The Cultural Heritage Commission will hold a public hearing on November 17th, 2016 at 9:00am.
Comedian Bob Hope built his dream house in Toluca Lake in 1939 and spent a lifetime there. In 2003 Bob died, and his wife Dolores followed in 2011. Five years later, and the kids haven’t had any luck selling the old house. After a series of auctions emptied it out, the house was listed at $23 million, cut to $12 million, and then taken off the market after it lingered for too long. Hope’s daughter Linda filed some demolition permits earlier this month, leading neighbors to think she might subdivide the property and sell it off piecemeal, so city council member David Ryu filed an emergency motion to have the site declared a Historic-Cultural Monument. The city commission has yet to hear arguments for preservation of the house, but it’s worth noting that these old movie star spreads in the valley are nearly extinct. Almost all the houses have been burned, remodeled, or subdivided to within an inch of their lives.
Back in the 1930s, actors could travel over the hill and declare themselves gentleman farmers. It was such a big deal that people used to actually mail each other postcards of celebrity homes. With a stamp.
Here’s a look at some of those postcards from the most famous Valley homes of the stars—plus an update on what they’re like today. In the 21st century the San Fernando Valley has been “stripped and beat up of its history and architecture,” according to Tommy Gelinas, founder of the Valley Relics museum where these glamorous postcards come from. Most of the original homes are either gone or so buried under remodels they’re almost invisible.
Starting in 1939, Hope and his wife Dolores expanded their compound until it was a 15,000 square foot mansion with a billiards room, library, indoor swimming pool, formal gardens, and a small golf course. Hope hired architect John Elgin Woolf, the king of Hollywood Regency, to modernize it in the 1950s. Land was cheap and plentiful in the rural San Fernando Valley, and Hope gobbled it up.
Hope’s singing comedy partner built his nearby home in 1936. Crosby lived there until 1943 when the house suffered a major fire and he sold the property to new owners who then sold off the guesthouse. TV legend Andy Griffith owned the home in the 1970s, and it is said that Monkee Mickey Dolenz and actor Jerry Van Dyke (Dick Van Dyke’s younger brother) also called it home. The 7,711 square foot home sold for almost $4 million in 2011.
Some of the actress’s first “bumpy nights” in Los Angeles were spent in this English Tudor number close to Warner Brothers and located right on lovely, hidden Toluca Lake. In the 1950s, burger baron Robert C. Wian, the founder of Bob’s Big Boy, moved in—and the world’s oldest Bob’s is still just a half mile away. The 3,715 square foot home was built in 1929 and has stayed in the same family for decades. It has been heavily remodeled.
Back in the 1940s actor Don Ameche, star of Down Argentine Way, bought a ranch in Encino and became a real local yokel. Ameche bought it from Al “Mammy” Jolson and Ruby Keeler, who was in a million Busby Berkeley musicals. A messenger tripped and fell there in 1946 and sued Ameche. Most of the house was replaced by the time Kirstie Alley from Cheers owned it in the ’80s, and a whole cavalcade of stars are also said to have lived there more recently—including Charlie Sheen, Katey Sagal, and Matt LeBlanc from Friends—but those folks don’t show up on public records. Today the house is 8,522 square feet. It sold last summer for $5.8 million.
The grumpy member of Abbott & Costello built and lived in this lavish 16-room house (the one on the top right) in Encino at the height of the duo’s fame in 1947. There are stories that they both lost their homes after falling behind and not paying taxes, but whatcha gonna do? The pad was damaged by fire in 1954 and rebuilt. Today it is 5,707 square feet and was last assessed in 2010 with a value of $2.1 million.
The jolly, shorter member of the comedy team built his home (the one on the bottom left) in 1942 and installed a screening room, bar, and large swimming pool. A year later, the comic legend’s infant son fell in and drowned. Costello built a recreation center in East L.A. that was named after him. The home was largely demolished in 2006, and a new home occupies the site.
The exuberant actor was married eight times. He came home to this house with wife number three in 1949. Sources say Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy may also have owned the property, but city records show a much duller sounding group of names. “I live in the city only when I must,” Cooper told the Los Angeles Times when interviewed about his valley ranch in 1934. The star of High Noon longed to grow oranges and avocados and moved to Rancho Santa Fe. A subsequent owner sold off the acreage and the house was demolished in 1988.
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard
One-eyed film director Raoul Walsh built this ranch house with a barn and stable in 1931. Gable and his glamorous wife Carole Lombard moved in a few years later. The Gone With the Wind actor remained at the house through five wives and a heart attack. He died in 1960, and his heirs sold the property to subdividers who built the Clark Gable Ranch Estates in 1973 and renamed Gable’s street Tara Drive. The original house is now 7,093 square feet and has been in the same family for decades.
When the bulldozers came to tear down the singing cowboy’s home, there were still stables out back. Today there are 450 apartments towering over the site. Autry built a media empire and even in his 80s stayed on Forbes’ list of the 400 richest Americans. He founded the Museum of the American West in Griffith Park in 1988. The land where his home once stood today has a tax valuation of over $100 million dollars.
Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck
Stanwyck was the queen of 1940s film noir, starring in Double Indemnity and Sorry Wrong Number, but before all that she teamed up with one of the Marx Brothers to build a horse ranch way out in rural Northridge. Comic Jack Oakie bought the house in 1940 and his widow gifted the 11-acre estate to USC. The university sold it to developers, and the City of Los Angeles bought it back to create new parkland. The well-preserved mansion is now open for public tours.