Aline Barnsdall's letters to her friends and associates in the American theater community in the 1910s provide the starting point for a discussion of her central role in the planning of Hollyhock House, the sprawling mansion that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for her on Olive Hill in Los Angeles (1919-1921). With its open courtyard, roof terraces, and semicircular garden, Hollyhock House has long been recognized by both Wright scholars and casual visitors as a flexible yet rather awkward open-air theater. An outspoken feminist and ardent supporter of populist causes, Barnsdall sought to make her home the centerpiece of an extensive theatrical community on Olive Hill. She was also devoted to outdoor theater, a form which she and other progressive thinkers viewed as a way of bringing significant ideas to the American public in healthy surroundings. Reexamination of the project in light of these circumstances suggests not only the sources for Wright's design in contemporary open-air theater but also the specific symbolic and functional role that Hollyhock House was to play in the overall project. Wright's correspondence with Barnsdall and the description of her in his Autobiography reveal the intensity and ambivalence of his response to the commission and to his brilliant, outspoken, creative-and undoubtedly infuriating-client.

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