Nellie Naysayer Wants to Rain on the Parade Again…

"I had to get out of my chair for THIS?!"

Our old (and I do mean old) friend Nellie Naysayer has been deceptively quiet lately with her bursitis and all, but after spying some recent postings about Hollywood’s famous Chateau Le Trianon Apartments having been built by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks she just had a conniption, getting so riled up she developed an instantaneous and most unpleasant case of the “vapors.” Even a calmative failed to bring down her dander and she’s still fussing and muttering about in a most disagreeable fashion.

One of the great architectural treasures of East Hollywood, the Le Trianon at 1750-1754 North Serrano Avenue has been a distinctive and beloved Hollywood landmark from the moment of its completion in 1929. The six-story, 28-unit building is one of the most impressive designs of the legendary apartment house designer Leland A. Bryant of Macdonald & Bryant and, considering his incredible oeuvre, that is saying a lot.

The Chateau Le Trianon is romantic in the extreme, a beautifully proportioned structure made all the more charming by a fantastic three-story maisonette apartment with three bedrooms and three baths extending out from the main structure and creating an “L” framing the building’s expansive front terrace.

It was perhaps inevitable that such a spectacular structure as Chateau Le Trianon would attract a great deal of curiosity over its origins and with curiosity comes speculation and with speculation comes legends. And, if enough people parrot those legends they magically become “facts.” This story has been around about as long as Nellie Naysayer herself and has even made its way into print more than once. However, not everyone bought this bill of goods. As early as 1985, Richard Alleman in his popular Movie Lover’s Guide to Hollywood cast the long shadow of doubt over the story going as far as asking Mary’s last husband Buddy Rogers about the legend and pulling the building permit himself.

"Hipper, did we build the Le Trianon?" "Of course not, Duber! Shhh now, Lady Gaga's coming on."

The unromantic truth, I’m sorry to say, is that Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks neither built nor resided at the Le Trianon. Others did though, from famous set decorator George James Hopkins  to Vincent Spano, but not so for Pickford/Fairbanks. The dull facts (and they are dull) are that this fantastic building was built by a development company called Chateau Holding Company. It was the initial structure in a planned group of six buildings to be built throughout the city, a grand plan that was no doubt undone by the Great Depression. Although it should be noted that West Hollywood’s La Fontaine, also a Bryant design, bears similarity to Le Trianon, only done in brick, and may well have been a second effort by Chateau Holding.

And who was behind the Chateau Holding Company? Glamorous movie stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford? No, Ray and M.T. Leek and Nathan Goldberg. How much less glamorous can you get than Ray and M.T. Leek??? No wonder why that legend sprouted up!

And as a final thought, if Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford had really been behind Le Trianon, they surely would not have kept that a secret. In the late 1920’s, they backed several major projects including the Hollywood Roosevelt and their names were plastered all over those. Why? Because their names helped bring in the investors. Keeping them out of the picture would have been, well, dumb.

Geez Nellie, what a buzzkill!

Now, will this legend finally go away? Of course not!

This entry was posted in Architects, It Ain't Necessarily So!, Los Feliz, Nellie Naysayer and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Nellie Naysayer Wants to Rain on the Parade Again…

  1. Great post! I always appreciate a well-researched debunking of legends such as this one. Very interesting….

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Scott! I start out believing or at least wanting to believe these stories, but then the darned facts get in the way and mess everything up. Somebody has to stick up for poor old Ray Leek I guess!

  2. Pauline says:

    Hi Steve,
    Pauline from Curbed here. Thanks for the info — I have updated the post with a link to your page.

  3. Thank you for this. I too have passed on the ‘legend’ out of ignorance. It’s nice to be put right. The real stories about ‘Old Hollywood’, our Hollywood, are so fascinating that embroidery isn’t necessary!

    p.s. I’m such a fan!

  4. TrianonJack says:

    Nice article but the Trianon was built in 1928 not 1929. It is in fact 29 units not 26 and is in a style sometimes referred to as “Chateau (or Chateauesque) Revival” which is essentially a style of ‘fantasy’ architecture combining different often disparate historical styles successfully together. Bryant did this especially well. The ‘maisonette’ is in fact called the “Penthouse Wing” and is composed of a two-story 3-bedroom townhouse apartment above a large one-story 2-bedroom on the first floor. Servant quarters were originally below.

    Le Fountaine would be considered a brick ‘duplicate’ if not for the fact it has no neon sign on the roof, is 2-stories shorter, on a larger lot and is without any turrets. Additionally, it may not be a steel-frame structure and the apartment layouts are completely different. Chateau Laurier however (also 1928 on Wilton and 5th) though different and smaller, does look like a mini version of the Trianon.

    As for the ‘debunking’ of Mary Pickford commissioning the building (and possibly living there with Fairbanks in 1930), that may be possible, but the ‘evidence’ given unfortunately doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. First, holding companies according to a variety of sources don’t really tell us who owned or commissioned many buildings. Building permits often list contractors, companies, developers and builders rather than individual owners. The fact the Bryant is associated with the company as an architect bares this out. Both Pickford and Norma Talmadge were very smart businesswomen who owned quite a bit of property in Los Angeles and owned it sometimes directly and sometimes apparently through other shell/front companies etc. Though stories of Pickford’s involvment could certainly be just anecdotal, Pickford was in fact known to be quite private about her private life and her investments according to many accounts. So, Chateau Holding advertising if she was involved may be fairly unlikely as a scenario. So, unfortunately neither the article or building permits disproves or proves her involvement with the Trianon. Perhaps Nelly’s colitis has finally gotten the best of her and dementia has sadly set in. It’s always the pretty ones it takes first…

    Additionally, George Hopkins lived in the lower 2-Bedroom unit (according to people who knew him when he lived there). Vincent Spano may have lived in the building, but that was never confirmed. However, Ayn Rand did live in the building in 1933 with her ‘husband’ Frank O’Connor. One could go on, but why…

    • Steve says:

      Thanks so much for the detailed critique on Nellie’s recent rant about Le Trianon and even she begrudgingly has to give credit for your taking the time to do so (That’s actually the highest compliment I’ve ever seen her give). You bring up some great points and I’m happy to respond. Nellie, on the other hand is still just muttering, but that’s what she does best.

      You bring up the broad issue over Pickford/Fairbanks as well as a number of highly detailed smaller points. Let’s get those out of the way first and get to the meat at the end.

      (1) You say the building was built in 1928 not 1929. Well, there is a good argument for that in the fact that the article I posted stated that the building “will not be completed till the Christmas holidays.” However, this article was from August 1928 and, as you know, expected completion dates and actual completion dates can and do vary, sometimes wildly. Here we’re only talking about a very narrow window of about a week or two in late December 1928. Although this is not conclusive, I think you’ll find it interesting to note that Le Trianon didn’t start running rental ads in the Los Angeles Times until June 9, 1929. When in doubt, I always go with what the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office states and the LA County Assessor states the completion date as being 1929.

      (2) 29 not 26 units – You live in the building so I think you’ve got a better idea as to how many units there are there than me. So I’d trust you on that one. Just so you know, I got my info from some early records (Permit + LAT 8/5/28 and 8/11/29). It makes sense though that through the years certain remodelings could have taken place that altered the unit numbers. You mention servant’s quarters in the building. These may not have been originally counted as units. Probably would not have been. But, according to the LA County Assessor’s Office, we are both wrong. They show 28 units at present at Le Trianon. Shall we call that a draw?

      (3) Penthouse vs. Maisonette – This type of unit is generally known as a maisonette. However, you are free to call it what you like. Dictionary.com defines a maisonette as: 1. a small house, especially one connected to a large apartment building. 2. an apartment, usually of two floors connected by an internal staircase; duplex apartment. And they define a penthouse as being: 1. an apartment or dwelling on the roof of a building, usually set back from the outer walls. 2. any specially designed apartment on an upper floor, especially the top floor, of a building. 3. a structure on a roof for housing elevator machinery, a water tank, etc. Did you know Leland A. Bryant even designed a building called Les Maisonettes @ 8250 Fountain Avenue in 1927? It’s called the Four Gables today. The man truly was a genius.

      (4) Where George James Hopkins lived – My records have him at “1754 North Serrano, Apt. A” from 1960-1967. I had understood “Apartment A” to be the Maisonette. You live in the building, which unit is “Apartment A?” Whatever you say on that one goes.

      (5) La Fontaine being a “duplicate” of Le Trianon – OK, busted on that one. Nellie is bargaining it down to “similar.” Agreed? Chateau Laurier, we’ll agree as “similar” in style but not in layout.

      (6) Vincent Spano – I can confirm from personal experience. Do you trust me? (Ha!)

      (7) Ayn Rand – I am thrilled to learn that. Thank you! See, to me, having her associated with Le Trianon is far more interesting than some tired old legend about Pickford/Fairbanks. I think that’s really cool. Is it possible to share your source?

      (8) And now that we’ve finished picking all the nit, allow me to weigh in again on Pickford/Fairbanks. First, did they ever live there? There certainly are no records of them doing so. That, of course, doesn’t mean that they didn’t, but think about it logically. Why would they have? Starting in 1925 and continuing intermittently throughout the rest of the decade and into the 1930’s, Pickfair underwent various remodelings, starting with the dining room. Eventually Wallace Neff reworked the whole façade. During at least part of this time it would make sense they would get away from the construction. However, would it make sense that they rent an apartment all the way over in busy eastern Hollywood or would they simply go to their beach house at 1702 Appian Way in Santa Monica or, later, (1932) at 705 Palisades Beach Road? What would you do? Would you really move into an apartment in Hollywood, nice as it is, when you had a seaside home to retreat to? Further, Pickford and Fairbanks were the King and Queen of Hollywood at the time. An apartment? Privacy? Parking? Location? Really?

      (9) Second, were they behind the holding company? I agree it is entirely possible to hide investors behind a holding company, but, as I stated in my post, what would be the point? Pickford and Fairbanks demonstrated on several notable occasions that they gladly lent their very valuable names to building projects including an ultimately unbuilt apartment house at La Brea and Hollywood. It makes no sense. And would former New York advertising man Raymond H. Leek really keep quiet about their involvement? Hmmm. You’re right that Mary was a shrewd businesswoman as was Norma Talmadge and remember, Norma Talmadge didn’t keep her backing of the Talmadge any secret. Joe even named it after her! It was originally going to be called the Francisco.

      Regardless of whether any of this sways you at all, I want to thank you so much for writing about this. It’s obvious you have both knowledge and passion about your beautiful and historic building and if there were more people like you we might actually be able to save these great treasures from demolition or insensitive remodeling that ruin the vision geniuses like Leland Bryant had for them. The fact that Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks did not have an association with the building should in no way diminish its value.
      And feel free to disagree with absolutely everything I say. Nellie always does!

      • TrianonJack says:

        I do appreciate the detailed response, even if it has taken me a little while to reply in kind.

        Again, I was never sure about the Pickford association with the building. However, when it was designated, part of the sourcing for the Pickford link came from an 80+ year old actor who knew the building from the early 30s. He insisted he had personal knowledge about her connection to the Trianon. I’m sure his name can be dug out somewhere, but memories can be treacherous. So, who knows?

        The exterior and structure was probably finished in 1928, but I would wager the interior contractors had not finished with the floors, tiles and other details and accoutrements until early 1929. Wouldn’t be first time a contractor took more time than promised (I think it may be a requirement).

        For some reason all the older long term tenants said the Penthouse was always called ‘The Penthouse’ and they are listed often as PH A and PH B. PH A is in fact the first floor 2-Bedroom where Mr. Hopkins made his home.

        Ayn Rand lived in Apartment 302 in 1933. This was confirmed by the Ayn Rand Institute (in Santa Monica) who actually have an at least one envelope and letter addressed to her there. They actually came by at one point to visit this ‘hallowed’ ground in pilgrimage (perhaps). So, if Nellie is an Objectivist than that explains her wild affair with Alan Greenspan in the early fifties (or so I’ve heard).

        Another Bryant building that actually resembles the Trianon quite a bit is the St. Germaine at 900 S. Serrano. Also built around 1928. It is about one story taller, has no courtyard and is composed of mostly 1-BRs without hardwood floors. Still, the apartments are nice and large with some of the old details in tact.

        That’s the news from Lake Hollywood, where children are child actors, all the dogs are good-looking and Nellie is disagreeable but occasionally drunk…or so I’ve heard…

      • Steve says:

        Thanks so much for the great info! I’ll be sure and add Ayn Rand to the list. And Nellie is nothing short of scandalized that you found out about her affair with Alan Greenspan. She thought they had been so discreet.

      • E.J. says:

        In the 30’s, Colleen Moore lived at Les Maisonettes, as did Ray Milland (LA Voter Registration records). Songwriter Sharon Sheeley lived there in the 1990’s, I was told by an LA buddy. As for Trianon, it’s interesting that so few major names lived there, as nice as it was. Here’s a short list of the some of the people I’ve found in Voter Registrations and LA Directories: director Fred Beetson, actors Maryon Hall, William Burns, George Irving, Betty Ross Jensen, Charles O’Malley, and Harry Woods, and composer Albert Von Tilzer. Interesting no bigger names…

      • Steve says:

        That’s great info. E.J. Thank you! I didn’t know about Colleen Moore at Les Maisonettes and love the addition of the names you provided for Le Trianon. I agree. It does seem unusual that the building had so few major names associated with it. Maybe more to discover! Thanks again for the great research, as always.

    • Joel says:

      I lived in The Trianon in the mid 80’s, and was good friends with Mr. Hopkins. he was very old and frail and lived with his very longtime companion (who’s name escapes me), who later died, and his “houseboy”. As a young gay man in my early 20’s, it was fun and fantastic to see these old geezers be together for so long. He had many great old showbiz stories, including Pickford and Fairbanks renting the place upstairs, but rarely staying there. Usually friends of theirs or someone working on a film at UA. When George died, he left me 2 of his oscars, but I donated them to to the academy. years later, I was stunned to read about him in A CAST OF KILLERS, delighting that I knew him.

  5. Tara says:

    Has anyone ever heard of or experienced anything “paranormal” at the Trianon? I have a friend who lived there years ago with her friend, a phD and extreme non-believer, and both had experiences that can only be described as paranormal and spooky. Haven’t found anything on the internet about this.

    • Steve says:

      Hi Tara:

      Let us know if you find anything on that. Thanks for writing!

    • Joel says:

      When I lived there – mid 80’s on the first level (I don’t remember the apt #) we concluded a lady live there. We could smell her perfume. She didn’t like the doors to be closed all the way – if we closed our bedroom or bathroom door all the way, she would turn the knob and open it just ajar. We had to keep them that way when closed or she would just open them. Sometimes we’d come home and all the kitchen cabinet doors would be open

  6. Wendy S says:

    I heard that Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford also had built (or used the building) The Ancelle on 7th/Gramercy Drive as well for a place for themselves and other actors to stay while in L.A. I thought I had come across proof of that, and now looking again can’t seem to find any validation to that. Have you made any discoveries in that theory if it is actually true or not? Or did someone possibly mistake the apartment building for another? Thanks.

    • Steve says:

      Hi Wendy: No, I have not heard that about the Ancelle and personally I would not be inclined to believe it. I would have to pull the original records to verify and I might do that just to be sure. It would be cool if they really were behind it, but…I’m such a naysayer. Ha! I’ll see if I can’t add it to my never ending and ever growing list of “to do” at Building & safety. If it turns up they did that would make a swell Paradise Leased post. What I have found is that it was built by Windsor Builders in 1925-6 and was stated as costing some $160,000. It was originally to be known as “The New Stratford Arms.” I wonder why it was changed to Ancelle? The owner’s wife/girlfriend, maybe? Thanks again for the question.

      PS: Jack Pickford lived a block away @ 646 S. Gramercy. Maybe that’s where the story started?

  7. impumag says:

    I have lives her 16 years I was born and raised 4 blocks down I’m 39 I got the place by accident I pay $550.00 a month with a great view I actually didn’t want it at 1st BUT I was on a time line it was only supposed to be for less than a year. I learned very quickly how lucky I was my daughter was little she used to tell me of some lady in a lace red dress. Well my granddaughter ”her baby” is now 3 the other day she ran in the kitchen and put up her arms for me to pick her up I immediately did cause the look on her face not in her character. So I sat with her and asked her what happen? She said … ”The lady wanted to see meme” (her stuffed bear) I knew right away who she saw but didn’t want to feed into it. After a few minutes I said what color was she wearing do you remember? She said ”wed she has wed dwess” (Red she had a red dress) … My heart sank but I never saw her, However blocks down where I grew up I used to see one in an emerald green one with a bustle I still see her clear as day!

  8. impumag says:

    Correction= Lived not lives … sorry

  9. Shannon Hill says:

    I lived in the Trianon in the early 80’s – on the 5th floor. Belinda Carlisle lived underneath me and Kid Congo of the Cramps lived on the 1st floor. The place was amazing!!

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