31 Days of Halloween: On Atlas Obscura this month, every day is Halloween. Stop by the blog every day this month for true tales of the unquiet dead. Come for the severed heads, stay for the book bound in human skin. Every story is true, and each one is a real place you can visit. We dare you.
There are lots of tales of sex and death in the Hollywood Hills, but few lie buried in such stunning and eerie monuments. The Sowden House has long been a favorite of architecture buffs, but it also hides a surreal and salacious past.
Built in 1926 by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, the John Sowden House is known for its imposing Mayan architecture. Jutting out from dense foliage on Franklin Avenue in Los Feliz, Los Angeles, it’s affectionately known by some as the “Jaws House,” since the diamond-shaped facade looks to some like a gaping shark’s mouth. But in addition to being on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the Sowden House also has a darker past: from 1945 until 1951, the house was owned by the physician George Hodel, a specialist in sexually transmitted diseases.
In 1949, Hodel’s teenage daughter accused him of molesting her, and there were rumors of wild orgies in the Sowden House. Though he was acquitted of molestation charges, he was subsequently placed under surveillance for another crime: none other than the murder of Elizabeth Short, “The Black Dahlia.” While never formally charged, George Hodel was accused again in 2003 by his son Steve Hodel, who argued that his father not only killed Elizabeth Short, but tortured and dissected her within the walls of the Sowden House. A short time later, the art historians Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss took this hypothesis one step further, suggesting that, since George Hodel was friends with a number of expatriate Surrealists, that the Black Dahlia murder may have been an attempt to recreate, in the flesh, a Man Ray photograph.
Regardless of what may or may not have happened inside its walls, the Sowden House still sits at 5121 Franklin Avenue, glowering over the passing traffic from behind palm fronds. Recently renovated, you can stay there for a mere $1900 a night—or you can just contemplate its mysteries from the sidewalk.