One Movie and Two Architectural Gems

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The fine folks at the Loew’s Jersey in Jersey City launched their annual tribute to Halloween with a Friday night screening of the William Castle classic, The House on Haunted Hill (1956). The tribute continues tonight with separate-admission screenings of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). The latter film, a German silent expressionist masterpiece, will be screened with live organ accompaniment.

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Last night’s screening had two treats for architectural nerds. The first is the building itself at the Loews Jersey. It opened in 1929 as an outpost of the MGM-Loews movie empire and at a reported cost of $2 million, it was an example of the picture palaces that not only screened movies but sought to give audiences a transformative experience. The architectural style appears a little behind the times, as it borrows heavily from Gothic, cathedral structures that were common at the turn of the century. By the 1920s, it was more common to see Art Deco as the dominant style, but aside from old Radio City Music Hall, which opened a few short years later, most movie theater architecture remained unchanged since the end of the 1910s.

The House on Haunted Hill

The second treat came from the movie itself. Sarah and I found that the exterior of the titular house looked familiar, and very similar to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hollyhock House in Hollywood. Poking around the Internet Commons, I found that the exterior shots were of Ennis House, a Lloyd Wright work and has been compared to Hollyhock (below).

Chilling at Barnsdall

The house has also been used in several movies, including Blade Runner and L.A. Confidential, and it has often been the home and lair of movie villains, an assessment I remember encountering in Thom Anderson’s essay film, Los Angeles Plays Itself. It seems a bit odd that the trip to Jersey City really seem to evoke sentimental feelings to L.A. Maybe it’s time I take a trip to L.A. for more than four hours.

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