A Very Built John De Lario in Hollywoodland

John De Lario's imprint remains all over Hollywoodland.

In my last post I noted that I like being right. Conversely, you may assume that I do not like being wrong. BUT here’s a case where I’m actually glad to be wrong. (Make note, this probably won’t happen again!)

I have a number of favorite architects, one of whom is Mr. John De Lario, an extremely talented designer of the 1920’s who was brilliant when it came to the romantic period revival architecture so popular during the day. He worked with equal prowess in the Spanish, Italian, and French styles, something easily provable by just taking a look around Hollywoodland where many of his designs still remain today, not the least being the Castillo del Lago, erstwhile home of the Material Girl.

As a De Lario fan I am always looking for new designs and I was excited one day to run across an architectural rendering of a charming little Normanesque cottage De Lario and his partner Harbin F. Hunter had drawn up for local physician, Dr. E.L. Moore. The address on the drawing was 2684 North Beachwood Drive. Naturally, I hopped up Beachwood to see this place, but alas, it was not there. In fact, the very interesting house that was on the site was even older than Hollywoodland itself (1921) so I put two and two together and came up with 5. It must not have been built I surmised. I even drew up a blog post, one of my very first, entitled “An Unbuilt John De Lario in Hollywoodland,” and, satisfied with my brilliant scholarship, happily moved on.

That was way back in Aught Ten. Then about a month or so ago I got a very nice e-mail from Christine O’Brien, someone who definitely knows her Hollywoodland, and she thought maybe the house did exist after all and diplomatically directed me a block or so to the north where this could be found. Oops.

(via Google Earth)

Well, as you can plainly see my so-called “unbuilt” John De Lario is a very much built John De Lario right at 2910 North Beachwood Drive, a 1924 Hollywoodland original. What your brilliant researcher (me) had done was to assume the address at the bottom of the drawing was the location of the house pictured when in actuality it was the address of De Lario and Hunter who must have been using 2684 North Beachwood as their office during the peak period of construction on Hollywoodland. So, I freely admit I was…I was…wrong. There. Now, let’s never speak of it again, shall we?

Scarpitta with a clay maquette of a sculpture of Marlene Dietrich he created for the film Song of Songs (1933). (www.ejumpcut.org)

One fun sidelight of this was not only adding a new De Lario to my list, but finding out something of the great houses just below the Hollywoodland gates (You know, the real 2684 North Beachwood). What I discovered was that by 1930, the house had been taken over by noted sculptor Salvatore Cartaino Scarpitta (1887-1948) and his family who added a beautiful two-story Spanish-style artist’s studio to the property. Remember Scarpitta from just last week in the post on St. John’s? It was he who did so many of the beautiful carvings of the church. 2684 and the adjoining (1916) villa at 2678 were to become the Scarpitta family base for the next 80 years until 2684 was put on the market (more photos) by the estate of Scarpitta’s well-known actress daughter Carmen in 2009!

2684 North Beachwood with original 1921 house in the foreground and the two-story 1930 art studio in the rear. (photos via listing)

Compare the Marlene Dietrich statue with the one in the photo of Scarpitta above.

In the summer of 1930, national attention was drawn on the Scarpitta home at 2684 North Beachwood when Salvatore Scarpitta’s 11 year-old son, Salvatore (“Sal”) Scarpitta Jr., climbed up one of the trees surrounding the family house – and stayed there. Soon dubbed “Sal the Sitter,” young Scarpitta was out to break the world record for tree sitting and he wasn’t kidding. On July 27th, 1930, Sal got quite the thrill by being visited by four young men also known for being up in the air – the famous Hunter Brothers  (Albert, John, Walter & Kenneth) who had just broken the world record for aerial endurance, flying nonstop for nearly 554 hours. The brothers were in town at the behest of fellow aviator Howard Hughes who brought them in for publicity on Hell’s Angels (1930). Knowing what it was like to sit on one’s butt for so long, they dropped by to encourage Sal and bring him some “fuel” of oranges and an all-day sucker.

The Hunter boys broke the endurance record in these two planes. City of Chicago and Big Ben, the latter serving as the refueling plane.

By the time the Hunter boys paid their call. Sal the Sitter had already long broken the world’s record for tree sitting, easily passing the former record of a mere 156 hours.  Little did anyone know (except Sal perhaps), but the boy was just getting started. He would go on and on until finally, on August 17, 1930, after 2 months and more than 602 hours of tree-sitting, he ambled down and headed off to play a quick round of tennis with his buddies.

Sal Scarpitta in the Navy in WWII. (www.monumentsmen.com)

In the mid-1930’s, Scarpitta put 2684 North Beachwood up for rent and took his family back to his native Italy where Sal Jr. entered Rome’s Academy of Arts, graduating in 1937. Although Scarpitta Sr. had gained acclaim in Italy for his monumental bust of Mussolini that was put on display at the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C., Scarpitta was no Fascist and during the war, he and his family were branded as “Enemy Aliens,” suffering great privations throughout the conflict. Risking his life and that of his entire family, Scarpitta became leader of an “underground railroad.” As the Los Angeles Times later wrote: “He skillfully maneuvered to free scores of American and Allied servicemen who had been captured, and operated extensively to hamper German and Italian war efforts.” Scarpitta, hailed as a hero, survived the war and was able to return to Hollywood with his family, but was so drained by the ordeal, he never fully recovered his health, dying at 61 in 1948 in the house at 2678 North Beachwood. As for his son, the former Sal the Sitter, he had managed to be out of Italy at the outbreak of war, joining the U.S. Navy where he became a valuable member of the “Monuments Men,” group who helped locate and catalogue stolen Nazi art treasures. He later went on to an amazing career in art himself and an amazing life in general, dying at the ripe old age of 88 in 2007. His story is a whole book in itself. Perhaps tree sitting is good for you?

Sal Scarpitta in Rome. 1976 (via www.flickflue.com)

And receiving an honorary degree from the University of Turin in 2005.

One wonders if the famous tree at 2684 North Beachwood Drive, where Sal the Sitter sat for so long back in 1930, is still there?

I’m so glad I was wrong about the house otherwise I would have never dug into the story and found all this fun stuff about the amazing Scarpitta family. Thanks so  much to Christine O’Brien!!! It’s almost a shame I’ll never be wrong again. Ha!

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15 Responses to A Very Built John De Lario in Hollywoodland

  1. David Ko says:

    I recently saw the Historic Vintage Image series book at Vroman of Pasadena . The Hollywoodland is by far featured the most photos of De Lario’s architectural renderings. His skills were very good and a master of early hillside architecture. I found it quite surprising that he was not published in main stream architectural periodicals. My search as usual ended up here again. Good work Steve. I am really interested in the Christies house if you need a topic to write about.

    • Steve says:

      Hi David: So good to hear from you! Yes, that book is by my friend Mary Mallory and Hollywood Heritage and it really is the best compilation of De Lario designs ever published. I’m going to do a piece soon on the Lloyd houise that he did in Beverly Hills. Beautiful place, but sadly long gone. And I would LOVE to write up something on the Christies and Waverly. Perhaps we can speak soon. Please give my best to Jeanette!

  2. Mary Mallory says:

    Steve, I never found anything to connect 2684 with the development. The sales office was at 2700 N. Beachwood Dr. and Western Construction Company was at 2690 N. Beachwood, where Woodruff had his office. Possibly that house was going to be originally built at 2684 before being built at 2910.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Mary! Ah, well what you’re saying is that actually I wasn’t wrong after all since that was my original theory about the house, right? Ha! Well, as much as I’d like to be right I just can’t get past the impression that the way the address is placed on the rendering makes it really seem to be for De Lario & Hunter (at least to me). If it were the address of the design I would have thought it would be next to Dr. Moore’s name. (i.e. “Residence for Dr. E.L. Moore, 2684 Beachwood…”) And, although it is only a theory, wouldn’t it make sense that they would take over that house at least temporarily before the other offices were built? After all, it was literally the closest house to Hollywoodland. By the end of 1922, De Lario was still listing his office as being with Birch O’Neal there @ 2707 South Western and Hunter was still working with Russell & Alpaugh. They would have needed a place of their own for the Hollywoodland development. And one more thing that has me intrigued – doesn’t the eastern gate and wall of Hollywoodland actually sit on the property of 2684? At least that’s what the 2009 real estate ad indicates. If that were the case, doesn’t that bolster the argument that there was at least some connection between the house and Hollywoodland? Who knows? Don’t you love this stuff? It’s what keeps me up at night. That and lots of caffeine.

      Thanks so much, Mary. Hope you are doing great and your wonderful HOLLYWOODLAND book is a sell out. It should be!

  3. Marvin Stone says:

    Hey Steve . . . if, by chance, you should ever be “wrong” again, I hope it morphs into something as interesting as this piece about the “missing” DeLario house. Fun stuff to be sure.

  4. And there is so much more than even all this! Thank you for the article.

    Lola Scarpitta

    • Steve says:

      That I have no doubt! Thanks so much for writing. What a treat to hear from you! I read there is a movie about your father in the works. Is that true? If not there certainly should be. Thanks again. What a wonderfully talented family!

      • It was my pleasure to see your wonderful article! A film? Are you speaking of the Clooney Monuments Men Project? I hope they put him as a character in it. It would be pretty interesting since I believe he was only one of two actual artists in the Monuments Men. And the only one who was a engaged in Guerrilla style Partisan fighting (right along with my mother btw.) against the Fascists and the Nazis, before he traveled dangerous occupied Italy to meet up with the American Forces who were astounded to see him! And he had around his neck a dog tag of fallen escaped POW American Service man he was traveling with. He said if he was caught or killed he wanted to die an American (which is what he was, having been born and raised in the USA) and with the wrong name than a nameless non-US citizen. That and my grandfather’s many political military connections because of the countless busts and monuments in America, put him square with the Monuments Men. So many great stories he had about that time. So many…
        Thank you again for taking an interest.
        And oh, 2678 Beachwood was a gift to my grandfather from William R. Hearst. It was moved all the way up Beachwood, with my father and all the kids on the block looking on in amazement back in the mid 1920’s. See I told you that there was so much more…and there is too!

      • Steve says:

        Wow. So incredible. That’s a remarkable story. One of many, no doubt. And, no I don’t think it was the Clooney project. I remember some blurb saying a film was in the works about Sal Scarpitta. Maybe a documentary? Unfortunately I can’t remember where I saw it. It was during the flurry of Internet searches I did in preparing this post. I would think that if there was such a project you would have known of it. There really needs to be one, that’s for sure.

        And the story of the house move is incredible. Do you know where it was being moved from or any other deetails? I’ve always been intrigued by it. Such a great old villa. Knowing more of its history makes it even more charming. Thank you so much, Lola. Share more!!!

  5. Mary Mallory says:

    Is it okay if I share this article on my FB page for my book? Thanks.

  6. Cute house – looks like it needs some love. And rather unfortunate whoever decdied to extend the scale of the tower where the door resides. Was so much more ‘fitting’ in the size it was originally drawn.

  7. Caitlin O'Heaney says:

    Dear Steve,
    My name is Caitlin O’Heaney and I lived in that beautiful log cabin, 2684 1/2 from 1982 until 1989 until Sal’s daughter decided that she wanted it. I can’t blame her! I have never been so happy living anywhere before or since. Sal, the “Tree Sitter’ and Nadia were my landlords and they couldn’t have been more sweet or kind. I think of my log cabin frequently and decided to Google it today because I am looking to re-locate and wondered if it was still there…or available? Imagine my surprise and delight at seeing the photos and reading the story! Thank you for sharing it, and I send my love to Sal and Nadia now on the other side but still here in our hearts.
    All my best,
    Caitlin O’Heaney

    • Steve says:

      Thank you, Caitlin! That is so nice to hear! I so much enjoyed learning this history of this fascinating compound and the people behind it. Like everyone else, I want to live there too! Thank you again for this lovely story and it just adds to the charm of this one-of-a-kind property. Let me know if you land in a historic place!

    • Hi Caitlin

      I’m Sal the tree sitters daughter Lola! Lol!!! My papà is gone but his art lives on in many museums like MOMA and the Whitney. In Europe his work is in the Prada foundation and many more. I’m an artist too and live in 2678 north Beachwood where my papà grew up. In fact I made his room my master bedroom!
      Come by anytime!

      Lola Scarpitta

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