Saturday, April 5, 2008

No. 130 - Samuel-Novarro House

Samuel-Novarro House

Samuel-Novarro House
1928 – Lloyd Wright
5609 Valley Oak Drive – map
Declared: 7/17/74

Lloyd Wright was Frank’s eldest son, born in 1890. Trained as a landscape architect, Lloyd came to Southern California in his mid-twenties to help plan San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition for the Olmsted Brothers. Afterwards, Wright stuck around Los Angeles, serving as construction manager and landscape artist on his dad’s area projects, the Barnsdall, Storer, Ennis, and Freeman Houses. City landmarks, all.

Samuel-Novarro House

Wright met Louis Samuel through actor Ramon Novarro who had asked Wright to build him a Spanish Revival home (it was never realized). Samuel and Novarro met in dance class years earlier, and, by the middle of the 1920s, the former had become the actor’s personal assistant and business manager. By then, also, Novarro was Hollywood’s first Latin-American superstar, with his most popular role being the lead in 1925’s Ben-Hur.

Samuel-Novarro House

For Samuel and his wife, Wright created an Art Deco/Mayanesque masterpiece, one that McGrew and Julian write “may be the most beautifully sited home in Los Angeles.” The four-level home was built into the side of a hill with concrete and oxidized copper throughout (even the floors are concrete). Nearly everything was incorporated in the first floor: dining room; living room; kitchen; the home’s sole bedroom; and the lounge which lead to the outdoor swimming pool.

Samuel-Novarro House

In 1930, Novarro discovered Samuel had been embezzling from him. Not only was Samuel using the money to play the stock market (not a great move in the fall of 1929), put he was also using his client’s money to pay the mortgage on his Los Feliz home. Now, Novarro wasn’t the type of guy who needed the press digging around in his private affairs, so he quietly opted not to press charges. However, he did take over ownership of the Wright house. (Louis Samuel, in 1934, hired Lloyd Wright to design this home in Brentwood.)

Samuel-Novarro House

As its new owner, Novarro hired back Wright to renovate and enlarge the house. The architect added a pergola, a music room, a bedroom suite, and performed some overall remodeling and embiggening. (Interestingly, a vintage shot of the home used in Sam Watters’s Houses of Los Angeles shows the left side of the front fa├žade completely flat and bare – no window or archway leading to the wrap-around staircase.) Rather than incorporating Wright-designed furnishings into the renovated house, Novarro brought in MGM art director Cedric Gibbons to redecorate the home (mostly with stuff bought at Bullock's Wilshire).

Samuel-Novarro House
Later addition.

Novarro lived in the home until the late thirties. Andre Soares, author of Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro, says “In 1944, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green rented the Los Feliz Hills house, where they worked on the Broadway musical On the Town.”

Samuel-Novarro House

Flash forward to another famous owner. In the early 1990s, Schweitzer/BIM’s Josh Schweitzer remodeled the landmark for preservation-minded Diane Keaton, although she went on to sell the home later that decade. Actress Christina Ricci wound up buying the house in June 2005, but sold it just a year later for about $2.8 million.

Samuel-Novarro House

Yeah, I know these pictures look more or less the same (because they are more or less the same). However, lucky Flickr member srk1941 has a terrific set of photos of both the exterior and interior of the Samuel-Novarro House, taken while Ricci had the home on the market. Great shots of the pool, gardens, and what appears to be a bathroom for convicts.

Samuel-Novarro House

Sources:

Watters, Sam. Houses of Los Angeles 1920-1935 Acanthus Press, LLC 2007 New York, NY

McGrew, Patrick and Robert Julian. Landmarks of Los Angeles Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated 1994 New York, NY


Up next: Dunbar Hotel

12 comments:

Miss Havisham said...

Well, there it goes. I am in love again.

tealeaf said...

hi, i found your blog as i was searching for sites to have my wedding and reception this december. i began to search for cool older buildlings as i was inspired by this wedding: http://bklynbride.blogspot.com/2008/04/real-wedding-inspiration-amanda-dan.html

i know this sounds random but i was wondering if you could recommend a beautiful place to have a wedding and reception in LA that doesn't cost a lot to rent. we are on a tight budget but i'd love to have it in a nice location. anything would help. thanks!

Anonymous said...

they did a beautiful job bringing the house back!
Looks gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

Christina Ricci sold it for around 2.8 Million? What a steal... The house had been ignored for so long. It now looks more like 6 million dollars, now that it's been brought back ..it's a true masterpiece, probably one of Lloyd Wright Jr's best.

Al Harlow said...

I had the pleasure of staying at the Samuel-Novarro house for two weeks in 1981, when it was owned by record producer John Carter. An historic registered landmark at the time, the decor was quite faithful to the original. I enjoyed early morning dips in the swimming pool located in the livingroom, & emerging outdoors. The entertainment room on the lower level doubled as a stage for play-acting, as outdoor guests viewed through the large prescenium opening. The guestbook included signatures of Douglas Fairbanks & Mary Pickford. What a place to stay!
Al Harlow
PRiSM rock group

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Al. I hope you stole that guestbook. I know I would have.

adeunyc said...

al,

I'm the current owner of the house and would love to track down the guest book. Any leads? Would love to ask you a couple of questions about your stay.
A.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Hi, adeunyc. Allan's from the Canadian group Prism. If he doesn't check back here, you might be able to reach him through the band's website, www.prism.ca.

Anonymous said...

I spent a lot of time in that house with various owners. The house is built between two streets, Valley Oak and Verde Oak. My family owned 2219 Verde Oak Drive from 1962 till 2001. It is just one house away from our family home. My sister cared for Diane Keaton's dogs at times. It seems funny to me that you are showing the Valley Oak side of the house as the "front" of the house when most of the owners that I knew used the entrance on Verde Oak as the primary "front door" to the residence. I certainly understand that from the street, this is the best view of the house, but we are talking about a house that most would say does not have a bad angle.The archway and curving stairway shown in the photographs of the Valley Oak "front" of the house are not original. The pool that comes off of the living room was, at one time, covered with a translucent plastic paneled roof, making it an "indoor" pool. The Verde Oak entrance to the house took you past the master bedroom suite downstairs to the living room area. This was easier for guest entry than walking up two flights to get to this "main floor." All and all, what a great place to play and enjoy as one grows up. The "Oaks" is a great neighborhood and this home is truly one of it's many shining stars. Certainly a favorite of mine. As for that guest book, I saw it there in the late 1970's. After that... I do not know.
R. Ellis II

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks a lot for checking in and commenting, R. Ellis II. This kind of stuff is great to hear.

Al Harlow said...

Hello again:
This is for "adeunyc": Sorry for my late reply here. I'd be happy to discuss my stay at the Novarro house if you're still interested. My email is: al@prism.ca
Enjoy ALL comments on this page. R Ellis II supplied great insight. Best to you all. - Al Harlow

9abuilder said...

Hey Floyd, sure miss your regular posts.
Just a note, the Samuel-Novarro house is up for sale again at $3.995 million dollars. Thought readers would like to know.