Then & Now – 4447 Cromwell Avenue

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The Schoenborn House in 1926. Original landscape design by the Beverly Hills Nurseries.


And today. Photo by Charmaine David via listing.

Thanks to the ever-fabulous Curbed L.A., I was tipped off tonight that one of my favorite Wallace Neff houses, the A.L. Schoenborn Residence (1924) in Los Feliz has just come on the market for $2,750,000. This is a relatively early Neff and while it might not be one of his most famous designs it is a perfect representation of why I love the Spanish Colonial Revival style so much especially as interpreted through the genius of Wallace Neff himself. And the siting is exceptional too, visible but still private with second-to-none views. As usual, Neff was able to bring in all the beauty of Spanish Colonial Revival, the impressive woodwork, colorful tile and intricate ironwork all set against whitewashed stucco walls while still keeping the house feeling relaxed and informal. I’d like to think that the young Mr. Schoenborn (only 33 when he had the house built) had given Neff carte blanche to design the house just as Neff envisioned it. The architect used much of the Spanish design vocabulary here with a bold rotunda, arches of varying types, Monterey balconies, variegated roof lines. It’s simply a fabulous house and a unique treasure, not only for Neff but the incredible ironwork of Eugen Julius Dietzmann. It looks like there’s even at least one original Crane bathroom too.

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Charmaine David via listing.

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Charmaine David via listing.

I wanted to put up a post on the house because I noticed that there have been requests to see some vintage pictures. The good news is that there are some, the bad news is they are few, but it is at least a taste. We see Adrian has caught some heat for saying the house has been “bastardized.” Based on the photos it looks like the problem seems more with its current overpowering interior decoration than any irreparable structural muddling so it looks like the bones are still good. However, we stand by Adrian here @ Paradise Leased since any revision to us of a Wallace Neff original is a bastardization! Go ahead and have at it with the kitchen but touch ye not the work of genius elsewhere lest you be forever haunted by the ghosts of good taste past.

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Hey, they filled in the bookcase. Why dat? Charmaine David via listing.

This great house is listed by the fabulously named Juan Longfellow and Louise Leach of Normand & Associates and has its own website with 57 beautifully done shots by Charmaine David @

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Charmaine David via listing.

A little word on Albert Lawrence (“A.L.”) Schoenborn, the original owner/builder of 4447 West Cromwell Avenue. Born in Buffalo, New York on May 22, 1890, Schoenborn became something of a wunderkind in Los Angeles financial and investment circles during the 1920’s, founding the Wilshire Building & Loan Association by the time he was 32. After selling out to the State Guaranty Corporation in 1927 (of which he became vice president) Schoenborn also took on the vice presidency of the Pacific States Savings and Loan Company as head of its Los Angeles branch @ 6th and Grand. Schoenborn was also a pioneer in San Fernando Valley real estate development, buying and subdividing a number of Chatsworth-area tracts and maintaining a ranch (long gone) @ 21510 Roscoe Boulevard throughout the 1920’s and is accredited as the founder of “North Owensmouth.” While that name has vanished into oblivion, Schoenborn Street still runs through the Valley as a lasting memory.

No one will ever know for certain as to why, but on April 17, 1929, Schoenborn succumbed to toxic exhaust fumes in a garage in Sawtelle. While reports stated that he had suffered a nervous breakdown and disappeared from the house in a state described as “delirious,” no official determination of suicide was ever made by the County Coroner. It was believed that in his unstable condition his death might well have been accidental as much as intentional and therefore the cause remains “undetermined.” Schoenborn, who left behind a wife, Veral S. and a son, Larry, was only 38 years old.

Dora Doubter

I always try to see both sides, but I must verify.

Lastly, our intrepid scholar Dora Doubter has some, well, doubt about the assertion that this home was actually lived in by Wallace Neff himself. You can’t blame her, after all, it’s built into her DNA. It sure would be cool if it were true, but…she’s demanding proof. Anyone know the original source? Would love to confirm so she’ll stop fussing about and get back to reorganizing the garage where her services are most needed.

And a few more images by Charmaine David of the listing via the listing. Many more here.


Charmaine David via listing.


Posted in Los Feliz, Paradise For Sale or Lease, Then & Now | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

High Above Apple Valley – New Vintage Images of the Apple Valley Inn and Newt’s Hilltop House


For those of you following the blog you know there have been big doings as of late regarding the fate of the once spectacular but now ruined Hilltop House sited 300 feet above the once famous but now shuttered Apple Valley Inn. These two properties constitute the greatest historic treasures in all of Apple Valley and they both cry out for rescue before it’s too late. As it stands now, the Hilltop House and its twenty acres are up for sale. That can mean salvation is on the way or total destruction is around the corner. And there’s also an intriguing third scenario, which would turn the Hilltop House into a public park. Only time will tell as to what will ultimately happen. In the meantime, I wanted to share a beautiful set of aerials taken by Howard D. Kelly on February 3, 1961 of the Hilltop House and Apple Valley Inn. You can see both properties in all their long-gone glory.




These great images were recently unearthed by the Los Angeles Public Library and comprise part of the Kelly-Holiday Collection of the library’s vast holdings.  Thanks to the LAPL for releasing them for our enjoyment!

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After 68 – Remembering the Unforgettable Ambassador in a New Documentary

After68I have risen momentarily from my blog-writing slumber to let everyone know about a wonderful new documentary project by producer/director Camilo Silva called After 68 that’s currently in the works on what is perhaps the single greatest loss of history to ever befall Los Angeles – the demolition of the Ambassador Hotel in 2005. If you think I’m being overly dramatic just take a look at the scope of the history of this astounding place. We really lost something here, something that ran way deeper than the loss of a mere building. So many events, so many people, so much that made Hollywood and Los Angeles and beyond, centered around the Ambassador. It was part of the very soul of Los Angeles. It didn’t just witness history. It made history. Now its gone and we can never get it back.

That’s why I am so happy to see this documentary being done on the Ambassador, its rise and tragic fall and from what I’ve seen it looks like its going to be great. I can’t wait to see it finished. Please check out the trailer here and please help make After 68 a reality by contributing to its completion funds if you can. The goal is within sight. Every dollar helps. We owe it to the Ambassador, to Los Angeles and to ourselves to make sure this story is told. We can never replace this treasured landmark, but we might be able to learn something from it. The Ambassador can be our Penn Station, a tipping point in the battle for historic preservation that ultimately saved so many other Manhattan landmarks from the same ignoble fate. Will it become a rallying cry of “never again,” never again allow something so critical to our history to be taken from us without at least one hell of a fight? I hope so.

Here’s the full press release on After 68 and its related links.


Filmmakers Recover Legacy of Historic Hotel by Resurrecting its Demolished Past


LOS ANGELES, CALIF. (August 10, 2013)


In 2005 the landmark Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles became one of the most historically significant and celebrated U.S. buildings of the 20th century ever to be destroyed. Nearly a decade later, a dedicated team of documentary filmmakers intend to bring the Ambassador back to life with After 68. The feature length documentary is a gripping exposé on the dynamic history and controversial demolition of the iconic hotel. “Though the hotel’s structure is gone we are working hard to ensure that its legacy lives on. By chronicling its rich history and the emotional fight to save it from demolition, we hope to give the Ambassador its rightful place in history,” states director/producer, Camilo Silva. “This film is particularly important because it goes far beyond just recapping the history of a famous site. It will challenge audiences to think about historic preservation in new ways and question how actively we value our aging structures from the past.”

After 68 examines historic preservation through the lens of the 15-year struggle to save the Ambassador Hotel from the wrecking ball. For decades the Ambassador was the epicenter of cultural and civic life in the U.S., playing host to the Academy Awards, celebrities, international dignitaries, iconic authors, artists, scientists and every U.S. President          from Hoover to Nixon. The hotel’s legendary Cocoanut Grove was one of the most sought after music venues in the world, showcasing almost every major musical act of the 20th century and launching the careers of countless stars. In 1968 the Ambassador’s fate took a dark turn when it became the site of a tragedy: the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

When the hotel closed in 1989, the Ambassador once again garnered national headlines during a dramatic battle between preservationists and the school district over the fate of the site. A heated fight ensued, quickly polarizing the community and sparking a multifaceted debate that pitted education against historic preservation. After a lengthy and costly legal battle, the board voted to demolish the hotel. “California doesn’t          preserve much of their history…Tear it down and build  something new, there was no interest in the preservation of it” stated Merv Griffin in his After 68 interview.            Coming in at just under $600 million, the new school campus that was constructed would end up with the distinction of being the most expensive school built in U.S. history.

In the first feature  film ever to turn the lens back on the Ambassador, Silva weaves together classic photography and historical footage, along with captured footage of the building’s demolition, and emotional interviews from a range of key people involved with the hotel. “As documentarians timing is critical for us because with every day that passes we are threatened with losing the oral histories that only remain within our          collective memory and we want to recover them before it is too late,” says Silva.

Using first-hand accounts, After 68 demonstrates how the Ambassador Hotel’s rich history ultimately placed it between opposing cultural divides: a pawn in the power struggle between those who saw the importance of preserving our past as a means to define our future, and those who were willing to destroy it. “The Ambassador’s story marks the irrecoverable loss of an important relic of human and social history, and as          filmmakers we want to educate the public about the value of protecting our past, and thereby ensure that the other Ambassadors of the world may be saved” declares Silva. This film is not only a tribute to the life and legacy of the hotel but it will also serve as an important symbol for the value of historic preservation worldwide.

For More Information Visit:

Media Contact:           Katie Ravnik •           • 510-847-9054

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Aloha on Rimpau – A Hawaiian Hero in Hancock Park

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Designed by the very prolific Frank Meline in 1922, this charming house on Rimpau south of Wilshire was rented in the mid-1920’s into the early 1930’s by the legendary Hawaiian Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. (Dee Cappelli)

hawaii908160336AR_bHe is still the most famous of all Hawaiians, a superb athlete revered today as the “Father of Modern Surfing.” Yet Duke P. Kahanamoku’s legacy goes well beyond Olympic Gold medals and the host of other honors heaped upon him in his decades as a world champion. A magnificently handsome man with a jet-black mane of hair, soulful eyes and dazzlingly white smile, Kahanamoku came to symbolize the very embodiment of the true spirit of Aloha to such a degree that in 1959, he was named Hawaii’s official “Ambassador of Aloha,” a role he had unofficially been fulfilling for decades ever since his first Olympic victories at Stockholm in 1912. Kahanamoku’s Olympic triumphs combined with his looks and winning personality made him an international celebrity, bringing sudden attention to the heretofore obscure Hawaiian Islands and a marked increase in island tourism was directly credited to the fame of their native son.


duke_kahanamokuFrom almost the moment of his birth on August 24, 1890 in Honolulu, Kahanamoku’s life revolved around the warm Pacific waters surrounding the island.  He learned to swim, in traditional fashion, by simply being tossed into the water by his father and uncle. “I had to swim or else,” he later remarked. From his sink or swim beginnings, Kahanamoku developed into an expert swimmer and diver. While that on its own might not have been a particularly unusual accomplishment for a Hawaiian Islander of the time, what was unusual was the speed by which Kahanamoku could propel himself through the water. By the time the first officially sanctioned Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) swim meet took place in Hawaii, Kahanamoku was already something of a local legend. In that race, held on August 12, 1911, Kahanamoku performed so remarkably, shearing 4.6 seconds off the world record for the 100-yard open water, AAU officials stateside refused to believe the time and declared there must have been an error on the part of all four judges.


(Bain News Service/Library of Congress)

The following year, Kahanamoku and several other Hawaiians were sent to the States to compete in the AAU National Swimming Championships. Kahanamoku easily won his races, earning him a place on the United States Olympic team. At the summer games held in Stockholm, there was no mistaking Kahanamoku’s incredible speed and power this time, and he won the 100-meter freestyle, yet again breaking the world record and easily taking the Gold medal. He also earned a Silver as a member of the 200-meter relay.


(Bain News Service/Library of Congress)

Over the next few years, Kahanamoku’s reputation grew to new heights as he continued shattering world aquatic records in various competitions around the globe. At the same time, he was credited for single-handedly reintroducing to the world to the sport of surfing. Although it had been an integral part of Hawaiian life for generations, by the turn of the Twentieth Century surfriding had been largely forgotten. In a series of widely attended demonstrations around the world, Kahanamoku would ride the waves on his handmade long board to the delight of onlookers, and before long, the ancient sport was revitalized along the coasts of the world.

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In 1918, the noted English artist and printmaker Charles W. Bartlett painted Duke Kahanamoku on his famous long board perfectly capturing the romance of surf riding. (


Duke, Ross Norman and other Olympic swimmers show off their robes between events at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, which proved to be a triumph for the Hawaiian swimmer. (International Olympic Committee)

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Friends for life. Johnny Weissmuller & Duke Kahanamoku at the Paris Olympics where the torch was passed from Duke to Johnny. (Corbis)

At the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, Kahanamoku continued his nonstop winning streak, taking two more Gold Medals, the first for the 100-meter freestyle and the second in the 200-meter relay. By the time of the 1924 Olympic Games, Kahanamoku was thirty-four, considered an advanced age for an Olympic athlete, yet, he had no trouble qualifying for the team as did his younger brother Sam. It was in Paris, however, that Kahanamoku suffered his first major defeat, coming in second behind a new swimming sensation, an athlete thirteen years his junior named Johnny Weissmuller. It was Weissmuller who would take the mantle from Kahanamoku, going on to become the winningest record holder in American history up to that point. Kahanamoku showed no anger or bitterness in defeat and he maintained a close friendship with Weissmuller that was to last the remainder of their lives. Years later, Weissmuller would honor his friend by declaring, “I learned it all from him.” Duke Kahanamoku continued swimming for the rest of his life, winning his last Olympic medal at the age of forty-two. His remarkable twenty-one year career as an Olympic champion remains today a record achievement.


(Getty/International Olympic Committee)


In the 1920’s, Duke was all over Southern California. He even made it to Palm Springs for a meet at the El Mirador. (LAPL)

As someone so identified with the Hawaiian Islands it is easy to forget that Duke Kahanamoku ever spent significant time anywhere else, yet he was a regular presence in Southern California throughout the 1910’s and 1920’s. Duke had become entranced by the wonders of Southern California ever since his first visit in 1912 and even imagined the possibility having a home here someday. The Southland was equally charmed with Duke making many friends and becoming a particular favorite of the movie colony. And, of course, his worldwide fame and good looks didn’t go unnoticed by the studios. In 1925, Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount) offered Duke a film contract. However, his promising film career was hobbled by an ironic twist – He couldn’t appear on-screen doing what the world best knew him for – swimming. AAU rules strictly prohibited Duke from accepting money for swimming, something studio lawyers might not have been fully aware of before offering him a contract. And Duke had no intention of giving up his amateur standing in athletics just for Hollywood film making, which he considered nothing more than a fun lark. As it was, Famous Players-Lasky found themselves with a non-swimming swimming star and were forced to come up with creative ways to use him in non-aquatic roles. They tried their best and over the next few years, Duke made appearances in a number of films including the epic production of Old Ironsides in 1926, but without being able to be seen as the aquatic champion he was his career in movies quickly fizzled. Interestingly, in later years, Duke would return to the screen on several notable occasions. In 1948 he played a native chieftain opposite another famous “Duke,” John Wayne, in The Wake of the Red Witch, and in 1955 he again played a native chief in the John Ford-directed Mister Roberts with Henry Fonda and James Cagney.

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If he couldn’t swim then make him a tribal chief or other exotic. Here’s Duke appearing with Ronald Colman in 1929’s The Rescue.


Like any other budding star, Duke was forced to submit to silly Hollywood publicity photos. Can’t get much sillier than having to golf and surf at the same time. Duke took it all in stride. (LAPL)


The famous LAAC pool in Duke’s day.

During his first visits to Los Angeles, Duke was usually put up at the Los Angeles Athletic Club where he enjoyed swimming in the club’s enormous swimming tank and palling around with the many well-known athletes and young Hollywood stars who resided there. During the 1920’s and into the 1930’s, Duke found more spacious quarters at the home of his good friend Leslie A. Henry in a large house on Rimpau Boulevard near 8th Street. Henry, known to his friends as L.A. Henry, was a prominent local bonds dealer also extremely active in athletics, serving as chairman of the board of governors of the LA Athletic Club, president of the AAU, as well as serving on the U.S. Olympic Committee. Ironically, Henry’s house lacked a swimming pool, but Duke had ready access to the large tank at the LAAC and the plunge at the Hollywood Athletic Club, which Duke was given the honor of inaugurating on January 12, 1924 . And, of course, he had the nearby waters of the Pacific.

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It is a bit of a challenge to pin down exactly what style Frank Meline had in mind when he designed 824 South Rimpau. Kind of Spanish, sort of Italian. Maybe. But charming nonetheless. (Dee Cappelli)

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(Dee Cappelli)

By the early 1930’s, Kahanamoku left Hollywood to return to his native Hawaii, where he became its most revered citizen and goodwill ambassador. For more than twenty years he served as Sheriff of Honolulu and after Hawaii became the 50th State in 1959, he was made the State’s official “Ambassador of Aloha.” Kahanamoku died at the age of seventy-seven, just three weeks after greeting Hawaii’s one-millionth visitor.


Duke steered clear of the altar until he was 50, but when he did get hitched he made it a good one. In 1940 he married the lovely Nadine Alexander. It was a union that would end only with Duke’s death in 1968. Does Nadine know how to pose like a lady or what?


Cool at any age. The Sheriff of Honolulu.(

Today, there are many memorials and monuments to Duke Kahanamoku on the Hawaiian Islands, but all too few stateside. Along with the historic and famous Los Angeles Athletic Club, the old house on Rimpau is one of the most significant sites in Los Angeles that can still be linked to the legendary swimmer and surf rider, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.


The Duke Kahanamoku Statue on Oahu (

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Save the Date – May 13, 2013 for Aaroe Architectural #22 John Parkinson Presentation!

This Monday, May 13th you are cordially invited to attend the latest presentation of the Aaroe Architectural Education Series. This one is going to really be great too. Stephen Gee, author of the brand new John Parkinson, Architect of Los Angeles, will be giving a very informative and well illustrated talk on Parkinson, one of the most significant architects in Los Angeles history. You won’t want to miss this one. And he will be signing copies of his new book afterwards. Here’s your official invite.e1366927883_56

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One Smart Girl – Deanna Durbin (1921-2013)

DeannaDurbinMar37Bar none, the best summer job I ever had was as a tour guide at Universal Studios. It was such a thrill running around that famed and historic lot where so many legendary talents had worked. To walk in the footsteps of Lon Chaney, Tod Browning, John Ford, Erich Von Stroheim, Irving Thalberg, James Whale, Alfred Hitchcock and a million other greats was heaven for a film history nut like me. Of course, we were told about all these people and many more during our tour guide training classes, but one surprising name really stuck out for me – Deanna Durbin. I had never really heard of her before and apparently neither had my classmates. Her name elicited quizzical looks and when we were told she “saved” the studio by doing something called 100 Men and a Girl, everyone suddenly became Beavis & Butthead with all the maturity and wit of a group of 14 year-olds. Fortunately, over time I matured (well, not really), but I was able to learn more about who this Deanna Durbin person was and I was both charmed and fascinated by this remarkable lady. Personally, I have always enjoyed digging into the stories of those who, although in their day were world-famous, are not as well-remembered today. There are some amazing people awaiting rediscovery and Deanna Durbin is definitely one of them. Yes, as it turns out, she did “save” the studio and a whole lot more, becoming for a period one of the most popular and famous stars in the entire world. And then she happily left it all behind her. Garbo, as it turns out, wasn’t the only one who turned her back on Hollywood, Deanna Durbin did it too and never looked back.

Now, word has come down that Deanna Durbin has died at the age of 91 in France, where she had lived in peace and quiet for more than six decades. The moment I heard this news I was suddenly transported back to my tour guide days and began giggling again over 100 Men and a Girl jokes. (I guess at heart I’ll always be 14.) Ultimately, the more mature side of me took over and I thought a brief retrospective of this extraordinary person was in order. If you have never heard of Deanna Durbin, please allow me to introduce her. You’ll like her.

And, as this is principally an architecture blog, I will intersperse her biographical sketch with a series of Maynard L. Parker photographs of Durbin’s beautiful, but sadly now lost, Brentwood Heights estate @ 421 North Saltair Avenue, designed by the highly talented and highly regarded Alan G. Siple in 1942.

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In 1942, The Architectural Digest did an extensive layout of the new Deanna Durbin – Vaughn Paul residence in Brentwood Heights. All photos by Maynard L. Parker.
Siple designed a charming English Colonial for Durbin.

Deanna Durbin was born Edna Mae Durbin in Winnipeg, Ontario, Canada on December 4, 1921. When she was one year old her family moved to Los Angeles where her father became involved in the stock and real estate markets. At an early age, friends and family members began to take notice of the child’s remarkable singing voice, a voice that continued to grow stronger and more resonant as she headed into her teenage years. By the time she was ten years old, her older sister Edith convinced Durbin’s parents to invest in singing lessons for their talented offspring and for the next few years Durbin took weekly lessons from a local vocal coach named Ralph Thomas.

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Siple pulled out all the stops in designing the Durbin residence. Note the variety of materials used including brick and shingles. Lacy wrought-ironwork gives the house a New Orleans feel. The stonework on the patio is beautiful but does not lend itself well to bare feet!

In 1935, MGM announced plans to make a film based on the life of Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink and were looking for a young girl who could sing to play the legendary contralto as a child. Through Thomas, Durbin was brought to the attention of talent agent Jack Sherrill who in turn took Durbin to MGM to test for the role. The studio was suitably impressed and signed her to a six-month contract while details were worked out on the upcoming production.  Before production could get underway, however, Madame Schumann-Heink died and the project was dropped.  Now MGM found itself in a dilemma: A few months earlier they had signed another promising young singer named Judy Garland. Both Durbin and Garland were unknown and untested, and the studio realized they only needed one of them. Which one, however, was not clear. While trying to figure out what to do with the girls, the studio put them both in a short film entitled Every Sunday (1936), in which they performed a contest, with Durbin singing classical and Garland singing jazz, to draw crowds to a weekly concert in the park. The short was essentially not just a contest on film it was a test to see which girl the studio would keep. In the end, it was Garland who was chosen and Durbin’s contract was not renewed. On the surface, it appeared that Durbin’s promising young start had come to nothing, but across town events were developing at another studio that would ultimately change the course of Durbin’s life and career.

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The Entrance Hall. All interior decorating was executed by the venerable firm of W. & J. Sloane.

Producer Joseph Pasternak had been the head of European operations for Universal Pictures until the threat of war had brought his operation to a close. Forced to return to the States, Pasternak and director Henry Koster had been given a two-year production deal by studio chief Carl Laemmle Jr.. Before they could even be set up in offices, however, Laemmle sold Universal to a syndicate of investors. The sale came at a time when the studio was struggling through a major financial crisis so serious that it was, in fact, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. To cut costs, the new owners were anxious to cancel any deals made by the previous owners and they immediately sought to nullify the Pasternak agreement. The agreement, however, could not be abrogated, and the new vice president in charge of production, Charles E. Rogers, reluctantly assigned Pasternak and Koster office space and ordered them to come up with an idea for a low-budget film.  Koster suggested the title Three Smart Girls, and from there they built a story. As it turned out, the story was the easy part. Finding the right girl was another matter altogether. As Pasternak later wrote, “We needed a twelve-year-old girl with the indefinable charm of the girl who was once rightly called America’s sweetheart. That’s all. The plain fact was, everybody told us, there was no such creature.”  After searching fruitlessly for some time, Pasternak and Koster were considering changing the story to Three Smart Boys when Rufus LeMaire, Universal’s talent scout, informed him that he had found just the right girl and brought them a print of Every Sunday. Pasternak and Koster were thrilled with both girls, but after being informed Garland wasn’t available, they readily agreed they had found their perfect girl in Deanna Durbin. Pasternak recalled that Durbin on screen, “had a sweetness without being arch or cloying; she was a natural; she was pretty; she was wholesome; and she sang beautifully with a skill and ability far beyond her years.”

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Although you have to look to spot any books in the “Library,’ it was nonetheless quite a charming space.

The fourteen-year-old Durbin was immediately signed to a contract at $125 a week and Koster personally took it upon himself to coach her in acting lessons in the weeks prior to shooting. The production of the low-budget film generated very little interest around either the Universal lot or Hollywood in general, yet Pasternak and Koster both knew something special was in the works. It wasn’t until the studio executives saw the first rough-cut of Three Smart Girls that, they too, knew they had a real find on their hands. As a result, Rogers increased the film’s meager budget and, although it was ostensibly about three smart girls, it was obvious that one of them, Durbin, had the makings of a star and scenes were rewritten to bolster her role. The plot of the film centered around three sisters’ efforts to keep their beloved father from marrying a shameless gold digger. Along the way, Durbin managed to find time to sing “My Heart Is Singing,” “Someone to Care For Me,” and “Il Bacio.” When it went into previews in December of 1936, audience members reacted with the same delight the studio executives felt about Durbin and suddenly a buzz began around Hollywood that long-suffering Universal might have discovered a new star. During this same period, Durbin was invited to sing at a party for Universal executives and their guests. One of those in attendance was comedian Eddie Cantor whose program on NBC was one of the most popular shows on radio. Cantor was so impressed by the teenaged songstress that he invited her to be a guest on one of his upcoming programs. Her appearance reportedly generated 4,000 fan letters. Cantor brought her back again and again until she became a regular on the program at the munificent salary of $1,000 a week.

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The living room featured a piano that was actually used regularly.

Released on New Year’s Day 1937, Three Smart Girls became the studio’s highest grossing film of the year, bringing in a desperately needed $1,600,000 to Universal’s badly depleted coffers. The film was such a success that it spawned two sequels with Durbin, Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939) and Hers To Hold (1943). In 1948, the film was remade by MGM as Three Daring Daughters with Jane Powell in the Durbin role. To capitalize on the great success of Three Smart Girls, Universal quickly launched another Pasternak/Koster/Durbin vehicle, One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937), which went on to even greater success than the first film. Depression-era audiences couldn’t seem to get enough of the pretty teenager with the angelic soprano voice who solved problems for the adults around her. Over the next few years, Universal churned out a series of popular Deanna Durbin films, films that were so successful that they are credited with single-handedly lifting the entire studio out of bankruptcy. It was estimated by at least one source that, by 1938, the Durbin pictures alone were generating seventeen percent of the studio’s total gross profits.

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The dining room.

The Deanna Durbin phenomenon generated fan clubs worldwide and also brought about a merchandising bonanza with Deanna Durbin dolls, pajamas, hats, dresses, songbooks, and other such items, which netted the actress some $100,000 a year in royalties.  From the late thirties and into the forties, Durbin’s income increased exponentially until she became the highest-salaried female in the United States, earning, at her peak, nearly $500,000 per year. In 1938 she was honored, along with Mickey Rooney, with a special “juvenile” Academy Award that was presented, “for their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players, setting high standards of ability and achievement.” As Durbin continued to grow into womanhood, producer Pasternak carefully orchestrated each step and in 1939, when she received her first screen kiss (from Robert Stack) in First Love, the event made headlines the world over. Two years later, she made the transition to full adulthood on celluloid with It Started with Eve.

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Master bedroom.

Siple Durbin 8

Master Bedroom.

1941 proved a watershed year for Durbin and it marked the beginning of the end of her unprecedented rise to stardom. That year, much to the objection of all around her, including Pasternak and Universal, she decided to get married to cameraman Vaughn Paul. That same year, Pasternak left Universal for MGM and, without his expert guidance, Universal suddenly began to flounder in knowing how to properly handle their top-rated star. Over the next few years they placed her in one misfire after another most dramatically in 1944’s Christmas Holiday. With such a cheerful title, audiences were expecting a warm holiday romp with their singing do-gooder, instead, they were shocked to find a dark and depressing film noir with Durbin appearing as a singer in a seedy nightclub and married to an escaped killer played by none other Gene Kelly. The film was a rare Durbin flop at the box office, although she personally believed it was the best acting she had ever done. Durbin’s fans were still reeling from her 1943 divorce from Vaughn Paul when she married her producer on Christmas Holiday, Felix Jackson on June 13, 1945, a man considerably older than Durbin.

Siple Durbin 9

The Recreation Room was the most charming room in the house.

Siple Durbin 10

Recreation Room.

Siple Durbin 11

Recreation Room.

Durbin continued making films for Universal for the next three years, but after the failures of Something in the Wind (1947); Up in Central Park and For the Love of Mary (both 1948) she dramatically announced, at age twenty-seven, her retirement from motion pictures. Durbin did not mourn the loss of her screen career, having never felt comfortable with all of the publicity and the constant exposure that came with worldwide stardom. In 1949, she divorced Jackson and the following year married producer Charles Henri David. With her third marriage Durbin achieved what she had secretly dreamed of during her years as an international celebrity, “to live as a nobody.” The pair moved to France, settling in the village of Neauphle-le-Chateau, where she remained in blissful retirement for more than six decades.


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Garbo Rocks – A Great Blog!

GR1My friend Allison is an amazing lady on about 1,000 different levels. Not long ago did something so unbelievably cool and so unbelievably unexpected it makes my head hurt – she went to an auction and came back the owner of a collection of old record albums. But these aren’t just any old record albums. They were the personal records of none other than Greta Garbo! And they are vintage Rock ‘N Roll too!

When we think of Garbo we think lofty and unattainable. We assume she spent her days in faraway, weighty thoughts that only a rarefied few could ever possibly understand, yet here is something each and everyone has – a music collection. Whether or not it is on our iPads or still in “ancient” form on CDs we all have a music collection. This collection, mundane as it may be because of its commonality, is in fact not common at all but rather one of the most unique and telling things about us. It’s very personal. What type of music we enjoy is a window into our very souls. Imagine what we can learn about the mysterious Garbo by what music she grooved to up there in her Campanile apartment overlooking the East River.

Well, we don’t have to imagine because Allison has taken her surreal purchase and turned into a sublime blog. It’s called Greta’s Records and thanks to Allison you can groove along with Garbo as she rocks out to the Beatles, Chubby Checker, Professor Longhair and a wide and eclectic variety of other vintage performers. You will “vant to be alone” for a long time exploring this fun, fascinating blog put together as only the brilliant Allison Anders can do. You may never look at Greta Garbo the same way again!

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Happy Trails for the Hilltop House Ruins?

HTH_FP_Befor_After_03_07_2013_11x17_PresentationFor those of you who have been following the saga  of Apple Valley’s once beautiful but now ruined Hilltop House here at Paradise Leased, which has recently come up for sale, I have an interesting update to share. My friend Steve Richard is an Apple Valley architect who has long wanted to see something done to preserve the historic 20 acre site. He even launched a Facebook page devoted to the house with much information and many pictures. When he saw how many others out there shared his interest he began formulating a plan for how this quintessential high desert landmark can once again be a credit to the community. What he came up with is quite exciting and certainly worth considering. While I still cling to the will o’ wisp that someone will come and magically bring the house back to its 1957 origins I am nonetheless most intrigued by his proposal to repurpose the property for the whole community to enjoy as hiking trail/view spots. I was even more impressed when Steve showed me the design ideas, which are far more encompassing and engaging than I at first thought. It really is an amazing concept that not only utilizes literally the whole of Bass Hill it still doesn’t overwhelm the dramatic Hilltop House ruins.



I am fascinated by this bold and exciting idea and it may be the very best of both worlds. After all, in the event someone does buy Hilltop House and let’s say, miracle of miracles, they put it back to the way it used to be, well, we can look at it from far away and be satisfied it’s there I guess. However, a much more believable scenario is that a buyer will not want to put Hilltop House back at all but rather bulldoze the ruins and in its place erect a ginormous and shiny new McMansion, something we will all have to look at from far away for a looong time. Or a big restaurant or such other garish commercial venture. Opening up the site as a public hiking trail is sounding better and better all the time!

Steve has helped put together a grassroots organization to raise the necessary funds to purchase the Hilltop House site called Apple Valley Legacy Trail Steering Committee. Be sure and check out their newly-launched website here. There’s much info/photos and details on how to contribute to make the dream a reality.

As you can see, I’ve been warming to the idea just writing about it. What do you think Newt Bass, that sly genius of a promoter of his beloved Apple Valley would think of it? More importantly, what do you think about it?

Posted in Apple Valley, Paradise Elsewhere, Paradise For Sale or Lease | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Before the Birdhouse – Some Early Mellenthin Homes

Mellenthin 16601853129_2239f41098_oIf you know anything about San Fernando Valley real estate then you know the name William Mellenthin (1896-1979) is a magic one. One of the Valley’s pioneer developers, Mellenthin was responsible for constructing literally hundreds of homes throughout Valley (and elsewhere) from the 1930’s through the 1950’s.   Like his later contemporary Joseph Eichler, Mellenthin built homes that were a cut above the standard cookie cutter tract house, homes that were high quality in both architectural design and in the materials used therein. Mellenthin knew what features to add to make a house attractive to prospective home buyers and he became renowned for his so-called “birdhouse” additions (dovecotes, to be technical) over the garage that were a hallmark of many of his structures.  Birdhouse houses became, and remain, an almost ubiquitous sight throughout the San Fernando Valley and could, I suppose, even be called the quintessential Valley home.


20_SR13023857_11_1360954450Having a dovecote as part of a house design was hardly anything new, but it was not particularly common in modern houses of the time. Mellenthin added the feature to what would otherwise be considered a traditional ranch-style house to give it a little extra pizzazz, which it apparently did based on his success and that of his many imitators. A true Mellenthin “Birdhouse” house is a hot item in San Fernando Valley real estate, particularly if one can be found in near original condition, which is quite rare. Mellenthin is so pervasive it is amusing to see “Mellenthin style” or “Mellenthin inspired” terms popping up in real estate ads for any house in the Valley with a dovecote or even just some birds sitting on the roof.


Although he was described in several 1930’s news articles as a “wealthy architect,” I haven’t been able to determine if Mellenthin was formally trained/certified in that profession. In fact, my sense is he probably wasn’t. In 1935, it was stated that he was celebrating his fifteenth year as a builder, but city, census and other records have his profession through the 1920’s as being a bond salesman. I wonder if Mellenthin dabbled in home building as a side job until the Great Depression put an end to his days as a bond dealer. That same Depression, however, should have also put an end to any ambitions as a home builder for the duration, but I find it fascinating that Mellenthin’s building success began and grew right out of the depths of the economic disaster that was putting an end to the careers of so many other architects/developers. Whether he was a “wealthy architect” or not, he assuredly must have been wealthy at least to some degree as he had the capital to invest at a time when many others didn’t. Mellenthin was able to use the downturn to his advantage and was able to buy land and materials cheaply and hire the best workmen to construct his homes.

CA Modern 1

Note how BIG Mellenthin’s name is and how small Leo F. Bachman’s, the actual architect’s, name is.

I’m also intrigued, and would love to get the answer from one of our wise Paradise Leased readers, as to whether or not the famous Mellenthin Birdhouse houses were in fact actually designed by Mellenthin himself or if he utilized the services of an obviously unsung in-house architect at the William Mellenthin Co.  Mellenthin was clearly very good at public relations and somewhere along the way the actual architect may have been lost in the shuffle. A perfect example of this are the early Mellenthin homes. There were more than 100 of them, but buried in the details is the fact they were designed by Leo F. Bachman, a competent Los Angeles designer of the period. This information should in no way mitigate the important contribution Mellenthin made to Valley development, but likewise Bachman should be given credit where credit is due on his designs, which were interesting and fairly diverse. As you will see by the below examples, the homes were generally done in what was touted at the time as “modern” California Monterey, but he got a Colonial in there as well. And…nary a birdhouse in sight. That must have been his bosses idea! So without further ado, please enjoy a sampling of pre-Birdhouse Mellenthins from 1936.

THE BARKER BROS. BUDGET HOME. 1936                                                          12018 Laurel Terrace Drive, North Hollywood

Barker Bros. 1

(Mott Studios)

Mellenthin partnered up with the venerable Barker Bros. Department Store to create 1936’s “Budget House” as both a showcase for Mellenthin’s budget friendly home designs and Barker Bros. budget friendly furnishings.

Is the small home hard to furnish, difficult to make interesting and individual on a limited budget? Not at all, when regard for design, color and proportion are used in its planning, say decorators of Barker Brothers’ Hollywood who have just completed the interior decoration of a distinctive model home at 12018 Laurel Terrace Drive in San Fernando Valley.

Barker Bros. 3

(Mott Studios)

A generously sized living room is furnished in maple, with much modern comfort apparent. The color scheme comprises browns, yellow and white with tomato red for accent notes. There are off-white walls, deep brown broadloom floor covering and white Venetian blinds.

Barker Bros. 2

(Mott Studios)

A small dining-room is equally distinctive.

Barker Bros. 4

The house itself is of modern colonial style, and interior furnishings have been planned to carry out the feeling of simple informality expressed in the architecture.

This model home is attracting crowds of interested visitors daily.

12018 LT

(Google Earth)

NEILL DAVIS RESIDENCE. 1933                                                                                    2172 Moreno Drive, Moreno Highlands

Davis 1

(Mott Studios)

Although he was known for his San Fernando Valley homes, Mellenthin built houses throughout the Los Angeles area. Here is an example of one his larger and earlier homes, built for Neill Davis, State Secretary of the Building-Loan League in Silverlake. I find the design of this hillside home particularly pleasing with its L-shape creating a nice courtyard nestled into the hillside with big outdoor fireplace and other rustic elements. The second-floor Monterey balconies on both sides of the house are noteworthy.

Davis 2

2172 Moreno

Oh no! They muddled it. What have they done to the balconies? (Google Earth)

HOWARD E. HENSEL RESIDENCE. 1934                                                                12255 Laurel Terrace Drive, North Hollywood

Hensel 1

(Mott Studios)

For the Hensel house, Bachman discarded California precedents for a Williamsburg Colonial example. A modest little home of just two bedrooms and one bath made larger in appearance by its steeply pitched roof. Note how Bachman raised the roof, if you will, higher for the central core. This little charmer was built for the credit manager of the Lyon Van and Storage Company.

Hensel 2

12255 LT

(Google Earth)

MARY REEVES HUNTER RESIDENCE. 1934                                                          12304 Hillslope Street, North Hollywood

Hunter 1

(Mott Studios)

Here Bachman returned to the early California ranch house precedents with board and batten walls and wide terraces opening off either side of the living room. Notice how every single principal room of the house has access to a terrace.

Hunter 2

12304 Hillslope

(Google Earth)

JOHN J. KIELY RESIDENCE. 1935                                                                                6116 Fulton Avenue, North Hollywood

Kiely 1


One of the larger Mellenthin properties, the Kiely house was built on 2.8 acres, which was landscaped in citrus trees and other lush plantings. The estate included a 20×40 swimming pool with high and low diving boards, dressing rooms and showers. There was also a three room guest house as well as complete equestrian facilities including 5 box stalls and a corral. During the late 1930’s, the estate was home to popular radio star Kenny Baker.

Kiely 2


Kiely 3


Kiely 4


In 1965, the estate was demolished to make way for the 43-unit Fulton Chateau apartments.

6116 Fulton

(Google Earth)

THOMAS F. O’BRIEN RESIDENCE. 1935                                                                  12040 Laurel Terrace Drive, North Hollywood

O'Brien 1

(Mott Studios)

The O’Brien Residence was built for Deputy District Attorney Thomas F. O’Brien in 1935. The most notable feature of the O’Brien Residence is its interesting double fireplace separating the living room and sun room. Guest bedroom seems to be a very busy place, but it’s nice to have one.

O'Brien 2

12040 LT

(Google Earth)

As you can see by the current Google image, something strange has happened to the O’Brien house. It looks as if a section of the house was chopped off, a garage put up and a driveway added to another property. Guess is that O’Brien subdivided his property and cut off a section of his own home to do it. It might have been rebuilt altogether as city records show a 1941 completion date.

FLORENCE PAULSON RESIDENCE. 1934                                                                 3725 Mound View Avenue, North Hollywood

Paulson 1

(Mott Studios)

Another California Ranch, the Paulson house was part of a group of Bachman-designed and Mellenthin-built homes on Mound View. For a small, two-bedroom house, Bachman still managed to include two terraces and by stretching the house out, gave it the illusion of larger size. I think the way Bachman laid out the floor plan of this house was well done with a nice separation of public/private spaces.

Paulson 2

3725 Mound View

(Google Earth)

And for those of you keeping score at home I thought you’d enjoy a list of Mellenthin/Bachman homes from the 1933-1936 period. Unless otherwise noted, addresses are all North Hollywood (Studio City, Valley Village, etc.) And where possible I’ve added date of construction and original client. Do you have a Mellenthin original?

11923 Addison Street (1935) – Grace Mottram

505 South Arden Boulevard, L.A. (1936 Remodel of 1921 House) – Edward Sears, Jr.

4836 Ben Avenue – Pete E.F. Burns

4905 Ben Avenue (Alt. 12009 Huston) (1936) – C.A. Balch

4957 Ben Avenue (1935) – Louis Laughlin

4961 Ben Avenue (1935) – John Swallow

5119 Bluebell Avenue (Demolished) – Jack West

10717 Bluffside Avenue (Demolished) – Gertrude Michael

4516 Densmore Street, Encino (Demolished) – Ernest Pagano

4147 Dixie Canyon Drive (1934) – T.M. Bell

4147 Faculty Avenue, Lakewood Village (1935) – Melvin Diebele

4251 Faculty Avenue, Lakewood Village (1935) – Roy V. Schwab

4616 Fulton Avenue, Monterey Village (Demolished) – Southwest Development Corp.

4942 Gentry Street (1935) – C.B. Warren

4830 Gloria Street, Encino (Demolished) – Reeves Dutton

12003 Hartsook Street, Laurelhurst (1936) – Francis King

12038 Hartsook Street, Laurelhurst (1936) – Virginia Michael

12220 Hillslope Street (1936) – Frank Figgins

12241 Hillslope Street (1935) – Edward Churchill

12127 (12125) Holly Glen Place (1936) – Charlotte Harriss

12138 Holly Glen Place (1936) – Milton C. Brittain

11853 Kling Street (Demolished) – Chalmers O. Stout

475 La Mirada Avenue, San Marino (1936) – John Pierce

5601 Laurel Canyon Boulevard (Demolished) – Ward Groshong

12055 Laurel Terrace Drive (1934) – J.D. Farquhar

12145 Laurel Terrace Drive (1935) – Isadore Gross

12180 Laurel Terrace Drive (1935) – H. Anderson

12305 Laurel Terrace Drive (1934) – W.P. Esrey

12382 (12384) Laurel Terrace Drive (1934) – John McKeon

11902 Magnolia Boulevard (Demolished) – Sun Record Home Beautiful

644 South Mariposa Street, Burbank (1935) – William A. Godsoe

12113 Maxwellton Road (1935) – Alice Greenfield

3743 Mound View Avenue (1934) – Arthur N. Watson

3774 Mound View Avenue (1935) – R.H. Pearsall

3781 Mound View Avenue (1935) – Ira Rohland

3804 Mound View Avenue (Demolished) – Robert Fellows

3822 Mound View Avenue (1935) – Ralph Everson

11856 Otsego Street, Laurelhurst (1936) – Robert W. Stanhope

11941 Otsego Street, Laurelhurst (1936) – Sam Bevis

12039 Otsego Street, Laurelhurst (1936) – Roy Culverwell

11915 Riverside Drive (Demolished) – John Ewing

12940 Riverside Drive, Monterey Village (Demolished) – Helen White

16325 San Fernando Mission Boulevard, San Fernando (Demolished) – Judge Oda Faulconer

4053 Shady Glade Avenue (Demolished) – Helen L. White

4147 Shady Glade Avenue (1932) – Roy Atwell

3145 Silverado Drive, Moreno Highlands (1936) – O.W. Dickens

6253 Simpson Street (1935) – J.A. Ernst

14310 Valley Heart Drive, Van Nuys (Demolished) – Floyd L. Knudtson

2150 Valley Oak Drive, Hollywood – A.B. Hess

5667 Valley Oak Drive, Hollywood (1936) – Walter Ward

4727 Van Noord Street, Monterey Village (Demolished) – Southwest Development Corp.

12108 Viewcrest Road (1935) – Frederick H. Starr

12123 Viewcrest Road (1934) – C. Duncan Hutton

12152 Viewcrest Road (1935) – Carl L. Sutton

12205 Viewcrest Road (1936) – Clifford R. Gard

12230 Viewcrest Road (Demolished) – Kolia Levienne

12301 Viewcrest Road (1935) – Joseph LaShelle

1200 Viscano Street, Glendale (1926) – E.F. Franklin

10503 Whipple Street, Toluca Lake (Demolished) – Roy H. Henry

7223 Woodman Avenue, Van Nuys (Demolished) – John J. Schmitz

7218 Yarmouth Avenue, Encino (1935) – Virda Mann

Penprose 1

(Mott Studios)

Posted in Architects, San Fernando Valley, Studio City, Then & Now, Valley Village | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 68 Comments

You’re Invited to Enjoy “The View From Santa Monica” Esther McCoy Lecture This Saturday!

MCoy1If you love Southern California’s historic modernistic architecture and you have not yet “met” Esther McCoy then you will be in for a treat. From 1950 up until her death in 1989, McCoy wrote and lectured extensively and brilliantly on the architecture and architects of California, most notably the great modernists such as Richard Neutra and R.M. Schindler. Her groundbreaking Five California Architects (Greene & Greene, Maybeck, Gill and Schindler) first published in 1960 remains a must read for any serious students of California architectural heritage. McCoy was also deeply involved with John Entenza and Arts & Architecture and it was she who literally wrote the book on the Case Study houses with Modern California Houses: Case Study Houses (1962).

I just learned that this Saturday (April 6) @ 12:00 Noon, author Susan Morgan, who has done so much to honor and further McCoy’s legacy, will be giving a presentation in Santa Monica at the Montana Branch Library, 1704 Montana Avenue, on McCoy entitled The View From Santa Monica. It sounds like it will be fascinating with lots of great images and heretofore little known details. If there is still any room left I highly suggest you head over there and attend. You’ll enjoy “meeting” Esther McCoy through her brilliant chronicler, Susan Morgan.

Posted in Architects, General Announcements, Santa Monica | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment