The Ennis House

The Ennis House was a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece built in 1924 for the family of Charles and Mabel Ennis. It was the first house built using concrete, and is a magnificent structure that Lloyd hoped would last forever, or, as he stated, “You see, the final result is going to stand on that hill a hundred years or more. Long after we are all gone, it will be pointed out as the Ennis house and pilgrimages will be made to it by lovers of the beautiful from everywhere.”

Strangely, it’s at once stunning and scary. One couldn’t conceive of a house built today totally made out of concrete. While it might offer something different than the norm, it doesn’t give one a totally warm and fuzzy feeling. The Ennis House has many concrete pillars to keep the ceiling and structure up, and the windows are even built into the concrete, which makes them hard to replace. Even the pool is made out of concrete, and the garden framed in concrete as well. Still, it’s a fascinating structure that the Ennis House Foundation was tasked to maintain and keep up to standard for its many visitors every year.

That’s why it’s disturbing that the foundation has had to put the house up for sale. The foundation maintains that there are just too many problems that keep coming up for it to try to continue repairing as an independent foundation. Damages have come from the earthquake of 1994 and heavy rainstorms in 2005, and it was placed on “most endangered” lists by both the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the World Monuments Fund.

The house is for sale at $ 15 million, yet it’s projected that the costs of restoring the house to its former self could come in between $ 5 and $ 7 million dollars. The foundation has already put more than $ 6.5 million into restoration of certain areas, such as a retaining wall that was threatened to collapse after the 2005 rainstorms.

That the house has increased in value that much speaks volumes for what is thought of the property. Its last private owner purchased the house in 1968 for only $ 119,000 and did extensive renovations himself before turning it over to the foundation in 1980. It’s one of the few houses Wright built that he actually came back to make modified changes to. In 1940, radio personality John Nesbitt requested Wright to convert a ground-floor storage space into a billiards room with a fireplace, add a lap pool on the north terrace and install a heating system. The house has also been used in quite a few movies.

Is the house a victim of the bad financial times of the day? It depends on how one decides to look at it. The foundation depended upon funds from the outside, which have drastically been reduced ever since the recession hit. At the same time, the foundation did continue to receive funding for repairs, including $ 4.5 million dollars in 2006 from FEMA to build a new structural support system, provide restoration and replacement of damaged blocks, the restoration of windows and a new roof.

Still, it’s not enough. The foundation hopes to find a private investor to buy the home and make the repairs, and either live on the premises or show the house as a historical building so many days a year. One can question whether the house would qualify for tax relief via the Mills Act, which might help to make the property more palatable for the next buyer. Only time will tell.

Luis Pezzini
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