Beautiful Magazine Art

Chinese Theater by Millard Sheets

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Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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Nothing Says Happy Thanksgiving Like a Papier Mâché Turkey!

Four husbands and she didn't know she could cook until she made stuffing.

Here’s lovely silent screen star Irene Rich, in between stints of playing straight woman to Will Rogers or quietly suffering in her popular series of “neglected wife” roles, serving up the Thanksgiving bird. Rich was a fine actress, but not fine enough to convince us that turkey is anything other than a studio prop. Her recipe for stuffing seems genuine though and might be worth a try.

At the time Rich was serving up this phony bird she was living rather elegantly in a grand 1923 English brick home @ 626 South Windsor Boulevard in tony Windsor Square replete with a third floor ballroom/billiard room.  Columnist Lee Shippey dropped in on Irene in 1930 and gave this account: “When we called at Irene’s house she and her two daughters were dressed in beach trousers and short sleeved shirts. That is their favorite house dress. She led us into a charming room in which two big pictures stood out, one either an old master or a very old copy of one, a sort of madonna-and-child picture, and the other a softly sunlit landscape by Swinnerton. She offered us a cigarette, but didn’t care for one herself.” Perhaps that’s one reason Irene lived to 96 and Shippey only made it to 85!

Irene Rich's Living Room. The Jimmy Swinnerton admired by Lee Shippey is over the fireplace.

Posted in Recipes, Windsor Square | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A Very Expensive Move – The Martin Bekins Estate

An early view of the Bekins Estate (via Eastsider L.A.)

Word has recently come down the wire that the former estate of Martin Bekins, co-founder of the venerable Bekins Van & Storage Co., has hit the market for the first time since 1965. What is surprising to many is that this estate is not located in Beverly Hills, Pasadena or Bel-Air, but rather in the charming but not exactly tony district of Eagle Rock, an area not known as a home for captains of industry. But what is really raising real estate eyebrows is its asking price: just under $6,000,000. No home in Eagle Rock has ever even come close to garnering such a price and the wags have been out in force laying odds over what they think the estate will actually go for.

Chateau Emanuel Today (via Robert Kvassay)

If one were to pay such a price for an Eagle Rock house, surely this would be the one. Known in recent years as Chateau Emanuel, the impressive home, said to be Eagle Rock’s largest, is sited on a 3.5 acre hilltop at the end of Hill Drive and is surrounded by manicured gardens, waterfalls, fountains, an enormous swimming pool, three guest houses, koi pond, croquet court, wine tasting room, performance center, billiards and fitness room, and, yes, something no home should be with out – its own bistro and parking for 40+ cars. It is an unusual house, to say the least, and it will take a special buyer, a special buyer with $6,000,000 of course.

If you’d like more information, Eastsider L.A. has done a bang up job on the home’s full history and all the pictures you could ever want are on current owner Robert Kvassay’s Flickr photostream. Take a look. It’s worth it. And if that’s still not enough, here’s the Redfin listing. Like what you see? Better get out the checkbook and call a mover, Bekins perhaps?

Martin Bekins and his brother John founded the famous company back in 1891 in Sioux City, Iowa. In 1894, Martin brought Bekins to Los Angeles. In 1927, after turning the business over to his children, Bekins built his Eagle Rock estate and divided his time between the house @ 1550 (1554) Hill Drive and a summer house up in Belmont. It was while visiting up north that Bekins died, at age 71, in 1933.

Before Bekins moved to Eagle Rock, the long time family homestead was located down at 1341 South Figueroa Street in West Adams. In the late 1800’s Figueroa Street was one of, if not the, most fashionable street in Los Angeles lined with some of the city’s finest homes. Today, most of these homes are gone and the Bekins house is no exception, but here’s a photo taken of it showing the three Bekins girls in their smart matching outfits that appeared in Pictorial California in 1931. It is interesting to note the similarities in style between the old and new Bekins houses (at least to me).

Lastly, take a gander at another Bekins residence, the Bel-Air home of Floyd R. Bekins @ 301 Copa De Oro Road, designed by San Francisco architect F. Eugene Barton in 1934. Clearly, there is money in moving.

Posted in Eagle Rock, Paradise For Sale or Lease | Tagged | 13 Comments

Sister Aimee’s Heavenly Retreat in Lake Elsinore

Having just started this blog, I feel like I’m a little late to the party when it comes to commenting on some of the great historic Hollywood-related homes currently for sale, but I will be trying to catch up in the coming days. There are a lot of them! I thought I’d start with a very special house, the former “retreat” of famed evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson down in Lake Elsinore. I’ve been fascinated by this house since I first heard about it some years ago, not just for its unique architecture and setting, but also its very unique owner.

Aimee Semple McPherson was quite simply one of the most fascinating people of the Twentieth Century. She may not have been a movie star per se, but she surely had “star quality,” a beautiful and charismatic spellbinder with genuine sex appeal who was a far better actor than some of those who made their living cavorting on the silver sheet. Sister Aimee wrote the playbook for the kind of successful mass marketed evangelism still being followed by the mega preachers of today.

Sister Aimee who claimed she first came to Los Angeles in 1918 by the direct order of God, quickly built her Church of the Foursquare Gospel from tent revival meetings on an empty lot on Washington Boulevard into one of the great mega churches of its day. An uplifting message combined with the kind of theatricality that might have made P.T. Barnum blush was such a hit that by 1922 Sister Aimee was able to build a magnificent new church headquarters dubbed the Angelus Temple @ 1100 Glendale Boulevard in Echo Park. Designed by the talented and eccentric A.F. Leicht, the giant circular white structure, which was sometimes compared to a wedding cake, was at the time of its dedication on New Year’s Day 1923, the largest Class A church structure in the United States with a seating capacity of 5,300. In addition to the main auditorium, there were two Prayer Rooms with capacities of 400-500 each, a well-stocked library, playrooms and nurseries for the children as well as church offices and a fully equipped radio broadcasting studio. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Angelus Temple was its “Miracle Room,” which was given over to the hundreds of discarded crutches, wheelchairs and other paraphernalia of infirmity, discarded by those “cured” by the good sister’s miraculous powers of healing. Included in the church’s design was an adjoining parsonage, which was to serve as the evangelist’s official Los Angeles residence. Sister Aimee, however appears to have had some “unofficial” homes as well including a cottage on Las Tunas Beach in Malibu and another near Santa Monica @ 401 Sycamore Road.

The Parsonage at Angelus Temple

In 1929, after weathering several rough years in the wake of her sensational 1926 “kidnapping” and the ensuing scandal that followed, Sister Aimee must have felt the need for a new retreat away from the all-too-busy and all-too-visible Parsonage. That year she accepted the offer of a free lot in the Country Club Heights tract of Lake Elsinore and began building a home there. Although today one does not immediately think of Lake Elsinore as a haven for celebrities, in the 1920’s it did in fact draw a fair share of the Hollywood crowd who used it as a convenient getaway from the film capital.

Even though the home was at least ostensibly intended as a quiet rest haven for the busy evangelist, she simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use it for good publicity and had it designed by the unknown and unaccredited Edwin Dickman in a highly theatrical style, with onion domes, sweeping outdoor stair cases, arched windows, balconies, parapets and even a minaret thrown in for good measure. And of course, there was the large swimming pool, accessible through three arched French doors that led out from the living room by way of a large covered tile terrace.

The Living Room

A corner of Sister Aimee's art deco bedroom suite.

The interior was, if anything, even more dramatic and elegant than the exterior with beautiful Moorish ceilings and hand-painted floor-to-ceiling murals in the principal rooms. There were five main bedrooms, ample servants quarters and even some secret passageways thrown in for good measure. Sister Aimee’s own bedroom was done in sleek art deco style with its bathroom fitted with sterling silver plumbing, mother of pearl fixtures and hand-painted scenic murals. One particularly unique feature of her bedroom was the cobalt blue glass window that opened up into a garden atrium with lush, exotic plantings and a gurgling tile fountain. Clearly no vow of poverty evidenced here. The finished product was more stage set than actual home and its strong resemblance to a Muslim mosque is an irony not lost on observers either then or today.

Completed just before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Sister Aimee’s Moorish fantasy “Castle” became an instant landmark and tourist attraction, visible for miles from its lofty perch on a hillside overlooking the lake, the mountains and surrounding countryside. For much of the next decade she made good use of her castle, retreating to it frequently in between highly public battles with her mother and other church officials, fending off various lawsuits, and navigating her way through a somewhat scandalous third marriage and divorce. In 1938, however, she decided to sell the home and two years later she built a far more modest hideaway on a hilltop site on Micheltorena Street overlooking the Silverlake reservoir.

As for her former castle, the home eventually was converted into institutional use, becoming at times a school and later a rest home. In recent years, Sister Aimee’s Castle fell into disrepair and was even abandoned for a time before it was rescued by Aimee’s own Foursquare Church, who purchased the home and undertook major repair work on the structure.

Today, Sister Aimee’s Castle is ready for a new owner, but I suspect its going to need to be someone as unique and special as the home itself, and someone with $1,245,000 to spare, the current asking price. For details on the castle you can view the Castle’s website here and the Redfin listing here.

Posted in Paradise Elsewhere, Paradise For Sale or Lease | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Down on the Cheviot Hills Farm with “Ma Kettle”

The Elegant Widow Krebs

Who would have guessed that away from Universal-International where she so successfully played that bellowing scratch voiced, egg beater-coiffed shambles of country goodness, Ma Kettle, that Marjorie Main could be so…elegant? But Marjorie Main was full of surprises both on and off the screen so anything was possible. As columnist Philip K. Scheuer was to discover upon his arrival at Marjorie’s “neat as a pin” home, “My worst fears were realized when the door opened to reveal not a gimlet-eyed virago with arms akimbo and hair flying, but a smiling lady in a crisp, well-fitting suit and upswept coiffure.”

Truly one of the great character stars of Hollywood’s so-called Golden Era, Main was an absolute delight to watch in the myriad films she appeared in from the early 1930’s through the end of the 1950’s. Although she is principally remembered for comedic roles, Marjorie could also excel in drama, take for example her brilliant turn as gangster Humphrey Bogart‘s mom in Dead End (1937) or as the blind woman in The Shepherd of the Hills (1941).  Woe betide the unlucky co-star who had to work with her because she’d steal everything but the cameras.

Main (b. Marjorie Tomlinson in 1890) claimed her famously booming voice was the result of holding long distance conversations with her far-flung neighbors while growing up on a 160-acre farm in rural Acton Indiana. Early on, she dreamed of the footlights, but her plans were vigorously opposed by her minister father. It wasn’t until she married psychologist and lecturer Dr. Stanley Krebs in 1921 that her father’s attitude softened. As Marjorie told Hedda Hopper in 1941, “When father realized that Stanley was listed in ‘Who’s Who’ as a preacher and lecturer, and that he didn’t object to the theater,  he finally gave in!”

By the time Krebs died in 1935, Marjorie was well established on both radio and the Broadway stage and had already been summoned to Hollywood for a few pictures. Within a few years, she was there full time and over the next two decades she became one of the most important and well liked character stars in the movies with a string of memorable roles in such classics as The Women (a reprise of her Broadway role), Meet Me in St. Louis and The Harvey Girls. But her most enduring legacy is that as the robust country bumpkin Ma Kettle, which she played to great success in ten films starting with The Egg and I (1947). Although she officially played second fiddle to Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray in that film, it was Marjorie who earned the Academy Award nomination.

Percy Kilbride & Marjorie Main in full Kettle drag

Offscreen, Marjorie was a very private person who lived very simply. Hedda Hopper declared, “Her tastes are almost spartan in their simplicity,” adding “I have never yet seen her at a party or a night club.” Unlike her friend Peter the Hermit though, Marjorie was no hermit herself, having a number of friends and a keen interest in psychic phenomenon and mysticism, a legacy of her late husband who frequently lectured on the subjects around the country. Marjorie was devoted to the memory of her late husband and never remarried or was known to be romantically involved with another man for the rest of her long life. In recent years, certain published sources have claimed that Marjorie was a lesbian, which if true, makes her, in my opinion, all that much more fascinating!

Marjorie claimed to have not purchased a car or a house until she was 50, generally making her way around town by hoofing it or by bus. The house she purchased @ 3066 Patricia Avenue in the Cheviot Hills, which ironically Peter the Hermit helped her find, was a charming moderneish 1936 colonial built on a sloping lot in close proximity to MGM Studios where she had been put under contract in 1940 as “the next Marie Dressler.” In spite of her simple lifestyle, Marjorie did allow herself one “Hollywood” excess, a desert hideaway @ 1280 Calle Rolph in Palm Springs. She passed away in 1975 at 85.

Slattern by day, smart Cheviot Hills matron by night (R-via Google Earth)

Posted in Interesting People, West L.A. | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Laughs From the Past

1955

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No Cure For This!

 

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Beautiful Magazine Art

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Another Chaplin House? It Ain’t Necessarily So!

Nellie Naysayer says "Land a Goshen! I just don't believe it!!!"

Why it seems like it was just the other day I was commenting on the proliferation of spurious Charlie Chaplin residences popping up about Hollywood and just the next day Curbed L.A. proved my point (thanks Curbed!) by reporting on an adorable little cottage for sale in the Hollywood Dell @ 6427 Dix Street that, according to the listing, was “once home to Charlie Chaplin.” Well…

Part of the problem with this assertion is that by the time this little cottage was built (1918)  Chaplin’s whereabouts were pretty well documented in city/studio records and newspaper accounts and later in the voluminous research done by his many biographers. Cute as it is, 6427 Dix Street never pops up on the Chaplin radar. We must remember that by 1918, Chaplin was so rich and famous he could afford to build his very own studio at Sunset and La Brea. Would a 720 square-foot cottage have been the right fit for one of the most famous people in the world? Hmmmm. Chaplin may have been cheap, but was he that cheap?

Was Charlie really a happy little homemaker on Dix Street?

So if he wasn’t on Dix, then where was he? Well, from 1917 up until the end of September 1918, Chaplin did indeed live rather modestly, but where he lived was at the Los Angeles Athletic Club located downtown @ 431 West 7th Street. The LAAC was a favorite stomping ground for Chaplin and he maintained a room there off and on throughout the mid to late teens. On September 23, 1918, Chaplin did something that caused him to move out of the LAAC – He got married. With his sixteen year-old bride Mildred Harris in tow, Chaplin took a lease on the very beautiful former Fred Stone/George Loane Tucker house @ #5 Laughlin Park (2010 De Mille Drive after 1930) in the über exclusive Laughlin Park district. #5 Laughlin Park, which had been designed by the very talented William J. Dodd in 1915, was directly next door to the estate of Cecil B. De Mille. It was, by the standards of the time, a pretty grand home and a far cry from the little cottage in the Hollywood Dell.

2010 De Mille Drive. Residence of Charles Chaplin 1918-9

Chaplin’s time in Laughlin Park was not a happy one either personally or professionally and by the time of his 1920 divorce he had long since moved back into the LAAC where he would remain until his 1921 purchase of the even grander Moorcrest estate on Temple Hill Drive.

As for the cottage on Dix itself, it was built as part of four identical cottages at the corner of Dix Street and Holly Drive in 1918 with the individual addresses of 6427-29-31-33. It is interesting to note that even if Chaplin didn’t live there another silent film star, Helene Chadwick, did, residing in 6431 in 1918 until her marriage to director William Wellman in 1919. And just a few doors away @ 6414 Dix Street (H. Chaffen. 1912) resided the “Queen of Universal” herself, Priscilla Dean who called the modest duplex home in 1917.

A cute cottage no matter who lived there!

So even if Chaplin never did live there, 6427 Dix Street is nonetheless a very charming house indeed and will make an excellent home for someone special, perhaps the next “Little Tramp.” And the historic Hollywood Dell is a great place to live too. Here’s the listing.

Posted in Central Hollywood, It Ain't Necessarily So!, Nellie Naysayer, Paradise For Sale or Lease | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments