What do hollyhocks and croquet have in common? Nothing much, except to remind us of gentler times when summer Sundays might be spent wandering through flowering gardens or playing a rousing game of croquet on a lush lawn.
But, if Friends of Hollyhock House has its way, those days will return once each year to Barnsdall Park when the volunteer docents of the city's Frank Lloyd Wright 1921 house sponsor their annual Croquet Classic.
This year's classic, the docents' second, will be held Sunday from 1:30 to 6 p.m. at the house, located at 4808 Vermont Ave. in Hollywood.
"We were looking for some way to raise money rather than the usual dinners we've had, and we came up with croquet," tournament founder and chairman Terry Bible said. "It just seemed to fit with the house. And it was such a success, we decided to do it every year. I've already had a call from a man at Caltech who wanted to book a team to play Sunday."
Until Bible came up with the idea for the tournament, the Friends of Hollyhock House didn't know it was about to become part of a nationwide trend toward having croquet tournaments for charity.
When the resurgence of championship croquet began in the United States in the late 1970s, it was inevitable that people would decide to play the game, too, for fun and funds.
"Hardly a day goes by that we don't get an inquiry from one charity or another about having a croquet tournament," said Jack R. Osborn, president of the U.S. Croquet Assn. in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. "I can think of about 20 or 25 this year."
Osborn mentioned several coming charity tournaments-- Governor's Cup in Indiana, an eye foundation fund-raiser in Boston, a rehabilitation clinic in Sarasota, Fla., and a library in Ohio.
"That one in Ohio is for a Rutherford B. Hayes library," he said. "I thought that was funny, because Rutherford B. Hayes was one of our Presidents who played croquet when he was in office (1877-1881). And the Congress got very upset one time with him because he spent $6 on new croquet balls."
Although croquet is not back to the paramount position it held as a sport in America during the 1920s, its regrowth is remarkable. When Osborn founded the group in 1976 in New York, there were five clubs and 100 members.
Today, Osborn believes that croquet, along with windsurfing, is the fastest-growing participant sport nationally.
"Certainly our association is the fastest growing sports association," he said. "We have clubs coming in at the rate of two and three a week. It's awesome. Right now we have more than 250 clubs with 3,500 members. We have about four charity events ourselves each year, for the Croquet Foundation of America, our educational arm."
But, Osborn pointed out, championship croquet is a serious sport, not like the kind people play in their backyards.
"It is quite distinguished from the image of the backyard game between little old ladies in white skirts playing with wide wire wickets and small rubber balls," he said.
"The equipment is much heavier--the wickets are cast iron and weigh six pounds apiece--and the game is very similar to the advanced game that is played in England and Australia. We just inaugurated a handicap system, too, along the lines of golf."
Osborn said that there are currently "a couple dozen" colleges in the country with croquet teams. "The nationals in March were won by the team from the University of California at Berkeley," he added.
"The beauty of the sport is that it appeals to a very broad spectrum," he said. "Children, adults, both men and women. In croquet men have no advantage over women as they do in some other sports."
With Sunday's croquet tournament, Friends of Hollyhock House hopes not only to raise money to build replicas of the oak living room furniture--couches and tables and floor lamps--that Wright originally designed for the house, but to increase the visibility of the house. Three replicas of Wright chairs already have been built.
Surprised and Pleased
"A lot of people don't even know it's here," said Bible, who has been a Hollyhock docent for three years. "And they're really surprised and pleased at what they see when they do get here."
The Friends of Hollyhock House, about 65 volunteers ranging in age from 17 to 70 who lead house tours on weekends, estimates the construction of the furniture will take about $40,000. Through fund-raising events, mostly dinners, they have so far collected about $20,000 toward the project.
Some of the original Wright furniture at Hollyhock House has been saved, but most, Bible said, "just disappeared over the years. We were told that the couches--they were each 10-feet long--and the other things were put into storage in Griffith Park. But they were borrowed for stage sets, stolen or vandalized. Today, if you had an original Wright chair, it would probably be worth $75,000 to $100,000."