Friday, June 19, 2009

Frank Lloyd Wright Money Pit, $15 Million

In the hard-to-price real estate department, a foundation has listed Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic Ennis House, in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles, for $15 million. Completed 1924, it's the grandest of Wright's "textile block" houses, constructed from molded concrete blocks. Wright had the utopian notion that these concrete blocks would be the lost-cost housing material of the future. It didn't work out that way. Only four textile block houses were built, all for rich people in Southern California. Wright wrote: "The concrete block? The cheapest (and ugliest) thing in the building world.… Why not see what could be done with that gutter-rat?… It might be permanent, noble, beautiful."
Well, two out of three isn't bad. The textile blocks began crumbling at the first drop of rain. Earthquakes didn't help, either. Exasperated owners tried well-meaning conservation treatments, like sealing the concrete, that did more harm than good. The Ennis House, severely damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake and some monsoon-like rainy seasons, was red-tagged by city inspectors in 2005.
How much would you pay for a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece needing perpetual TLC?
Pluses: The architecture, of course, and unparalleled views of the city and Hollywood Hills. The foundation invested $6.5 million on repairs. The home has been in numerous movies, including Blade Runner. It was in a Ricky Martin video.
Negatives: It's estimated the new owner will need to spend $5 to $7 million in further repairs. Zillow's "Zestimate" for the place is only $2,131,500, presumably reflecting what it would be worth without the Wright name or the upkeep issues. The last price paid for the house, in 1968, was $119,000.

Listed by Hilton & Hyland and Dilbeck Realtors with international marketing by Christie's Great Estates.

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