In my last post I noted that I like being right. Conversely, you may assume that I do not like being wrong. BUT here’s a case where I’m actually glad to be wrong. (Make note, this probably won’t happen again!)
I have a number of favorite architects, one of whom is Mr. John De Lario, an extremely talented designer of the 1920′s who was brilliant when it came to the romantic period revival architecture so popular during the day. He worked with equal prowess in the Spanish, Italian, and French styles, something easily provable by just taking a look around Hollywoodland where many of his designs still remain today, not the least being the Castillo del Lago, erstwhile home of the Material Girl.
As a De Lario fan I am always looking for new designs and I was excited one day to run across an architectural rendering of a charming little Normanesque cottage De Lario and his partner Harbin F. Hunter had drawn up for local physician, Dr. E.L. Moore. The address on the drawing was 2684 North Beachwood Drive. Naturally, I hopped up Beachwood to see this place, but alas, it was not there. In fact, the very interesting house that was on the site was even older than Hollywoodland itself (1921) so I put two and two together and came up with 5. It must not have been built I surmised. I even drew up a blog post, one of my very first, entitled “An Unbuilt John De Lario in Hollywoodland,” and, satisfied with my brilliant scholarship, happily moved on.
That was way back in Aught Ten. Then about a month or so ago I got a very nice e-mail from Christine O’Brien, someone who definitely knows her Hollywoodland, and she thought maybe the house did exist after all and diplomatically directed me a block or so to the north where this could be found. Oops.
Well, as you can plainly see my so-called “unbuilt” John De Lario is a very much built John De Lario right at 2910 North Beachwood Drive, a 1924 Hollywoodland original. What your brilliant researcher (me) had done was to assume the address at the bottom of the drawing was the location of the house pictured when in actuality it was the address of De Lario and Hunter who must have been using 2684 North Beachwood as their office during the peak period of construction on Hollywoodland. So, I freely admit I was…I was…wrong. There. Now, let’s never speak of it again, shall we?
One fun sidelight of this was not only adding a new De Lario to my list, but finding out something of the great houses just below the Hollywoodland gates (You know, the real 2684 North Beachwood). What I discovered was that by 1930, the house had been taken over by noted sculptor Salvatore Cartaino Scarpitta (1887-1948) and his family who added a beautiful two-story Spanish-style artist’s studio to the property. Remember Scarpitta from just last week in the post on St. John’s? It was he who did so many of the beautiful carvings of the church. 2684 and the adjoining (1916) villa at 2678 were to become the Scarpitta family base for the next 80 years until 2684 was put on the market (more photos) by the estate of Scarpitta’s well-known actress daughter Carmen in 2009!
In the summer of 1930, national attention was drawn on the Scarpitta home at 2684 North Beachwood when Salvatore Scarpitta’s 11 year-old son, Salvatore (“Sal”) Scarpitta Jr., climbed up one of the trees surrounding the family house – and stayed there. Soon dubbed “Sal the Sitter,” young Scarpitta was out to break the world record for tree sitting and he wasn’t kidding. On July 27th, 1930, Sal got quite the thrill by being visited by four young men also known for being up in the air – the famous Hunter Brothers (Albert, John, Walter & Kenneth) who had just broken the world record for aerial endurance, flying nonstop for nearly 554 hours. The brothers were in town at the behest of fellow aviator Howard Hughes who brought them in for publicity on Hell’s Angels (1930). Knowing what it was like to sit on one’s butt for so long, they dropped by to encourage Sal and bring him some “fuel” of oranges and an all-day sucker.
By the time the Hunter boys paid their call. Sal the Sitter had already long broken the world’s record for tree sitting, easily passing the former record of a mere 156 hours. Little did anyone know (except Sal perhaps), but the boy was just getting started. He would go on and on until finally, on August 17, 1930, after 2 months and more than 602 hours of tree-sitting, he ambled down and headed off to play a quick round of tennis with his buddies.
In the mid-1930′s, Scarpitta put 2684 North Beachwood up for rent and took his family back to his native Italy where Sal Jr. entered Rome’s Academy of Arts, graduating in 1937. Although Scarpitta Sr. had gained acclaim in Italy for his monumental bust of Mussolini that was put on display at the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C., Scarpitta was no Fascist and during the war, he and his family were branded as “Enemy Aliens,” suffering great privations throughout the conflict. Risking his life and that of his entire family, Scarpitta became leader of an “underground railroad.” As the Los Angeles Times later wrote: “He skillfully maneuvered to free scores of American and Allied servicemen who had been captured, and operated extensively to hamper German and Italian war efforts.” Scarpitta, hailed as a hero, survived the war and was able to return to Hollywood with his family, but was so drained by the ordeal, he never fully recovered his health, dying at 61 in 1948 in the house at 2678 North Beachwood. As for his son, the former Sal the Sitter, he had managed to be out of Italy at the outbreak of war, joining the U.S. Navy where he became a valuable member of the “Monuments Men,” group who helped locate and catalogue stolen Nazi art treasures. He later went on to an amazing career in art himself and an amazing life in general, dying at the ripe old age of 88 in 2007. His story is a whole book in itself. Perhaps tree sitting is good for you?
One wonders if the famous tree at 2684 North Beachwood Drive, where Sal the Sitter sat for so long back in 1930, is still there?
I’m so glad I was wrong about the house otherwise I would have never dug into the story and found all this fun stuff about the amazing Scarpitta family. Thanks so much to Christine O’Brien!!! It’s almost a shame I’ll never be wrong again. Ha!