The Du Barry Apartments via Google Street View.
S. Charles Lee’s design for the Du Barry Apartments, March 10, 1929.
Still attracting admiring looks after 89 years, the classy Du Barry Apartments located at 458 S. Catalina St. transports viewers into a delectable fantasy world, all thanks to the talents of renowned theatre architect S. Charles Lee. Following his famous boast, “The show starts on the sidewalk,” the striking architecture of the building serves as an advertisement for luring potential renters and garnering attention from those walking or driving by.
In the early decades of the 1900s, a one-story possibly Craftsman home stood at the site, built in late 1912 by attorney Edmund B. Drake and designed by architect Arthur R. Kelly, who later designed such homes as William S. Hart’s Newhall Ranch and what is now the Playboy Mansion, as well as the Hotel Christie on Hollywood Boulevard. Around 1924, Drake sold to entrepreneur Jacob Kalb.
Hollywood at Play, by Donovan Brandt, Mary Mallory and Stephen X. Sylvester is now on sale.
Dec. 8, 1929, the Du Barry Apartments are featured in the Los Angeles Times.
Born in 1875, Kalb immigrated with his wife to the United States from Austria in 1898 and settled in New York, where he worked first in ladies’ wear and then became an exporter. They decided to retire to Los Angeles in 1924, becoming active in a variety of social and religious organizations, with the congregation of Temple Emanuel electing him first vice president in 1928. Deciding to capitalize on his investment, Kalb hired the celebrated S. Charles Lee, born Simeon Charles Levi, in 1929 to fashion a luxurious apartment building appealing and catering to upscale tenants.
The March 10, 1929, Los Angeles Times played up its stunning look, calling it a “style suggestive of the French architecture which was in vogue during the romantic period of Cardinal Richelieu.” This article reported that the $400,000 seven-story, Class A building would contain 80 apartments, electric heat, electrical refrigeration, a vacuum system, high speed elevators and garage. Maggie Valentine in her book, “The Shows Starts on the Sidewalk,” describes Lee, just gaining fame for his fanciful designs for such movie palaces as downtown Los Angeles’ Tower Theatre and the El Mirador Apartments, as employing “innovations in planning, layout, technology, and efficiency,” with these and other details such as underground parking highlighting his modern and up-to-date touches.
A June 9,1929, story in the Times listed Herbert M. Baruch Corp. as supervising contractor, a respected company which had served in the same capacity for such buildings as the Wilshire Temple, Brentwood Country Mart, Hollywood Bowl, and Beverly Hills City Hall. On June 28, Kalb applied for a permit to erect a rooftop neon sign by Electrical Products Corporation to advertise his residential complex. Lee conducted many load tests that summer and fall to verify the safety and suitability of constructing an underground garage. Permits show that 215 tons of steel and 4,500 pounds of concrete were employed in construction
By December 8, the paper reported that the newly finished building contained 69 units of 234 rooms at a combined cost for construction, land, and furnishings of $750,000 and would open in a few days. The structure contained 15 4-room apartments, 54 3-room apartments, and 12 bachelors, financed by the American Mortgage Company. Besides underground parking, the facility featured storage rooms, boiler rooms, linen rooms, incinerator, two elevators, steam heat, and Kelvinator refrigeration, with furnishings by Karpen Brothers.
Kalb began advertising the building by early January 1930 with ads noting it opened December 28, 1929, though it did not receive its Certificate of Occupancy until February 20, 1930. Ads promoted its 24-hour switchboard and garage service as well as daily maid service. By 1934, ads list its “home-like” atmosphere.
The building attracted attorneys, stockbrokers, and executives, such as Marius F. Johansen, Vice President of Gladding, McBean, and Co., as residents, though at a slow rate because of the Depression. By May 8, 1935, Alexander Investment Co. on behalf of Kalb sold the building to John E. Owens, owner of several luxurious apartment complexes around the city, for only $190,000 in cash.
Owens, who later served as president of the National Apartment House Owners Association, and the building gained notoriety in 1949 when Mrs. Agnes Garnier, Owens’ secretary and manager of the building, shot and killed him at his Riverside Ranch on April 22, 1949, after their long time affair went sour, he fired her, and she grew jealous of his attentions to actress Irene Rich. Though she claimed a quarrel between the two, the jury found her guilty of manslaughter. Widow Owens owned the building until at least 1963 before finally selling.
Still a majestic beauty at 89, S. Charles Lee’s sleek Du Barry Apartments stands as a monument to high-class design and construction.