Dana Hollister’s Grand Plans Irked Silver Lake. Then She Learned to Act Locally



It’s extraordinary what Dana Hollister finds ordinary since she bought her first home. Take, for instance, the morning last year when she was reading a magazine article about Beck while sitting in a bakery in Silver Lake, where she lives. Dana thinks she’s oblivious to popular music; years ago she used to hang out at flea markets with Anthony Kiedis, the Red Hot Chili Peppers singer, believing he was a fashion model because of the Gap ads he was showing up in at the time. Reading the magazine, Dana wasn’t sure about Beck, either. She says she gets “Beck in the ’90s confused with Jeff Beck in the ’70s.” Dana finished the article and drove home to her new house—the 22,000-square-foot Mediterranean estate with the 14 bedrooms, 60-foot pool, and industrial kitchen set on 4.5 acres of terraced hilltop—and discovered she had an e-mail message concerning a Beck Hansen. At this point in the story, Dana isn’t sure about Beck Hansen—she doesn’t know if he’s the ’70s Beck, the ’90s Beck, or for that matter one of the Hanson brothers.

It turned out the message was from the Beck she had just read about; he wanted to throw his birthday party at her home, which is called the Paramour. A lot of people have decided they want to throw parties, or film movies, or shoot magazine layouts, or get married, at Dana’s house ever since Leonardo DiCaprio, Steve Miner, Bruce Weber, and Anne Heche, respectively, did the same. Dana finds this ordinary; her friends are still adjusting. The production designer Keith Greco, who sometimes crashes at Dana’s house, remembers “waking up one morning and seeing Perry Farrell standing around, a camel walking by, Bruce Weber with his camera, and Daryl Hannah bounding out of her car with a dog in her arms. You don’t see that at most people’s homes.”

Dana called Beck and said he could have her house, free of charge, if he agreed to play a small fund-raiser she was planning to host in her backyard. The idea had struck Dana after her assistant Bryndis—who was fresh from Iceland with a thick accent—came down sick, visited the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic in Silver Lake, and then told her boss, “Daanaahh, deese people need halp.” Dana already knew about helping businesses on that stretch of Sunset, which winds through Silver Lake. Along with a successful interior design business, Odalisque, which she has operated since 1987, Dana has created or turned around places like the 4100 Bar, Jay’s Jayburgers, the hair salon Sugar, and an upcoming restaurant called Coy Koi, all with the help of neighborhood partners. In fact, since buying her house in 1998, Dana has touched so many Silver Lake properties that last Christmas the local chamber of commerce considered presenting her with a blank Monopoly board she could fill in herself.

Gareth Kantner, a former art director who came to Silver Lake three years ago to open Cafe Stella, says, “Dana trusts her heart and trusts her vision and doesn’t listen to anybody else. She has a great sense of knowing what people want, whether they know it or not yet.” Like Dana, Kantner is a touchstone for new businesses appearing in the area. Yet he thinks of Dana as the town’s center. “The French have a word for someone who’s multitalented,” says Kantner. “Seigneur. During the Renaissance French towns were set up with a house in the middle that the seigneur lived in and which everyone around that house worked through to keep everybody strong and fed. We call Silver Lake ‘the Village,’ and when we have dinners up at her house, these are exactly the kinds of things we talk about.”

Hanging out with Dana, you feel you’re spending time with someone who is halfway to becoming the doyenne of a neighborhood that is halfway to becoming Los Angeles’s East Village. Just before he died, in 1998, her father told her, “Take pictures, Dana—you’re making history.” “This was never her plan. When she first came upon the Paramour ten years ago, Dana’s idea was to create a 45-room boutique hotel called Hotel 1923. The idea was eventually nixed by councilman John Ferraro’s office, but in the middle of the communitywide storm her proposal created, someone complained to her, “Why aren’t you creating businesses down on Sunset Boulevard where we need them?” Having moved onto the tallest hill overlooking Sunset, she had nowhere to go but down. Today Dana is poised to become the most connected entrepreneur east of La Brea.

Eventually Beck said yes to the fund-raiser, and a few weeks later the singer, along with Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright, Robert Downey Jr., Minnie Driver, and 1,600 paying guests, showed up in Dana’s backyard and raised $488,000 for the clinic. Dana has decided to do it again, and beginning December 13 Sting, Elton John, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and about a half-dozen other performers are scheduled to play in Dana’s backyard.

I VISITED DANA ONE AFTERNOON when a wedding was taking place at her house—Ellen was marrying Lorraine. The day before, Eddie Vedder had been recording some songs for an upcoming album in the living room, but the mixing boards had been cleared away and guests were poking at plates of asparagus and roast beef. Dana was wearing black tennis shoes, black socks, black pants, a black shirt, a black jacket, and a black wool scarf around her neck. She looked very sunny. Her hair, which is blond and flyaway, was wet and seemed to be pulled at by at least three points of the compass. She has a small mouth, a pale complexion, and bright eyes that give her the appearance of a cute little girl. She is 40. One of her favorite names to call people is “Pookie.” Her other favorite words are rad, retarded, crazy, gross, and gorgeous. She uses them to either put herself down or praise people she has met. She is incredibly passionate about her friends, and just about anything else she mentions, especially her house. Standing in her 22,000-square-foot mansion, she looks like she could be the child of robber barons, but in fact she is a middle-class kid who moved to Silver Lake from Chicago 15 years ago and nearly starved to death trying to make it as a photographer before drifting into interior design. Some of that life she has never left behind. The most extraordinary thing about Dana’s 14-bedroom home is the inside of her refrigerator, which, on the day of Ellen and Lorraine’s wedding, contained two Cokes, two Diet Cokes, and a bag of old vegetables.

Dana chased her dog, a black-and-tan mutt named Mary, back into a bedroom; doted momentarily on Ellen and Lorraine, who were sitting together and looking very smart in a white dress and a black suit; inspected a retaining wall that was beginning to worry her (“I think we’re watering the lawn too much,” she said, contemplating a crack); and then settled onto a bloodred couch in a room she described as “kind of baronial decay-dispossessed rock star.” On the wall above her hung a painting of a supine woman, mid autopsy. “That woman has her heart and her brains torn out,” she said. “No one thinks that’s funny but me.”

Dana’s attempt to turn the Paramour into a hotel didn’t kill her, but it broke her heart and almost made her lose her mind. Dana says the property was brought to her attention by Kiedis after the record producer Rick Rubin passed on it as “too The Shining” and told Kiedis, “Give Dana a call. I bet Tim Burton”—one of Dana’s decorating clients—”would like it.” Built in 1923 by Edward Doheny’s business partner Charles Canfield, the Paramour was originally named Crestmount. The mansion had been a gift to Canfield’s daughter, Daisy, upon her marriage to the silent film star Antonio Moreno. In 1929 the Morenos converted it to a private school for girls. Four years later Daisy Moreno died when her car plunged off Mulholland Drive, and by 1954 the property had been acquired by the Franciscan Nuns of the Immaculate Conception, who ran the estate as a convent.

At the time Dana first learned of the Paramour—it was the spring of 1991—her life revolved around her shop Odalisque, which she worked out of as an interior designer. When she showed up at the Paramour the nuns were trying to unload the gone-to-seed estate, severely damaged in the 1987 Whittier-Narrows earthquake, in a neighborhood famous for a lot of empty storefronts, out-of-contract grunge bands, and drive-by shootings. The first thought Dana had was, “This would be a great place for a five-star hotel!”

“The temperature of Silver Lake today,” Dana told me, scrunching herself into a black ball on the couch, “feels like you can do anything. The only thing they don’t want to do here is Larchmont—they’re going to beat the shit out of the first business owner who goes corporate. But back then, it was scary just standing outside your house at night. The crime blotter in the local paper was heinous.”

Burton informed Dana that he too would pass on the Paramour. Despite the fact that in hotel terms, she had almost no money and knew nothing about the hospitality business, she put down a deposit and set to work. Someone told her a hotel needed at least 35 rooms to break even, so she envisioned a 45-room hotel. She went on road trips, visiting Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn, the Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford. For three years she sat alone on a curb every afternoon eating her lunch, staring across the street at the estate. She told the neighbors she wanted to create a spa hotel, and they looked at the little blond woman dressed all in black and replied, “Who’s going to visit a spa hotel?”

Around that time other parties—including a religious organization, an architecture group, and film composer Danny Elfman—expressed interest in the estate. Dana’s detractors turned out to be an amazingly harmonious group of mostly nearby Silver Lake residents who equated a 45-room hotel with noisy food deliveries and drunken guest revelries. They were persistent, and they channeled their voice through Ferraro’s office, which received a steady stream of letters and complaint calls and eventually sided with the dissenters. (The Paramour was only three blocks from the district of Jackie Goldberg, whose support Dana had.) Vincent Brook, who runs the Silver Lake Improvement Association, says, “Dana had the general support of the general community but the immediate opposition of the immediate area. She came in a little naive, thinking, ‘Silver Lake is a cool community. Here I am preserving a historical monument—everyone should be giving me a medal.’ She had a point there, but that’s not how it works. Eventually there were disinformation campaigns against her.”

There were also shouting matches at public hearings and neighbors who stopped talking to neighbors over Dana’s plan. “I thought I was just an interior decorator with a small company,” Dana remembers today, “but I kept getting painted as a weirdo with ulterior motives. At public meetings I was always asked, `What do you really want to do up here?’ or `What are your real intentions?'”

Finally Dana pieced together the financing and bought the Paramour as her house for $2.25 million. She had, in the meantime, polarized discussion of Silver Lake’s future. It was obvious no one in the neighborhood wanted the gangs, the shootings, the blown-out disrepair of Sunset’s business district. Neither, it turned out, did they want a five-star hotel down the street.

When you own a 14-bedroom estate that looks like the backdrop of an early Francis Coppola picture, you quickly learn a few things as a first-time home owner. For instance, Dana learned how to adjust a walkie-talkie headset around her blond hair. This was important when Dana wanted to inform her staff during a Grammy party that she was stepping into the street to scream at a three-block-long line of limousines, “What are you doing here? You’re going to wake the neighbors with your goddamn engines!” You learn how to make up rules to screen out guests you might not want over for the evening. For instance, when a man told Dana he wanted to coat every room of her mansion with black plastic and then rent it out for an all-night sex party, she replied, “I don’t have any parties I can’t invite the nuns back to—that’s just my rule.” One evening I visited Dana while an event party for a new horror movie was going on, and after she had toured the grounds and observed the pentangle brought in for effect and seen the footage of a man’s skull being opened with a drill, she retreated to her room and said quietly, “I’m not sure if the nuns would appreciate this.”

Mostly you learn how to cover your $35,000 a-month nut through invention. Dana does have other resources. Her store Odalisque, on Beverly Boulevard, is a large, cool yellow space with a high loft that’s filled with fabrics, pillows piled on beds, and other things for sale like a Jetta-sized mirror that hangs on the wall. Thirteen years ago, when Dana was about to give up on photography as well as her life in Silver Lake, she cut up some tablecloths, dyed them, and sewed the results into pillows. On the street, she sold out in an hour at $75 a pillow. More tablecloth was cut up, and within a few months—after Phoebe Cates had shown up unannounced at her front door and John Malkovich had bought several of Dana’s pink pillows—Dana was approached by Angelika Schubert, owner of Santa Monica’s Celestine agency, who said, “You need a store,” and wrote out a check for $60,000 and became a silent partner in the venture.

Dana’s pillows sell for an average of $850 today. Decorating the homes of directors and rock stars, she has weathered L.A.’s ages of in. tenor design, which Dana delineates as follows: Shabby Chic, which turned into Cruel Waif (“a lot of white to invent innocence”), which became Religious Revivalism (“not Marilyn Manson—more like Cher”), which phased into Baronial Decay- Dispossessed Rock Star, which became, finally, Spiritual Poser (“mixing Buddhas with the yoga thing”). One day I met Dana at Odalisque and watched her pull out bolts of Viennese secessionist cloth, Turkish fabric with sterling-silver thread, hand-painted English mohair that she described as a “school-of-William Morris kind of thing,” and Chinese fabric flowers sewn in the “forbidden stitch”—so named because women supposedly went blind accomplishing it. Poring over the fabrics’ design, she looked as if she were thumbing through a family album. “I think of these things as people’s lives, as all hands,” she said. “And that’s what makes me really crazy and really happy.”

When you drive down Sunset through Silver Lake today you can look at some of the buildings and think of them as all hands, Dana’s hands. She helped core the walls of her bar, the 4100, after Dana and partners Michael Leko and Will Shamlin walked into the building and discovered a heavy-duty leather-daddy bar. After Dana and Leko saved Jay’s Jayburgers from the wrecking ball, they went in with a bucket and cleaned out 33 years of grease. (Eight months ago Dana and Leko returned ownership of the restaurant to its original proprietor.) The hair salon Sugar, for which Dana helped piece together financing, is dominated by an ancient barbershop wall unit that she found and delivered to its owner, Richard Leonard. The shop’s interior has since appeared in Vogue.

For someone once painted as full of mystery and oblique intentions, Dana possesses a business vision of Silver Lake marked, ironically, by ideas her detractors would find it hard to fault. “In a perfect world it will remain like the East Village,” she says, “a little rough, a little torn, but with integrity. There’s an openness to Silver Lake—the people eating on sidewalks outside Millie’s and Eat Well, the antiquers with their stuff on the street—which is not what you see a lot in L.A. but is what makes a neighborhood. And that pageant of people who know each other is buoyed by the right kind of businesses. That’s why we originally saved Jay’s—we saw it as the gateway to Silver Lake which, if it fell, would allow a negative element into Silver Lake central.”

It’s hard to imagine a tiny burger stand keeping out the Gap and Pottery Barn, but that naive vision is not uncommon in Silver Lake. Like Hollywood a couple years ago, the commercial property in Silver Lake is relatively cheap, allowing a generation of first-time business owners with the East Village in their thoughts to play urban planner. Living on the area’s signature property, where neighborhood council meetings as well as the local film festival take place, Dana is known for her negotiation skills, her ability to put together partnerships, and her emotional commitment to projects a Westsider might view as a bit haywire. Keith Greco, who is partners with Phillip Weingarten and Dana in the planned Silver Lake restaurant Coy Koi, says, “Dana doesn’t see this as building businesses, she says we’re making cities. It’s not in some imperial way—she loves the funk and grunge. She figures out what she needs, then acquires it. And if the neighbors don’t agree with you, then change the neighborhood and attract the neighbors who do agree with you.”

It’s true most of the opposition Dana encountered live years ago has disappeared. Catherine Moyers, whose Silver Lake Residents Association backed the Hotel 1923 project, says, “There’s only a couple of people left who are upset with her. Most people have moved on, or Dana has talked them into her vision.”

It is not the case, however, that Dana’s life has become any easier. The last time I saw her, $ 300,000 in underwriting had just been pulled out from this year’s clinic fund-raiser, and Dana was in low-level panic mode. We were sitting outside by the 60-foot swimming pool, watching some prospective brides tour the grounds while Mary, the dog, chewed on a croissant. “Mercury is in retrograde,” she told me, “and my money is all weird right now.” Someone had suggested she tag on to New York’s problems to attract money, to which she responded, “First of all, that’s weird, suspicious, and creepy.” And her staff were beginning to worry about where their next paychecks were coming from. “Every month,” she said, “we start out needing to find $35,000.”

I asked Dana if she still gave thought to Hotel 1923, but she said she doesn’t think about the project much anymore. She was quiet for a moment, then said brightly, “On the other hand, there’s a little crack hotel down on Sunset I’m totally in love with right now.” Mary finished her croissant and looked up for another.