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California Art Club in Search of a Home: The Hollyhock Years, 1927-1942


Donna Schuster (1883-1953) "Old Mission Bells and Fountain," Exhibited at the opening of CAC's clubhouse at Hollyhock House (August 31 – September 30, 1927). Image courtesy Jean Stern, Executive Director, The Irvine Museum; Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Ed and Yvonne Boseker.


© By Eric J. Merrell, CAC Historian
From the Winter 2010 CAC Newsletter

Finding a home for the California Art Club hasn’t always been easy. In the early years permanent accommodations seemed to elude the Club, who over time held meetings and programs at various members’ homes and studios, as well as at short-lived galleries, and even at some of the local art schools.

At some point, early Club meetings were held in Los Angeles at the Earl House, once the home of Edwin Tobias Earl (1858-1919), inventor of the refrigerated railcar. The house was built in 1895-98 and was located at 2425 Wilshire Boulevard in Westlake Park,[1] now MacArthur Park, (demolished in 1957).[2] The once affluent neighbourhood was home to many of the city’s top tycoons, including publisher and owner of the Los Angeles Times, General Harrison Gray Otis (1837-1917), and oilman, Captain G. Allan Hancock (1875-1965).


The Lily Pond, California Art Club – Barnsdall Park Aug. 1927 CAC Bulletin


Eventually, the Club decided to push for a more concrete situation, and set a goal to raise $150,000 for a building fund. The plan was to raise money selling artwork by Club members through various exhibitions. In 1922 under the efforts of CAC Managing Director and artist Walter Farrington Moses (1874-1947), achieving their goal looked promising. A one-night exhibition was held in 1923 at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium, a sizeable venue that was donated for the fundraising occasion. Amongst the smaller sums donated was “$500 on the spot.”[3]

By the following year discussion of a new permanent home was well underway. At “an animated meeting” held at the Club’s temporary headquarters at 623 Park View, the Club debated two plausible options: One was Olive Hill in Hollywood offered by oil heiress Aline Barnsdall (1882-1946); and the other was a location at “the southwest corner of Grand View and Third Street.”[4] In 1925 the idea was still heartily pursued, but the Club had to restructure their building campaign as it was “suspended temporarily on the resignation of the business manager,” with the funds only partially raised. Still, strong interest in the project remained.[5] While the Club delayed, the City of Los Angeles was approached by Barnsdall to manage part of her estate at Olive Hill as a cultural arts centre.

The 36-acre prime hilltop site was set amidst olive and citrus groves and overlooked Hollywood Boulevard on the east with views of the Pacific Ocean on the west. Also on the property was Miss Barnsdall’s recently-built Hollyhock House, named after her favourite flower and designed by internationally-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).

The original plans for the property included multiple buildings dedicated to the arts such as a theatre, housing for artists, a children’s school and playground, a petting zoo, shops, and more. As Wright was preoccupied with designing the Imperial Hotel in Japan, he was unable to simultaneously supervise the building of Hollyhock House; this served to aggravate Barnsdall enough that she stopped the project before all of the structures were completed.[6] Due to this eventual rift between patroness and architect, only three buildings were completed on the property: the Hollyhock House and two other buildings known as “Residences A and B.” Speculation provides that perhaps Wright’s retribution on Barnsdall for halting the project was to angle her bedroom walls in Hollyhock in such a way that she could not hang pictures.

In 1926 the City of Los Angeles finally agreed to take eight acres of the Hollywood estate, but initially didn’t do anything with it probably because of Barnsdall’s restrictions on how the land could be used, as well as her controversial ideals. Part of the ensuing negotiations between the City and Miss Barnsdall included a provision that the California Art Club would be granted a fifteen-year lease on Hollyhock House.[7]

Barnsdall was known throughout Los Angeles for her “unorthodox and radical” views. She was an outspoken feminist, led a bohemian lifestyle as a single, unmarried mother with theatrical aspirations, and had a desire to build a “utopian artists’ colony” on Olive Hill.[8] (Wright’s personal life and affairs made headlines too.) While her eccentricities may have given the City pause, it appears the California Art Club didn’t blink at the association. A short commentary from CAC President Edwin Roscoe Shrader (1878-1960) in the Club’s monthly publication, the California Art Club Bulletin read “Aline Barnsdall has brought to fruition her plans to establish a cultural centre amidst the beauty of Olive Hill. The California Art Club happily, gratefully, accepts its share in this great movement and opens on August 31 the palatial home granted to the Club for fifteen years as its new galleries and headquarters.”[9]

Miss Barnsdall was feted for her gift during a CAC Dinner at Otis Art Institute on January 20, 1927, while President Shrader delivered an address of acceptance.[10] The preparation for the August opening exhibition began earnestly about May 1, 1927, which included some remodelling to better accommodate the CAC’s desire to display artwork.[11] They needed gallery space in the new clubhouse, and the first floor guest bedroom was rearranged to accommodate this. Next, the “guest baths were removed along with the partitions separating the two bedrooms[12],” creating a major exhibition space. On August 13, it was announced that Mrs. Milford McClouth, a former assistant curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art, was chosen to supervise the operations of the clubhouse, and H. K. Gavaza was recruited for the galleries.[13]

At Miss Barnsdall’s urging to fill the empty spaces in the Music Room (two of four “priceless Japanese screens” had been removed shortly after the CAC moved in[14]), a mural competition was announced in the Bulletin; CAC members Richard Joseph Neutra (1892-1970), the famous architect; Arthur Henry Thomas Millier (1893-1975), the second art critic for the Los Angeles Times; President Shrader and Kem Weber (1889-1963) composed the Jury of Selection.[15] Only two members responded to the announcement, so both their designs were accepted. But, because “some time passed without any real progress,” another artist, Louise Everett (1899-1959), who was also editor of the Bulletin, took on the project in July 1931 and created a 5 by 8 foot mural. The following September during one of her visits, Miss Barnsdall admired the mural in the music room and commented about the “…decorative interpretation of the desert by Miss Everett, especially with regard to its appropriateness to the surroundings.” A study for a fresco painting by Barse Miller (1904-1973) that was intended for the sitting-area received favourable comments, but it is unknown whether it was ever brought to fruition.

Other ideas for remodelling and expanding were proposed by architect and Club member Joseph Weston, and Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. (1890-1978), the son of the famous architect, commonly known as “Lloyd Wright.” However, Miss Barnsdall and the gallery committee turned down the architectural plans.[16] Lloyd Wright had supervised the building of Hollyhock House in his father’s absence along with Rudolph Schindler (1887-1953).[17]



A new logo was introduced with the February 1927 issue of the Bulletin.[18] Designed by Columbia Pictures’ Art Director Harrison Wily, the logo was also used on Club stationery and annual exhibition pamphlets. The design was based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s “formalized” geometric concept of a hollyhock.[19]

The Gala Opening for the California Art Club’s new headquarters lasted four days. Beginning with the reception and formal opening on the evening of Wednesday, August 31, 1927 and the Opening Exhibition[20] of works by CAC members at the new clubhouse, the celebration was officially underway. President Shrader presented Miss Barnsdall that evening with an engraved golden card, officially making her a life and honorary member of the Club.[21]

The festivities continued the next day with an Open House for the public and a Children’s Pageant. That evening Catalonian-born violinist and soon to be celebrity bandleader, Xavier Cugat (1900-1990) [22] gave a concert, his first in America.[23] The evening was presented by Aline Barnsdall and sponsored by the German conductor Alfred Hertz (1872-1942). Friday afternoon saw an Open House “to all Club Organizations,” and Sunday afternoon presented an Open House reserved for members of the California Art Club and their friends (no activities were held on Saturday).[24]

President Shrader lost no time arranging a whirlwind of activity, using the new headquarters “to sponsor lectures, host photography and poster exhibitions,” hold an “open-house for all local art clubs,” as well as “a luncheon for lithographers and printers, [a] luncheon for art teachers, a tea for high school teachers, a Spanish-feature musicale, an East Indian dancing exhibition and philosophy talk, addresses by noted art collectors, anthropologists, American Indian experts, explorers, a Philharmonic Society reception, and innumerable small group meetings having to do with widely varied forms of cultural work.”[25]

After seeing the success of the CAC in its new headquarters that attracted some 5,000 visitors by early 1929, CAC member Francis William Vreeland (1879-1954) predicted that Los Angeles would become a “world-beating metropolis.” With this in mind, Vreeland successfully petitioned Aline Barnsdall to donate more of her property for public use. In March 1929 Barnsdall revealed she was donating another eight acres, but with the stipulation that the land support an art museum, and that the institution be “built with funds raised independently from the municipal government or other ‘political ties.’”

Although Barnsdall’s contribution would have created Los Angeles’ first art museum, the entire project lost momentum when she publicly renewed her political position supporting imprisoned labour organizer, Tom Mooney, by placing huge signs on her property calling for his release. Mooney spent time in jail, despite “questionable evidence,” for participating in the 1916 San Francisco Preparedness Day bombing that took place during a strike by longshoremen.[26] The City scrambled to explain that these signs were on Barnsdall’s own property, and therefore not reflective of City opinions, but soon realized that it was politically problematic to do business with Aline Barnsdall.

In 1928 the City renegotiated a new agreement with Miss Barnsdall that named the Los Angeles City Park Commission as owners of Olive Hill, as well as the lessee of twelve additional acres. Part of the property included a smaller but roomier house known as “Residence B,” where Miss Barnsdall and her daughter would live until Aline’s death in 1946.[27]

As part of Miss Barnsdall’s earlier conditions to her donation she requested that public memorials be restricted to only those of artist memorials. War memorials were completely off limits. In the end, the city decided that Barnsdall’s conditions were unacceptable, which enraged the heiress. After informing the Park Commission that they had better reach an agreeable decision, she threatened to take back her property and transfer it to “radical groups.” Barnsdall promptly directed her lawyer to file suit against the City of Los Angeles for the return of her property. The legal battle lasted for nine years when, in 1940, the City agreed to return her Edgemont Street house (Residence B), which prompted Barnsdall to waive her restrictions. [28]

Aline Barnsdall continued to express interest in the California Art Club activities over the years, often attending meetings and events. At one point she presented a rose-coloured flower bowl as a gift for the living room; on another visit she gave a copy of Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography to the house library.[29] Monthly meetings were held to give members a chance to get together and talk shop. Business matters usually preceded a guest speaker, the latter including artists, doctors, singers, dignitaries and more. At the outset, these meetings included a formal sit-down dinner for $1 per person. Proving too expensive, a more informal “cafeteria-style” meal was introduced at 50¢ per person. Weekly forums were also held, covering a variety of arts-related topics.[30] Years later, Evelyn Payne Hatcher (1914-2009), daughter of renowned California artists Edgar Alwin Payne (1883-1947) and Elsie Philippa Palmer Payne (1884-1971) fondly recalled dances at the Hollyhock House that would last well into the night.[31]

Some other interesting notes from this period:
  • President Shrader filmed a party at the Hollyhock House on July 30, 1929 using his personal movie camera (whereabouts of the film are unknown);

  • The loggia hallway roof leaked as early as 1932, a problem that persists today (Wright houses are notorious for roof leaks, such as his Crimson Beech House (aka “Prefab #1”) in New York City with its “more than 50 leaks” [Fred A. Bernstein, Living with Frank Lloyd Wright, New York Times, Dec. 18, 2005];

  • Much of the house was used for exhibition space, including the inner courtyard, the outdoor court adjacent to the main gallery, and the “Greek Theatre” located around the circular pool, as well as the bedroom of Louise Aline “Sugartop” Barnsdall (b. 1917) (Barnsdall’s daughter with Polish actor Richard Ordynski (1878-1953));

  • The CAC extended an invitation, although unfruitful, to Albert Einstein (1879-1955) for a speaking engagement;
  • While the famous orchestral conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) was a guest of nutritionist and writer Dr. Philip Lovell, he visited the Hollyhock House on New Year’s Day, 1929. (Lovell’s Los Angeles house, now known as the Lovell Health House, was designed and built in 1927-29 by Richard Neutra.);

  • Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright visited a forum meeting in February 1928. Frank Lloyd Wright Sr. expressed his thought that “the gallery should always be open to the serious and sincere artist with a new message no matter how revolutionary it may appear.”[32]

During the height of the Great Depression, monthly meetings continued to be well-attended (one such “Social Meeting” of December 19, 1931, was attended by 175 members and guests [33]), and continued to attract prominent new members, such as Colin Campbell Cooper (1856-1937), and Dean Cornwell (1892-1960).[34] However, the burden of the “Threadbare Thirties” forced the CAC to reduce membership fees for “Artists…and Lay Members” and noted that “a few more new members would enable us to join in the popular sport of ‘Balancing the Budget.’”[35] Also, following the example of other groups, the Club “cancelled all unpaid dues prior to January 1932, providing the current dues [were] paid in full.” In addition, it created an Assistance Fund for any member needing financial aid.[36]

Club President Robert Merrell Gage (1892-1921) requested donations to help fund the maintenance of the Clubhouse. One member set a charitable example by writing a check for $20, and twenty-two others followed suit by donating paintings and sculpture for fundraising purposes. Concerned about the artists’ economic well-being, the CAC conducted a voluntary and anonymous survey to gather information that could be used as “some sort of a remedy for the difficulty.”[37] The deep impact of the Depression on the CAC was evidenced by “a dwindling membership,” which corroborates reports that “the house was in pretty bad shape towards the end of [their] tenure” when their fifteen-year lease with the Hollyhock House ended in 1942.[38]

The Hollyhock House was later leased in the 1940’s and 50’s to Dorothy Clune Murray’s Olive Hill Foundation, the house again being altered to accommodate particular needs.[39] Barnsdall died in 1946, and by the next decade the grounds and house were in dismal condition. At that time Kenneth Ross, director of the City’s newly created Municipal Arts Department, contacted Wright at his Wisconsin home and arranged for his help on a master plan to renovate the property. Wright agreed to design additional buildings for the site free of charge. In June 1954, Los Angeles’ first Municipal Art Center opened, and Aline Barnsdall’s dream of children’s art classes and a cultural art centre was finally realized. This would be one of Wright’s last projects before his death in 1959.[40]

Hearkening back to the words that appeared in the June 1932 issue of the Bulletin, “One reason that we are blessed in the possession of this wonderful building we now call ‘Home’ is that Miss Barnsdall once told us that we were the only organization that did not have self-interest at heart in desiring a place on Olive Hill, and that this Club was honest and deserving, and that she respected us for that reason.”[41] In acknowledging her gesture to the California Art Club, Aline Barnsdall said, “I would like this gift to grow like our own California oak…No country can be great until the least of its citizens has been touched by beauty, truth and freedom; unless all three radiate from this little hill it is as nothing.[42]

Notes:

Contributing Editor Eric Merrell is the California Art Club’s Historian, in addition to being an Artist member. As of May 1, 2007 the California Art Club has leased offices at 75 South Grand Avenue in Pasadena.



Interior photo of the main hallway at the Hollyhock House. Through the doors to the left is the outdoor courtyard, and to the right, the living room. [Feb. 1927 CAC Bulletin]




[1] Mary Jarrett, Foreword, Who’s Who in the California Art Club, Inc., Roster and By-Laws, 1984, 75th Anniversary Edition, p.8

[2] Edwin Tobias Earl, http://teachmath.net/FamilyTree/persons/person24.html (accessed January 13, 2010)

[3] Of Interest to Artists, Los Angeles Times, December 17, 1922

[4] Antony Anderson, Of Art and Artists: California Club Planning to Build, Los Angeles Times, September 21, 1924, p.30

[5] Antony Anderson, Of Art and Artists: Members of Club Vote for Gallery, Los Angeles Times, April 5, 1925, p.30

[6] Hollyhock House, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollyhock_House (accessed January 13, 2010)

[7] Art Club Takes Over New Home, Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1927, A1; Sarah Schrank, Art and the City: Civic Imagination and Cultural Authority in Los Angeles, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, p.38-39; California Art Club Bulletins

[8] Art and the City, op. cit., p. 37

[9] E. Roscoe Shrader, Realization, CAC Bulletin, Aug. 1927, Vol. II, No. 8; p.3

[10] The original location of the lunch was at the Club headquarters on Park View Street. [Miss Barnsdall Honor Guest at Art Club Lunch, Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1927, A2]

[11] Art Theater to be Built, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1927, A1, p.2

[12] Clark E. Pardee, III, Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years–A Brief Overview, 1988; p.2-4. Full details about the rooms at the Hollyhock House are included in this essay, including paint colors, carpeting, decoration, etc.

[13] Club Picks Director of Art Project, Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1927

[14] Ibid.

[15]Competition for Mural Decoration to be Installed in the South Alcove of California Art Club Living Room and in West Wall of Music Room, CAC Bulletin (cover announcement), February 1929, Vol. IV, No. 2

[16] Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years, op. cit., p.4-5

[17] Hollyhock House, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollyhock_House (accessed January 13, 2010)

[18] This is the earliest known appearance of the logo at the time this article was published.

[19] Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years, op. cit., p.1

[20] CAC Opening Exhibition Pamphlet, Aug. 31-Sept. 30, 1927, Hollyhock House, Barnsdall Park; Collection of the CAC; Complete exhibition details online at http://www.californiaartclub.org/history/exhibits/hhopenexh.html

[21] Art Club Takes Over New Home, A1

[22] Cugat’s older brother Francesq “Francis” Cugat was an artist best known for his cover art on the original 1925 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940). [Art Club Fete Announced, Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1927; Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Cugat]

[23] Art Club Fete Announced, op. cit.

[24] Calendar of Gala Opening, CAC Bulletin, Aug. 1927, op. cit., p.4

[25] Art and the City, op. cit., p.39

[26] Ibid.

[27] Cheryl Johnson, Aline Barnsdall – The Ultimate Iconoclast, Discover Hollywood Online; http://www.discoverhollywood.com/pagemanager/templates/content.asp?articleid=87&zoneid=5

[28] Art and the City, op. cit., p.39-40; Miss Barnsdall Sues for Land, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1938, Section II, p.1

[29] Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years, op. cit., p.4

[30] Ibid., p.5

[31] Interview of Evelyn Payne Hatcher in Minnesota by the author, January 2001.

[32] Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years, p.### [p.6]

[33] December Meetings, CAC Bulletin, Jan. 1932, Vol. VII, No. 1, p.2

[34] January Meetings, CAC Bulletin, Feb. 1932, Vol. VII, No. 2, p.2

[35] Important Notice, CAC Bulletin, May 1932, Vol. VII, No. 5, p.2

[36] Dues; An Assistance Fund, CAC Bulletin, Oct. 1932, Vol. VII, No. 9, p.2

[37] Meeting of May 13th ; Why The Depression?, CAC Bulletin, June 1932, Vol. VII, No. 6, p.2,4

[38] Hollyhock House: The California Art Club Years, p.5

[39] Hollyhock House History, informational pamphlet available at the Hollyhock House, p.2; http://www.hollyhockhouse.net/hhhistory.html

[40] Art and the City, op. cit., p.41

[41] Items of Interest, CAC Bulletin, June 1932, op. cit., p.2

[42] Aline Barnsdall, An Expression From Miss Barnsdall, CAC Bulletin, Aug. 1927, op. cit., p.4

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