built on Scenic Road on Monterey Bay, Carmel, in 1952. Its owner, Clinton Della Walker, wanted her home to be as “durable as the rocks and as transparent as the waves,” and to that end it was built on granite boulders, in a triangular shape, as if cutting through the waves. The waterfront home featured prominently in the 1959 romance A Summer Place (1959), starring Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. Such was the architect’s popularity at the time that the characters in the movie even mention him by name.

 

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Ennis House
Blade Runner (1982)
Wright’s most celebrated movie location – the Ennis House in Los Angeles – was built at 2655 Glendower Avenue in 1924, and belonged to Mabel and Charles Ennis. It’s the last and largest of Wright’s concrete-block houses in the LA area – and is a striking example of Mayan Revival architecture. The vast home is something of a celebrity, its exteriors having featured in the Vincent Price horror flick, House on Haunted Hill (1959), and its interiors in sci-fi classic Blade Runner (1982). Other movies it has appeared in include Black Rain (1989) and Grand Canyon (1991), and Game of Thrones fans may recognize it too.

 

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Hollyhock House
Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1989)
Yes, you read that correctly… Hollyhock House (located at 4808 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles) was completed in 1921 for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, but is now the center of the Barnsdall Art Park. Rather bizarrely, the house hit the big screen in 1989 when it appeared as the temple of the Piranha Women for low-budget spoof exploitation horror flick, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death – which starred, of all people, late night talk-show host Bill Maher.

 

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Wilbur Pearce House
Permanent Midnight (1998)
This private home (5 Bradbury Hills Road, Bradbury) is located 12 miles east of Pasadena in California. Built for Konrad Pearce in 1955, it has a striking solar hemicycle on its south-facing side, and sits on a ridge with impressive views across the LA landscape. In 1998, it starred in Permanent Midnight, a movie based on the memoir of Jerry Stahl, a comedy writer (played by Ben Stiller) fighting a $6k-a-week heroin habit.

 

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Vandamm House
North by Northwest (1959)
Now here’s the surprise. When Alfred Hitchcock was making his classic spy movie North by Northwest, he had particularly grand plans. The director had always wanted to film a chase scene across the faces of Mount Rushmore, and contemplated having Cary Grant hide inside Lincoln’s left nostril. “The Parks Commission of the Department of Interior was rather upset at this thought,” he recalled. “I argued until one of their number asked me how I would like it if they had Lincoln play the scene in Cary Grant’s nose. I saw their point at once.”

Hitch also wanted to build a house on top of Mount Rushmore, ideally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who was the height of fashion at the time. However, logistics thwarted his plans. The Rushmore authorities denied him access, and the story goes that he couldn’t afford the architect. So he had his art department mock up the famous heads on a sound stage at MGM, and design their own Wright-style house. They used matte images for the wide shots, built parts of the house in studios, and filmed interiors on set.

In a movie that pre-dated the first Bond movie by three years, the house became a prototype for the ultimate villain’s lair – the mountaintop mansion of criminal mastermind, Philip Vandamm (played by James Mason). It was sleek, cool and sophisticated – and had Frank Lloyd Wright written all over it. Except it had nothing to do with him. Over the years, people have often asked where the Vandamm House is or was, and the reality is simple – in the imagination of the great Alfred Hitchcock.

Frank Lloyd Wright houses in movies… If you’d like to stay in a real Frank Lloyd Wright house, make sure you check out the Schwartz House in Wisconsin and the Eppstein House in Michigan. It may not be at the top of Mount Rushmore, and has never housed any villains (that we know of), but it’s a beautiful example of his work. To read about John Lautner’s movie homes, click here. For more Movie Atlas stories, click here.

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