LA’s iconic Sowden House parties on, with new purpose

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The living room of the Sowden House. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW

A party house with a dark past is getting new life as a party house with a purpose. And it combines the preservation of architectural heritage with an embrace of CBD, or cannabidiol, a hemp extract.

Sowden House, built by Lloyd Wright - Frank’s son - for John and Ruth Sowden in 1926, is an architectural icon in the Los Feliz neighborhood. 

The exterior of the Sowden House When you pass by the Sowden House on Franklin Avenue, compared to a Mayan temple with its pyramid silhouette, or even the open mouth of a shark, giving it the nickname the “Jaws House.”. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW.

It’s tenth owners - CBD mogul Dan Goldfarb and his wife Jenny Landers - have repurposed the home as a site for parties, charitable events and a space for educating the public about CBD. Along the way they've invested in maintenance of the house, restoring the "textile concrete" blocks used decoratively throughout.

DnA attends a launch party for a “Black Dahlia” CBD-infused candle collection. The name refers to the grisly murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia, in 1947. Many believe she was murdered by a previous tenant of the home, George Hodel, possibly at the home itself.

The case is the subject of the new TNT miniseries “I Am The Night,” and the show recreates the bizarre and depraved parties Hodel allegedly hosted at the house. 

The living room couch in the Sowden House. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW. 

Now the new owners of the house are looking to “take this incredible space that has this dark history and to sort of reclaim that with something new and something that has wellness and good intention behind it,” said Andrew Deming, co-founder of Yield, the design studio producing the candles. The company partnered with Goldfarb on the collection. 

The CBD-infused candle party is just one of many events hosted by Goldfarb and Landers; they've also welcomed art gallery installations, political fundraisers, record release parties, and even a multimedia music and augmented reality performance featuring the Icelandic band Sigur Ros.

The home’s new co-owner, Dan Goldfarb, and his cat Reggie Baseball. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW

Goldfarb founded Canna-Pet, a maker of CBD supplements for dogs, cats and other animals. The product is not approved by the FDA, but it’s not psychotropic, says Landers, because cannabidiol is not cannabis.

“It has to do with hemp and we've made a pretty good effort over the six years of the company to distinguish between the two,” she said. “It's the kind of thing you can't make any claims, but people use it for all kinds of things.”

Having built up the supplement business, the two bought the Sowden House for just under $4.7 million, and they have been restoring it to a place fit for them and the parties. 

Goldfarb decided to buy the house sight unseen.  

“You can tell just from looking at it how unique it is. And I think especially when you come here you can just feel it. It's a very visceral house,” he said.

The interior courtyard and swimming pool of the Sowden House. The decorative textile concrete blocks echo those use by Frank Lloyd Wright in several Los Angeles houses. The difference is that FLW used them for structural support. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW

“I know it has its history and all that, but we like using it for something positive which is why we like having fundraisers that support animal charities, artistic events, that kind of thing,” Landers added.

 Because they were early adopters of CBD, especially in the pet industry, the pair also want to make the house a hub for discourse on research and legislation of cannabis-related businesses. 

When they’re not running the company and caring for their seven Persian cats, Goldfarb and Landers are restoring the Sowden House -- with support from the LA Conservancy and Mills Act tax rebates. When they moved in they removed much of the plantings on the textile concrete blocks and brought in a company to restore the blocks.

A cat at the Sowden House. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW.

One of the stranger attractions at the Sowden House is the owners’ seven Persian cats, flat-faced and shorn of fur except for fluffy heads and paws. They are meant to look like little lions, explains Jenny Landers, who told DnA: “I was always pretty allergic to cats and Persians’ hair is different. They won't shed.”

Mariano Rivera, the oldest, whose tongue always sticks out, got very sick a few years back and inspired Dan Goldfarb to create his CBD supplements for pets.

A Persian cat at the Sowden House. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW.

Landers says he, “was on all these terrible drugs and his hair was falling out and we just took him off all those drugs and we started using him and I guess as our guinea pig and he just like got so much better and he's still with us.

And no, the cats don’t get high. CBD is cannabidiol, not cannabis. Another cat -- Reggie -- lives up to the Hollywood history of the house. Landers says, “I just got him in an indie movie so hopefully he'll be famous.” 

Peacock chairs at the Sowden House. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW.
Credits

Guests:
Andrew Deming - co-founder of Yield design studio, Rachel Gant - co-founder of Yield design studio, Bri Emery - founder of designlovefest, a lifestyle blog, Victoria Smith - founder of sf girl by bay, a design blog, Jenny Landers - co-owner of the Sowden House, Dan Goldfarb - co-owner of the Sowden House

Host:
Frances Anderton

Producers:
Frances Anderton, Avishay Artsy