Visiting Dolores and Bob Hope’s House in Toluca Lake
March 12, 2015 § 2 Comments
The Hopes were extraordinarily long-lived: Bob died in 2003 at 100, and Dolores in 2011 at 102. They commissioned the house and lived there from 1937 until their deaths. Given the number of years they spent there, and the ages at which they died, I assumed the house would be in dire need of renovation, but except from some old carpeting in the hallways, it was remarkably well-maintained, and had been updated at regular intervals. Originally a vaguely Norman, traditional house, it was substantially added to in contemporary style, befitting the Hopes’ interest in modern architecture. (Their renowned Palm Springs house was designed by John Lautner.) The broad covered terrace in back and glass entryway were mid-century additions that radically changed the appearance of the house. The airy downstairs rooms, all made for entertaining on a large scale, were also modernist, with glass walls facing the substantial garden, which included a pool and poolside guest quarters and party room. Dolores Hope, originally a singer, was an accomplished hostess, and the substantial kitchen boasted two pantries big enough to hold china, crystal and silver for hundreds.
The upstairs was as private as the downstairs was public. Most of the people touring the house with me were realtors who regarded the unconventional master suite with disapproval. Instead of a single master bedroom, there were interconnected his-and-hers bedrooms, each with its own bathroom and sitting area. Apparently anything out of the ordinary is considered a hard sell, but I found it refreshing to see a house whose owners aimed to suit themselves, not some theoretical future buyer.
Bob and Dolores led highly independent, very different lives. His involved work–including 50 Christmases spent on the road with the USO–and a not-very-secret extramarital social life that included several long-term affairs. Hers revolved around their four children and her religion. A devout Catholic, Dolores was only minutes away from her parish church, St. Charles Borromeo. (She poured millions into building St. Charles, a Spanish Baroque gem that replaced the original Spanish Mission-style church in 1957.) For all the realtors’ tut-tutting about their separate bedrooms, it’s worth noting that the Hopes were married for 69 years, until Bob Hope’s death, and that they now lie permanently side-by-side.
It was interesting to see Bob Hope’s bathroom, not only because it had a urinal but because it was nicely rebuilt late in his life to be wheelchair accessible. But (aside from the pantries), my favorite feature of the house was the little door leading from Dolores’s bedside to the larger of the children’s rooms, which allowed her to check on her youngsters in the middle of the night without going through the hallway. It showed her practicality and maternal concern, and made me feel almost as if I had met her.
Everything Old Is New Again: Touring the Palm Springs Eichler House
February 25, 2015 § 2 Comments
Wednesday was Eichler Day, in tribute to the developer Joseph Eichler (1900-1974), who built some 11,000 glassy post-and-beam homes in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly in California. Though Eichler houses were mass-produced for middle-class buyers, they were beautiful and forward-looking. At a time when most tract developers were building simple ranch-style houses, Eichler hired the modernist architects Robert Anshen, A. Quincy Jones and Raphael Sariano. The homes they designed had exposed rooflines and glass walls, interior garden courtyards, open kitchens and easy transitions between the indoors and outdoors.
It wasn’t just the homes that were different. Eichler tracts had shared open spaces and pools that fostered a sense of community among their owners. (To this day, Eichler communities have annual block parties; Eichlerites march in groups in local parades.) Unlike other developers of his time, Eichler refused to discriminate against non-white buyers, selling to anyone who could afford one of his houses. His color-blind policy struck a blow against the prevailing segregated housing practices and seems even more significant in retrospect.
The highlight of Modernism Week’s Eichler Day was a brand-new Eichler home, the first in Palm Springs, built on spec from plans licensed from his estate. I toured it with my friend Steven Corley Randel, a residential architect who lives in Palm Springs and works all over California and Hawaii.
There were various updates to the original design, both in materials (such as insulation and glass) and style. The exterior was jazzed up with an orange front door and trim; inside the roofline was painted white, a glaring change from Eichler’s unpainted wood, and one that highlighted every imperfection. Still, the house was Eichlerian in spirit: the open plan made it seem more spacious that its 2,500 square feet, as did the soaring glass walls. The only claustrophobic feature was also original–the extremely narrow hallways. As Steve pointed out, they didn’t meet today’s building codes; “I wonder how they got away with it?” he said.
Outside, things were considerably less Eichlerian. The yard was fenced and featured an inauthentic round pool–why not a kidney-shaped one? But the most discordant feature was the one-bedroom guesthouse, still under construction, an addition that never would have occurred to Eichler and his architects.
All in all, the new Eichler seemed to go over well among those who toured it. Despite my quibbles about the updates, the biggest problem was its listing price of $1,290,000, an astronomical sum for a house that cost $12,000 (about $90,000 in today’s dollars) in the mid-1960’s. While it’s true that Eichler houses have much more cachet today than they did when they were popping up by the thousands (a fact that has led the builders of the Palm Springs house to plan several more), the difference in cost is astounding. However fancied-up, in the end it’s still a tract home, meant to be mass-produced for very little money. For $1,290,000, you could have a custom-designed house by a living architect. The fact that someone preferred to spend that amount on a budget house by a long-dead developer says nothing about Eichler’s times and a lot about our own.
John Lautner’s Endangered Architectural Legacy, and What Los Angeles Can Do About It
July 7, 2014 § 4 Comments
Recent decades have seen a gradual shift toward preservation, thanks largely to the Los Angeles Conservancy’s efforts. (Disclosure: A longtime Conservancy member, I have actively supported the landmarking of the Capitol Records Building and the Century Plaza Hotel, among others.) So it was a shock to learn in May that John Lautner’s Rehabilitation Center in Woodland Hills (now known as the Paul Weston Work Center) was about to be demolished by its new owner without so much as an Environmental Impact Report. After the Department of City Planning “concluded that the project site contained no potential historic and/or cultural resources”* it issued a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), clearing the way for demolition. Strangely, DCP did this without consulting its own Office of Historic Resources. In late May, letters and testimony in support of the Rehabilitation Center were presented at a hearing. A decision is pending. http://www.postperiodical.com/group-seeks-to-block-rehab-center-demolition/
John Lautner (1911-1994) trained under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, where his apprenticeship included carpentry and plumbing. Like Wright, he believed in “total concept” architecture, where the building is indivisible from the site. Though he was from Michigan, Lautner chose to settle and establish his practice in Los Angeles because its climate, both physical and philosophical, provided the ideal laboratory for his geometric forms and indoor-outdoor ethos. Like his mentor Wright, he was democratic, designing houses for middle-class clients as few prominent architects do today. As a result, his houses are scattered throughout Southern California, including two in Beachwood Canyon.
In the twenty years since his death, Lautner has been greatly celebrated for residential commissions such as the Chemosphere and the Wolff House, but his public buildings haven’t fared as well. In researching the Rehabilitation Center, I was stunned to learn that it is his second-to-last major surviving non-residential commission in Los Angeles County. (The other, Los Feliz’s Mid-Town School, is home to Lycée of Los Angeles.)
If the County allowed the Rehabilitation Center to be razed, Lautner’s public legacy would be halved, an odd fate for a man whose architecture is synonymous with mid-century Los Angeles. In that case, the most publicly accessible of his projects would probably be the glass addition of the Beachwood Market. Built in 1954, it remains so modern-looking that City building officials who inspected it after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake assumed that it was new.
*Los Angeles Conservancy mailing, 5/21/14
The Urban Magic of “Her”: How Great Production Design Created the Los Angeles of the (Near) Future
March 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
In the near future of “Her,” Los Angeles has grown better as well as bigger. Shots of the Basin show a recognizable skyline, except that there are many more highrises in the areas between Downtown, Hollywood, Century City and Westwood, as there undoubtably will be in the years to come. These new buildings are CGI creations, but the jarringly smoggy scenes featuring elevated plazas and walkways were filmed in Shanghai. In them, one catches glimpses of the Bund, Shanghai’s riverfront commercial district, where old colonial buildings co-exist with new skyscrapers. And though Los Angeles will never have a navigable waterway, the broad curves of Huangpu offer a tantalizing suggestion of the future LA River.
But many aspects of “Her” didn’t have to be imagined at all, since they already exist. Theodore makes extensive use the Metro, even if it doesn’t yet go all the way to the beach. And he lives in a real place: the South Park district of Downtown, on the 35th floor of the Watermarke Tower (705 W. 9th Street). The buildings seen from his windows are all real buildings, shown to maximum advantage by the production designer K.K. Barrett, who covered the upper window panels and switched the glass from tinted to clear.
Says Barrett, the “focus was to bring the outside city in, and push light towards [Theodore].” The resulting message is unmistakable: Theodore lives in the heart of a dynamic and desirable city. Though he is shy and lovelorn, his location confers an enviable status. In the photo above, Theodore is framed against a view of nine notable towers: (l-r) 777 Figueroa, Ernst + Young Plaza, PWC Plaza, Union Bank Plaza, HSBC, City National Plaza, Bank of America Plaza, AON and Verizon (MCI Plaza).
Arguably, the real love story in “Her” is not between Theodore and his OS but the director Spike Jonze and Los Angeles. Having escaped both the dull suburban sprawl of its past and the ruins of its previously imagined future, Los Angeles appears a beautiful, modern and sustainable place. It’s obvious why Theodore, a dreamer of the first order, would want to live there, and why others would as well.
Thanks to Ian McFarren Anderson for identifying the buildings seen from Theodore’s apartment.
As Hollywoodland Turns 90, Its Gates Get New Plaques
September 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
As readers of this blog might remember, a couple of years ago vandals stole the pair of bronze plaques marking the Hollywoodland gates. Yesterday, their replacements–generously donated by Time Warner–were unveiled in a festive ceremony that brought together various officials and neighbors. Our ubiquitous City Councilman, Tom LaBonge, quipped, Hollywoodland is a special neighborhood–so special that you don’t even like your City Councilman. Titters ensued.
Now, onward to our centennial!
“The Jet Set” House: Frank Sinatra’s Glass Hideaway in Chatsworth
July 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
Watchers of “Mad Men” will recall Don Draper’s lost weekend in California (Season 2, Episode 11), in which he abandons Pete Campbell and an aeronautics convention to run off with Joy, a mystery woman he has met at the hotel. She takes him to this fabulous mid-century glass and steel house in Palm Springs:
Known as the Fox Residence, the actual house sits on a hilltop in Chatsworth, in the northern San Fernando Valley. Designed by Pereira and Luckman-also the architects of the former Union Oil headquarters where most of “Mad Men” is shot–the estate was previously leased by Frank Sinatra, who used it as a weekend retreat for a decade. Adding to its pedigree is the rumor that Sinatra introduced Marilyn Monroe to JFK here. Frequently filmed, the Fox Residence is on the market for around $12 million and appears to be in pristine condition:
Movie fans will know that Chatsworth’s role in the film industry goes back to the Silent Era, when westerns and other sprawling outdoor epics were shot on ranches established by studios and individuals for filming purposes. Chatsworth’s famous Iverson Movie Ranch dates from 1912; among the movies shot there are Buster Keaton’s “Three Ages” and “The Robe.” In the early years of television, Iverson was the location of almost every western series, including “Gunsmoke,” “The Virginian,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Bonanza.” While Chatsworth is better known today as the epicenter of the adult film industry, its western heritage links it to every era of film and television. Thanks to the Fox Residence, Chatsworth also boasts an important mid-century location, as “The Jet Set” illustrates so well.
The “Mad Men” Season Finale, Part II: It’s the Light
June 30, 2013 § Leave a comment
While it’s true that the variety of architectural styles found in Los Angeles allows “Mad Men,” set in and around New York, to be filmed here, there’s one thing that always gives it away: the light. Simply put, the light in Los Angeles is so different from the light found anywhere else in the world (with one exception; more on that later) that, like a brilliant supporting actor, it steals every scene.
The last scene of the season finale provides an excellent example. As Don Draper and his children approach his decrepit childhood home in Pennsylvania they throw long, sharply defined shadows on the street. Though it’s possible to throw shadows in the eastern United States in late fall or around the winter solstice, the 40 degree latitude in Pennsylvania would produce shorter shadows, while the weaker light would make them less defined.
Light is perhaps the greatest asset of the Southland, something that is constantly marveled at, studied, painted and written about. When people in LA talk about the climate, they are really talking about the quality of light, which at its fullest produces not only dramatic shadows but, depending on the time of year, no shadows at all. The best exploration of the light here, in my opinion, is contained in the 1998 New Yorker article, “L.A. Glows,” by Lawrence Weschler. In talking to visual artists, poets and scientists about LA’s light, Weschler discovers why the city looks the way it does. The astronomer Hal Zirin says it best:
…what happens here is that ocean-cooled air drifts in over the coastal plain and gets trapped beneath the warm desert air floating in over the mountains to the east. That’s the famous thermal inversion, and the opposite of the usual arrangement, where the warm surface air progressively cools as it rises. And the atmosphere below the inversion layer is incredibly stable….go out to the Santa Monica palisade and gaze out over the cool water. It’s completely clear and distinct, clean out to the horizon. The heat rising from the ground in most places…is in turn what makes stars shimmer and twinkle in the night sky….if you’re an astronomer you want your star–or for that matter, your sun–to be distortion-free: solid as a rock. And that’s what you get here. The stars don’t twinkle in L.A.
I had a dramatic experience of this phenomenon a few days ago, while looking down Fairfax Avenue. It was an exceptionally clear day that allowed me to see all the way to the ocean, some thirty miles south. But even more amazing than seeing blue in the distance was the fact that the furthest hills and houses were as sharply defined as those in the near distance. As I stared, the total clarity of the light threw me into what one of Weschler’s interviewees called “egoless bliss.”
But the true significance of the light in Los Angeles isn’t the mood it generates, or the peculiar suspension of time that makes Rip Van Winkles of us all. (To quote Orson Welles, “you sit down, you’re twenty-five, and when you get up, you’re sixty-two.”) It’s the reason the movie industry relocated to Los Angeles from the East Coast during the Silent Era: movies could be shot year-round with little or no artificial lighting. Roofless sets allowed interior scenes to be shot by natural light as well. By 1911, Los Angeles was the center of the movie industry, and has been ever since.
So when Don and the kids threw sharp shadows that were taller than they were, I laughed in recognition: they could only be in LA. But those who think there’s no place else on earth with LA’s light haven’t seen Morocco, the world’s only other coastal desert. Morocco’s identical thermal inversion creates the same light: strong, clear and unforgettable.
“L.A. Glows,” by Lawrence Weschler. The New Yorker, February 23, 1998.
The “Mad Men” Finale, Part I: Don Draper’s Childhood Home
June 27, 2013 § 1 Comment
Sunday night’s season finale of “Mad Men was compelling for many reasons, but most of all for its amazing last scene in which (spoiler alert!) Don Draper boldly takes his three children to see his childhood home, a crumbling Victorian brothel operated by his uncle. “This is a bad neighborhood!” Bobby pipes when they stop, and Sally gives Don a look that contains enough dialogue for an entire episode.
Though the house is supposed to be somewhere in Pennsylvania, the location isn’t, and neither are any of the other places pictured in the show, for “Mad Men” is entirely made in Los Angeles. The interiors are filmed at Los Angeles Center Studios, the former Union Oil Company headquarters at the western edge of downtown. The complex, still modern-looking after 53 years, is by Pereira and Luckman, the firm that designed LAX’s Theme Building and other mid-century classics. LACC’s exterior can be seen in “Fight Club” and countless other movies and TV shows. Other locations include local theaters, clubs, bars, restaurants and private homes built between the 1880s and 1960s. Here is a guide to some of them:
So much for the tired idea that Los Angeles is a “new” city. Even if creator Matthew Weiner had wanted to, he couldn’t have shot “Mad Men” in New York, as many of the real locations have been altered or demolished. As much as it surprises New Yorkers, downtown Los Angeles contains many more authentic early to mid-20th century exteriors than Manhattan, which is why so many movies set in New York are shot here. The array of styles in the houses alone–Don and Betty’s Scarsdale colonial, Betty and Henry’s brick Victorian pile, Anna Draper’s Craftsman, the jet setters’ Palm Springs modern–proves that Los Angeles is unmatched as an architectural treasure trove.
But back to the whorehouse. From its style, elevation and stone walls, I knew it had to be located in Angelino Heights, just north of downtown, but where? Having just toured Carroll Avenue, Angelino Heights’ most famous street of Queen Anne houses, the week before, I knew that most had been restored. Here’s a photo of one of the best:
As for the unrestored houses, even the worst didn’t look as bad as Don’s childhood home.
Yesterday the mystery was solved by a friend, who led me to this link:
The house is on Carroll Avenue, but was heavily manipulated in post-production. Not long ago, it wouldn’t have been hard to find a house in Angelino Heights that needed no special effects to look decrepit, but gentrification has transformed Angelino Heights to the point where”Mad Men” had use CGI.
Next time: It’s the Light.
Millennium Hollywood Hearing Continued Until June 18th
June 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
The June 4th hearing of the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee regarding the Millennium Hollywood Project was continued at the request of the developer. The new hearing date is Tuesday, June 18th at 2:30pm in City Hall. The meeting is open to all.
For more information, go to:
The Millennium Hollywood Project’s Upcoming Hearing
May 31, 2013 § 1 Comment
More info.: http://www.stopthemillenniumhollywood.org
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