Rotogravure Sunday

Rotogravure Sunday is back!

Southern California Pepper Trees (Fred Archer)

In the 1920’s Touring Topics published a monthy Rotogravure section featuring great photography and art from great photographers and artists of California and the West. The dreamlike quality of the pictures captures, in my opinion, the vision of California and the West at its most romantic and I love looking at them. Hope you do do too!

On the famous Seventeen Mile Drive (Karl Struss)

Moonlight at Capistrano (Karl Struss)

This beautiful photograph by Frederick Simpson shows a quaint scene of Los Angeles' old Chinatown entitled "NEWS OF THE WORLD."

Even by the time this photo by Karl Struss was published in 1927, the Cahuenga Pass' Dark Canyon was already being transformed by the development of Hollywood Manor and Hollywood Knolls (Barham Boulevard runs through it today). Could the ruts be the grand daddy of Barham?

Desert Outposts by Roy Hunter

A San Onofre Ranch (Karl Struss)

Charles Hamilton Owens painted this stunning view of the USS Shenandoah on its trip from San Diego to Seattle. The beautiful airship was to tragically crash in a storm over Ohio on the morning of September 3, 1925.

The original caption states "A Study in Diagonals - A novel and almost cubistic study of the west portal of the Third Street tunnel by Will Connell."

A great view of the old seaside colony that was once found at the mouth of Topanga Canyon, a time when that a "beach shack" really meant a beach shack. (Will Connell)

This was the Ventura "Freeway" circa 1925 in the vicinity of "Triumfo," (Triunfo) which was apparently a spot between Thousand Oaks and today's Westlake Village. (Ernest M. Pratt)

Coming Up – Part II of “The Siege of Fort Anthony”

Posted in Rotogravure Sunday | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Siege of Fort Anthony Part I

(Photo: George Brich)

It looked as if all of Hollywood was turning out for the occasion just as Jack L. Warner had predicted. “Beyond question,” the venerable studio head had declared to the press, “it will be the largest turnout of stars and personalities from motion pictures, television, radio, recording and civic life ever to assemble for an occasion related to the entertainment industry.” A really bold claim to be sure, but as each shiny black limousine disgorged yet another world famous face it looked as if Warner hadn’t been exaggerating. Jimmy Stewart was there. So was Walt Disney, Gregory Peck, Lana Turner, Karl Malden, Gene Autry, Jack Webb, Shirley Booth, Rosalind Russell and a host of other world renowned celebrities.  Even some of the greats of yesteryear made an appearance with such legendary figures as Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Francis X. Bushman and Ramon Novarro all thrilling an enthusiastic crowd of some 6,000 excited movie fans who roared their approval from specially-built bleachers lining the stretch of Highland Avenue across from the Hollywood Bowl on that sunny October day in 1963. The star-studded event had all the glitz and ballyhoo of a major Hollywood premiere, which in a way it was. The production being celebrated, however, was not a movie, but rather a building – a museum to be exact – a museum for Hollywood.  And as the huge throngs attested, this was going to be no glorified warehouse of art or furniture. This was to be the most unique museum ever conceived, a sort of Disneyland meets the Smithsonian promising something to please everyone from the casual tourist to the serious film scholar.

The design of the new museum was entrusted to the prominent firm of William A. Pereria & Associates who created a design so striking it was later derided by some as an overly grand "Taj Mahal."

Sol Lesser. (LA Times)

The new venture, which was officially to be known as the Hollywood Motion Picture and Television Museum, was intended to be a shining example of how government and private enterprise could work together with private donations funding construction of the Museum itself and the County providing the land upon which it was to be sited. Upon completion, the museum would be County-owned but leased to a non-profit organization established for the purpose, which would physically manage the facility for a period of years. As for spearheading this big civic project, L.A. County turned to veteran Hollywood producer Sol Lesser.  Best known for producing the 1940 film version of Our Town as well as a popular and long-running series of Tarzan pictures, Lesser seemed like a perfect choice for the job, a Hollywood insider with stellar connections and an infectiously boyish enthusiasm for the project that belied his 70+ years.  Retiring from active production in 1958, Lesser threw himself body and soul into the project, giving his time, expertise and even some of his own money to the venture and no doubt envisioning  the long-discussed, long dreamed of museum as the crowning achievement of his long career

And what a legacy it would be! Hollywood’s new Motion Picture and Television Museum was poised to be as spectacular as any of the movies it would showcase and honor. No dusty repository of antiques here – a living, vibrant and exciting venue, a thrill a minute for the millions of lucky visitors who would surely flock from all parts of the globe to see this wonderland each and every year. The show would start on the sidewalk with tickets purchased from none other than animatronic Clark Gables or Marlene Dietrichs and from there, according to William Pereira, architect of the new museum, visitors would “step into a world of illusion.” Their first view would be an awe-inspiring four-story exhibit space where they would wander through a “television forest” and then be whisked up by a giant lift and find themselves back in Imperial Rome where they would stand as part of the throngs hearing  Marc Anthony giving his famous oration. Descending a winding staircase the history of the development of electronic communication would unfold before them. If they are hungry they may dine on the Via Veneto, the Kasbah or even a full scale recreation of the Hollywood Canteen. A 600-seat theater would showcase films of all types. Television programs would be viewed from television screens that would descend from the ceiling.  Not only could they view current and classic films and television shows they could actually watch them being made while sitting in glassed in booths in one of the two active sound stages on the property. All around them, visitors would be treated to a series of revolving and permanent exhibits showcasing the stunning multi-million dollar collection the Museum had already amassed including not only thousands of props and costumes, but complete sets from famous films as well. An Oscar and Emmy Sanctum was sure to be a hit as would be the priceless collection of early cinematic devices donated by Beverly Hills financier Bart Lytton.

A newspaper view of architect Pereira's vision of the Imperial Rome section of the museum, which was going to be made possible "by means of miniatures, process photography, forced perspective and other techniques developed by motion picture craftsmen in Hollywood."

Mary Pickford's pledge to donate her vast and invaluable collection was a stunning coup for the museum.

While it might be all “Lights! Camera! Action!” as Sol Lesser proudly declared, the museum’s boosters took great pains to make clear it would be equally dedicated as a place for education, serious study and scholarly research. In fact, an entirely separate tower building was incorporated into the design exclusively for this purpose with space for libraries, offices, film vaults and storage rooms. The museum would surely need this space. It had already gotten pledges to receive both the entire Cecil B. De Mille and Mary Pickford collections, a huge coup indeed as well as the personal collections of pioneer filmmakers Jesse Lasky and Carl Laemmle of Universal and no doubt many more to follow. Another giant acquisition for the museum was the pledge of 20th Century Fox’s mammoth collection of 1.8 million still photographs. And this was just the start. The museum’s acquisitions committee was constantly searching for and receiving pledges for other collections from around the world of important items related to the history of the modern entertainment industry. And by the museum’s standard the “entertainment industry” was intended to encompass not only motion pictures and television, but the radio and recording industries as well. The idea of a single museum, no matter how big, giving equal time to showcasing the history and continuing development of the movies, television, radio and the music industry from birth to today and on to tomorrow all under one roof seemed like an extremely ambitious one and in the minds of some way too ambitious for just one entity to handle. These people saw it as a four-headed hydra with each head demanding equal attention all at once. How would or could such a thing be accommodated?   And then there were concerns over the true costs of the project, big concerns over whether the venture would be financially self sustaining as supporters claimed or a financial drain on County resources as detractors feared.

But those negative thoughts were banished to the hinterlands for the moment as 11 year-old Richard Powell, son of the late great Dick Powell, ceremoniously turned the first spadeful of earth on the project to the accompanying cheers of thousands in the appreciative crowd. For so many that symbolic shovel of dirt represented the culmination of a dream, a long held desire to see Hollywood with a museum all its own that honored and celebrated the new yet exceedingly rich history of the movies.  As early as 1940 ideas had been floated about to convert such sites as the former Trocadero or the old Warner Brothers Studio on Sunset into just such a museum, but these proposals never advanced past the drawing board and disappointment followed disappointment. Time and again, the idea was revived, cheered and encouraged only to have it undone by one thing or another. It seemed to many that a Hollywood museum was jinxed. But now, with that spadeful of earth the long deferred dream was now finally becoming a reality. There was nothing standing in the way to keep this museum from happening. That is, except maybe for the man glaring balefully out the window from the old house on the hill.

The Old House on the Hill, 6655 Alta Loma Terrace, as seen in the early 1930's. Bette Davis loved this house so much, her first in Hollywood, that she even included this photo in her 1962 autobiography.

Steve Anthony was not someone you'd want to mess with. (George Brich)

The man in the window felt he had every reason to glare. To him this was no celebration of a grand new civic project, but a provocation for an all out war. Here they were, the Barbarians at his very gate and he knew exactly what all this hoopla meant. It meant the coming destruction of everything he held near and dear.  But if they thought he’d slink away quietly they’d better think again. Steve Anthony had never shied away from a fight in his life and he wasn’t about to now. A pugnacious ex-Marine turned Hollywood bartender, Anthony had been living a peaceful and quiet existence in the little cottage on the hill with his growing family for some years now.  That was until the Hollywood Museum project came in and decimated virtually everything in sight in the name of “progress.” Just two years earlier, this had been a quaint and vibrant old Hollywood neighborhood filled with cute little Spanish bungalows and English cottages where famous stars of days gone by had once lived. People like Francis X. Bushman, Donald Crisp and even Strongheart the Wonder Dog had called it home.  Anthony’s own place had the biggest star association of all – none other than Bette Davis – who had made 6655 Alta Loma Terrace her very first Hollywood residence in 1930. “It was the sweetest house I had ever seen in my life,” remembered Davis fondly.  No small compliment considering the literally dozens of homes the peripatetic Davis moved in and out of during her long career in the film capital.  It was indeed quite a little charmer. Built in 1923 to the plans of local architect Ray G. Smith, the cottage at 6655 Alta Loma Terrace was Cotswold by way of Walt Disney. A movieland home in the truest sense of the word, it was said that set pieces from Rex Ingram’s 1922 production of The Prisoner of Zenda had been incorporated directly into the home’s design. The cottage had been built for cinematographer and future Broadway producer Gordon Pollock, perhaps best remembered today for his work with Erich Von Stroheim on the disastrous Queen Kelly (1928) and Charlie Chaplin on City Lights (1931). It had been the Pollocks who had rented their house to the newly arrived Bette Davis and her mother Ruthie and some twenty-five years later to Steve and Elona Anthony.

Bette Davis poses in the living room of 6655 Alta Loma in the early 1930's.

During his time on Alta Loma, Anthony had hit it off quite well with his landlord, helping the older man out in various ways especially during Pollock’s recovery from a stroke. After Pollock and his wife were killed in a plane crash over Lake Eire in 1956, Anthony discovered his kindnesses had not been forgotten with Pollock willing him half ownership in the house.  Anthony knew how much Pollock had loved the house on Alta Loma and his generous gift only strengthened his resolve to save it. And had it not been for Steve Anthony, it would have already met the same fate as the fifteen other homes surrounding it – bulldozed into oblivion in the name of progress under condemnation through Eminent Domain. Anthony had been the sole holdout, refusing the $11,000 offered for his share of the house, forcing the County to go through lengthy legal proceedings to forcibly evict him. And forcibly it would have to be for the Anthonys had no intention of going voluntarily. The stage was set for what was to become known as “The Siege of Fort Anthony.”

Stay tuned for the exciting continuation of the “The Siege of Fort Anthony” coming to a blog near you.

Posted in Central Hollywood, Lost Hollywood, The Hollywood That Never Was | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM PARADISE LEASED!

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a huge fan of the old Touring Topics/Westways magazines for both their great articles as well as their fantastic covers. From October 1969, this is one of my all-time favorites as done by the brilliant Marv Rubin. I think he has captured the true “spirit” of the fun of Halloween as seen through the eyes of children and isn’t that the way we should all be looking at Halloween?

Paradise Leased has risen from the dead of its hiatus and wishes you the most fun and spooky Haunted Hollywood Halloween ever!

Posted in General Announcements, Magazine Art | 4 Comments

Time Traveling This Weekend? Why Not Stop in at These Fine Establishments?

Posted in General Announcements, Vintage Ads, Vintage Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Newt’s Paradise – Apple Valley’s Spectacular Hilltop House

(Maynard L. Parker)

(Maynard L. Parker)

A few months ago I did a post on the historic Apple Valley Inn and was delighted with the response it generated from both those who knew and loved the Inn in its heyday and those who had never heard of it until now. I even heard from the granddaughter of “Mr. Apple Valley” himself, Newton T. “Newt” Bass, which was, of course, a real treat and a great honor as well.

Newt Bass and his partner Bud Westlund were the founding fathers of Apple Valley, having purchased 6,300 acres of high desert land during the early 1940’s with the original intention of developing a cattle ranch. Instead they turned it into a real estate development known as Apple Valley Ranchos, a huge success that made both Newt and Bud millions. Unlike some developers who take the money and run, however, Newt and Bud remained committed to Apple Valley from its inception into full maturity like proud parents doting over a favorite child.

King of the Hill. Newt Bass at Hilltop House. (Maynard L. Parker)

Newt Bass was a fascinating man. A self-made millionaire who had been raised on an Indian reservation in South Dakota, Newt moved to California at the age of 18 and became a roustabout in the burgeoning oil fields of Long Beach’s famous Signal Hill and down at Santa Fe Springs. By 31, the enterprising Newt had begun drilling his own wells and by the time he was 40 he’d amassed such a fortune he was able to retire. It was his search for a perfect place to have a cattle ranch that led him to Apple Valley.

(via Craig Skibiski/www.DesertKnollsRealty.com)

Newt was able to watch over Apple Valley’s phenomenal  growth both literally and figuratively from a spectacular modernistic house he built on a 20 acre hilltop site just above the Apple Valley Inn. Appropriately named “Hilltop House,” Newt’s home offered panoramic vistas in virtually every direction with views stretching into hundreds of miles taking in not only Apple Valley itself but the Mojave Desert, Antelope Valley and the San Bernardino Mountains beyond. “A view so vast,” wrote Pictorial California in 1960, “that outer-space high is the feeling when standing within.”

Newt with Francisco Artigas at Hilltop House (Maynard L. Parker)

In choosing an architect for Hilltop House, Newt made a very exciting and “out of the box” decision by engaging an architect not from Southern California, but from down in Mexico. Although relatively unknown in the United States, Francisco Artigas was a very prominent figure in Mexican architecture with many notable designs throughout his country including his work in Mexico City’s upscale neighborhood of Jardines de Pedregal de San Angel. The young Artigas designed a sleek and stunning hilltop house that not only fit into its rugged setting it actually incorporated parts of it into the house itself with a boulder outcropping a prominent feature in the home’s combination living/dining room.

Another spectacular feature was the indoor-outdoor swimming pool Artigas incorporated into the design. “To coax indoors the sunshine by day and the stars by night,” wrote Pictorial California, ” electric push buttons open sliding panels above the pool to become three skylights. At night what a sight it must be – for Apple Valley and the Mojave have the most brilliant of stars.”

Hilltop House was definitely intended as a retreat for Newt himself. There was not a feminine element to be found in either the architecture or the interior design, which was done in combination with Artigas himself, who designed all of the furniture, along with local interior designers Jim Richardson, Fred Miller and Joel Harper of Albert Parvin. Artigas had even lived in Apple Valley for a while in order to get a proper feeling of the area before taking on the design of Hilltop House.

Artigas took as much advantage as possible of native materials using stones found right on the hillside to create a dramatic fireplace wall. The lounge chairs and ottomans are upholstered in a terra-cotta fabric set off by silver legs.

The combination living/dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. The ceiling is mahogany. Carpet is caramel-colored wool.

Well, you can’t get much more masculine than a wall of guns within arm’s-length of the bed.  Newt’s enormous Walnut with Ebony inlay Victorian bed was supposedly a prop from Gone With the Wind.

Another view of the master bedroom showing built-in television circa 1957 in the native stone fireplace wall. Pool is just a few steps away.

Bath time was sexy time at Hilltop House with its unique double shower lined with Florient Rose Italian Marble in shades of tan and peach to apricot tones. One end of the bathroom was mirrored from floor-to-ceiling allowing a full view of the valley beyond from within the showers.

(Maynard L. Parker)

Newt Bass’s spectacular Hilltop House was Apple Valley’s most prominent landmark until a fire nearly destroyed it in 1967. It was restored and rebuilt, but from then on it was used largely for office rather than residential space. Over the years, Hilltop House has fallen into disrepair and disuse until it has become a gutted derelict, a skeleton of its former self. This is a real tragedy. As prominent Apple Valley realtor Craig Skibiski has noted  “Depending on who you ask today, the Hilltop House is either up for auction, haunted, being remodeled by the Town of Apple Valley, or being bulldozed soon.” Let us hope this famous home, like the old Inn 300-feet below it, will be restored and again take its place as Apple Valley’s premier residence. This is a modernistic masterpiece steeped in High Desert history that Apple Valley cannot afford to lose.

Photographer NikZane has taken some stunningly beautiful shots of the forlorned but still spectacular Hilltop House ruins that can be found on his Flickr page here.

(NikZane via Flickr)

Posted in Apple Valley, Hollywood on Holiday | Tagged , , , , | 87 Comments

Anybody Have a Rich Uncle?

Beautiful then...

Recently I had the good fortune of seeing some footage of a documentary currently in the works on Marsha Hunt that is being produced by two great and as it turns out very talented guys – Roger C. Memos and Richard Adkins.

And beautiful now.

As "Mary" in Pride and Prejudice

Being an old Hollywood/movie fan, I figured I knew who Marsha was – a very pretty, very talented actress who had come within a hairbreadth of being cast as “Melanie” in Gone with the Wind (1939). A former New York fashion model, Marsha started in films in 1935 under contract to Paramount before later moving over to MGM during the peak period of her career in the 1940’s. I always found her to be such a charming presence on-screen whether playing sweet as in Pride and Prejudice (1940) or scheming in Smash Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) that it always seemed to me that she should have had a bigger career. As it was, she didn’t have a bad one and I assumed she retired in the 1950’s and went off to lead a happy quiet little existence somewhere in the Valley and that was that.

Well, as it turned out I really knew nothing about Marsha and couldn’t believe what I had been missing.

Marsha has led a VERY interesting life!

This is one fascinating lady who has had and continues to lead an extraordinary life. And, yes, she’s not only still alive heading up towards her 94th birthday, but she is literally “ageless” with a mind as sharp as the proverbial tack, quick wit and still just as extraordinarily beautiful as she ever was. And when you find out Marsha’s story she becomes all that much more beautiful, if that’s possible.

A dark time for America.

Her “retirement” I found out was not by choice, but rather because she became unjustly caught up in the malicious whirlwind of the Communist witch-hunt of the 1950’s with her name published in the infamous Red Channels for committing, it appears, the Un-American act of speaking out against HUAC’s investigation into the Communist infiltration of Hollywood. The taint of Red Channels knocked the stuffing out of her career in Hollywood leaving her with nothing but free time on her hands, a sudden and stunning shock. Did she crawl under the bed in bitterness? She would have had the right to. No, she took the adversity she was faced with and turned it on its ear, finding a new voice in community service and this grew and grew from a modest first effort to build a community center for Sherman Oaks to eventually helping battle hunger and homelessness on an international scale. There is no telling how many countless thousands who have been aided by Marsha’s quietly determined efforts through the decades but the numbers are doubtless legion.

And she has done all this and continues to work without a peep of self aggrandizing publicity. Her extraordinary story might have gone untold had it not been for the efforts of Roger and Richard who are producing this documentary, which is entitled Zelda Can Dance: Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity. But, of course, documentaries do cost (a lot of) money and at this time Roger and Richard are looking for completion funds to get this worthy project to the screen. They are very close with so much already done! I think all the interviews have been completed and now it’s down to the final part of pulling everything all together with the editing.

93 going on 23

I really believe in this project and I’m sending the word out into the blogosphere in the hopes there might be someone who could be an angel and give the documentary that final push to the top of the mountain. One big check would be great, but so would a lot of little checks too. If everyone reading this blog donated just $5.00 a piece you could collectively make Zelda Dance! And believe me, you’d be glad you did. Here’s the link to their website where you can get more information on the project and also contribute if you can.

How many of us have stars on the Walk of Fame...

And their own paper doll collection?!

Posted in General Announcements, Interesting People | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Lost Hollywood – The Enchanted Hill of Fred Thomson and Frances Marion

A Norman Kennedy rendering of The Enchanted Hill. From Wallace Neff, Architect of California’s Golden Age

One of the great “power” couples of silent Hollywood, Fred Thomson and Frances Marion were counted among Cinemaland’s most popular pairs during the ten years they spent together in the heady twenties before their fairy tale existence was shattered by Fred’s sudden and tragic death on Christmas Day 1928 at age 38.

They say it is destiny that brings couples together. In this case, destiny came in the form of a broken leg and Mary Pickford. The broken leg was Fred’s, a “war wound” he picked up not on the battlefield, but in an overly spirited football game with his fellow soldiers down at Camp Kearney near San Diego. Fred, an ordained Presbyterian minister, had joined the U.S. Army upon America’s entry into the First World War, serving as a chaplain with the 143rd Field Artillery. As fate would have it, the 143rd had the great fortune of having been “adopted” by Mary Pickford as their godmother and while Fred lay up at hospital Mary appeared on a visit with her very good friend and collaborator Frances Marion in tow.

In her autobiography Off With Their Heads, which chronicled her half century as one of Hollywood’s most important and highest paid screenwriters, the two-time Oscar winner joked, “No one had ever written more satirically about ‘love at first sight’ than I…” but when Frances met the handsome 6’2″ Fred she found out it really could – and did happen. Even laid up in a hospital bed, Fred cut an impressive figure. Before donning the cloth, he had been a champion world-class athlete at Occidental and Princeton and was a world record breaker in track and field competitions. Frances was no less impressive, a potent combination of beauty, brains, wit and charm and while Mary excused herself to speak with other soldiers, Frances stayed behind and chatted with Fred.  There was both an immediate physical and spiritual attraction between the two and within ten days they were already making arrangements to be married. Even a world war could not hinder their romance and although Fred was quickly shipped out to France with the 143rd, Frances was not far behind, heading overseas as a war correspondent.  No sooner had the Armistice been signed then the pair were married at the Edouard VII Hotel in Paris on November 19, 1918.

With his movie star looks and high-powered Hollywood connections it was inevitable that Fred would enter the movies, but his reasons for doing so were atypical. Fred was convinced of the power movies had to influence young people and he believed if he made films with a positive message he could reach more young people with a single film than he could do in a lifetime of sermons from a pulpit. Mary and Frances gave him a trial run in The Love Light (1921), a Mary Pickford vehicle written and directed by his wife and with Fred playing, ironically, a villain. A few more appearances followed before he hit his stride as a cowboy star and along with his trusty steed Silver King Fred rose a rising tide of popularity that made him a serious threat to Tom Mix. By 1927, he was making a then astounding $10,000 a week with Frances doing no less well penning a string of hits including Lightnin’; Stella Dallas (both 1925); The Son of the Sheik (1926); The Winning of Barbara Worth and The Scarlet Letter (all 1926) with her biggest years yet to come.

By this time, the couple had long since moved on from their comfortable, but relatively modest house in the Wilshire District at 744 South Windsor Boulevard and had “Gone Hollywood,” with what Frances described was “the largest house on the highest hill in Beverly Hills.” According to Frances, their plans started out innocently enough with the idea of a little hacienda-style farmhouse built on four acres they had purchased in the hills of Beverly at $1,500 an acre. But then Fred began buying more horses. After all, Silver King needed doubles and lots of them. “Aren’t six enough?,” Frances innocently asked her husband one day. “Six!” came his incredulous reply, “Silver King has to have a double for the high jumps, and doubles for all the other dangerous stunts. I couldn’t take a chance on his being hurt.” The total eventually came to twelve.

Silver King was well-loved by his master.

Naturally, this necessitated a much bigger stable block than originally planned, which necessitated moving the stables further from the house because of the “pungent odor of manure,” which, in turn necessitated adding additional acreage, this time at an ever-increasing price of $4,500 an acre. And of course, there needed to be a separate house for the stable hands and a riding ring too. Actually two riding rings. And the horses couldn’t be out in the sun all day. They needed shade and this necessitated the hauling of full-grown trees to the site. “A week later, Sherwood Forest began moving up the hill,” stated Frances dryly. By now, the original architect had long since bowed out, turning the job over to a specialist in the Spanish Hacienda type home the Thomson’s were planning, and expanding upon, every day. His name was Wallace Neff and it was a fortuitous change. The brilliant Neff transformed the Thomson’s dreams and needs onto the barren hillside converting it into a kingdom unto itself and an enchanted one at that. As Frances was to write:

In a short while our hill resembled a gigantic wedding cake. pine trees studded every tier, while on top rose a huge house with a drawing room two stories and a half high, rare tapestries on the walls, an Aeolian pipe organ, and windows overlooking five acres of lawn. Beautifully laid out on the terrace were a tiled barbeque, an aviary, and a hundred-foot swimming pool. Fred and his horses and I had gone Hollywood!

The Enchanted Hill 1926. note the Guest House on the left and Cowboy’s House below. Both good-sized homes of their own.

Upon its completion in 1925, the Thomsons bestowed the dreamy yet wholly appropriate name of “The Enchanted Hill,” upon their fantastical new estate at the end of Angelo Drive. By now the estate had expanded to fifteen acres and would ultimately grow to 120 before it was all over with.

Although newly built, the Enchanted Hill looked as if it had been in place for a century thanks to Neff’s sensitive and skilled design, an Andalusian Cortijo magically transported from the sunny hills of Spain to the sunny hills of Southern California. Fred and Frances, their two children  (and no doubt Silver King) were delighted with their new home, a feeling shared by rave reviews in the architectural press. In an extensive piece in Arts & Decoration in 1927, noted interior designer Charles Ray Glass walked readers through a virtual tour of the Enchanted Hill. Care to join us?

“The approach to the estate is by broad winding road that carries one in easy grades up the gradually ascending hills. Entrance to the house is gained through an archway into a cobbled court, guarded in true Spanish style by the lodge keeper’s apartment.

The acres of grounds were laid out by Paul J. Howard’s Horticultural Establishment of Beverly Hills.

Note the lazy dog sunning himself.

This court, which is open to the view on two sides, is centered with a low fountain of hand-made Mexican tile. Beds of rare cacti, paradise plant and other exotics, set in tile bordered plots, convey an especially engaging atmosphere of semi-tropical charm.

Entering the house finds one in a great hall – clear storied to the blue painted rafters. Directly in front of one is a wide flung arch of heavy masonry, beyond which opens the living room. A feature of the house is the large pipe organ, the Spanish console of which is in a small adjoining room. This arch serves a double purpose – that of an entrance to the living room and by the use of a heavy plaster grill on the living room side, as an outlet for the organ pipes, which are chambered in a room below.

Radiating from the main and upper walls to all parts of the house are long, narrow corridors, wood beamed, white walled and tile floored, and cool and restfully dim of a hot California mid-day.

There the similarity to the conventional Castilian interior ends, for, one who associates Spanish houses with austere and sombre rooms, there will obviously be ‘something wrong with the picture.’ The Spanish atmosphere is apparent, but so also is a flood of California sunshine.

Interior decoration was provided by George Hunt of the Cheesewright Studios of Pasadena.

In every room are windows of generous, sometimes massive proportions. In his desire to reflect in his interiors the wealth of warmth and color without, Mr. Neff has been ably assisted by the decorative scheme. The same boldly balanced tonal scale used in the interior furnishings of each room has been adopted for the outside planting, and only the modification of light differentiates the hangings, rugs and furniture coverings from the huge beds of California annuals that surround the courts and patios. This contributes greatly to the intimacy and charm that is so evident even in rooms that are actually of great size and completely eradicates the charge of ‘mustiness’ that can be rightfully held against the average house of true Spanish type.”

The Enchanted Hill was built for entertaining with Fred and Frances opening the home up regularly for their wide circle of friends. “For our parties,” she wrote, “we gathered about us people we liked from all walks of life: educators, artists, scientists, authors, archeologists, and explorers like Robert Flahrety.” Reporter Grace Kingsley breathlessly recounted a visit to a party Frances threw for her lady friends at the Enchanted hill in 1927, “We were being ushered into the lofty hall and into the great living room, with its wide view of the surrounding country, which you look at through those beautiful arched windows and which gives also a view on the other side of the long Italian garden, with its colored walls, its fountains and many-hued flowers. If there was a feminine star missing that day from Frances’ party I don’t know who it could have been.” Kingsley went on to prove her point by naming such luminaries as Lillian Gish, Colleen Moore, Norma Shearer, Gloria Swanson, Hedda Hopper, Theda Bara, Mabel Normand, Claire Windsor, Mary Astor, ZaSu Pitts, Peg Talmadge, Janet Gaynor, Bessie Love and Marie Dressler among those in attendance. “Somewhere in the Fred Thomson-Frances Marion home is a big pipe organ,” she continued, “and somebody was playing it as we visited together – a charming, distant harmony that lent a still more beautiful atmosphere in an already entirely delightful occasion.”

The Enchanted Hill’s Guest House had its own terrace.

Anyone visiting the Enchanted Hill and seeing this beautiful and successful couple so deeply in love could only imagine a long “happily ever after” for the two. But, as Frances wrote in her memoirs, ten days before Christmas, as the couple gazed down at the twinkling lights of Beverly Hills far down in the distance, she noticed her husband had a slight limp. She asked him if the leg he broke the previous year in an on-set accident was troubling him. “No,” he replied. “I stepped on a rusty nail and it bothers me a little. Nothing to worry about.” He died Christmas Day in his wife’s arms. A victim of medical misdiagnosis with his tetanus believed by doctors to be a gallbladder problem.

Fred with the Enchanted Hill’s pet cockatoo.

Legendary inventor Paul Kollsman.

Within a few weeks, the grief-stricken Frances put the Enchanted Hill up for sale, unable to stand the memories or continue the upkeep herself for what the Los Angeles Times luridly described as the “Memory-Haunted hill,” renting the Florence Vidor/Jascha Heifetz home at 809 North Bedford Drive. A few months later the Enchanted Hill changed hands for a reported $540,000 in cash, an enormous amount for a home in 1929, but it was no doubt worth it. The buyer was an oil man, Lejene S. Barnes, president of the Elbe Oil Land Development Company. By 1945, the property had passed to Paul Kollsman, inventor of the Altimeter, who lovingly maintained the Enchanted Hill for the next four decades. After his death in 1982, Kollsman’s widow remained on the estate until 1997 when she sold it to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Allen paid $20,000,000 for the legendary estate and then quickly ordered the entire Enchanted Hill and its outbuildings, Silver King’s mahogany-floored stable; the guest house; Cowboy’s House; the two riding rings; tennis court; acres of mature and lush gardens; and the 100-foot swimming pool to be bulldozed into oblivion. More than a decade later, it sits as a vacant, weed-covered lot.

The Enchanted Hill in 1927.

And today. Image via Google Earth.

Posted in Beverly Hills, Lost Hollywood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 144 Comments