Restless Dracula, Part I: Bela Lugosi’s Many Los Angeles Homes

June 15, 2012 § 18 Comments

Bela Lugosi and his dog in front of his Westshire Drive home, 1930s

A recent screening of “Ed Wood,” Tim Burton’s wonderful 1994 feature about the schlock filmmaker’s association with the down-and-out Bela Lugosi, made me all the more curious about Lugosi’s life in Los Angeles. I had seen the movie three times before, but this showing–at the American Cinematheque–had a bonus: a Q&A with the screenwriters. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski conceded they had made up most aspects of Wood’s and Lugosi’s friendship out of necessity, since relatively few details were known.

Though it takes place mostly in Hollywood, “Ed Wood” shows Lugosi living in genteel poverty in a Baldwin Hills ranchburger (though the house appears to be in the flats). This seemed odd to me even during my first viewing in 1994, when I knew nothing about the actor’s life. But I knew that in the 50s, Baldwin Hills was a middle class, mostly Jewish suburb with few, if any, Hollywood associations; what would an impoverished Hungarian Catholic movie star be doing there? Years passed, during which I saw “Ed Wood” twice more: once at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival (where none of the French laughed at the jokes and all the Americans did), and once on DVD. Each time the Baldwin Hills detail struck a false note, though I couldn’t disprove it.

Upon moving to Beachwood Canyon in 2005, I learned that Lugosi had lived in an imposing Tudor house on Westshire Drive. From the outside, it seemed a fitting residence for him, certainly moreso than the little ranch house in the movie. The inside was a mystery until a year ago, when the house came on the market after the death of its most recent owner. Although badly neglected, it was at least spared the usual bad 1960s or 1970s makeover. In fact, it probably looked much the way it did during Lugosi’s residence–stately and peaceful, with sweeping views of the Canyon and city. The above photo shows its provenance: Lugosi poses with his white German Shepherd at the front gate, which remains in place.

Bela Lugosi lived in the Westshire house during the 30s, though the exact dates are unknown. Confusingly, he also seems to have lived next door for a time, in the so-called Roy Rogers-Kathy Bates house. When I began to research Lugosi’s down-and-out years, I found his final, “Ed Wood” period address: an apartment at 5630 Harold Way in Hollywood, where he lived from about 1954 until his death in 1956.

But what about the years between? Like most movie stars of his era, Lugosi moved a lot–and by that I mean nearly every year. The invaluable Movieland Directory shows some 20 addresses for the actor over a quarter century, all in Los Angeles. Though he lived as far west as Blue Heights Drive (in what is now West Hollywood) and as far east as Cedarhurst Circle (in Los Feliz), Lugosi generally preferred Hollywood, particularly the hills. Except for a brief, Dracula-related rental on South Hudson near LA High in Mid-City, and another on N. Westmoreland Avenue, he never lived south of Sunset Boulevard, which finally puts to rest the Baldwin Hills idea.

Interestingly, one of his addresses in the 1930s was 1534 N. McCadden Place, a charming Craftsman that until recently housed a restaurant, Cafe des Artistes. Another of his short-term addresses was the Hollywood Athletic Club ((6525 W. Sunset Blvd.), notorious playground of Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields.

Throughout the 30s and early 40s, Lugosi lived in mostly attractive single-family homes whose square footage ranged from 2,736 to 8,436. But during WWII he decamped to North Hollywood, where he lived in an unimpressive 5-unit apartment building, apparently known as “The Dracula House,” at 10841 Whipple Street. That address was less than ten miles away from the Hollywood Hills but far removed from that neighborhood’s prestige and charm, and far cheaper. Lugosi’s last apartment on Harold Way–where he apparently moved after drug detox–was even less impressive, but at least he was back in Hollywood, his home.

As for his eternal address, Lugosi is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, ironically close to his fictional Baldwin Hills address. An alternative resting place–his star on the Walk of Fame–can be found at 6340 Hollywood Boulevard.

Next time: More on the Westshire House

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§ 18 Responses to Restless Dracula, Part I: Bela Lugosi’s Many Los Angeles Homes

  • Thanks for the articles on Bela’s houses. I’m also a fan of the film Ed Wood by Tim Burton and have seen it a bunch of times… I’m also a fan of Hollywood places and history and even lived in a 1930s office building on the SW corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga (I was teaching one class at Otis in art history while living in an office — so much for adjunct professor’s salaries! ) …At the opening of Ed Wood by Tim Burton, the camera tracks down from the hollywood hills over a model of some office buildings in downtown Hollywood and goes over the one I had offices in… )

    By the way, I made a little film for youtube about Bela’s houses. It’s called Bela Lugosi’s Hollywood Houses. Here is the link:

    Your articles here were quite helpful! Thank you.

  • The Caterer says:

    You say that Lugosi never lived below Hollywood Blvd, but list three former addresses (1534 N. McCadden Place, 6525 W. Sunset Blvd., 5630 Harold Way) all of which are below Hollywood Blvd. Did you mean to write that he never lived south of Sunset Blvd.?

  • Dee Neese says:

    I lived at 10859 Whipple St. N.H. in the 1950s and early 60s. Whipple had been rezoned, and there were a few new apartment buildings, but 10841 was still a mansion with a high fence surrounding it. It was very European style and beautiful, and it included a large nest on the roof with a fake heron or similar bird perched in the nest. Lugosi didn’t live there at the time, but there were neighbors who remembered him. I have yet to find a photo of the mansion on Whipple, but I’m still looking. Of course, it is no longer there, sadly.

  • jerry says:

    I went to Dorsey High in the Baldwin Hills area with as we knew him, Bill Lugosi. We graduated in ’55. I worked at the Peacock Liquor store on La Brea doing deliveries and would regularly deliver to Bela Lugosi in an apartment on La Brea near Rodeo, He was always nice but in poor health, the apartment was always dark. I remember Bill as being tall like his dad and as a great swimmer and good guy..

  • monika rogers says:

    I would like to update your story on the house on Westshire in Hollywood Hills. My grandfather Ernest Rogers was an Entertainment lawyer, he had that house custom built for our family and during the depression wound up selling it to Bella Lagosi. Many stories mention Roy Rogers but this is an error. This house was specifically built for the Ernest Rogers family and handprints of my father and uncle are still on the cement in the driveway outside. Our family was involved in the tract of homes that the Hollywood sign was the advertisement for. This is a proud part of our history and I wanted to point out i have researched and Mr Roy Rogers was never involved it was probably an assumption or name mixup. Thank You.
    Monika Rogers

    • Christine OBrien says:

      I just saw your post about your lovely family home. I saw in this month’s Los Feliz the adjacent brick house was featured as a Bela Lugosi Westshire Manor. Do you know anything about this house or any others on Westshire? I live in one of the 1920’s home at 2811. Anything you could share would be interesting.

      • Hi, Christine. Although Bela Lugosi lived there for a time, the house you refer to is better known as the Roy Rogers house. I was told that Rogers added the cowboy-on-bronco weathervane on the roof. More recently Kathy Bates owned the house, as you probably know.

  • Patrick Curtis says:

    I agree with Dee Neese, I lived on Valley Spring Lane, one block south of Whipple in the ’50’s and we used to “Trick or Treat” at Bela’s house with a big wall around it. Years later, the house was removed an an apartment building took it’s place. I’ve written a story, “Dracula and The Little Wild Bunch,” about those days. If you’d like, I can Email it to you.

  • Patrick Curtis says:

    I’ve got a picture of Roy Roger’s house above Sunset & Vine with Roy & daughter Cheryl in the photo I’ll happily send it to you.

    Patrick Curtis

    • jerry orland says:

      I delivered liquor to Bela Lugosi in Baldwin Hills around 1954/55. He lived in an apartment on LaBrea north of Rodeo. Across from what was Thrifty’s then. His apartment was always dark. His son Bill (Bela) was a classmate of mine at the time at Dorsey High. We graduated in ’55 and he went on to USC.

  • Patrick Curtis says:

    I don’t know how to attach it to this reply, I know I have it somewhere, but if you’d send me your email address, I send it to you.

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