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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Bananas of Beachwood Canyon (and Los Feliz)

October 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

In his superb book, Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World (Plume, 2008), Dan Koeppel explores the science, politics and history of this ubiquitous fruit in a way that can only be described as novelistic. The scope of the story is immense, and Koeppel tells it so compellingly that it has stuck in my mind ever since I finished reading it, ten months ago.

The only mistake in Banana, as far as I can see, is in the author’s biographical note, which reads:

[Koeppel] lives in Los Angeles, a place in whose vicinity nearly every kind of fruit–except bananas–was once grown.

As I told him, it’s not true. Los Angeles is warm enough for bananas, as many backyard gardeners and those at the Bel Air Hotel can attest. But bananas also used to be grown commercially–in Beachwood Canyon. Here’s a photo to prove it:

Banana trees at J.B. Rapp's Farm, Gower and Beachwood Drive, circa 1900/Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

Originally I had thought the photo was of Clausen’s Ranch, located just north of Rapp’s Farm. But Clausen grew citrus, while Rapp specialized in more exotic fare: pineapples, avocados and cherimoyas–and, apparently, bananas.

While Rapp might have been the sole commercial grower of bananas, none other than Harrison Gray Otis, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, grew bananas too. Here’s an old postcard of the trees on his estate in Laughlin Park (now Los Feliz):

Otis's Bananas in Laughlin Park/Courtesy Tommy Dangcil, Hollywood 1900-1950 in Vintage Postcards, Arcadia, 2002

As Koeppel writes in Banana, bananas require a frost-free climate in order to produce fruit. Not a problem: in the 6 years I’ve lived in Beachwood, there has been only one frost, a freak event that occurred in early 2006.

The reason we don’t see bananas trees in Hollywood anymore is the same reason we don’t see orange and lemon groves: all the farmland has been given over to buildings. But bananas once grew here; with enough space, they could grow again.

The Big Parade: Year Two

June 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Belden Stairs/Photo by Hope Anderson Productions

Dan Koeppel’s amazing LA walkabout enters its second year this weekend. Saturday’s tour begins at downtown at Angels Flight and goes through Echo Park and Silverlake. Sunday’s walk begins at the Music Box Stairs in Silverlake and continues west through Los Feliz and Beachwood Canyon, ending at the Hollywood Sign.

As I did last year, I’ll be giving a brief talk at the Belden Stairs (Beachwood Drive at Woodshire.) This should take place around 6:30pm Sunday. For more information, go to

See you there!

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