Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Apartment Buildings and Celebrity Connections – Part I

Dec. 22, 1929, Casa de Contenta

People moved to Hollywood in droves in the 1920s, lured by the exploding motion picture industry, and by gorgeous advertisements placed in magazines and newspapers around the country. Construction of apartment buildings surged to meet demand, especially those offering elegant design and amenities for discerning patrons. Many celebrities saw owning apartment buildings as a good investment, while some investors recognized that a great name would lure patrons. Two such complexes arose in late 1920s Hollywood, one named after a celebrity, De Mille Manor, and another owned for a time by a star, the Casa de Contenta Apartments.

 

The Los Angeles Times reported on Dec. 22, 1929, that construction had been completed on the $400,000 Casa de Contenta Apartments at 1345 N. Hayworth Ave. by A.R. Thompson. Featured in a photograph, the three-story, Spanish-style, stucco building consisted of 40 furnished apartments of three to six rooms each, with such amenities as heat, refrigeration, maid service, gym, basement garage, 16 x 15 foot swimming pool, putting green, lounge and card room, and tea garden. The name Casa de Contenta referred to the peaceful Spanish hacienda days, spent gracefully lounging in comfort entertaining family and guests.

By August 1930, the actress Dorothy Davenport Reid had acquired the building, as frequent classified ads referred to the building as Mrs. Wallace Reid’s Casa de Contenta. Reid needed investments to help keep her and her family going, more than eight years after her husband Wallace’s death, and with the drastic slowing of her career. With the Depression, she only held on to the building for a few years.

Ads stopped mentioning Reid’s name in mid-1932, but described the building as of “beautiful, rambling Spanish design, 3-6 rooms.” By Jan. 25, 1933, the building, located just south of Sunset Boulevard off the Sunset Strip, changed names to El Jardin Apartments. Ads now claimed, “Newly furnished in elaborate style. Pool, gym, handball court, gardens, garage, doubles and triples, $100-$140.” Sporadic advertising continued through 1934.

A Sept. 18, 1938, Los Angeles Times advertisement announced new ownership and upgrades. “Symphony of color. Newly furnished, Harmony and dignity fashioned in latest style and material to present attractive apartment home. Available now triple, 2 bd-2 bt, din. kit., swimming, daily maid service, 24 hour switchboard, garage.”

Continental Realty sold the now El Jardine Apartments in 1943 for $165,000, with the Times ad claiming five units in the building.

Celebrities lived in the building along the way. City directories and E. J. Fleming’s “Movieland Directory” state that Minna Wallis, Hal Wallis’ sister and talent agent, lived here in 1930, Warner Oland in 1932, MGM executive Howard Strickling in 1932, actor Walter Huston in 1936, actress Bess Flowers from 1936-1940, Richard Quine in 1938, Leon Ames in 1938, Phil Silvers in 1942, and stills photographer Milton Brown from 1932-1948. Brown, head of MGM’s still photo lab, lived here with his wife before passing away of a heart attack on March 29, 1948.

The Aug. 9, 1945, Los Angeles Times reported that actor William Lundigan’s parents lived at 1345 N. Hayworth Ave, in a story about him serving more than a year overseas, including taking color footage at Okinawa.

By 1957, colorful but not as famous residents resided in the building. The May 6, 1957 Los Angeles Times noted that a raid occurred on a pot party at an apartment in the complex that day,with five people arrested, including actress Tyra Leal, who had been throwing such parties for a while. One gentleman even tried to swallow five marijuana cigarettes to destroy evidence.

Over the next several decades, rents stayed somewhat flat as the building dropped in prestige. Ads listed rents from $25-$145 in 1960, down to $80 bachelor, $100 for 1 bedroom, and $125 for two bedrooms in 1963. The building of up to 73 units went up for sale at auction after foreclosure on March 10, 1964. By 1968, it was foreclosed again, with 48 units up for sale. It was bought for $400,000, with the bathrooms and kitchens remodeled, along with the exterior.

The building is now a condo building, attractive to young professionals in the entertainment business, and looks much the same, though aluminum windows have replaced the wooden windows, and it appears that the pool in back has been filled in and is now a sunning area. The grande dame still looks gorgeous as compared to many more younger counterparts.

Over above Franklin Avenue at 2034 N. Argyle Avenue, the De Mille Manor Apartment building arose around the same time, though I can find no connection to a De Mille. The spelling follows that of William and Agnes, not that of more famous Cecil B. DeMille. While offering nice amenities, the building lacked the grace of the Casa de Contenta. The Sept. 25, 1928, Los Angeles Times ran an ad which stated, “Now open for reservations. Apts. of unusual charm, luxury, and comfort, singles and doubles, $50 and up. Rates include Frigidaire, phone, light, and heat. Daily maid service if desired.”

The building obviously suffered from low vacancies, because the July 9, 1929 want ads in the Times state, “Hollywood ideal apt. home, singles and doubles. For limited time on 6 month lease. Will pay moving expenses.”

That October, Jane Wilbraham purchased the furniture and furnishings of the building from J. M. Henderson Jr., leasing the building for 10 years, with the story calling it a four story building with approximately 100 rooms. Wilbraham’s husband had owned the Navarro and Park Central Hotels in New York City, which the story claimed had large followings.

On Dec. 30, 1930, Mrs. Wilbraham was robbed of rings worth $10,000 at gunpoint by three men, part of a Chicago jewel gang, who were captured and jailed by the next day. She was threatened in a phone call that “she would be taken for a ride” if she went to the police, but Mrs. Wilbraham confidently marched into the police station and picked the men out in a lineup.

Rates remained pretty much steady for years, along with peaceful times. On Jan. 1, 1955, police were called to Dolores McQuaid’s third-floor apartment to break up a disturbance between her and Armando Arguello, who the police led away to book on drunkenness. McQuaid opened her window, took aim with a heavy thick glass ashtray, and squarely hit Arguello in the head 50 feet away and below her on the sidewalk. As the police arrested her, she commented, “I’m a pretty good shot.”

A maid, Verly Maid English, suffered possible internal injuries in a 1959 explosion in one of the building’s apartments, when she plugged in a vacuum. It was thought a possible gas leak caused the explosion.

Apartment rental rates graduallly increased over the years, from $60-$80 in 1951, to $65 singles in 1965, to apartments $110 and up in 1971, with an almost continual streak of listings in classifieds. Turnover seemed high.

No one of major importance seems to have lived at the building over the years. It still stands a few blocks north of the 101 freeway. Though not as grand as the Casa de Contenta, De Mille Manor offered services and style beyond much of what is offered today in more homogenized buildings.

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1929, Architecture, Film, Hollywood, Hollywood Heights, Mary Mallory and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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