Then and Now – 345 St. Pierre Road

On Friday the Wall Street Journal reported that one of the great old mansions from silent-era Hollywood has come on the market for an asking price of $13,800,000. For me, this was exciting news as I have always considered the Spanish-styled estate, located at 345 St. Pierre Road in Bel-Air, to be one of the quintessential silent movie star homes. After all, it was home to one of the quintessential silent movie stars – Colleen Moore.

(Photo via listing) (www.theagencyre.com)

(via mptvimages.com)

Although she may not be as well remembered today as she should be, Colleen Moore was one of the brightest and biggest stars in the Hollywood firmament of the 1920’s. A thoroughly charming and talented performer, Moore was the screen’s biggest box office draw for the years 1926-1927. By the time she had retired a wealthy woman in 1934, Moore had appeared in more than 60 productions including such major films of the day as Sally (1925); Orchids and Ermine (1927); and Lilac Time (1928). In pictures since 1916, she managed to attain full stardom with 1923’s Flaming Youth and with it she helped to usher in the era of the flapper with women everywhere copying Moore’s thoroughly modern bobbed haircut. If you have never seen a Colleen Moore film I highly recommend you rent Ella Cinders (1926). Like the exceptional Show People (1928), it is a Hollywood “in” joke chronicling Ella’s rise from hapless small town beauty contest winner to Hollywood superstardom. It’s a fun little romp and you’ll see why Moore was so popular.

(via silentsaregolden.com)

A rare color shot showing Colleen’s unique eye colors. (via silentladies.com)

Ironically, Moore’s highly successful career in motion pictures almost didn’t happen at all because of her eyes – you see, one was blue and the other brown. Fortunately, for all concerned they both photographed the same in black and white. However, you can guess though she probably never bought any stock in Technicolor. Moore’s biggest years of success occurred while she was under contract to First National. So large loomed Moore, she was one of the rarefied few to have that ultimate Hollywood silent era status symbol – her own specially built bungalow on the studio lot.

A smart and savvy lady, even at the dizzying heights of stardom Moore never lost sight of how fickle fame can be and handled her enormous salary with great care, making sure to put most of it away for the inevitable rainy day. As such she spent the bulk of her starring career in a series of charming, but relatively modest homes in the Wilshire District, more suitable to a well-to-do banker than an internationally acclaimed movie star earning $12,500 a week.

Colleen Moore lived in this handsome Colonial home at 1231 South Gramercy Place between 1923-1924. Virtually unchanged today, the charming house had been designed by architect Albert C. Martin in 1916.

By 1925, Moore and her husband had relocated to Hancock Park, purchasing the Ralph Hamlin house at 530 South Rossmore Avenue. Moore would have no trouble recognizing either of these houses today. Amazing in tear down happy Los Angeles! (Current views via Google Earth)

Finally, in January 1929, she decided it was time to “go Hollywood,” and she and her husband, John McCormick, First National’s VP in charge of production, purchased a grand three-acre estate in the most exclusive section of the most exclusive district of Bel-Air at 345 St. Pierre Road. The Hollywood version of the story is that Moore and her husband saw the mansion while it was still under construction and simply had to have it with a reported $250,000 involved to get the current owner, Chicago businessman C. Fred Stewart,  to find his dream home elsewhere. While this sounds a bit press agenty (after all, McCormick had been a press agent before rising up the studio ladder) this was in fact how the scene played out. (Imagine a Hollywood legend that’s true!)

The not-yet-completed estate had been designed by the busiest L.A. architect you’ve probably never heard of – Theodore J. Scott. Sometimes referred to as T.J. Scott or Theo Scott, the prolific architect designed hundreds, possibly thousands, of homes throughout Southern California during the 1920’s, sometimes entire neighborhoods at a time as with Walter G. McCarty’s subdivision of the old Beverly Speedway property or H.L. Miller’s development of a large tract off Kenneth Road in Glendale that called for 1,500 Scott-designed houses. Scott was adept at all the popular “revival” styles of the period, particularly the Spanish, often employing Missionesque arched arcades/loggias running along the length of at least one section of a house. For the Stewart commission, Scott created a large two-story U-shaped residence that evoked the haciendas of the old Spanish Dons.

If you want to see whole streets of T.J. Scott designed houses check out the 200 block of McCarty Drive and the 200 block of South Roxbury. Scott designed houses both small and big. Some of his bigger commissions include the former George Axelrod Residence @ 904 Benedict Canyon Drive (1927) and the former Howard Hawks Residence @ 812 North Linden Drive (1929).

The fact that the house was still unfinished at the time of her purchase presented Moore with an opportunity. In her charming little memoir, Silent Star, Moore relates how she got the house tailored to her tastes. On the hunt for someone to do her bathroom she was introduced one day to a young man named Harold Grieve, husband of fellow silent star Jetta Goudal and a studio art director who had the intention of opening his own interior design business. In spite of his lack of experience, Moore went ahead and asked him to do the bathroom, but he confidently told her “Either I do your whole house, Miss Moore, or nothing.” Impressed by his chutzpah, she gave him the job and as such also giving a major boost to his nascent interior design business. Grieve would go on to a highly successful career with many famous Hollywood clients including Bing Crosby, Raoul Walsh, Hal Roach; Lily Pons; Howard Greer; Zeppo Marx; Earle C. Anthony; Irving Thalberg & Norma Shearer, among many others.

Moore had such confidence in her new decorator she claimed she fired T.J. Scott and turned the completion of the house immediately over to Grieve and contractor Clarence Cox. “He pushed out walls, closed in the sixty-five foot loggia,” she related. “Off the loggia, between the U of the house, he built a large flagstone patio. At one end of the U he added a guest house, at the other end a theater. We bought another acre below the house and put in a tennis court and swimming pool with a pool in between.”

The house as completed in summer of 1929. In her autobiography Moore joked  “That house had so many rooms I’m not sure I ever saw them all.” She recalled it had 16 rooms. The building records say 20 so maybe she wasn’t kidding. She didn’t see them all! (Photo by Milligan)

The Loggia. Decorative tile was provided by Claycraft Potteries. Faience, floor and other decorative tiles throughout were by Gladding, McBean & Company. (Milligan)

The Solarium. (Milligan)

A rustic wishing well was a delightful garden surprise. Stonework for the estate was provided by Minnis Brothers. (Milligan)

“John and I bought this house in Bel Air to keep up with my rising star. The house had two acres of gardens, orchards, an Olympic-size swimming pool and a baronial air.” (Milligan)

There was also a guest suite upstairs in the main house between John’s suite at one end and mine at the other, each with sitting room, bedroom and bath. In my suite there was also an office off the bedroom for my secretary.

Harold did my suite in yellow and turquoise, with heavy silk pile turquoise carpeting made in China, which really did make me feel like a movie star. The bathroom was done in yellow onyx and mirrors, some of them with scenes painted behind the glass.

The beautiful acres of grounds were laid out and landscaped by the noted Edward H. Rust Nurseries, one of the major landscape firms of the day.

Colleen’s husband John took as great of interest as his wife in the decorating of his sanctum sanctorum and had very specific ideas on how his suite should be decorated. In spite of Moore and Grieve’s pleadings, McCormick insisted his suite be done in very dark blue. McCormick also insisted on an indulgence in what Moore called “Grand Rapids Department Store” furniture with Grieve having the unenviable task of trying to balance antiques and mass-produced items for a harmonious effect, a task he appears to have accomplished.

Colleen arrives at the premiere of Lilac Time (1928) to her immediate left is Mayor Jimmy Walker of New York and to the mayor’s left is Colleen’s husband, John McCormick. (LAPL/Examiner)

However, odd colors and department store knockoffs were to be the least of Moore’s concerns over her husband. For years, McCormick had been battling alcohol addiction, a battle he continued to lose, which put more and more pressure on the marriage until it finally broke. In spite of his best efforts, including a male nurse attendant, McCormick wouldn’t, or couldn’t, beat his drinking binges and took to hiding bottles in strategically placed spots around the mansion and the three acre grounds. “As I drove up to the front door one day,” she recalled, “I saw a bottle on a string outside his bathroom window. It was hopeless.” But her decision to finally end it nearly got her killed when she asked for a divorce while he was drunk. Enraged McCormick grabbed his wife by the throat and began choking her. Had it not been for the intervention of the chauffeur, it might have truly been the end.

via hollywoodheyday.blogspot.com)

Moore kept the Bel Air house as her property after the divorce and it became a regular gathering spot for her many famous friends with a regular round of social events both grand and intimate faithfully covered in the gossip columns of the day. When not in town for any length of time, the shrewd Moore would rent the estate out, often to notable friends. Marlene Dietrich (who Colleen claimed was the best house keeper who ever lived there) took over the house in 1934.  Later the home was rented by studio executive B.P. Schulberg and then to the Countess Dorothy di Frasso. Dorothy ran with a very interesting and eclectic crowd that ranged from royalty to gangsters, the latter category included the handsome rogue Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegal who lived in the guest house for a time during di Frasso’s residence there. It was actor Bruce Cabot who was to cause Moore the most trouble, hosting a series of wild parties in his time there that not only scandalized the neighbors it brought on an international scandal when at one such soiree in 1942  Errol Flynn was accused of rape by a young lady who claimed the actor locked her in “The Blue Room.” When the horrified Moore heard the news she immediately knew two things (1) The infamous “Blue Room” was her former husband’s bedroom and (2) The girl was lying. The lock on the door had been broken for years.

The Flynns and the Cabots out at Ciros. Bruce Cabot was a legendary Hollywood party animal before there was such a term. (LAPL/Examiner)

After Moore had given up her long time Bel Air base it passed into other hands including the Stack family, socially prominent California pioneers who had a son in the movie business – handsome young Robert Stack who made the house his home in the late 1950’s – 1960’s.

In 1978, the estate was purchased by Steven J. Fogel, founder of Westwood Financial who paid $1.3 million for the property. Fogel had originally purchased the grand mansion for the exact reason Colleen Moore had – to show that he had “arrived.” Now, after more than three decades in the home, Fogel told the WSJ he is ready to move on saying he will miss the memories, but not the upkeep.

A new pool was added where a flagstone terrace was located to replace the original after the estate had been subdivided. (via listing)

Over the course of time, Fogel updated and remodelled the old house and today it stands at some 13,000 square feet with 7 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. The three acres of original grounds are long gone, but the house still sits on a comfortable .66 acre lot. Fogel told the WSJ that he has preserved many of the original elements of the house including arches, the original projection room and the guest house, which is currently used as an art studio. The house is listed at $13,800,000 and is being handled by Mauricio Umansky of The Agency. Listing with many more photos can be found here.

Updates include a redone kitchen. (via listing)

Breakfast nook. (via listing)

The first level now has a bar/lounge. Note the built-in aquarium in the center of the mirrored bar. (via listing)

And there’s a mirrored gym for serious workouts. (via listing)

Three of the home’s seven large bedrooms. Gone are the yellow and turquoise of Colleen’s suite and the dark blue of McCormick’s. Replaced by a more neutral color scheme. (Photos via listing)

Here are a few more “Then” photos and some “Now” photos of this historic estate.

Living Room. 1929 (Milligan)

Living Room. 2012. (via listing)

Dining Room. 1929. (Milligan)

Dining Room. 2012 (via listing)

Colleen Moore in her yellow onyx/mirrored bathroom. 1929. The very definition of silent era glamour. Spectacular! (Elmer Fryer/WB)

Master Bath. 2012. (via listing)

Years later, when I was renting the house, Greta Garbo came to look at it. When she saw the bathroom she said, “Ah Colleen, those were the good old days.” – Colleen Moore

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18 Responses to Then and Now – 345 St. Pierre Road

  1. Charles Modini-Wood says:

    Another fantastic post–I’m glad Fogel preserved elements of the house, but who is his desecrator? Could it be worse?

  2. Jim lewis says:

    Ye gods – what a decorative nightmare. To return the house to something like the original, a new buyer would have to pay an additional $13 million.

  3. Marvin Stone says:

    This is a great piece of Hollywood history, Steve . . . nobody does it better than you. What do you think the chances are the house will survive a new buyer? The fact the original properrty has been subdivided already, leaving a relatively small parcel, might increase the likelihood of teardown, I’m guessing. I agree with the earlier comments about current state of decorating. Thanks for another terrific piece on a long gone era.

    Marvin

  4. carol says:

    Great house. Fascinating history. Hideous decorating. What a travesty to put in all that recessed lighting, especially in the ding room. What were they thinking?

  5. Simone says:

    Great post and such lovely photos…until I got to the current pics…ugh!!! What a home depot infused nightmare! Why do so many rich people have such horrible taste??

  6. Joh Novak says:

    Always went to see Miss Moores Doll house here in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industrywhile growing up and noted today while Researching her again that the interior was designed by Harold Grieve also.

    • Mary-Lynn says:

      Thank you for confirming that many years ago, I had seen this beautiful, meticulous Doll House in Chicago, when we lived there long ago. I am glad it is still there. She was a fierce collector of miniatures, and I remember there was supposed to be a relic of the True Cross in one of the rooms. Enjoyed this post!

  7. Dee says:

    WOW! A great, fascinating post, Steve.

  8. I’m not sure which architectural elements he kept – the fireplaces certainly weren’t the same, the bathroom’s once gorgeous deco mirror-ing and vanity appear totally lost, the front facade is nowhere near as lovely as it was in the original image/drawing, and that pool crammed in the back is just tacky. And yep, decorating is terrible too. Makes me sad. Lovely lovey recap of the history though, as always.

  9. Pingback: The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of July 6 | Parallax View

  10. John Nisbet says:

    Another great post, Steve. I always like seeing the “then” and “now” photos!

    “(Imagine a Hollywood legend that’s true!)”

    I wouldn’t know – I was a Universal Tour Guide…

  11. Wonderful house—or at least it was before the current era—taste and money certainly don’t go in hand.

    Of course, for sheer architectural and decorative fantasy, one can’t beat Colleen Moore’s fabulous doll house…

  12. Leslie De Vito says:

    What IDIOT WRECKED THAT HOUSE,,why do people do such a thing,,,I live in the bay area, close to san francisco my grandmother worked at the st francis hotel on union square
    HOTEL is there still after the great quake 1906,,Ive gone there since I was a child, 50 now ,,
    staying in alot of the rooms,,I try to go STAY FOR new years eve. Well a couple of years ago they did the same thing ,,took the original stuff and made it modern,,IT SUCKS,,,NOW,,, HOW SAD IS ALL OF THIS,,,,,,, LEAVE THE GREATS ALONE TO STAND THE TEST OF TIME

  13. Amazing how much money it takes to convert a mansion into as truly ugly a house as I’ve ever seen.

  14. Scrufff says:

    I’ve been inside this house and the photos shown here are actually “nice” compared to the hideous reality of it in person. it is also very cramped, it been built out so much that there is not much of a backyard or grounds. Really an ugly house today, nothing like its former self.

  15. Spencer Westbrook says:

    Great story on this history of Colleen and her homes, of interest as she is a family relative and I am in the process of gathering family history, perfect timing.

  16. sepiastories says:

    Fascinating, as usual. I too got to see the fairy castle in Chicago at the Museum of Science and industry, and at the time I had no idea who Colleen was. Glad I know now! Loved Ella Cinders.

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