August 13, 2012 § 5 Comments
Last Saturday I had another such experience in meeting Peter Green, a St. Louis-based writer and architect whose great-uncle was Peter Howard, a.k.a. Peter the Hermit. (More on PTH can be found by searching under his name on this blog.) Although Peter Green met Peter the Hermit only once–an experience he recounts in a response to one of my pieces–he remembered the location of his great-uncle’s last home. The rented rooms where the Hermit lived his impoverished final years were in a house that still stands at 2151 Ivar Avenue, in the Hollywood Dell.
One thing I had missed about Peter the Hermit–until Peter Green began imitating his accent–was that, though a Chicago native, he was born in County Limerick, Ireland. His decision to imitate a Biblical character no doubt owed much to an Irish Catholic religiosity which, according to Peter the Hermit’s obituary, dominated his later years. As his landlady, a Mrs. Pippins, recalled, “All he did, all day long, was talk religion, pray and read the Bible aloud to himself.”
Peter the Hermit died a few months before his 91st birthday, having outlived the Silents and Talkies that provided much of his income during his early decades in Hollywood, as well as his 50-year impersonator’s gig. If there was an upside to his no longer being able to ply the Hollywood tourist trade, it was that Peter’s last years took place in the late 1960’s, a particularly seedy time on Hollywood Boulevard. The summer after his death brought the Tate-LaBianca murders, the murders of two UCLA students in a Black Panther power struggle, and a growing atmosphere of fear and distrust across Los Angeles. By then, one imagines, Peter the Hermit was wandering the boulevards of a far better place.
July 6, 2010 § 5 Comments
The turn of the 20th century was also a turning point for Hollywood. No longer a farming community of like-minded Christians but not yet the seat of the movie industry, the village of Hollywood briefly became a garden suburb for the newly wealthy.
Among this second wave of Hollywood settlers was E. C. Hurd, whose sprawling Victorian home is pictured above. Hurd dug his fortune from the mines of Colorado and invested it in a prime Hollywood tract, on which he built a mansion and planted a lemon grove. Here we see his estate on the north side of Hollywood Blvd., with an early motor car–presumably his–to the right. Only the pepper tree in the foreground hints at agriculture; far more portentous is the Santa Monica-bound streetcar on the left. Part of the Pacific Electric Railway Company’s growing inter-urban network–soon to be the world’s largest public transportation system–the trolley car took passengers from downtown Los Angeles to the beach, though Hollywood probably was the more popular destination.
Beyond the obvious, the photograph foreshadows Hurd’s own future in business. He would soon purchase the Cahuenga Valley Railroad and extend the line to Laurel Canyon, opening it to residential development.
Perhaps the most famous Hollywood transplant of the time was Paul de Longpre, a French horticultural painter who arrived in Los Angeles with his family in 1889. After de Longpre discovered his ideal flowers growing in Hollywood, he met Daeida Wilcox, who was so anxious to attract culture that she gave him her homesite, three lots on Cahuenga just north of Prospect (later Hollywood Blvd.), for his estate.
The mansion and gardens Paul de Longpre built not only drew Hollywood society but served as a lure for new property buyers and tourists. So many visitors came to see “Le Roi des Fleurs” that the P.E. Railway added a trolley spur on Ivar Avenue to deposit them closer to the estate. Tours of the house and gardens, along with prints of his floral paintings, supported the de Longpre family until the artist’s death in 1911. After his family returned to France, the house and gardens were demolished for their valuable real estate, and de Longpre’s paintings–romantic still-lifes of roses, orchids and the like–fell permanently out of fashion. If not for De Longpre Avenue, most Hollywooders today would not recognize his name, let alone his art.
Coincidentally, 1911 was the year Los Angeles’s public transport system became the world’s largest, with 1,000 miles of track. In Hollywood, the year not only marked the end of de Longpre’s era but the beginning of another, as a new wave of residents discovered the town: movie people. More on them in future posts.
Kevin Starr, Inventing the Dream: Southern California Through the Progressive Era. Oxford University Press, 1985.
Gregory Paul Williams, The Story of Hollywood. BL Press, 2005.
September 1, 2009 § 6 Comments
I discovered Preston Sturges in the early 90’s, when I first saw “The Lady Eve” on video and became a huge fan of his movies. In 1998 I found myself celebrating his centennial at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which put on retrospective of his films. The crowds that showed up for opening night included such comedy luminaries as Paul Rubens and Steve Martin, as well as his widow, Sandy, and their sons. Even Eddie Bracken, star of “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” and “Hail the Conquering Hero” was there.
It was around that time that I read Preston Sturges’s biography by James Curtis, Between Flops, (Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1982) and learned that he had lived in the Hollywood Dell at 1917 N. Ivar, just north of Franklin. Though Sturges didn’t build the house, he certainly made it grand. In his posthumous memoir, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges (Touchstone, 1990), he writes:
“Minutes after Bianca and I and a couple of servants moved in, I had construction started on a swimming pool, a barbeque house and a badminton court for the backyard. The place was in an uproar all the time with the racket of steam shovels, trip hammers, and concrete mixers, not to mention the carpenters and the dogs racing around between their legs, barking at the lot of them. The neighbors didn’t enjoy it and neither did we.”
That was in 1937, when Sturges was among the highest paid screenwriters in town. He was also under contract as a director at Paramount, where he pulled down $2,500 a week and would soon earn much more. Nevertheless he was always strapped for cash, not least because he owned two money-losing businesses, a restaurant on Sunset called Snyder’s and the Sturges Engineering Company, which made a “vibrationless” diesel boat engine for which there was no apparent demand. (Sturges, a keen yachtsman, inherited his avid entrepreneurialism from his mother, a madcap expatriate whose cosmetics business, Maison Desti, was an intermittent success in Paris, Deauville and New York. Mary Desti Dempsey was also famous as Isadora Duncan’s best friend; she not only gave Duncan the silk shawl that, caught in a moving car wheel, would break her neck but designed and manufactured it, too. But that’s another story.)
Although as a money pit the Ivar house would be far surpassed by The Players, Sturges’s future theater/nightclub/restaurant, it was an expensive place for a relentless spender to own. Sturges writes:
“When I hired some tree surgeons to shuffle around the trees in the backyard of my house to make room for the pool, I discovered an even faster way to get rid of money.”
When I learned the address in 2000, I went up Ivar to investigate. What I found was not only no house but a non-existent property: where 1917 should have been, there was a tunnel running under the 101 freeway.
As Curtis’s book doesn’t discuss the fate of the house, I assumed it was torn down when the 101 was built. Then yesterday I read in Sturges’s memoir about the property’s seizure under eminent domain:
“…one day in 1950, the state did indeed condemn the property for the public weal and gave me six months to remove from it my house, the barbeque house, the small garage, the three-car garage with apartment, and some trees, and paid me $130,000.” The following year, “the house, cut into three sections…inched through the streets of Hollywood on the backs of huge flatbed trucks to the new lot Sandy and I had found at Franklin and Vista.”
Although Sturges didn’t give the address of the relocated house, I had read a description of it in Curtis’s book and knew what to look for: a rambling wood frame affair. I assumed it resembled the two shingle houses south of the tunnel on Ivar, one of which is pictured below:
Today I took a camera over to Vista Street. Driving north of Franklin to the edge of Runyon Canyon Park, I saw one shingle house, but it was single-story and newer than the ones on Ivar. Then, heading south, I saw this house on the southeast corner of Franklin and Vista:
Although its shingles are now white and its condition somewhat dilapidated, it matches the Ivar houses in vintage and spirit and is the only one of its kind on the block. I’m certain this is the Sturges house and had never noticed it before, as I always go north off Franklin, rather than south. Preston Sturges, who died 50 years ago last month, seems all the more vivid to me now.
As for the tunnel, a friend who lives on Ivar recently told me a story about it. Without knowing anything about the Sturges connection (or possibly about Sturges), he said the tunnel was so haunted that a few years ago, a certain religious group conducted two exorcisms on behalf of the neighbors. Though first exorcism didn’t work, the second, extra-strength version apparently did the trick.