When Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel was first published, I was warned by fellow authors that people would start coming out of the woodwork with great stories and info about Ann. Now that we’re over two years removed from the publication date, I am happy to report this has not happened. Well, it hadn’t happened until recently.
Anyone who knows me or who has followed this site for a while knows that one of the true loves in my life is “Ann Land.” This is what I have affectionately come to call the walnut ranch in Encino, California that Ann Dvorak and husband Leslie Fenton owned from 1933-1945. In 1934, they developed around two acres of the land into a compound with a modest house, servants quarters, pool/guest house, green house, cow stables, and the obligatory Southern California pool. The ranch itself was 35 acres, and the then remote home seemed like a lovely oasis for the couple, who preferred to keep to themselves.
When Ann and Leslie separated in 1945, Ann subdivided the ranch and sold it to three separate buyers, with the house going to singer Andy Russell and his wife Della. Before the decade was out, the walnut trees disappeared to make way for a gaggle of post-War ranch homes and the 101 Freeway. In 2006, I was fortunate to befriend the fourth owner of the property who allowed me and my husband to get married on the property in October 2007.
Our fair Ann posing for the Warner cameras in 1935.
Ann was photographed extensively on the property, particularly by Warner Bros., so it’s well documented. Over the years, I had pieced together exactly what area the ranch encompassed, using real estate records and tract maps. The highlighted area on this tract map shows what land Ann and Leslie gradually acquired over the years.
Image Courtesy of Los Angels County, Department of Public Works
Even though I had been able to pinpoint the parcels that comprised Ann Land, I always want to see a view of it, in order to get a real sense of what the ranch was like and if it was as remote and hard to find as was reported back in the day. For many years, the closest I was able to get to this sort of view was through a late 1930s WPA Land Use Survey Map (The lone square on the top half of the left side is Ann Land).
Since 2009, the Historic Aerials website has been adding aerial photos of locations around the country and is a fantastic resource for property research. For many years, the earliest view of Ann Land they offered was from 1952, which is cool and all, except the subdivision and construction has begun and one could only get a partial sense of what the area was like when Ann lived there. Last week, while training a new librarian at work about property research and using Ann Land as an example, BAM! There it was. A beautiful 1947 view of Ann Land in all its pristine walnut ranch glory. I gasped and did a happy dance, and the new librarian is probably now convinced she is working with a bunch of lunatics.
It’s quite possible you’re now thinking that this is the blog of a raving lunatic, and I can live with that. But for those of you who are into this sort of thing, the un-watermarked view (I paid Historic Aerials 20 bucks for that) is at the top of the post with the neat and orderly lines of walnut trees gracing the landscape. Directly above is a version where I have outlined the parcels Ann and Leslie owned and circled the area that contains the buildings. It is fairly remote, so it makes sense that visitors would have trouble finding it, including the 1940 Census taker who appears to have skipped it altogether. Here’s a closer view:
Finally, just to get your bearings, below are a couple of views with the streets outlined.
Even with this image, it’s still amazing to fathom that this area which is book-ended by Ventura Blvd. and the 101 Freeway was once such a remote rural area. What does it look like today?
Image Courtesy of Google Earth
Yeah, just a wee bit different from when Ann Dvorak called the place home. Thanks for letting me geek out about aerial photography. Wishing all you Ann fans a stress-free holiday season kickoff!
And now we have arrived at the 20th and final post of Ann Dvorak’s Los Angeles. Once upon a time there was an unassuming multi-housing building at 1235 5th St in the city of Santa Monica. It was there in the late 1950s that former silent film actress Anna Lehr retreated after being kicked out of her Malibu home by her son-in-law, Nicholas Wade. The move caused a schism between Lehr and her daughter Ann Dvorak, and the pair would become estranged for well over a decade.
In the late 1960s, Ann Dvorak would seek refuge in the small unit while she attempted to leave her abusive husband permanently. It didn’t quite work out at the time. When Dvorak came back to Santa Monica from Hawaii in 1973 to care for Lehr, who was dying of cancer, Ann finally removed herself from the often troubled marriage. Lehr passed away in early 1974 and Ann remained at 1235 5th Street until Nicholas Wade died the following year, at which time she moved back to Hawaii.
1235 5th Street no longer remains, which is just as well since much like the Malibu properties discussed yesterday, Santa Monica didn’t represent the happiest time in Ann Dvorak’s life.
And that happy note concludes Ann Dvorak’s Los Angeles.
I admit that I have been putting this post off for awhile because the locations of these Mailbu addresses have always puzzled me. I’ve poured through old maps at the library, and I am guessing what is now called Topanga Beach Drive was Topanga Beach Road in Ann’s day. Furthermore, I do not think the structures at 18722, 18708, and 18704 Topanga Beach Road exist anymore. Most of the locations of Ann Dvorak’s Los Angeles are still around and can be visited, which makes me less enthusiastic about Malibu. Plus, as a resident of the San Fernando Valley, Malibu may as well be in China so I have never taken the time to drive out there and explore.
Ann initially lived at 18722 and owned the other two adjacent properties as investments, though she did put her mother up in one of them. Once Ann’s third husband, Nicholas Wade came into the picture, Ann’s fortunes declined and she eventually had to sell the property she was living in and move to one of the smaller locations. Wade had also set his sights on these properties to serve as production facilities and away went Mama Lehr, causing her to be estranged from her daughter for a number of years. Eventually, Ann would lose both those properties after some lousy business deals were made on her behalf while she was hospitalized for an extended period of time.
Geeze, perhaps the other reason I avoided this post is because Malibu represents a rather down time in Ann’s life. Although before Nicholas Wade came into the picture there were happy times on the beach, as the above photo demonstrates.
I am fairly certain that the area described on this Surfwriter website is where Ann lived. If this is the correct location, then this part of Ann Dvorak’s Los Angeles is truly gone.
Once Ann had her fill of Brentwood, covered in yesterday’s post, she got even more ritzy and moved to Beverly Hills. The house at 1514 Schuyler Rd was a spacious and gorgeous Spanish style residence, though Ann soon decided she preferred beach life and purchased an additional home in Malibu. However, she held on to the Schuyler Road house, opting to rent it out.
Apparently Ann, or probably a property manager, didn’t take any time to vet the tenants. While she was vacationing in Europe in the spring of 1951, the LAPD conducted a major vice raid at 1514 Schuyler Rd, where according to the Los Angeles Herald, “Here, film stars and wealthy players cavorted in the nude with beautiful ‘partygirls.'” Five woman and six men were arrested for illicit activities.
I’m not going to go into too much detail here, since the incident is covered in Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. I will say that Ann was not implicated in any goings on at her home, and that she was amused to hear about what the Herald described as “the fabulous ‘purple room’ with king-sized bed and exquisite decorations. Rates here ranged as high as $150 for a ‘double-header’–two girls with one rich customer. In a ‘lower trade’ room–the red room–rates were as low as $20. Autographed photos of big-name film stars were found in ‘purple room.'”
The house is still standing, though I bet the current owners are as clueless about the Schuyler Road Whorehouse Incident as Ann Dvorak was!
All photos from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library. The full set of photos can be viewed here.
When Ann Dvorak and Leslie Fenton split in 1944, they both ended up as far from ranch life as possible. Fenton quickly took up residence in Beverly Hills and once Ann subdivided the property and sold the actual house to singer Andy Russell and his wife Della, relocated to Brentwood. The house, located at 12319 19th Helena Dr. was actually much larger than the structure in Encino, though it resided on a fraction of the land. Ann would live here a handful of years, and when she tied the knot with husband #2 she did so in this house.
In 1946 photographer Maynard Parker shot the house for a small feature in Better Homes and Gardens entitled “Ann Dvorak Lives Simply.” Amazingly, when Parker’s archive was donated to the Huntington Library, the photos of 19th Helena were in the collection and can be viewed here. I’ve not been in this house, but I would be very surprised if the interior bears much resemblance to when Ann lived there.
If you’re thinking this address sounds oddly familiar for some reason, it may be that in the early 1960s, Marilyn Monroe purchased a house not too far away at 12305 5th Helena Dr. which is also where she passed away in 1962.
I think I’ve mentioned before that one of the reasons I love living in Los Angeles is because of the tangible movie history that surrounds us if we know where to look. Take for instance the northwest corner of Burbank Boulevard and Fulton Avenue in the Van Nuys neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. While most may see the lot as a rather mundane space with a mostly unoccupied food court building sitting next to the Orange Line thoroughfare that once housed Southern Pacific Railroad tracks – I see a parcel of land that Ann Dvorak owned as an investment property in the mid-1930s.
Like many members of the movie colony in the 1920s and 30s, Ann Dvorak dipped her toe into real estate and owned a number of different properties over the years in places like Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Malibu, and the Valley. Unfortunately, these holdings, which would have paid off handsomely had she held on to them, were unloaded prematurely and mainly by her third husband. This particular property in Van Nuys was sold in 1936 when Ann was under suspension by Warner Bros. while fighting them in court.
Leave it to Ann to give me a cheap thrill every time I pass this corner while cruising down Burbank Blvd.
So we’ve finally gotten to my favorite Ann Dvorak location in all of Los Angeles, and one of my favorite places in general. 5070 Libbit Ave was the address of Ann and Leslie Fenton’s walnut ranch, and what now remains of the property is at 16231 Morrison St. It cannot be seen from the street, so I am not going to bother with a Google Street view.
This was the place where I was married in October 2007, and it’s where I wish I could live, but two acres in Encino is beyond my bank balance. The man who had owned the place for over fifty years sold it in 2011 for under market value to a buyer who would restore it, and that does seem to be taking place.
I posted loads of photos of the property on a couple of older posts (here and here), and instead of re-writing a history of the house which I had done for our wedding program, I am including a scan which I think sums up what I have come to call “Ann Land” quite nicely. The only inaccuracy on the history I wrote six years ago is that Ann subdivided the ranch, not Andy Russell.
Yesterday, my dear friend Darin treated me and my daughter to a matinee of the live Wizard of Oz at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. After the show, we could not help but make the quick trip over to Ann Dvorak’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located on the north side of the street, between Vine & Ivar.
I’ve been asked a few times if Ann was present for her dedication ceremony. The answer would be no – because there never was a celebration just for her. Ann was actually included in the inaugural 1,500+ stars that were laid between 1960/61. I’m not sure what Ann thought of the honor, though her mother, Anna Lehr, was impressed and made mention of her daughter’s “GOLD star” in a letter to a family member.
With a career spanning twenty years (forty-five, counting the three movies she made as a kid), and comprised of over fifty films, I think it’s safe to say that Ann deserves her place on Hollywood Blvd., next to the adult theater that boasts “100’s of beautiful girls and 3 ugly ones” (just how disappointed are tourists when they visit Hollywood?). Also, I am very relieved to not have to launch a campaign and raise $30,000 to get Ann a star.
Shortly after returning from their eight-month European honeymoon in March of 1933, Ann Dvorak and Leslie Fenton decided to get away from it all by renting a walnut farm in Van Nuys. The house was located at 6948 Woodman Avenue in the Van Nuys neighborhood and included a great deal of acreage. The move to the San Fernando Valley wasn’t that unusual and for a while was a trend among members of the film community. Many movie folk called the SFV home over the years, including Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, Paul Muni, Edward Everett Horton, and Bob Hope, just to name a few.
After renting on Woodman for just a short period of time, the Fentons decided to build their dream home over in Encino and resided in Van Nuys for less than a year. Despite the short stay, they were heavily photographed inside and outside the house, though the only good shot I have of the exterior is the one above from a movie magazine. Also, when the farm was put on the market in 1936, the seller seemed to have been trying to capitalize on their one-time residents.
The house is actually still standing and was converted into a pre-school a number of years ago. Yes, I thought about using my daughter as a decoy to go in and take a look around, but it just felt wrong.