Inside Lloyd Wright’s Alluring Sowden House in Los Feliz

If the walls of Lloyd Wright’s Sowden House could talk, they’d thank Xorin Balbes for saving them and possibly solve a famous murder mystery.

SaveDesigned and built for artist John Sowden and his wife on a 14,000-square-foot lot on Franklin Avenue. The Sowdens were “artsy Hollywood folks who liked to party, and Lloyd Wright, who had spent a year designing sets for Paramount Studios, indulged their desire for the theatrical.”

Wright designed this iconic Mayan-style masterpiece using an innovative building system of pre-cast concrete blocks he first used on the Henry Bollman Residence. It’s also the same textile block technique his father, Frank Lloyd Wright, used for the Hollyhock House built nearby in Barnsdall Park and the Millard, Freeman, Ennis, and Storer residences.

Living room of Lloyd Wright’s Alluring Sowden House with window
Pool middle of Lloyd Wright’s Alluring Sowden House with beautiful flowers

While the home is hailed as Wright’s most significant work and has even earned Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument status, it is rumored to have disturbing skeletons in the closet.

In 1945, Dr. George Hodel purchased this architectural treasure and lived in the home with his family for many years. Like the Sowdens, he enjoyed the glamorous life and threw over-the-top parties fueled by sex and drugs.

After his death, Hodel’s son, a retired LAPD detective, implicated his father in the famous unsolved murder mystery of Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia. His son believed his father was a sadistic murderer and tortured and mutilated this dark-haired beauty in the basement.

Scary, right? But not for some.

An architecturally significant home in need of a makeover, with a sordid, mysterious past, was what high-end house flipper Xorin Balbes was looking for. He purchased the home in 2001 for $1,200,000 and spent close to $1.6 million restoring and remodeling the space to create a modern-day sanctuary.

View of the outside pool in front of the main bedroom
Main entrance  of Lloyd Wright’s Alluring Sowden House

Balbes honored Lloyd Wright’s intention to merge architecture, space, and landscape in restoring the Sowden house. Xorin restored the stonework. He reduced the bedroom count to four, and the bathrooms were updated. Xorin also combined rooms to accommodate a large eat-in kitchen and added a pool and spa to the central courtyard.

After spending a decade living in this Wright-designed residence, Balbes put his home on the market in 2011. After several months and a price reduction, he sold it for $3,850,000. It has been on and off the market since 2013 and longs for a new owner.

Listing courtesy of Troy Gregory – Douglas Elliman

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