Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Ennis House. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ennis House. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Regular readers will remember the entry a few weeks back about HG Wells saying, “I write as I walk because I want to get somewhere and I write as straight as I can, just as I walk as straight as I can, because that is the best way to get there.”

Well, life being like that, I just came across an anecdote about Frank Lloyd Wright, which suggests he took a very different view. That’s a picture of him below, with his wife Oglivanna, walking along the esplanade at Florida Southern College.

The anecdote is as follows: Wright was nine years old, there was snow on the ground, and he went walking with a no-nonsense uncle.  After they’d crossed a snow-covered field the uncle stopped and looked back at their footsteps.  Then the uncle said, "Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the fence to the cattle to the woods and back again.  And see how my tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that."

Wright reckoned there was a quite different lesson from the one his uncle intended, one that changed his outlook on life. "I determined right then, not to miss most things in life, as my uncle had."

I think Wright never walked around the finished Ennis House – he fell out with his clients and his son took over.  There’s evidence however of some quite spectacular walking around the place, organized by Helmut Newton.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


On Sunday afternoon the Loved One and I walked over to stare at the outside of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, the one that used to be know as the Ennis-Brown House, the one that looks like a Mayan temple, or (depending on its state or repair, which fluctuates alarmingly) like Mayan ruins.  Lord knows how many millions of dollars have been spent on restoring it, and it still looks a bit crumbly at the edges, (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but it's certainly been much, much worse.

To get there we walked along Los Feliz Boulevard, and boy, the street was full of Sunday afternoon walkers, couples, singles families, some with dogs, some with strollers, various ages and ethnicities.  Heck, it felt like a real boulevard, a real promenade, although of course it lacked the charming cafes and bars that would have been on a French boulevard, and it lacked the fish and chips and “kiss me quick” hats there’d have been on an English promenade, but for supposedly pedestrian-hostile Los Angeles, it looked pretty friendly.

I’d printed off a yahoo map showing me the route to the Ennis House, but I got confused and I misread it.  We should have walked up the Berendo Street Stairs, but like a fool I missed them, and I took us up the steep curves of Glendower Avenue instead.  It was no problem but I’d have preferred to use the stairs.

There is something great about LA’s flights of stairs, they’re not like stairs anywhere else.  And when I first moved here I bought the book Stairway Walks in Los Angeles  by Adah Bakalinsky and Larry Gordon, not least because I lived at the top of a flight of stairs in Silver Lake.  I used the book to do a few of the walks in that neighborhood, including the Vendome Steps, which are the ones Laurel and Hardy have such trouble with in the movie The Music Box.   

And I did the stairs of Whitley Heights and some in Castlemmarre (below), which were fictionalized by Raymond Chandler in Farewell My Lovely.

In the introduction to the book the authors say, “Los Angeles has more than 200 stairways; they qualify Los Angeles as a walking city.”  Well, as Ernst Hemingway might say, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”  The authors also describe the Ennis Brown house as being made of “cinder blocks of grayish color.” Frank Lloyd Wright, and his fans (and I’m one of them) would much prefer the term “textile block,” and I think in general they're more sand-colored, though admittedly some of the more beat-up ones do have a grubby tinge.

One of the great features of the walk is that right before you get to the Ennis you pass a fairy tale house, complete with a witch for a weather vane. 

You walk a little further and you see the Ennis House rising above and behind the curvy, gingerbread tile roof: a couple of competing Hollywood fairy tales.

So we went and looked at the house, walked around it, took a few photographs, wondered if the restoration would ever be finished and what “finished” even meant in this context.  There were some lights on inside, but the place didn’t look inhabited and we wondered if it was even habitable, and it certainly it was hard to imagine how anyone ever would or could ever live comfortably there.

As is the way of these things, the incidentals were at least as enjoyable as journey's end.  We came across an extraordinary tree, much of it leaning out across the sidewalk, evidently leaning too far, and so somebody had put a metal strut under the main bough to keep it up, but then the weight of the tree had bent the strut and so they’d added another. 

But then the struts had penetrated the branch itself, which had continued to grow around them, so that the ends were now incorporated into the wood.  The Loved One, who has a mind like a sewer, decided to call it “the DP tree.”

There was also this plane-shaped weather vane which made a nice contrast with the witch version. Small pleasures to be sure, but any pleasure is worth holding on to.

On the way back we walked past the top of St Michael’s Stairs (discussed elsewhere in this blog) and passed a young woman walking by herself, holding a copy of a guide book – not the same staircase book that I have, but the other one, Secret Stairs by Charles Fleming.  Who’d have thought there’d be two?  We exchanged a few words with the girl about the joy of staircases, L.A. and pedestrianism.  We Hollywood walkers like to do that kind of thing.