1928 – Lloyd Wright
5609 Valley Oak Drive – map
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 façade 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).
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.”
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.
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.
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