"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Onetime Home of Manly P. Hall For Sale Again


After two major, multi-million dollar restorations in twenty years, Frank Lloyd Wright's historic Los Angeles Ennis House is once again up for sale. It's been quietly listed since last year for $23 million. 

If it looks familiar, you've probably seen the house in movies like The House on Haunted Hill, BladerunnerThe Rocketeer, Game of Thrones, and many more. It's hard to miss its iconic cast cement block pattern pillars and door frames, and its pseudo-Mayan temple silhouette. In the architecture realm, it is considered the finest "Mayan-revival" style building anywhere, although I'm guessing you can count the number of 20th century, pre-Cancun resort "Mayan-revival" buildings on one hand.






What you may not know is that the Ennis House was briefly the home of famed esoteric author Manly P. Hall.






The original owners who commissioned the home were Charles Ennis and his wife Mabel. Charles was originally from Pittsburgh, and relocated to LA to open a clothing store.


Ennis was a Freemason, and some have squinted at the concrete block design and seen a Masonic square and compasses in it.

Brother Ennis only lived in the house for four years after it was completed. He was also a Knight Templar, and when he died in 1929 his funeral service was conducted in the living room by Los Angeles Commandery No. 9.

For a detailed telling of the Ennis House story, see LA Magazine: House on Haunted Hill from 2006. That article briefly mentions Manly P. Hall's time in the house:
Founder of the Philosophical Research Society on Los Feliz Boulevard, author of The Secret Teachings of All Ages (a history of esoterica), and a spellbinding speaker, Hall was one of Los Angeles’s most charismatic figures of the 1930s. Although he worried about the leaks (“water gathered in the zigzags of the blocks,” he later recalled), he did nothing to stop them. For him, the house was a stage set for an outsize life. Using the glass-tile fireplace as a backdrop, he set up an ornate lacquered Buddhist shrine and held court for an array of seekers and celebrities.
Manly P. Hall in the 1930s in front of
the Ennis House fireplace and his
Buddhist shrine.
Throughout the 1930s, Manly Hall and his wife Fay had been just one of several groups of high-visibility 'personalities' who had been invited to live rent-free in the two bedroom house. Living inside a quirky work of art isn't the easiest thing to contend with. Despite its deliberately massive feel and appearance, on the inside it's more of a two-bedroom bungalow than a sprawling mansion. 

In reality, the house is spectacularly impractical from a daily living point of view. As built, it had a Tiffany mosaic fireplace without an actual flue, the grand entrance sits underneath the fairly small kitchen, and the place was infested with bees on a regular basis. After the usual round of spring rains in LA, the lower level would be soaked with two feet of standing water. 

The house was nevertheless an appropriately theatrical setting that suited Hall's public persona as a celebrity philosopher/mystic/esotericist, but even he got fed up with it and soon moved out. Not long afterwards, Hall's wife Fay committed suicide in 1941.

Here is usually when I step in and mention that all of Manly P. Hall's metaphysical writings about Freemasonry were written in his younger days, and that once he actually joined the fraternity in the 1950s (late in his career and life), he never wrote another word about it. His Secret Teachings of All Ages is a magnificent book, but most of his Masonic writings should not be considered as anything but speculative, and are considered more than a little fabulist by most modern Masonic researchers. 

After one expensive restoration following damage from the 1997 Northridge Earthquake, in 2011 the Ennis House was again sold for just $4.5 million to billionaire investor Ron Burkle, who poured another $17 million into its restoration. The former supermarket magnate seems to have an adoration (or masochistic tendency) for rehabilitating significant houses that are too expensive and bothersome for others. He also bought Bob Hope's Toluca Lake house for $15 million, and that comic's amazing Palm Springs house for $13 million.



The Ennis House is problematic, and always has been. Even Brother Charles Ennis, the original owner, said of it when asked about what it was like to live in such a spectacular work of the architect's art, "It leaks." After Ennis' death, the architect would occasionally show up unannounced and stomp through the house, bitching about any cosmetic changes made to it.


It sits in an isolated hilltop neighborhood in Los Angeles off a twisting road on just a half acre with miserable parking, making it useless as a museum or public venue of any kind. That's a real shame, because as CurbedLA.com, said of the house in 2011, 
"While we're sure Ennis would be a great place to live, it might also make a really perfect Masonic Hall--the pattern on the Ennis' textile blocks is "perhaps an allusion to the Masonic Order, of which *[Charles Ennis, who commissioned the house,] was a member, and the organization's symbol, the compass with the letter 'g' in the middle representing God."
It would indeed make a breathtaking Masonic lodge, if only the neighbors didn't caterwaul any time more than three cars show up. Imagine the festive boards in the dining room. 


"Gather round the festive board!"
Would that we still had among our members the eccentric millionaires who loved the Craft enough to bankroll such projects for us, or donate their estates to us once they shuffle off to join The Great Majority so the fraternity would have impressive clubhouses, instead of anonymous steel pole barns in bean fields built on the cheap.

Sigh.



Of course, in my 30s I secretly wanted the Ennis House to become the location of the never-built Forest J. Ackerman Science Fiction Museum, who lived nearby in the very same Los Feliz neighborhood, and whose vast and irreplaceable collection was all auctioned away before and after his death. 

Ah, what might have been. Masonic Lodge or the world's greatest science fiction museum. Tough call.

(All photos from CurbedLA.com)

3 comments:

  1. In many cases a solid Amish barn would be preferable to the ugly tin sheds that have replaced our lodges and are another reason we are losing hundreds of members every week. Having seen how poorly we have treated our real estate, today no sane benefactor would leave any house he cherished to the Masons. The solution is in leadership, not geriatric grand lines.

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  2. Wow,good post. I am familiar with Manly P. Hall's teachings and the Society he founded but I did not know about this building. The architecture in the photos is fascinating.

    It seems to me that Freemasonry is "between men". It requires real social interaction to exist and survive. This means in the home, in the classroom, in the courtyard, in the house of worship, at work,in our hospitals, in our communities, on the battlefield, everywhere men live and die.

    The Lodge building seemed to serve as a focal point to insure Masonic social interaction would always be available in some form; to make Masons, to teach them, and to improve our communities.

    There are a lot of esoteric orders out there, some good, some o'kay, and some not so good. But few require the social interaction which makes Freemasonry so Special. For example, (though I am not criticizing it because it does work very well for certain Orders) there is no "home sanctum membership" program or correspondence course which will make you a Mason, no form of self initiation.

    It is only through actual social interaction that a man can become a Mason. This is something Special and it would be nice if it took place in as beautiful a place or building which could be provided for the occasion.

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