Tuesday, January 24, 2006

8311 Sunset Avenue To-day

(Since there’s so much to go on [and on] about Mt. Kalmia, check out the comments section for all the fine print.)

When I read that there was a twenty-room Norman castle fronting Sunset Boulevard, of course, I knew it was gone.

1933:


And 2006, same view...wait...could something be lurking behind that fifty-foot-high frontage of foliage?


A-HA! Mt. Kalmia lives!


But back to 1947--here are the Sherriff's knights storming Mt. Kalmia Castle, armed with their 12-hour notice, herding evictees to outside the walls:



Two of the Queen's abject subjects, Ann Phill and Bernard Epstein, getting the royal boot:



As I approached Mt. Kalmia's stately gates--

--one of those round portions opened up. A face appeared. It was a a very well-spoken, and very large, African-American gentleman who asked if there was anything he could help me with. I explained, you know, architectural, with the old houses, you see, in what must have sounded like befuddled mid-70s Woody Allen meets Jerry Lewis doing the nebbish. He considered this for a while before closing the little door.

He gave away nothing, but I knew, behind those gates...

8 comments:

Nathan said...

Let’s start from the beginning. Put on your bibs, kids. This one is juicy.

George Campbell Carson invented one damn fine copper furnace-thingy. He was an itinerant miner and self-described “desert rat” who in the early aughts revolutionized the ore smelting world with some sort of new doohickey (the side-charge hopper, if you really want to know).

Which he patented. American Smelting, Phelps-Dodge, Anaconda Mining, do they care for patents? No sir. So George went to the courts. Where he remained for nineteen years. During which time he lived in a San Francisco sailor’s rooming house. Didn’t bother him much. He had dropped out of the second grade after the great Kansas Grasshopper Plague.

Long story short, it’s 1925, and he wins, and comes into about a million bucks. The prospective brides come-a callin.’ “I never shined up to a girl in my life that I didn’t get the mitten,” said George. “It is not my nature to please the ladies.” His plan was to work on his “half-baked ideas on copper reducing” and added “maybe I’ll do something with tree culture—I’d like to see all the barren lands of California put into trees…” Well, that would have been nice.

But he hitched instead. He marries an Angelena in 1927 and within a year, Hersee Moody Carson files an insanity complaint against him. It was thrown out of court. “Let it be known that my wife is innocent of any premeditated schemes against me,” said Carson afterward. “I talked too much when I was taken to the psychopathic ward.” Added Mrs. Carson “I didn’t understand Georgie’s condition at the time. He had tantrums, but it’s all right now.”

Sure, sister. You just keep telling yourself that. Take some time for yourself. You should have a hobby. Here’s a swell idea: build a house.

It took half of George’s money, but she built a house all right. A four-acre eucalyptus grove fronting Sunset Boulevard was flattened. Bit by bit, up went the battlements and rounded turrets. Endless terraces and verandas, seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms, two sun decks, the tower room, all on varying levels within the house to mimic the terraces outside. Ninety feet above Sunset Boulevard, a music room, solarium, library, morning reading-room, coffee-room, nursery, a billiard-room, refrectory, butler’s pantry, grocery and laundry rooms and elaborate quarters for the maids and chauffeurs. Thee floors of wide winding staircases lit by stained glass; great grilled doorways and 125 grilled windows. The dining hall was Hepplewhite. The drawing room Louis XVI.

“Conceived, created, designed and built by a woman, Mount Kalmia represents in material form a spiritual ideal, ” gushed the Times. It was the ideal of Hersee Moody, a Louisiana schoolteacher who had come to Los Angeles and did well for herself. “When I got here I bought a piece of land far west of town, where the bullfrogs were croaking…it quickly became a valuable piece of property.”

The house is finished in the Fall of 33 and by the Spring of 34 George lay dying. His 1927 will gave everything to his wife. The very last thing he did, moments before the 64 year-old prospector left this mortal coil, is write a new will, bequeathing everything to his blood relatives and making no provision whatsoever for his widow.

There’s a bloody court battle, of course, the upshot being that Hersee gets to keep the Castle. A year later, she sold off all the furniture. A short time later the house could be had for the $23,000 in unpaid back taxes. No one bit. It went through a welter of tax-deeded ownerships and title changes. What in 1932 took 500k to build in finally sold in 1945 for 83k.

But there was one hitch; Mrs. Patricia Noblesse Hogan, who’d leased the place as a guest house since 1941. But you’ve already read that story. After the Great Eviction, Haig sued Hogan for $7700 in damages to Carson’s castle. Then Hogan bought 200 Maravilla Drive in the Outpost Estates, and was quickly tossed out for defaulting on the payments—seems she learned too late that the zoning prohibited her from turning the place into another rooming house. She then moved into a new castle at 7001 Franklin, where she was quickly visited by the City Marshals, who stripped the place of its furniture for defaulting on another loan. From there, she fades away.

As does Mt. Kalmia. Mysteriously, miraculously, and quietly, the house survived the tear-it-down-days. Whether all that hand-carved wood and hand-painted wallpaper survived the succession of tenants (e.g., Hughes’ industrial mastermind Noah Dietrich, and record producer Barry “we had some fantastic parties here—we had 300 to 400 people over for weekend parties” Gordon) is unknown.

One gets the feeling Kalmia fell into the hands of Hollywood types, and had to endure many indignities. Witness, for example, the horrors contained here in this, the last time she is mentioned (as up for sale for 1.5m in 1982) by the press:

"On Sunday, for the first time in more than four decades, the doors of the Castle were opened to the public for an estate sale which included a potpourri of Victorian furniture, Tiffany lamps and bits of pieces from film sets. Its only resident, Israel (Dan) Davis, a laid-back soul dressed in a black jumpsuit who a reporter found lying on a big overstuffed sofa on the mansion’s main floor, suggested that he did not want much publicity."

And that is that. Who has stewardship now? Anybody know?

Stephen Blackmoore said...

According to the County Assessor's office, it look like it's actually 1486 Sweetzer (AIN 5555-022-012). 8311 Sunset no longer exists as a valid property address.

Looks like it's held by a corporation with offices at 9100 Wilshire (popular place), but further than that I haven't been able to drill down yet.

christine said...

That present day picture looks like the parking lot or actual location of the long-gone vegetarian restaurant The Source, which address was 8301 Sunset Blvd.

Anna said...

http://www.nrbooks.com/sample_chapter.htm

Check item #6 for recent history as well as the ID of the current owner.

L.A. Confidential said...

Israel 'Dan' Davis was a good friend of my Dad's. I visited the place back in the early 80's, when Dan kept 2 identical Ferraris on hand because one was always breaking down, a Jag 400D (racing Jag with huge, singular rear fin) and lots of other fun toys.

It is an amazing house, and yes the interior woodwork and stained glass has survived.
Dan was character and a huge WWII collector. His office table consisted of a very large, polished sheet of glass draped over a Merlin V12 engine (used in planes and boats like the PT). Surrounding the table were various types of WWII ejection seats, lol.

I'm not sure when Dan sold it but it was acquired by Johnny Depp in 1995.

L.A. Confidential said...

Israel 'Dan' Davis was a good friend of my Dad's. I visited the place back in the early 80's, when Dan kept 2 identical Ferraris on hand because one was always breaking down, a Jag 400D (racing Jag with huge, singular rear fin) and lots of other fun toys.

It is an amazing house, and yes the interior woodwork and stained glass has survived.
Dan was character and a huge WWII collector. His office table consisted of a very large, polished sheet of glass draped over a Merlin V12 engine (used in planes and boats like the PT). Surrounding the table were various types of WWII ejection seats, lol.

I'm not sure when Dan sold it but it was acquired by Johnny Depp in 1995.

L.A. Confidential said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John McDiarmid said...

I was in this house in late 1970.
Myself and some friend climbed the wall to the wast of the house and then walked around the grounds. There was a garage with living quarter above it, and someone was there then. I looked into the garage through a window and saw what must have been the headlight and grill of some very large old cars. We climbed up a wrought iron grill that was attached to the living room window.from there to the second floor there was a balcony of some type. Then up onto the roof where we found a dormer window open. We climbed in and a staircase led down to the second floor. I remember a bedroom facing south that was furnished and even had clothes in the closet. Don't remember a lot of bedrooms, maybe 5 tops. We went down to the ground floor and in the dining room on the table was a check book with the last check written in 1956 or 57. Behind the kitchen was either a bedroom or small living quarter for a cook or someone. The whole house was furnished with, and in the living room was a really OLD TV set. The back of the living room there was a door that led to a room that was full of medical books. The door was sort of hidden by the paneling on the wall. The house really wasn't all that big, although from the kitchen there was a door that led down some stairs to a room that was under the copala. And that's how we left the house. I remember in the drive way there was a late 50s early 60s Chrysler limousine that had been Crashed. (Beside the check book was a note about someone asking about the Old Car in the driveway.) Lot of front end damage to it. On the side of the house, where the main entrance was then, was a mid 50s Cadillac Coup De Ville, it was White, and in mint condition. I'd love to see som interior pictures if anyone has any.