John Sowden House Los Angeles

Andrew Pielage

Sowden House: Inside The Mysterious Black Dahlia House in Los Angeles

The Sowden House has almost as many nicknames as it had owners, and its sordid history is almost enough to overshadow the home’s incredible architecture and extraordinary design. There’s no disputing that the Sowden showpiece is truly a spectacle in its own right. It’s textile block construction and Mayan influence was way ahead of its time and never fully appreciated until years after it was built. Although the home’s aesthetic initially received criticism, the Sowden House Los Angeles has become one of the most renowned and influential pieces of the 20th century. The Sowden House gained even more notoriety in 1947 after being the site where the Black Dahlia murder allegedly took place. Hence the reason it’s often referred to as the “Black Dahlia House.”

The home has been the subject of multiple dark and twisted claims over the years but seems to only add to the public’s growing interest in the property. It’s even considered a historical-cultural monument. Whether you’re drawn to its stunning style or its morbid backstory, this house is one you just can’t miss.

Sowden House Los Angeles

Located at 5121 Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles, the Sowden House is a landmark due to its unique architecture and a history of disturbing events that allegedly took place there. The home’s original owner was John Sowden, a man who enlisted the help of architect Lloyd Wright to design a one-of-a-kind estate that was built for entertaining. Wright delivered a true work of art with his Mayan revival-inspired concept and intricate attention to detail.

The front entrance is both enticing and frankly, downright menacing. Constructed in 1926, the front of the building somewhat resembles the open mouth of a shark and for that reason, it is often referred to as the “Jaws House”. The 5,600 square foot house in Los Angeles featured seven bedrooms and four baths before several renovations that resulted in a spacious open kitchen, updated bathrooms and a spa with a pool in the central courtyard. A unique pattern of concrete blocks makes the distinct property stand out above the rest. Copper gates, an elaborate staircase, and an immaculate living room space are even more reason to be in awe of this house.

black dahlia house
Andrew Pielage / SowdenHouse.com

Due to its reputation in the media, Sowden House Los Feliz has become quite a tourist spot for those who visit California. It has appeared in a number of films including L.A. Confidential and The Aviator by famed filmmaker Martin Scorsese. The house was also featured in the television series about the Black Dahlia murder, I Am The Night, starring Chris Pine.

There used to be John Sowden House tour options, but now that it’s privately owned, tours of the residence are unlikely. Although you might not get a glimpse of the interior these days, it’s worth taking a trip just to get a view of the remarkable property from afar. Many tourists can’t resist visiting the Sowden house to view the stunning architectural masterpiece in person.

Black Dahlia House

In addition to being known as the Sowden House, the Los Angeles mansion’s frightening connection to grisly crimes gives it a reputation as the “Black Dahlia House”. There are a zillion Soden House Black Dahlia rumors, and the property has likely been the scene of various illegal activities and even murders. Much more on that a bit later.

The Sowden House basement is where Dr. George Hodel is believed to have assaulted and murdered his victims, including Elizabeth Short of the Black Dahlia case. According to a book published by Hodel’s son, the house contained a “floor-to-ceiling bookcase that concealed a secret room, accessible only to those who knew how to open the hidden door.” The Sowden House floor plan doesn’t depict any such room, but there are so many mysterious aspects of the home that anything is possible. Frank Lloyd Wright was known for his complex designs, so a secret room really wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.

The Black Dahlia Murder

The particularly heinous murder of Elizabeth Short is a tragic story that continues to be an unsolved crime. Commonly referred to by the media as The Black Dahlia murder, the story leaves many questions marks that remain a mystery.

Sowden House Black Dahlia
“The Black Dahlia” Elizabeth Short | Producers Library Service

Warning: The following may be disturbing to some readers.

On January 15, 1947, the naked and mutilated body of Elizabeth Short was discovered in Los Angeles. Her corpse was sliced into two pieces from the waist and her face had been disfigured. Her body had slashes and cuts all over it, as well as full pieces of flesh removed. The way the body was severed led investigators to believe that the culprit was someone who had medical knowledge. The victim had been identified as Short and the media went into a frenzy by sensationalizing headlines and even fabricating stories.

The alleged killer taunted investigators with menacing phone calls and by mailing them a package of Short’s personal belongings. The murderer was thorough in covering his tracks and never left fingerprints on any of the evidence, making it more difficult to figure out his identity. There were various suspects and false confessions to being the Black Dahlia murderer over the years, but none were deemed credible. It wasn’t until decades later that Dr. George Hodel was even considered a suspect, although he was never formally charged with the crime.

The Black Dahlia House

Detective Steve Hodel, George Hodel’s son, believes that his father was responsible for the Black Dahlia murder as well as multiple other murders and crimes during the 1940s, including the mysterious death of the doctor’s own secretary, Ruth Spaulding. George Hodel fled to the Philippines in 1950 until his death in 1999. While all signs point to him committing a string of horrific crimes, they all continue to be unsolved, including the infamous Black Dahlia murder.

Who Owns John Sowden House?

The John Sowden house has had a series of owners over the years. After only living in the house for four years, Sowden sold the home to Ruth Rand Barnett in 1930. The house was also sold in 1936 and 1944. From 1945 to 1950, Dr. George Hodel owned the house and allegedly committed a number of gruesome crimes at the residence, including the infamous Black Dahlia murder that went on to be one of the most heinous unsolved mysteries in history.

Over the next several decades the John Sowden house would have several more owners, including the prestigious Mazur Family who purchased the home in 1974. Then things took an interesting turn in 2001 when a designer named Xorin Balbes acquired the property for $1.2 million and put it through two rigorous renovations worth $1.6 million in 2002 and 2009.

Most recently, the Sowden House was sold in 2018 for $4.7 million to a man named Dan Goldfarb who owns a lucrative business making cannabis-infused products for pets. He shares the home with his wife and their Persian cat. He also has big plans for the property – including creating a “cannabis oasis” in the home and using it to host lavish company events.

Who Was John Sowden?

John Sowden was a retired painter and photographer who wanted to build a home where he and his wife Ruth could entertain guests by throwing parties and putting on amateur theatrical displays. John and Ruth Sowden commissioned the help of their friend Lloyd Wright (son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright) to construct a magnificent mansion that would become an iconic landmark for years to come. Other acclaimed properties designed by the Wrights include the Ennis House and the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, but none are nearly as famous as the Sowden House.

John Sowden House Los Angeles
John Sowden | SowdenHouse.com

Dr George Hodel House

The most controversial inhabitant of The Sowden House was Dr. George Hodel, a prominent gynecologist who lived in the home from 1945 until fleeing the country in 1950. Hodel was accused of doing a long list of sinister acts inside the confines of the Sowden mansion. Most notably, Hodel was the prime suspect of the 1949 murder of Elizabeth Short, also referred to as The Black Dahlia, and name the media used that quickly caught on. Although he was never convicted, there has been substantial evidence pointing to his guilt in the horrific crime, as well as many other murders in the area at the time.

Dr George Hodel House
Dr. George Hodel | SowdenHouse.com
Black Dahlia crimes scene photos
A note sent to law enforcement, allegedly from Hodel | Getty Images

Two of Hodel’s biggest opponents were none other than his own children. Hodel’s daughter, Tamar, escaped the house in 1949 after accusing her father and others of sexually assaulting her during one of the many parties he would throw at the estate. From there, authorities found evidence that led them to believe that Dr. Hodel was also a murderer. George’s son Steve, a retired cop for the LAPD, discovered several items after his father’s death that he believed belonged to his victims, including photos of the Black Dahlia. Various other acquaintances and regular partygoers further confirmed that Hodel participated in sadistic acts while at the home, and in 2013 cadaver dogs discovered that human remains were once present on the property.

Sowden House
Former LAPD Detective Steve Hodel stands with his doctor father, George, who now believes murdered Elizabeth Short and others | Hulton Archive / Getty Images / Steve Hodel
Sources

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/22/style/sowden-house-lloyd-wright.html

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/john-sowden-house

https://la.curbed.com/2011/3/15/10477822/black-dahlia-secret-rooms-at-lloyd-wrights-los-feliz-sowden-house

https://www.lamag.com/culturefiles/sowden-house-sale/

https://www.dwell.com/article/lloyd-wright-sowden-house-dan-goldfarb-ae5f222c

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/inside-i-am-nights-sowden-house-1178234

https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/the-murder-and-mystery-built-into-the-lush-luxurious-sets-of-tnts-i-am-the-night

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Sowden_House

Carissa Moore
Written by

Carissa Moore

Carissa is a freelance writer from Boston. She loves her husband, her two kids, coffee, country music, and golden retrievers. While she’s comfortable creating content of all kinds, her passion for all things pop culture drove her to a career in Entertainment writing.