Norman Kerry in 1924.
Long before billionaire investor Ron Burkle purchased and restored such historic architectural properties as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis-Brown House, Harold Lloyd’s Greenacres, and Bob Hope’s Palm Springs and Toluca Lake houses, silent film star Norman Kerry became one of the first Los Angeles-area preservation angels by rescuing a doomed Greene and Greene Brothers Craftsman home in the Wilshire Boulevard district. The 109-year-old landmark still stands near the Beverly Hills Hotel, the only Greene and Greene home in that city.
Multi-talented Earle C. Anthony originally constructed the graceful home after becoming one of the West Coast’s most successful Packard dealers. An automotive pioneer, Anthony designed Los Angeles’ first electric car at the age of 17 before founding the Western Motor Car Company with his father in 1904. Diversifying his portfolio around transportation, Anthony created an intercity bus line and constructed a chain of gasoline stations which he sold to Standard Oil Company in 1913.
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To signify his success, Anthony hired the renowned Greene and Greene brothers of Pasadena to design and build him an elegant mansion on family owned property at the southeastern corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Berendo Street, opposite his father’s property on the southwestern corner, their first in the Los Angeles area.
Anthony pulled a permit April 13, 1910 to build a two-story, $15,000 home at 656 S. Berendo St. Around this time, Charles Sumner Greene departed to England, and so Henry Mather Greene did the majority of the designing at a time when the brothers’ work was moving away from elaborate and detailed work into more traditional California Craftsman bungalow styles. Randall Makinson in his book “Architecture as Fine Art” describes it as “L” shaped, with a pergola on the street side providing separation from the street. As with other Greene and Greene brothers’ work, it featured split shake-clad walls, open porches, fireplaces, and wooden light fixtures.
While the auto dealer enjoyed the beauty of his new home, his wife found fault with some details. Upon his return from England in 1914, Charles Greene designed interior lighting and leaded glass windows, some of his best work, to brighten up interiors. Some of the trim downstairs was painted to lighten the home as well, while a sleeping room was added upstairs. In 1921, Anthony hired Henry Greene to design a garage in back.
Since the family had taken up residence in 1910, the neighborhood surrounding it had undergone a gigantic building boom, seeing historic estates demolished to make way for commercial developments and apartment buildings. By 1922, Anthony was ready to move on to something more private.
The Los Angeles Times announced on March 22, 1922 that real estate management company A. C. Blumenthal & Co. had purchased the property on behalf of a group of San Francisco investors in order to construct a Class A apartment building. By the end of July, the company announced they planned to relocate the home as soon as possible to a lot at Wilshire and Lucerne Boulevard in order to construct the $850,000 apartment building.
As usual with real estate projects, time moved more slowly in completing the development than intended. Owners/developers McDonald Kahn Company of San Francisco received a permit December 26, 1922 to move the residence now listed at 666 S. Berendo “Outside the city.” Newspaper stories in 1923 and 1924 announced that McDonald Kahn intended to construct a 10-story, Class A apartment building designed by Aleck Curlett and Claud Beelman named the Francesca Apartments after their Francesca Apartment building on Powell and Sacramento in San Francisco. Finally completed in 1924 and using 3278 Wilshire Blvd. as its address, the building opened under the name Talmadge Apartments after film studio executive Joseph Schenck and his wife, film diva Norrma Talmadge, acquired the property.
Little documentation exists to show exactly when Norman Kerry acquired the home and for how much. The debonair, restless actor enjoyed life as a bon vivant, living beyond his means, but seeming to marry wives with large portfolios. Kerry enjoyed sports and automobiles, both interests of Anthony, so perhaps the two men enjoyed a friendship which facilitated the purchase.
The pool at 910 Bedford in a 1924 L.A. Times photo.
Born Norman H. (Hussen) Kaiser June 16, 1894 in Rochester, New York, Kerry attended private schools while his father owned and operated the Kaiser Leathergoods Company with the help of his father-in-law Alexander D. Lamberton. The young man traveled to the West Coast occasionally in the early 1910s assisting the family with business. In 1916, Kaiser lucked into a job in the film industry with Art Acord, with some papers claiming he first appeared in the Douglas Fairbanks’ film “Manhattan Madness.” After starring in several pictures under his real name, including Mary Pickford’s “The Little Princess,” he changed his name in the press to Norman Kerry to escape the German connotation. Kerry quickly traveled to Toronto to join the British Royal Flying Corps.
Thanks to his attractive looks and charming personality, the suave, intelligent young man quickly became a light romantic star following war’s end. Kerry starred in “Up the Road With Sallie” with Constance Talmadge in 1918 and many others and before landing at Universal. In 1922, he starred in Erich von Stroheim’s film “Merry-Go-Round,” which led the studio to sign him to a five-year contract. Over the next few years Kerry would appear in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Phantom of the Opera,” two bonafide classics. These films perhaps appealed to his romantic, dreamy nature, which possibly carried through into his love of architecture as well.
The August 3, 1924 Los Angeles Times reported that Kerry “wanted a home of real Hawaiian timbers, without a nail in it,” and importing wood and workers from Hawaii was cost prohibitive. When “a friend” in the Wilshire District decided to cash in the value of his property for an apartment site, Kerry purchased the mansion. Cut into three parts, the twelve-room residence moved seven miles to 910 N. Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills. Moving a home was common during this period, in fact, 10 house moving companies are listed in the 1923 Los Angeles city directory.
Cost to move the home was supposedly twice the price to purchase it, and then the cost of buying the Beverly Hills lot and improving it with swimming pool, tennis court, garage, kennels, and gardens equaled four to five times the purchase price. An Eastern magazine called the residence “the strangest and most beautiful home in filmland.” The Times described it as “marvelous’ – one which couldn’t be duplicated and worth many times its cost.
Kerry hired Henry Greene to properly site the home on the larger, triangular plot, building a brick retaining wall and designing gardens around the property. By 1924, the generous actor was hosting swimming parties for his male buddies and elaborate dinners and events for he and his wife’s friends.
While the actor loved his home, Kerry endured marriage problems over the next six years. His first wife threatened to walk out in 1924; they reconciled but eventually divorced in 1930. Kerry married his second wife in 1932 before she asked for a divorce in 1934. Entertainment trades listed such people as Lorenz Hart (who supposedly wrote “Isn’t It Romantic?” there), Marion Davies, Countess di Frasso, and others renting the home over the years.
Eventually Kerry sold the home, and it passed through several hands over the years. Mrs. Rozene T. Emmerich owned the home beginning in 1933. E. H. Kron owned 910 N. Bedford in 1947, and actor Ed Gardner owned it in 1963. He listed it for sale in 1965 for $189,500, Leslie Dixon and Tom Ropelewski owned the home in the 2000s. The home has sold multiple times since that date, but thankfully Dixon recognized its historic significance and value, getting it named Beverly Hills Landmark No. 14.
Thanks to the foresight and quick thinking of Kerry, Earle C. Anthony’s gorgeous Greene and Greene brothers’ bungalow survived and thrived in Beverly Hills. Here’s to more like-minded individuals stepping up and heeding the call of history and preservation.