Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights — Spooky, Ooky Witch’s House Haunts Beverly Hills

Willat-Lescalle House

A sketch of the “The Witch’s House” by Charles Owens from “Nuestro Pueblo,” courtesy of Mary Mallory


 

Once upon a time, home design and architecture saluted fantasy and make-believe, and not just in fiction. Bilbo Baggins and lucky leprechauns resided in twee little bungalows, short, off-kilter, hutch-like, but so did imaginative and childlike Los Angeles residents of the 1920s. Storybook architecture, dreamed up and promoted by film industry veterans, flourished near movie studios, magical little Brigadoon-like structures.

A strong proponent of storybook design was Hollywood art director Harry Oliver. Noted for his work as art director on films “7th Heaven” (1927) and “Street Angel” (1928). Oliver merrily dreamed up colorful structures on the side, like the famous Van de Kamp’s windmills and Los Feliz’s Tam-o-Shanter restaurant. Another whimsical structure, however, remains his most famous design, the Witch’s House in Beverly Hills.

Mary Mallory’s “Hollywoodland:Tales Lost and Found” is available as an ebook.

lascelle_postcard

A postcard of the “Witch’s House” is listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $10.97.


Oliver began working as a printer’s devil as a child and came to California as a theatrical scenery painter in 1908. By 1919, he was working for film director Irvin Willat as a technical director. Starting as a cameraman in New York’s fledgling film industry in 1908, Willat moved from studio to studio until he ended up as an integral lenser for producer Thomas Ince, especially on films like “Civilization” (1916) and “False Faces” (1919). Willat shot atmospheric films and devised intricate visual effects for the times as well, and sometimes edited the pictures on which he worked.

Willat directed the film, “Behind the Door” in 1919, on which Oliver served as technical director. Admiring Oliver’s work, Willat employed him as technical director on two more pictures that year, “Below the Surface” and “Down Home.”

When it came time to design an administration building for his new Irvin Willat Productions in February 1920, the director turned again to Oliver. Oliver’s playful design appeared on the March 1920 cover for the Home Designer magazine, a gabled, angular cottage with thatched roof straight out of “Snow White” or “Hansel and Gretel.” By April 15, 1921, the studio was virtually completed, and the dreamy building appeared as a set in the film “The Face of the World,” starring Barbara Bedford and Edward Hearn.

Unfortunately, Willat quickly ran into financial problems and by 1922 folded his company. The sweet structure was employed as a set for several years, until journeyman film director/producer Ward Lascelle purchased it. Lascelle, who entered the film business working for Fine Arts Studio and D.W. Griffith, acquired property in Beverly Hills at Carmelita Drive and Walden Drive in 1925, and realized that the colorful building would draw attention as his personal residence.

The March 1925 Photoplay magazine called the building, “An artistic structure, one might say, almost futuristic, all gables and gables and gables.” The magazine related that Lascelle bought a lot in Beverly Hills, and “he went to Willat and purchased his studio’s main administration building. He moved it gables and all…” to his property.

New Movie Magazine featured the house in its September 1930 issue, describing it as a “Witch’s House,” and giving a little history. “A strange Mother Goose creation of broken roof lines and eerie windows, this house was the studio of Irwin (sic) Willat. When he abandoned picture production, the structure was moved to Beverly Hills, where it is now the residence of Ward Lascelles (sic), another picture executive.”

The Green family and others owned it over the years, and by 1980, the home contained 12 rooms in 3,700 square feet, including wet bar, wine cellar, three fireplaces, maid’s quarters, three bedrooms, and four bathrooms. The home also appeared in at least two other films, “The Loved One,” and “Clueless.”

A popular tourist attraction today, “The Witch’s House” represents the perfect whimsical and spooky Halloween residence, a proper abode for such popular culture witches as Witch Hazel or Wicked Witch of the West.

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1921, Architecture, Film, Hollywood, Hollywood Heights, Mary Mallory, Nuestro Pueblo and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights — Spooky, Ooky Witch’s House Haunts Beverly Hills

  1. Cal and Lulu says:

    Ah yes, in the late 1940’s, we would ride our bikes by the “Witch’s House” on our way to El Rodeo Elementary School located on nearby Whittier Drive. As kids, we weren’t too sure who lived there but every once in awhile we would dare one another to ring the doorbell and then run and hide in the bushes to see who answered the door. Of course, on Halloween night the “Witch’s House” house became an annual stop on our “trick or treat” route. When the front was door open we would attempt to peek inside to see who, or what else was inside. Oddly enough, we eventually found out that normal, friendly people resided there. One dark night in the late 1970’s we returned to the “Witch’s House” on Halloween Night with our 4 young children to experience its “frightful magic.” On that hat particular evening, the inhabitants of the house had placed over a dozen lighted “Jack O’ Lanterns” on the walkway up to the front door. It was as scary looking as ever. Ironically, the Witch’s House” was very near, within a block or so, where Ben, “Bugsy” Siegel was gunned down in Virginia Hill’s rented home on Linden Drive, (1947) and not far from the home where Howard Hughes had crashed in his experimental airplane a year earlier on the same street. Ah yes, we always want to remember Beverly Hills as a quiet and peaceful place during those years. It seems that we took it all in stride. After all, it wasn’t Salem Massachusetts, where the real witches lived.

  2. Eve says:

    A friend drove me past it a few years ago on one of my visits out there–mostly I remember the chocolate-banana milkshake I had later that day. It was perhaps the best milkshake I have ever had in my life. * goes into mental reverie about the days when I could drink a milkshake without instantly putting on 20 pounds *

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