Tuesday, May 12, 2009

They Paved Paradise And Put Up A Parking Lot

I'm not going to lie; I've been composing this post in my head since the day I took these pictures. But it couldn't be just any post. It had to be important. I wanted to be able to say everything I wanted to say without going overboard. Some of these things you've heard me say before (if you've read my posts), but this time, the circumstances were totally different.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Los Angeles, living it up in the sun and the smog and the gridlock. I spent a lot of time traversing the city on the surface streets, visiting friends and sightseeing. I had a stack of index cards with me, notes I had taken on Hollywood landmarks years before. I had addresses (with their Thomas Guide coordinates) and all the bullet-pointed notes. This is how I spent my days. I spent the weekend staying at The Biltmore, hoping to sponge up some of the lavish Hollywood history. I mentioned in my previous post that they wouldn't really let me photograph the interior of the hotel. They made me show my room key a couple of times and it was clear people were keeping their eyes on me. I think being in Los Angeles has made them super sensitive and I'm guessing they were scrutinizing my actions because I had a "fancy" camera and not a point-and-shoot. I left The Biltmore really disappointed with my stay. That was on Sunday. Monday was a whole different story.

On Monday, The Annenberg Community Beach House opened in Santa Monica. It's a place for the public to go to swim, play volleyball, and hang out, without needing any sort of pricey membership. More importantly (to me anyway), the Beach House stands in the footprint of what used to be Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst's Santa Monica mansion. This is the view of the original structure, from the beach:

All that remains of the original design are the guest house and the swimming pool, both of which are now open to the public. I couldn't believe my luck - the space opened the weekend I was there which meant I got to go visit. I can not explain to you the exhilarating feeling of being able to walk around this space. The city of Santa Monica has done an AMAZING job of honoring the land's past. They restored the guest house and a docent will take you on a tour of the inside of this 9100 square foot guest house. Another docent will take you on a tour of the whole space and talk with you about the history of the land and what happened when Marion Davies had to sell the mansion. Here is what the space looks like now:

This is the guest house.
Marion Davies' House

This is the beach house. It stands where the mansion once stood. The pillars integrated into the design of the beach house are in the exact same places as the pillars of the original beach house. The pool in this photo is the original pool; much of the design is the same as at Hearst's pool at San Simeon. So, when you take your little kids to the community pool in Santa Monica, they are swimming where Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, and Louis B. Mayer once swam!
Marion Davies' House
As our tour was finishing up, we were standing on the top floor of the beach house, looking out at the water. The docent was talking about the changes in the beach and the ocean and as were watching the waves, we saw a dolphin. It was the perfect way to end our tour.

I just loved these sand castles; they were built right on the beach in front of the Marion Davies guest house.
Sand Castles

There was only one other person on my tour, Louise. She lives in Santa Monica and took the tour because she was curious about what was happening in her neighborhood. Turns out, she's a movie lover, too. After our official tour ended, we decided to walk together and tour the "Gold Coast" of the PCH. Back in the day, all the big stars had houses right along the PCH. Most of them have been renovated, added onto, split in half, etc, but the addresses are all still there. It's not exactly the safest thing to do, but we walked along the PCH, checking out the addresses and standing for a moment in the footprints of Harold Lloyd, Mae West, Norma Shearer, and many more. Of course, the diamond in the crown is the home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Louise and I were standing in the driveway, looking up at what was essentially the garage, just marveling at it all. And then the unimaginable happened - we were invited in! I have now stood in Douglas Fairbanks' home. To me, it's an amazing thing. After having such a miserable time trying to explore The Biltmore, to spend the day at Marion Davies' house and then at Douglas Fairbanks' was mind-blowing. It really proved to me that there are people out there, even in Los Angeles, who want to remember, and honor, their past. It was a day I will never forget!

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Sounds like an amazing experience! Great pictures (no surprise there!). :)