Inspired by the ancient Mayan city of Palenque (as imagined by an erstwhile movie set designer for Paramount), the fortresslike Sowden House was built for the lavish parties of silent film–era Hollywood. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. — or Lloyd Wright, as he was known — built the faux-Mayan temple to physically imposing scale on a hill in Los Feliz (the awe-inspiring patterned block cantilevers that project from the roofline above the entrance have been likened to the jaws of a great white shark). Inside the house has an Eleusinian feel: Twisting passageways, dark recesses and secret rooms flow into an atrium with undulating contours of stonework and a proscenium stage. The overall effect is what one architecture historian has called a “unique but indeterminate exoticism.” This is not a house so much as a showcase, an open space for a select group to enjoy in privacy and seclusion. The real notoriety of the house dates from 1945, when George Hodell, a sybaritic physician and friend to surrealists and Hollywood A-listers, bought the property and redecorated (all-red kitchen, all-gold master bedroom) to host infamous sex parties “delving into the mystery of love and the universe,” as he told Los Angeles police detectives investigating a rape charge brought against him by his 14-year-old daughter after one such party (Hodell was acquitted of rape and incest in 1949 and sold the house soon thereafter.) Many years later it was revealed that the LAPD considered Hodell the prime suspect in the Black Dahlia murder. He may even have killed and dismembered the starlet in a locked room in the basement. The house will be hosting art events by invitation this fall.

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