Preston Sturges and Harold Lloyd: A Tale of Two Houses

April 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Sturges House Today, Post-Renovation/Hope Anderson Productions

In 2009, I wrote about my search for Preston Sturges’s Hollywood house, which I assumed had been torn down in the late 1940s to make room for the 101 Freeway. After reading in Sturges’s memoir that, in lieu of demolition, he had the house cut in 3 pieces and moved to Vista Street, I immediately drove over, found the only house that matched its description, and took this photo:

The House in Sept. 2009/Hope Anderson Productions

I hadn’t been back until last week, after Steve Pond of The Wrap contacted me to ask if he could use my “before” photo in an article about the house, which in the interim had been bought and renovated by the actors/contractors Jeremy Renner and Kristoffer Winters. http://www.thewrap.com/movies/column-post/jeremy-renner-his-house-flipping-sideline-it-keeps-me-grounded-25878?page=0,0 I agreed, he linked my piece about the house, and I enjoyed a brief spike in traffic to this site. When I went by to take the “after” picture, I was impressed by the house’s handsome exterior. No longer clad in tired-looking white shingles, it boasts new clapboard, windows and metalwork, and a much nicer color scheme. It probably looks better now than when Sturges lived there, though without period photos there’s no way to be sure. 

According to Pond’s article, this is the latest in a long line of houses that Renner and Winters have bought and rehabilitated, but it will be the last for a while, given Renner’s acting commitments.   

Meanwhile, over in Windsor Square, the house once lived in by Sturges’s friend Harold Lloyd looks as horrible as it did when I wrote about it in June, 2009. https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2009/06/05/harold-lloyd-lived-here/ But I’m hoping that when the second-generation owners finally decide to sell, Renner and Winters will have time to work their magic on it.

The Harold Lloyd House in Windsor Square on 4/6/11/Hope Anderson Productions

Graffiti–and Worse–on the Hollywoodland Stairs

July 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

One of the best things about  Hollywoodland is how little it has changed over the years. The Village Coffee Shop not only features fusty mid-century decor but a nostalgic menu from the same era. Next door, the friendly Beachwood Market allows account holders to sign for their groceries. And on the street, neighbors greet each other at such length that often it has taken half an hour to walk my dog six blocks. The Land That Time Forgot is a very pleasant place to live.

Beachwood-Westshire Stairs/Hope Anderson Productions

So it came as a surprise to find graffiti on the historic Beachwood-Westshire stairs and the retaining wall on the landing halfway up. Written in yellow paint, the graffiti is subtle by LA standards. Still, it took me back to the 90’s in Hancock Park, where tagging was so prevalent that the City eventually gave up using neutral colors to paint over garage walls on Bronson between Wilshire and Sixth, instead executing murals of vines and berries. The murals did the trick, probably because they resembled graffiti.

The funny thing about graffiti is how quickly one becomes accustomed to it, once the initial shock wears off. After I discussed it with my neighbors, the matter slipped my mind entirely. Apparently none of us contacted the City about eradicating it, because 18 months later it’s still there. Recently my son pointed out the graffiti appeared the same day Westshire got yellow markings from the street department and that the ink is identical.

As if that weren’t enough, someone recently used the top of the same stairs as a toilet. I discovered the result on my way up to Westshire last Saturday. Horrified, I sidestepped it; my dog, following me, promptly pocketed the turd in her bag-like mouth and didn’t drop it until we got home. It was a disgusting experience and–in light of the fact that the neighborhood is a long, uphill walk away from Hollywood’s homeless encampments–a baffling one.

Needless to say, my dog had her mouth washed out with soap and her teeth thoroughly brushed. Once I recovered, I contacted the City about removing the graffiti on the stairs. I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say about the tell-tale yellow ink.

Update, July 21: After receiving an e-mail from the City claiming the graffiti had been removed, I went out yesterday to check. The graffiti on the wall is still visible, though perhaps a bit more faded, while the tagging on the stair (above) is untouched. If this is someone’s idea of abatement, we’re in trouble.

Harold Lloyd Lived Here

June 5, 2009 § 4 Comments

Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last," 1921

Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last," 1923

Harold Lloyd was a Silent Era superstar whose 200+ films outearned those of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, his competitors in comedy. He invented a quintessential American character, an Everyman in round glasses whose encounters with cars, pretty girls and technology were endlessly compelling. People who draw a blank at his name have seen his most famous stunt, in which he hangs off a skyscraper from the hands of a huge clock in “Safety Last.” (In Hollywood, the scene is memorialized on the side of the Best Western on Franklin Avenue, alongside the warning, “Last Cappuccino before the 101.”)

A handsome young actor from Nebraska who came to Hollywood in the teens, Lloyd teamed up with the director Hal Roach to make such Silent classics as “The Kid,” “Grandma’s Boy,” and “Safety Last.” He entered the Talkies with a huge hit, “Welcome Danger,” (written by Felix Adler, profiled below) in 1929.

Unlike many movie stars of his generation, he was financially shrewd, owning the rights to most of his movies and investing in real estate in a new made-for-actors tract development called Beverly Hills. By the close of the Jazz Age, Lloyd owned his own movie studio (the site of which he later sold to the Mormons for their Los Angeles Temple) and was an extremely wealthy man. He weathered the Crash of ’29 and continued to act in, as well as direct and produce, films and radio shows.

Early in his career, when he was star but not a tycoon,  Harold Lloyd lived in this Italianate house in the exclusive Windsor Square neighborhood of Hancock Park.

Courtesy "Hollywood 1900 to 1950 in Vintage Postcards" by Tommy Dangcil

Courtesy "Hollywood 1900 to 1950 in Vintage Postcards" by Tommy Dangcil

The house still stands, an eyesore in a neighborhood transformed by 20 years of incessant renovation. I lived around the corner for 16 years and walked my dog (and after he died, another) by the house every day, longing for the time when it would be restored. In another city, there would be a plaque on it that read, “Harold Lloyd lived here.” But not in Los Angeles.

Harold Lloyd's Hancock Park house today. Photo by Hope Anderson Productions

Harold Lloyd's Hancock Park house today. Photo by Hope Anderson Productions

Throughout the ’90s, the house continued its decline.  Outside there were dead trees and a dead lawn. Dead cars were parked in the driveway. The only things that thrived were weeds.  Passersby showed their displeasure by turning the grounds into a public toilet for their dogs and, apparently, themselves.

When her dog turned up a mouthful of human feces, one of my neighbors reached out the people who have owned and lived in the house for two generations. They agreed to employ a gardener. He cut the weeds and hedges to a manageable level, sprinkled some grass seed and turned on the feeble old sprinklers to irrigate them. That was the sum of the improvements, such as they were. After the husband died, his rusting van was left for years the driveway as a kind of memorial.

These pictures were taken yesterday:IMG_0714
IMG_0716

As for Harold Lloyd, his story could hardly have had a better outcome. In 1926, he began building a magnificent new home on 16 acres in Beverly Hills. Called Greenacres,  the 44-room mansion was based on the Florentine Villa Gamberaia. Here’s a link to pictures: http://www.haroldlloyd.com/news/featurette.asp 

Inside the house were 16 bathrooms, a pipe organ and a theater with a 35mm projection booth. Outside there was an Olympic-size swimming pool, a clock tower, a child-sized cottage with electricity and running water, and extensive gardens. There were greenhouses, stables, a 9-hole golf course, a reservoir and a farm. Lloyd and his wife, his co-star Mildred Davis, raised three children as well as a grandchild at Greenacres, which was staffed by 15 servants and 16 gardeners. They lived in a manner that defined the word swell.

In addition to acting and producing, Lloyd became an accomplished still photographer, taking beautiful portraits of a nude Bettie Page and a clothed Marilyn Monroe. He celebrated Christmas in spectacular fashion, lashing several huge evergreens together to make a single monster Christmas tree, which he strung with thousands of ornaments. One year he purchased the entire Christmas display at Saks, tree included, to augment Greenacres’. Meanwhile, his compound tree became more and more opulent. When the project became too vast to disassemble, Lloyd fireproofed the thing and celebrated Christmas all year long.

He died of cancer at 78, in 1971. Greenacres was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, after its grounds were subdivided and the estate reduced to six acres. The mansion, however, is intact and renovated. Its current owner is supermarket tycoon/ex-Bill Clinton bachelor buddy Ron Burkle, who apparently enjoys Greenacres just as much, if in rather different style, than Lloyd did. 

I’m sure Harold Lloyd is watching over his beloved Greenacres from an even greater paradise. As for his starter house in Hancock Park, I’m praying for a gut renovation before the place falls down, followed by a lavish landscaping job. And after that, a plaque with his name on it.

Why Movie Stars Don’t Live in Hollywood Anymore

May 28, 2009 § 1 Comment

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