The Patrick M. Longan residence at 1305 Durand Drive, designed by John De Lario, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.
Although a heavily advertised, exclusive real estate development owned by such investors as Harry Chandler, M. H. Sherman and Eli P. Clark, Hollywoodland mainly succeeded because of the work and efforts of mostly forgotten men. Two individuals, however, gained importance over the decades for their public contributions, though details of their lives remained clouded in obscurity. John L. De Lario’s and Albert Kothe’s work helped epitomize Hollywoodland in shadow and substance.
Architect John Lucien De Lario’s elegant house designs established the glamour and romantic beauty of the neighborhood, drawing celebrities. Unlike the solid landmark status of his work, his life fluctuated between the high and low. Born July 16, 1888, in Laramie, Wyoming, De Lario discovered a love of architecture as a young man. Unlike many in his profession at the time, he studied building and design, joining the Sigma Beta Pi fraternity in 1904 before graduating from the University of Wyoming in 1905.
After his father died, De Lario helped support his mother and younger brother. Sensing better opportunity in Los Angeles, De Lario, his mother, and brother moved south in 1909, taking up residence at 2707 S. Western Ave. De Lario worked for Hudson and Munsell as a draftsman for several years before moving to the more respected and important firm of A.C. Martin. To enhance his career, De Lario joined the American Institute of Architects and the Los Angeles Architectural Club, helping organize exhibits and programs.
De Lario joined Feil and Verge in 1922 and began designing homes for the Windsor Square and Hancock Park communities at addresses such as 620 S. Rossmore and 630 S. Rossmore while also crafting the striking Tudor office of construction company Birch O’Neal on Larchmont Boulevard in 1923.
De Lario’s lush, elegant designs drew the attention of New Windsor Square and Marlborough Square developers Tracey E. Shoults and S. H. Woodruff. Sherman, Clark and Chandler hired the two men to lead development of their upscale Beachwood Canyon tract called Hollywoodland in 1923, and the men quickly hired De Lario to continue his refined ideas for the master planned community. De Lario served as supervisory architect for the development along with Harbin S. Hunter, earning $150 per design as early as July 1923, per a check stub in the Hollywoodland papers of M.H. Sherman at the Sherman Library. He would go on to receive this sum for designs of homes as well as the model for the planned but unbuilt Mack Sennett house atop what is now Mt. Lee.
The sunroom of the Longan residence, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.
Shoults and Woodruff envisioned Hollywoodland as a California version of an European hillside community, an ethereal Brigadoon hidden in the canyon. Their tract was one of the first master planned communities in Southern California, containing residential and commercial districts as well as its own riding stable, a first. De Lario would serve as architect for many of the outstanding designs in the community, shaping the graceful, romantic vision of Hollywoodland. De Lario coined the term “California Renaissance” for his and the development’s main design, “which tends to create a home delightful, beautiful, and comfortable, with the combination of modern comforts and conveniences and the early romance and enchantment of history.”
Over the next few years, De Lario worked out of various Hollywoodland real estate offices at 2684, 2690, and 2699 N. Beachwood Dr., both designing elevations and supervising the work of other architects for the tract. Several young draftsmen by the names of Lionel Banks, Benjamin Berry, and Nathan Baum assisted him in the work. De Lario concentrated mostly on Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, with occasional English Tudor and French Normandy sketches thrown in. At the same time, he occasionally drafted impressive house plans for others, like the luxurious John Bowers and Marguerite de la Motte mansion on Montcalm Dr. off Mulholland Dr. in 1926.
De Lario’s Hollywoodland work ranges from the magnificent hillside mansion Castillo del Lago overlooking Lake Hollywood to the English Tudor demonstration house on Westshire to the artistic Kanst Art Gallery and residence on Mulholland Highway to the graceful curves of the brick commercial district at the distinctive asymmetrical entrance gates. Perhaps greatest of all was the unbuilt Mack Sennett hacienda atop what is now Mt. Lee. De Lario fashioned a sumptuous villa striking in its refined elegance to lord over the development and its peak, to be visible to both city and valley.
De Lario described his design process for Hollywoodland in the July 5, 1925, Los Angeles Times, striving to fit his designs into the landscape following the organic principles of Frank Lloyd Wright. “All of California was designed by the Great Architect, and the present-day architect’s duty is to fit his structure or dwelling into the natural landscaping of the Golden State in a way which is architecturally beautiful, comfortable, convenient, and livable….today the members of the architectural profession are striving for simplicity and comfort in order that beauty shall be paramount.” He also told a Times columnist, “It is true that a purely California architecture, partly Spanish, partly Italian, really seems to be the best fitted for our needs in the Southland.”
As construction virtually ground to a halt in 1928 as the developers moved their focus to their new tract at Dana Point, De Lario left Hollywoodland to open his own office in artist Einar Petersen’s bungalow business court at 4350 Beverly Blvd. De Lario joined the Ralph B. Lloyd Corporation in 1929, moving his to 535 S. Knoll Drive in West Hollywood. Finally ready to settle down, De Lario married Kathryn C. McAuliffe in Carson City, Nevada, on July 9, 1929. For the next few years, De Lario designed homes in the Beverly Hills and West Hollywood areas while his wife worked as a buyer for Bullock’s Wilshire department store.
In 1932, De Lario left Lloyd Corporation under mysterious circumstances, and the couple and their young son would bounce between residences in South Los Angeles and apartments on Sunset Boulevard and Edendale Drive for the next few years. In November 1935, De Lario traveled solo by merchant marine to the Philippines, returning by February 1936. The Catholic couple would soon separate, annulling their marriage. On the 1940 and 1950 censuses, however, Kathryn De Lario listed herself as a widow. De Lario retired from architecture in 1942, moving to 1851 Outpost Drive, where he resided until his death on January 1, 1950.
De Lario’s lush, refined designs for Hollywoodland, though few, still radiate sophistication and glamour today, providing a rich patina of substance and history for the classic Hollywood hills neighborhood.
Dick Van Dyke portrayed Albert Kothe in the short film The Caretaker 3D.
German immigrant Albert Karl Heindrich Kothe’s work is not as glamorous or respected as that of De Lario, but it perhaps earned more name recognition. While serving as handyman and chauffeur for the real estate tract in the 1920s and 1930s, Kothe also spent his time replacing burned-out light bulbs and fallen galvanized metal sheets from the gigantic billboard spelling out the development’s name, Hollywoodland, giving him a place in history.
Born October 18, 1893, in Hamburg, Kothe had an eighth grade education and worked in menial jobs until deciding to immigrate to the United States in 1915, somehow escaping World War I. Traveling solo across the Atlantic, Kothe arrived first in Santa Rosa, Mexico, before traveling by boat to Portland, Oregon, arriving June 18, 1915. He applied for United States naturalization on August 24, 1916 in Montana, before eventually arriving in Los Angeles.
By the mid-1920s, Kothe began working at the Hollywoodland development as a jack-of-all trades, serving as handyman, pumpman, chauffeur, caretaker and carpenter, per census records and city directory listings. For a time, he bachelor drove the Hollywoodland jitney, transporting residents to and from their homes to the tract’s entrance where they could board city buses. Tall tales claim that Kothe became inebriated one night and drove the Hollywoodland Ford into the back of the Hollywoodland Sign but this would be impossible. The road to the top of the hill lies above and behind the Hollywoodland sign approximately a steep 50 yards away.
Kothe later told local newspapers that he climbed ladders at least once a week replacing burnt out 20 watt light bulbs that ringed each letter of the massive sign, illuminating and spelling out the word “Hollywoodland” at night. By 1933, however, the tract refused to maintain the crumbly, poorly constructed Hollywoodland Sign, allowing light bulbs to burn out and vandals to steal or destroy what remained. In 2010, actor Dick Van Dyke brought fame to Kothe by starring as the popular handyman in a short film titled “The Caretaker 3D.”
Over the years, Kothe listed a variety of Hollywoodland addresses as his residence, including 2690 N. Beachwood Drive and 3200 N. Beachwood Driver, not in a shack behind the sign, another urban legend associated with the neighborhood and its world famous icon. 3200 N. Beachwood perhaps served as the residence for the Hollywoodland stables manager or the construction foreman, eventually burning down in the 1961 fire that took over eight homes in the tract, and seriously damaged 24 others. Kothe’s 1942 draft card listed Hollywoodland top salesman Gilbert A. Miller as his next of kin.
Kothe continued living in the Hollywoodland community the rest of his days, occupying an apartment in the Beachwood Village complex designed by De Lario himself, dying in 1974.
Like much of the early history of the development and its world-famous iconic sign, many details of De Lario’s and Kothe’s lives remain shrouded in mystery, allowing fact and fantasy to merge into a more poetic, Hollywood version of truth. These two men, opposites in many ways, contributed much to the atmospheric beauty of Hollywoodland, raising it from mere housing development to stuff of legend.