Today’s Ann Dvorak location takes us out of Downtown and into the East Hollywood area. When Ann’s mom, Anna Lehr, abandoned live theater for films, she split her time between Los Angeles and New York, usually opting to leave her young daughter on the east coast with relatives. By the early 1920s she had found a new squeeze, an advertising man named Arthur Pearson, was winding down her career and had decided to settle in Los Angeles permanently with her only child.
The trio would live in a handful of places between 1922ish and 1932. Their first recorded residence was 733 N. Harvard Blvd. which was a stone’s throw from the Robert Brunton Studios, known to you and me today as Paramount Pictures. To look at a Google street view today is to see a charming 1920s duplex. However, in my eight years as a reference librarian, I’ve learned a thing or three about property searching and know better than to trust any current address in my evolving City of Angels.
Above is a snippet from a 1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map which shows our charming duplex whose street address at one time was 735 & 737. What this magnificent map reveals is that once upon a time, 733 N. Harvard was actually a two story dwelling/auto garage sitting at the back of the property. So, when Ann Dvorak, Anna Lehr, and Arthur Pearson were first living in L.A. they were resided above a garage. Modest beginnings for our fair Ann, don’t you think.
In looking at the satellite view, we can see that the unit/garage is still there, though there have been some additions made from when Ann lived there. So, when I become rich and eccentric and begin offering bus tours of Ann Dvoraks’s Los Angeles, we’ll be able to visit.
Today’s stop on the Ann Dvorak tour of Los Angeles still finds us Downtown, about a block and a half east of yesterday’s Orpheum Theater. Once upon a time, you could stand at the northeast corner of 5th and Olive and feast your eyes on the stunning Philharmonic Auditorium which stood for almost 70 years (a full history of the building can be found over at Big Orange Landmarks).
From 1915-1920, the Auditorium was leased by producer William H. Clune who operated the space in party as a movie theater which was called both Clune’s Auditorium and Clune’s Theater Beautiful. In 1915, Clune ponied up the cash for Donald Crisp to film an epic version of Ramona, based on a popular work of fiction by Helen Hunt Jackson.
The prologue of the film featured the title character as a tot, and a four-year-old billed as “Baby Anna Lehr” was hired for the job. Of course this youngster grew up to be our divine Ann Dvorak, but Ramona is technically her film debut. The film had its world premiere at the Philharmonic Auditorium on February 7, 1916, meaning this was the first theater to ever screen an Ann Dvorak film.
The local papers were mightily impressed with Baby Anna Lehr. The Los Angeles Express ran the above headline (please note that in 1916 it was ok to use swastikas as a decorative border) and the Evening Herald noted, “Of all the Ramonas, the most charming and heart luring is the child of four, played with rare childish artistry by little Miss Anna Lehr. Probably the most disappointing feature of the entire production is the fact that this sweet youth remains on the canvas only a few brief moments.”
Sadly, there are no complete copies of Ramona known to exist. And while the Library of Congress does have one reel, it’s not the one with Ann. And as for the Philharmonic Auditorium?
You guessed it – a parking lot since 1985.
The summer is winding down and the kids are back at school (at least in L.A. they are). But, before it’s gone I thought we could take a road trip around this fair city that Ann Dvorak called home for a good deal of her life and where I have spent all my days.
I have always had a love/hate relationship with Los Angeles, though the love usually wins out. One of the main reasons I have always appreciated living here is because so much of Hollywood’s history is still tangible. Where else can you find a self storage that was once a Mack Sennett sound stage, drive past the studio that Chaplin built, our wander down the same alley that Buster Keaton did?
There are also many sites connected with Ann Dvorak that I thought we could explore. When I first conceived of doing this months ago, I envisioned driving around the city with my SLR camera and documenting all these places. Then reality set in – I have a full-time job, an awesome but exhausting toddler, and there’s this thing called Google Street View, so I am making life easy on myself.
So, sit back and enjoy some posts exploring Ann Dvorak’s Los Angeles.
Our first location is in the Historic Broadway Theatre district Downtown. It was in the spring of 1914 that Anna Lehr performed on the stage of the Orpheum Theatre in a vaudeville show called “Little California.” Lehr had been travelling all around the Orpheum circuit with her daughter Ann, who was only two at the time. When the show came to L.A. in March, there is no doubt that little Anna McKim was set up in a crib backstage while her mother performed.
Fortunately, the theater, located at 630 S. Broadway is still standing though it ceased being an Orpheum venue in 1926 when a snazzy new building was constructed a few blocks south. Now known as the Palace, it’s still gorgeous and I was fortunate enough to see a screening of Sunset Blvd. in 2011 and it really is a magnificent movie palace. Fingers crossed that this minor Ann Dvorak “landmark” will be open to the public on a more regular basis soon.