Mae West in her boudoir at the Ravenswood, Life magazine, Feb. 19, 1940.
Built during the early years of the Great Depression, the luxurious Ravenswood Apartment building at 570 N. Rossmore Ave. stands as one of the best examples of upscale apartment living in Los Angeles the 1930s. A gorgeous Zig Zag Streamline Moderne building, the Ravenswood features elegant decorations, adornments, and amenities, attracting many celebrity and discriminating residents.
Financier Maurice Feigenbaum obtained a permit for an eight-story, 240 room apartment building costing $350,000 in early June 1930, per the June 8, 1930 Los Angeles Times. He hired Max Maltzman, one of the few Jewish architects in Los Angeles at the time, to design an upscale structure. Originally from Boston, where he opened a draftsman’s office in 1923, Maltzman arrived on the West Coast in 1927, working as a draftsman for architect Leland A. Bryant. By 1929, Maltzman opened his own shop at 704 S. Spring Street, designing elegant apartment buildings throughout mid-Wilshire and the surrounding area. Feigenbaum, unfortunately, was indicted along with eleven others by a Federal grand jury November 18, 1931 for attempting to defraud more than $5 million through the U. S. mail.
A postcard of the Ravenswood, courtesy of Mary Mallory. .
Upon completion, the Ravenswood attracted refined citizens of Los Angeles and discerning high-end visitors looking for cultured short-term accommodations. The luxuriously furnished building featured commissary, subterranean garage, lounge, tennis courts, and up to three bedroom apartments, based on advertisements during the period. East Coast and Midwest visitors seasoned at the Ravenswood, escaping harsh winters or enjoying sunny summers.
Celebrities arrived early. The June 20, 1931 Los Angeles Times reported that actor Clark Gable and his wife, Ria Langham, were residing at the property, after a second marriage making their union legal. “I Don’t Care Girl” Eva Tanguay resided in the building after multiple blood transfusions in October 1932, with the Times describing her as virtually penniless. Actor Lyle Talbot lived at the Ravenswood in the early 1930s, per his daughter’s recent biography. Other 1930s residents included bandleader Paul Whiteman and director George Sidney. Mary Wickes and Ethel Merman also later resided at the Ravenswood.
The Ravenswood gained their most famous resident, curvaceous sex symbol Mae West, in 1932, when Paramount Pictures signed her to a long-term contract. New York resident West requested the studio find her appropriate housing near the lot, per author Charlotte Chandler in her Mae West biography, “She Always Knew How.”
The studio furnished her apartment in what author Emily Leider, author of “Becoming Mae West,” describes as “early French candy box.” Decorated in a rococo, over-the-top artificiality, apartment 611 featured various shades of white and gold accentuating West’s fair complexion, as carefully crafted as any movie set. A canopied and draped bed embossed with the letter “W,” surrounded with pale pink brocade edged with lace, and featuring a quilted, pale pink headboard, dominated her lavish bedroom. Mirrors surrounded the bed and hung over it.
Over time, West would add a nude marble statue of her slinky figure by Gladys Bush as well as a Florence Kinzel painting depicting her nude, lying on her back as important decorations in the apartment. In a 1969 interview with Life magazine, West described her apartment by saying, “Everything has proportion, nothing is jarring. Everything is symphony.”
Mae West in her apartment, Life magazine, Feb. 19, 1940.
The Ravenswood changed hands many times over the decades, both because of costs and new owners looking for investment opportunities. The May 30, 1937, Los Angeles Times reported that the George Pepperdine Foundation acquired the stately structure for $1.5 million. Pepperdine, president of Western Auto Supply, promoted “educational, charitable, and religious work” through his foundation, providing support to a boys’ home, home for underprivileged girls, and the proposed new George Pepperdine College at 79th Street and Vermont Avenue. In 1938, the foundation sold to apartment manager Lloyd Harriman and a San Francisco-based organization.
The Times reported on May 16, 1943, that Continental Realty bought the seven-story, 95 unit Ravenswood from San Francisco businessman Albert Ichelson, and immediately resold the building to dancer Theodore Kosloff for $750,000.
On March 7, 1954, the Times announced that the owners of the nearby El Royale had purchased the stately Ravenswood from Chicago owner Edward Glatt for more than $1 million on February 17. After spending more than $200,000 to install an 18 x 44 swimming pool, lanai, and make other improvements, the company touted their work in a November 21, 1954 story in the Los Angeles Times. They ran ads in 1955 calling it the “new Ravenswood,” announcing newly furnished bachelor through two-bedroom apartments with model kitchens, disposal, and garage from $125 a month.
By December 30, 1956, however, the company turned around and sold the structure for more than $1.4 million to the Ravenswood Apartments Corporation, a syndicate operated by Jack Kessler, John Halperin, and Joseph H. Sugarman
The property turned over again, as Mr. and Mrs. William Pereira sold the Ravenswood to James Ladicos, Robert Shamlian, and William Backamis for more than $1.3 million, per the January 30, 1972 Los Angeles Times.
Named Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument #768 in 2003, the Ravenswood Apartment Building still regally stands along Rossmore Avenue, a stylish reminder of glamorous living in the 1930s.