April 13, 2011 § 2 Comments
Albert Hendrick Kothe was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1893. After World War I, he made his way to America and settled in Los Angeles, where he found work and a new home in Hollywoodland. Like so many Canyon residents, Kothe lived out his life here, in the process becoming a neighborhood fixture, a Zelig-like figure–and something of a local legend.
Albert Kothe may or may not have helped to build the Hollywoodland Sign, but he certainly was its caretaker upon its completion in July, 1923. His job, which probably lasted until 1939, was to change the 4,000 lightbulbs that lit the Sign at night, a Sisyphusian task for which ladders were kept permanently propped against the Sign’s back. Though Kothe undoubtably spent a great many daylight hours on Mt. Lee, he didn’t actually live there. (The myth that Kothe “lived in a shack behind the first L” is so pervasive that Leo Braudy repeats it in his new book The Hollywood Sign [Yale University Press, 2011] Oops.) Although there was a shed behind the Sign, it housed lightbulbs and other equipment, while Kothe resided in a cabin at the north end of Beachwood Drive. (The cabin was probably built for the foreman of the stonemasons who built the Hollywoodland walls and stairs from 1923-25. The stonemasons lived in adjacent tents.) The cabin, which was torn down for houses 50 years ago, looked like this:
When the Hollywoodland Realty Company stopped maintaining the Sign in 1939, Kothe found work at Wolf’s Lair, a house large enough to require a full-time handyman. Kothe’s employment by Bud Wolf has satisfying parallels in literature and movies, for the two men at first glance were polar opposites: Wolf a rich, companionable bon vivant; Kothe a poor laborer and lifelong bachelor. But in truth, they were flip sides of the same coin–uncompromising, somewhat eccentric men who discovered their niche in Hollywoodland, and stayed.
Next time: Kothe’s latter years–and automotive adventures.
November 15, 2010 § Leave a comment
Two months into the massive repainting job at Castillo del Lago, all traces of Madonna have been removed from its exterior. Gone are the jaunty red ocher stripes; the new look is stark white with grassy green trim. The paint accomplishes the task of making a vast house look even bigger while illustrating the sobriquet white elephant. (But I’m sure Crosby Doe, the real estate agent and neighbor who has complained at length about Castillo del Lago’s previous incarnation, is delighted.)
The retaining wall is also white, a risky move in an area known for tagging. Fortunately, vines have been planted along its base; eventually, they will turn the wall into a giant topairy.
Over at Wolf’s Lair, the extensive repair work continues. The new owner, Moby, has undertaken the kind of crucial and costly structural work–reframing exterior walls, replacing windows–that most homeowners would skip altogether. While remaining faithful to the original design, he is essentially rebuilding an old estate. It must have needed it.
The John Lautner-designed guest house, now largely reframed, is being turned into a recording studio. This development probably would have pleased Lautner, a modernist who didn’t place form over function. You can see the before pictures here: http://la.curbed.com/archives/2010/04/tour_of_wolfs_lairs_lautner_guest_house_and_future_studio.php
Onward, toward the end of renovations–and two festive housewarming parties!
November 13, 2010 § 1 Comment
My search for native holly (toyon) has brought mixed results over the past five years. The year I moved to Beachwood was an exceedingly dry one, and the next fall saw very few berries. Without them, the toyon is unimpressive–just another tree along the trail. Then there’s the question of when the berries, if any, will turn red, an event of brief duration that is easily missed. Disappointingly, the berries seem to turn red well before Christmas–but again, it depends on rainfall.
So while hiking the trail between Castillo del Lago and Wolf’s Lair yesterday, I was surprised to come upon a riot of red berries on the trees there. The fact that it we’ve had four rainstorms since the beginning of October must be the cause: the trail is as lush as it normally is in January.
The tree pictured at top is enormous, a wall of green leaves and red berries.
September 22, 2010 § 1 Comment
Nothing endears a new homeowner to the neighborhood like an exterior renovation. I found this out in 2005 when, shortly after moving into my Beachwood Canyon house, I had the peeling garage and fence repainted. When I finally scraped up the money to repaint the house itself last summer, my neighbors were nearly as happy as I.
On a far grander scale, the exteriors of two famous Hollywoodland houses are being tranformed at the same moment. Castillo del Lago, which finally sold in July for $7 million (down from $14.95) is losing its terra cotta paint; the red ochre stripes on the retaining wall have been painted over. (I miss you already, striped wall!) At present, the new paint is pale yellow but that might be a base coat.
At the other end of the trail, Wolf’s Lair’s exterior transformation is much more ambitious. It has been re-roofed and is undergoing a partial reframing. Some of the turrets are being rebuilt, after which a massive re-stucco job will begin. There’s nothing better than a house-proud new owner!
September 20, 2010 § Leave a comment
Exactly nine months have passed since I posted “Lost (Mulholland) Highway: The Trail from the Madonna House to Wolf’s Lair.” https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/lost-mulholland-highway-the-trail-from-the-madonna-house-to-wolfs-lair/ Hiking the trail today, I was struck by the seasonal difference: some of the green foliage in last year’s pictures is now brown and rust, giving the trail a distinctly autumnal appearance that to my mind is as beautiful.
What isn’t beautiful is the graffiti that mars the trail in places, most disturbingly on “Face Rock.” Apparently someone thought the rock needed a more permanent face than the one that passing hikers fashion daily from leaves, stones, flowers and branches. So he spray-painted one on it.
This happened a while ago, and though it’s not the first incident of tagging on the trail, it certainly followed my previous post. In the intervening months, I’ve wondered if, by writing about the rock, I may have indirectly caused it to be defaced. If so, I’m deeply sorry–but somehow I doubt the tagger in question read this blog. Whoever he is, I wish he hadn’t done it.
April 1, 2010 § Leave a comment
I promised a certain realtor not to write about it until after escrow closed–not that LACurbed and the LA Times didn’t–but now that it’s official I can say this: the new owner of Wolf’s Lair is a New Yorker named Richard Melville Hall. He’s also known as Moby. This week, he takes possession of a 1927 storybook manor with sweeping views of Lake Hollywood and the Hollywood Sign, a guesthouse by John Lautner, a pool, 3 acres of grounds and a subterranean speakeasy.
Properties of historical and architectural significance cry out for owners with the means and sensibility to restore and care for them. In this regard, Moby is ideal: a successful, work-at-home artist who has already expressed his commitment to Wolf’s Lair’s improvement.
It also doesn’t hurt that we neighbors might be less likely to mind hearing his noise bounce around the Canyon than anyone else’s. In a natural amphitheater like Beachwood, the quality of the music really matters.