California saw a renaissance of Spanish Revival architecture in the wake of World War I, as it both saluted the life and culture of the Mediterranean and paid homage to the state’s colonial past. Moving beyond Mission Revival, it focused on exquisite and romantic details like graceful arches, decorative lanterns, colorful tile, Juliet balconies, lush gardens, languid patios and terraces, decorative wood beams, graceful staircases, and refined wrought iron railings.
The height of Spanish Revival in the 1920s just happened to coincide with the peak of the silent film industry, which both promoted the lavish style in its glamorous films and rushed to construct their own high-end haciendas. Such stars as Fred Thomson and Frances Marion, Richard Dix, and Mary Pickford and Douglass Fairbanks built or renovated their homes into lavish Spanish Revival masterpieces.
“Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays” by Karie Bible and Mary Mallory is available at Amazon and at local bookstores.
2212 Hollyridge Drive, via Google Street View.
In 1927, popular actress Esther Ralston and her husband, George Webb, began searching for their own lush “castle” to display how successful she had become. Truly “born in a trunk,” young Ralston joined the family act on stage in burlesque and vaudeville at the age of two, breaking into the silent film industry in the teens. Joining Paramount, she starred in such films as “The Wild Party” (1923), “Peter Pan” (1924), “The American Venus” (1926), and “Old Ironsides” (1926).
Ralston had married the much older Webb, born George Webb Frey, in 1925 after truly becoming a star. Webb took over as her manager, directing both her career and private life, controlling the money and making most decisions. Naive, trusting Ralston went along with his wishes. As she writes in her autobiography, “Some Day We’ll Laugh,” Webb decided in September 1927 they needed to leave their cramped apartment and find an appropriate “star” home. Perhaps they saw the September 8, 1927 advertisement listing the public auction of 2212 Hollyridge Drive on September 12, after the home failed to sell in a July 1927 auction.
Esther Ralston in an undated publicity photo.
Mrs. Lena Laventhall had paid $25,000 for Louis Maurer to design and construct an elegant two-story Spanish estate atop a small hill, per the October 27, 1926 building permit. Less than a year later, she was forced to put it up for auction, with the ad calling it “a modern conception of “Italian-Spanish type” possessing 16 fully furnished rooms and luxurious surroundings. Granite retaining walls added a lush touch, with the ad finally stating “an exquisite setting for people of culture, who appreciate the utmost in Home refinements.” The home also contained a radio and telephone in every room, two grand pianos, one in the ball room, electric refrigeration and heat, delicate Oriental rugs,”marble, bronze, and pottery vases,” and Havilland china, all to be auctioned off on September 14.
An auction ad in the Los Angeles Times, Sept. 14, 1927.
Webb and Ralston won the home at auction, and hired renowned architect Arthur Kelly to design a bath house for the property that December. Kelly had worked his way up the ranks in the Los Angeles architecture field, starting with the Greene and Greene brothers before opening his own shop. He designed such Los Angeles landmarks as the Hotel Christie on Hollywood Blvd. and what is now known as the Playboy Mansion.
They lived in the estate for several years, entertaining lavishly before raising their daughter in the home. Hollywoodland developers claimed them as residents, though they actually lived just outside the boundaries of the subdevelopment. Unbeknownst to Ralston, however, her husband Webb was investing Ralston’s huge paychecks in the stock market and other risky ventures, and when the stock market crashed, so did Ralston’s finances.
The family was forced to go to England, where Ralston found film and stage work, as her Paramount career appeared to be winding down with the advent of sound in 1930-1931. They apparently leased out the home, and lived in it after returning from overseas. Ralston discovered Webb’s shenanigans were once again leaving her with little financial options.
An auction listed in the Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1933.
The February 25, 1933 Los Angeles Times reports that Ralston would be auctioning the home to return to acting opportunities in England, and also to get out of debt. She estimated the residence to be worth $200,000 and the furnishings $100,000, while the Hollywood Reporter on the same date displays the ad promoting the sale. From February 27-March 1, all furnishings as well as the home were sold off one by one. Ralston needed to pay off creditors and move on with her life, which selling the house would allow her to do. She began divorce proceedings that fall.
Subsequent owners of 2212 Hollyridge Drive remained below the radar, not appearing in the Los Angeles city directory, newspaper stories, or the like. Little alterations appear to have occurred to the house, as only a 1995 permit for re-roofing and earthquake work and a 2011 permit for working on the chimney exist on the property.
The house still regally stands near Canyon Drive, a bastion of style and elegance to this day.