August 1, 2009 § Leave a comment
Krotona Flight is a monumental staircase located on Vista del Mar Avenue, at the southwestern edge of Beachwood Canyon. Though less famous than the granite staircases of Hollywoodland to the north, it is arguably more fascinating. Like the Hollywoodland stairs, Krotona Flight had its practical and decorative uses but also an equally important symbolic function.
Designed by the architectural firm of Mead and Requa, Krotona Flight was built in 1914-1915. The stairs not only provided access to the Knudsen residence to the east but served as the south entrance to the hillside Krotona Colony, the utopian community founded by the Theosophical Society in 1912.
Krotona colonists used the stairs to get to and from the trolley hub at Argyle and Franklin Avenues. Returning from their jobs in Hollywood and Los Angeles, they only had to walk uphill for a couple of blocks–passing land that was then mostly fields–before reaching the stairs. Although the original plans called for a large gateway at the bottom of Krotona Flight, it was never built. Instead, the stairs fulfilled the function of delineating the Colony from the ordinary world.
The fountain on the first landing, though no longer working, makes it plain the stairs were more than functional. Writes the architectural historian Alfred Willis of Krotona Flight: “Simple yet grand, this staircase once symbolized for those who climbed it the ascent into those spiritual realms of which Krotona in Hollywood was a kind of earthly correspondent.” (Architronic v. 8, 1998)
For more about the Krotona Colony, purchase the documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign” at http://hopeandersonproductions.com/?page_id=3361
The film is also available for rent at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/uths
July 6, 2009 § 7 Comments
Moorcrest stands on a hill overlooking Beachwood Drive. Its hybrid Moorish-Mission architecture, imposing size and prominent location lead many people, even Beachwooders, to assume it is a public building rather than a home. When I was working on my documentary, “Under the Hollywood Sign,” people kept asking if I had filmed the “temple” on Temple Hill Drive. They were surprised when I told them it was called Moorcrest and always had been a private home. (The Theosophical Society’s actual temple–the Temple of the Rosy Cross–is now part of the Krotona Apartments on Alta Vista Street, just to the south.)
Those who know Moorcrest is a home tend to call it “The Charlie Chaplin House.” While Chaplin did briefly live in Moorcrest, he was a renter and soon moved on, to a house he had his set builders construct for him (the infamously nicknamed “Breakaway House”) in Beverly Hills.
Retiring from the stage, Marie Russak began a new life as a rich Upper East Side matron but soon turned her sights to the wider world, moving to Paris with her husband in 1901. She had become a Theosophist in 1898 and deepened her commitment by relocating to the Theosophical Society’s headquarters in Adyar, Madras, India in 1906. (No word on what happened to her marriage, as Frank Russak seems to have stayed in Paris.) Her four years in India, where she studied under Annie Besant, not only schooled her in Theosophy but sowed the seeds of a new avocation: architecture.
In India, Marie Russak no doubt saw magnificent examples of the Mogul style that would inspire the Theosophist buildings of Beachwood. The arches, keyhole windows and domes of the Krotona Colony are directly inspired by India’s Islamic architecture of the 16th-18th centuries, the best-known example of which is the Taj Mahal. The Theosophical Society’s headquarters in Adyar, Madras (now Chennai), a hybrid of Indian and British Colonial styles, probably inspired the ecclecticism of the Beachwood’s Krotona Colony, whose buildings were as much Italianate and Spanish as Islamic in their derivation.
In his otherwise excellent study of Krotona architecture, “The Surviving Buildings of Krotona in Hollywood,” (Architronic vol. 8, 1998), Alfred Willis bemoans Marie Russak Hotchener’s lack of architectural training, dismissing her proportions as “awkward” and her interiors as “rather garish.” Further noting that all her houses were “somewhat vulgar,” he concedes that they reflect “their designer’s own middle-class taste but also the vulgarity increasingly evidenced in the commercial and domestic buildings of boomtime Los Angeles in the 1920’s.” That the hardly middle-class Marie Russak Hotchener was reaching for an architectural style as unique and hybridized as Theosophy itself apparently never occurred to him.