And now at last, at long, long overdue last, is the conclusion of the thrilling story of the Siege of Fort Anthony. Since it’s been so long in coming if you’d like a refresher on parts I and II just click on their highlighted links. Thanks for your patience and please enjoy!
As the sun set over Hollywood that Sunday, March 1st, 1964, an almost palpable aura of suspense gripped the scene surrounding the Steve Anthony home on Alta Loma Terrace, a collective apprehension shared by countless television viewers and radio listeners waiting breathlessly to hear what would happen now that Anthony had yet again defied the County’s order to vacate his condemned home. Throughout the evening an anxious crowd of onlookers mingled with the gathered news crews speaking in hushed tones and frequently craning their necks as they peered down Highland Avenue searching for the first glimpse of the expected police assault being mounted against “Fort Anthony.” Their search, however, was in vain. Not a single Sheriff’s patrol car or deputy was to appear on Alta Loma Terrace that night or the next or even the next for that matter and the County gave no word as to why. Outwardly it looked as if Steve Anthony had yet again called the County’s bluff and the County had blanched. But while his supporters may have been cheering Anthony’s “victory,” the war was anything but over. Behind the scenes the County was quietly biding its time and formulating a new strategy. In their desire to successfully end the Siege of Fort Anthony the County had decided to take a cue from the Trojans.
Meanwhile, the unexpected lull in hostilities had allowed Anthony and his attorneys to make good on their promise to fight the matter all the way up to the United States Supreme Court and that week they filed a petition asking them to intervene in the case. While the likelihood that the Supreme Court would actually get involved was a highly dubious proposition at best the filing nonetheless did accomplish at least one very important goal – It brought Steve Anthony the precious commodity of time. No further attempt at eviction could be made while the matter remained pending before the court. And time was really all Steve Anthony had left in his protracted efforts to stay on Alta Loma Terrace, but it too was running out.
By the time he made his appeal to the Supreme Court Steve Anthony had catapulted from an unknown Hollywood bartender at Barney’s Beanery into a budding celebrity. The story of the siege had been picked up nationally and in some circles he was being hailed as a folk hero, a true patriot bravely defending citizen’s property rights against the overreach of “big” government through eminent domain. His self-named bastion, “Fort Anthony – outpost of the Battle for Freedom from Governmental Tyranny,” had become an instant Hollywood tourist attraction with groups of curious onlookers dropping by, snapping pictures and milling about throughout the day and night. Not everyone, however, was on Steve Anthony’s side. There were those, not the least being County officials, who saw him not as any kind of a hero, but rather as a dangerous crackpot who willfully defied the law and even threatened violence in a grandstanding effort to get his way. They charged he was thumbing his nose at a very fair, even generous, offer for his share of the house and was making himself thoroughly obnoxious on purpose simply as a way to force the County to write out a big check just to be rid of him. Anthony had long claimed the County offer was not fair because it was not enough for himself and his family to get a “reasonable” house to replace the one they were losing. The County, of course, claimed their offer of $11,750 (the 1962 equivalent of about $86,000) was more than fair and enough to get a new place. Technically, this appears to have been true (the other half owner had only received $11,500). Anthony, however, claimed that the offer was not taking into consideration the mortgages and back taxes levied on the property that when paid off would leave him with only about $3,000, a huge comedown from the first figure and certainly not enough to find a “reasonable” replacement for his former home. While legally that might not have been the County’s problem or concern it did raise an important question over how fair a “fair” assessment through eminent domain can be if it doesn’t take into consideration existing debt on a property. Further, the great disparity in the figures does bolster the argument for those who believe that Anthony was sincere in fighting the eviction order and fighting it so fiercely and was not just the grandstanding opportunist his critics (and the courts) believed. While there might have been “a little from Column A and a little from Column B” in the situation, in the end, only Steve Anthony could know the true motivations behind his desperate stand. At least publicly he saw the handwriting on the wall. “There’s no longer any question of money,” he told the press while awaiting word from the Supreme Court. “I’m not coming out of this with anything anyway.”
On Monday, March 30th, the word came and it came in the form of a telegram. A few short sentences that closed the book legally on Steve Anthony’ fight to stay in his house on Alta Loma Terrace. The Court had refused to hear the case. But was it really the end? All along Anthony had declared that if the Supreme Court ruled against him he would give up the fight and he would leave peacefully. But when he heard the news Anthony did not go out and buy packing boxes as one might expect. Instead he stocked up on ammunition. The Siege of Fort Anthony was about to enter its final act.
Although Anthony had run out of legal options his friends had not abandoned him and many continued to rally to his side. Even the Young Republicans joined the fray, unanimously passing a resolution urging the Supreme Court to reconsider their decision and staging a rally where Anthony was cheered as an American hero. There was an Anthony “army” of volunteers, handing out leaflets and trying to raise cash for his legal defense. And his Marine buddies hadn’t abandoned him either. More than a dozen now, there were new “recruits” joining up all the time. Anthony was glad for the support. He knew he’d be needing it. With the Supreme Court’s telegram, there was, at long last, nothing legally stopping the County from using whatever means at its disposal to evict the squatter from their property. They even went through the formality of reviewing the case, emerging with a six-page statement reiterating their “duty” to evict Anthony. But no immediate action followed those words, only an eerie and ominous silence. Steve Anthony, ex-Marine, knew this silence meant trouble, big trouble. They were coming, that was for sure, but how would the attack happen and when? Whatever the County was planning, Anthony believed he was prepared. The family was sent back out with relatives, the door was barricaded and 300 rounds of ammunition sat by his shotgun, which was always within arm’s reach of the “Defender of Fort Anthony.” And now he waited.
A week into the tension filled waiting game, Steve Anthony did something extraordinary. He went to church. Dressed in his Sunday best, a tensely smiling Anthony emerged from behind the barricades of Fort Anthony and joined his presently exiled family for services at the Blessed Sacrament Church on Sunset Boulevard. Before he left, however, he turned over command of Fort Anthony to one of his lawyers, Leonidas P. Econom, who vowed to stand guard until his return. Although he put on a brave face publicly, Anthony was no doubt on pins and needles throughout the entire excursion and back. “I was a bit apprehensive the police would pick me up for something,” he later told a reporter, “but nothing happened.” Anthony was probably as surprised as anybody that the County didn’t pounce the second they got a chance, but the County didn’t need to do something so artless as to grab Anthony on his way to church. No, they had a better plan to end the Siege of Fort Anthony and it was already well underway.
On the evening of Monday, April 13, 1964 the eyes of the world were turned to Hollywood as the 36th Annual Academy Awards got underway over at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Across the globe, millions were tuned in to catch the unfolding drama and to watch Sidney Poitier make history as the very first African-American to take home an Oscar in the best acting category. But the Oscars turned out not to be the only Hollywood drama of the evening. About ten miles from the ceremony, the flickering blue light of Steve Anthony’s television could be seen emanating from the barred windows of the otherwise darkened façade of Fort Anthony. Inside, Anthony, along with a visiting friend, Mrs. Pamela Anderson, and his attorney, Leonidas P. Econom, were gathered in the living room, passing the time by taking in the Oscar show in between furtive glances out the window for any sign of an impending police raid. As the evening progressed, Econom excused himself and went into the next room to take a nap, leaving Mrs. Anderson on the sofa and Anthony lounging in his favorite rocking chair. Fatigued from the long vigil, Econom quickly dozed off into a sound sleep. But it was not to last. Suddenly, Econom was awakened by the sounds of a violent commotion and crashing coming from the living room. Dazed, he flung open the bedroom door only to find a gun pointed in his face and the entire room swarming with Sheriff’s deputies. Ordered to sit down and be quiet, Econom did as he was told. Surveying the scene around him, he noted that Deputies seemed to be everywhere, moving with great purpose around the house. As for Anthony himself, he was nowhere to be seen, but the rocking chair where he had been sitting when Econom last saw him, was lying in pieces on the floor. What happened here and more importantly, what happened to Steve Anthony?
After a tense few minutes, Econom was finally allowed to leave the house, a somewhat difficult task as he had to wend his way around the continuing parade of Sheriff’s deputies and other official-looking people constantly coming in and out of the front door. When he did manage to step outside, Econom was greeted by an eerie scene luridly illuminated by the glare from the lights of various television news crews that had gotten wind of the raid. A growing crowd of curious onlookers, many Anthony supporters, had also gathered and, like the news crews, were all being kept from getting any closer than 200 yards from Fort Anthony by a contingent of deputy sheriffs, with a total force numbering around 100. While all this was happening a large moving van was slowly and carefully attempting to back its way up Alta Loma, painfully and almost comically trying to avoid hitting one of the more than a dozen sheriff’s patrol cars parked at odd angles all the way up to Fort Anthony.
Finding Mrs. Anderson in the crowd, Econom was at last able to learn what had happened. She related that shortly after Econom had excused himself to take a nap, there had been a knock on the barricaded door of Fort Anthony. When Mrs. Anderson went to investigate she found there were two men out on the terrace who identified themselves as Len Herendeen and Curt Brubaker. As soon as Anthony heard who it was he told Mrs. Anderson it was okay to let them in as they were “friends,” members of the Anthony “army” of sympathizers who had attended some of the pro-Anthony rallies and had donated some money to the cause over the last few weeks. Anthony felt so comfortable with their arrival he didn’t even bother to get out of his rocking chair, continuing to watch the Oscar ceremony. But when Brubaker suddenly moved in front of Anthony blocking his view of the television set he must’ve realized at that moment he had just made a fatal error. “Ever seen a pair of these?” Brubaker asked dangling a set of handcuffs in his fingers. “Oh no!,” shouted Anthony who then attempted to leap out of the rocker and go for his gun, but Brubaker stopped him with a quick punch to the jaw sending Anthony flying backwards into the rocking chair with both smashing to the floor in a resounding crash. In the split second this was happening, Herendeen had managed to open the door and in rushed a swath of some 30 deputies who had been crouching outside. It took three men to subdue the burly ex-Marine. He was arrested on the spot, and led out the door in handcuffs, charged with battery, resisting arrest as well as violating a six-year-old traffic warrant for making an illegal left turn in Beverly Hills.
No sooner had the squad car carrying Anthony turned down Highland towards the County Jail then crews, with military precision, swept in and erected a cyclone fence around the property. Well before dawn a contingent of movers had managed to empty the house of all of the Anthony possessions including their pet dog (although in the rush they had mistakenly taken the neighbor’s instead) and then came the bulldozers. Within a few hours the once charming Olde English cottage at 6655 Alta Loma Terrace was reduced to a pile of rubble. The great Siege of Fort Anthony had come to ignoble end. Steve Anthony had fallen for one of the oldest ruses in military tactics.
More than a dozen years after the Siege of Fort Anthony ended, columnist Jack Jones took stock of the situation and its aftermath in a piece for the Los Angeles Times. In it, he pointed out that Fort Anthony was long gone, but in its place was not the multimillion dollar, highly touted Hollywood Museum everyone expected to be built there, but rather just an overflow parking lot for the Hollywood Bowl. In what was to be a great irony, the gigantic museum project itself, which had brought about the destruction of Fort Anthony, had imploded as well, tabled forever by the County just a year after the siege ended. Was it Steve Anthony’s intransigence that had killed the project? Well, not exactly, but it may have been the tipping point. Started with such great fanfare in 1959, the museum project was still languishing on the drawing board some five years later when the Siege first began. This wasn’t Steve Anthony’s doing nor was it the project’s chief, Sol Lesser. Then and today, the veteran producer has been blamed by many for the project’s failure with charges of ineffective/high-handed management. This is patently unfair. Lesser may have made some mistakes, but the project was doomed from the start. Not because of management, but because of its own overblown ambitions. Between 1959 and 1964, the scope of the project continued to grow and grow until it resembled a gigantic super spectacle with a cast of thousands and a budget to match that even the great De Mille would have trouble riding herd over. Indeed, everyone seemed to have ideas about what should go into the museum and these all seemed to find their way into the project. Originally planned as a museum solely for motion pictures and television, which was daunting enough to consider, the project was soon expanded to include the radio and the recording industries as well. No one could have pulled this all together and Sol Lesser should be thanked for even trying. But, as the old adage goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
The Siege of Fort Anthony was a tragedy on many levels. There were, in the end, no winners, but there were ironies not the least being the destruction of a historic Hollywood neighborhood in order to build a museum honoring the history of Hollywood. But the most important element arising from the Siege of Fort Anthony was the issue of the government’s application of the use of eminent domain to seize private property and what the “fair” form of compensation for such seizures should be. In recent years this age-old debate has taken on a new ferocity as a result of the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision on Kelo v. New London. Was Steve Anthony right to threaten to use violence to defend his home against eminent domain? No. Was Steve Anthony right in his claim that the government had no right to take his house to build a public/private museum? Some say no. Some say yes. And some may see some parallels in Steve Anthony’s protests in the modern-day Tea Party and Occupy movements.
As for Steve Anthony, the saga did not end with his eviction from the house on Alta Loma Terrace. He ended up going through the tortures of the damned, suffering financially, spiritually and emotionally and spending six months in jail for his troubles. If anyone thinks he did all this as a publicity stunt they need only look at the high price he and his family paid because of it. It in effect ruined his life for years. In 1971, after numerous lawsuits with the County over the eviction (all of which he lost) he and his family started a new life in the historic Gold Country town of Sonora. There he became first a plumber and then a builder of homes. “I’m doing well,” he told Jones. “I’ve built two houses this year and sold them. I’ve started a third.” But the house on Alta Loma Terrace and the Siege of Fort Anthony still, even after all these years, haunted him. “Wherever we go, people mention it. But we had to fight the system. Otherwise, they’d take anything they want under eminent domain. We were harassed…just like in a communist country.”
As a final coda to the Siege of Fort Anthony – fate ultimately smiled upon those wishing for a Hollywood museum on the site. In the early 1980’s, perhaps the most historic building in Hollywood, the Lasky-De Mille Barn, was moved to the site and refurbished as the Hollywood Studio Museum. Operated by Hollywood Heritage, the non-profit museum honors and showcases the history of Hollywood and its early days as the film capital of the world. It is a loving and well thought out enterprise that even Steve Anthony might have trouble finding fault with and it does a better service to the history of Hollywood than the overblown “Taj Mahal” planned for the site in the 1960’s. If you are in Hollywood or are planning to visit there, please add the Hollywood Studio Museum to your itinerary. And after your visit, take a stroll to the back. Look at the hillside. You’ll see the ruins of some old stairs and concrete foundations, the last remaining pieces of “Fort Anthony – – outpost of the Battle for Freedom from Governmental Tyranny.”