In November of 2002, I was in graduate school, earning my MLIS to become a librarian while working a full time job as an Executive Secretary at the Ralphs Grocery Co. main office in Compton. I had been collecting on Ann Dvorak for around five years and had proclaimed myself to be her biographer even though I had no idea how to research and write a book. What I had done at some point was purchase the domain “anndvorak.com.” Even though I knew as much about website design as I did biography writing, I was determined to launch the world’s first website devoted to Ann Dvorak.
My computer had Microsoft FrontPage on it, so I stumbled around and managed to design a semi-coherent site devoted to the Divine Ms. Dvorak. Was it elegant? No. But I loved the Thistle-colored background and Georgia font. I amazed myself by getting the site launched in November 2002. What was even more amazing is that I was so damn proud of the site that I overcame my severe social anxiety in order to promote it. I found that I believed so strongly in Ann and wanted people to know about her, that I could promote the website to anyone, even if they were a complete stranger. And you know what? Most people were actually interested in hearing about her and my little site. Because of her, I found my voice. I even printed out AnnDvorak.com business cards and handed them out.
Fast forward a handful of years and the site, while still a treasure trove of Ann, was pretty dated. When I first met my husband in 2006, I eagerly asked him what he thought of my site. “It’s looks like a website designed in Microsoft FrontPage circa 2002,” was the reply. Fair enough. A year later he helped me migrate the site onto WordPress where I could actually post updates on a regular basis via the blog feature. This ended up being key to promoting my Ann Dvorak biography via the “Year of Ann Dvorak,” where I did a fairly in-depth post for 365 days straight in 2013. Not my smartest idea!
After the book came out, other writing projects sprung up, along with parenting, so there was less time to post updates. So, in 2017 I decided the site needed a fresh look with less emphasis on the posts, so that’s where we are with the current design. Even though I don’t post like I used to, I’m still mad about Ann and continue to collect on her. It’s rather stunning that the site has been up for a full two decades and even though how it’s personally functioned for me over the years has changed, it will always serve its primary function – to celebrate the fabulous Ann Dvorak!
Today marks what would have been Ann Dvorak’s 111th birthday. This year also marks my 25th year of collecting on and researching Ann. I could have never imagined back then that this woman who I never met could have such a profound impact on the course of my life, but she has and I am grateful for it. Happy Birthday to the Divine Miss D!
Anyone who has been acquainted with me for any length of time knows that there are two places I love above all others – the defunct (and sadly now demolished) Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, and “Ann Land,” which is my nickname for the parcel of property in Encino that Ann Dvorak and husband Leslie Fenton developed and lived on from 1934-1945.
I’ve written about it many times on this site, but just to recap, it was originally a 35ish-acre walnut ranch, subdivided into three parcels and sold after Ann and Fenton separated in the mid-1940s. The heart of the property, which included structures and landscaping, was sold to crooner Andy Russell and his wife Della. The rest of the land would ultimately be developed into a multi-residence neighborhood. By the time I first set foot on the property, in 2006, it had changed ownership two more times: first to Al Teeter, a music editor at Disney, and later to Dr. Arnold Scheibel who had owned the property for 47 year when I first met him. Though suffering from deferred maintenance, the property was still stunning and looked very much like it did when Ann lived there. A year later, my husband and I would have our wedding on Ann Land.
When Arne retired from his position at UCLA in 2011 and got ready to relocate to the Bay Area, my husband and I tried to figure out a way to purchase it, but two acres in Encino and the amount of repair work needed was well beyond our means. The property never went on the market but was instead sold to a neighborhood couple who Arne trusted would do their best to restore it. In 2014, Glen and Penny generously invited me to tour the acreage with them. However, they were in the midst of the renovation, so the house was stripped down to the studs and much of the garden incomplete. It was the wrong time for me to visit, and I am ashamed to admit that I burst out crying in front of them. Not a few tears, mind you, but full-blown ugly sobbing. As I tearfully departed, I felt confident that I would never return. Not only was I embarrassed by my inability to contain such a visceral reaction, but I thought returning to a place that had been so irrevocably altered would be too painful. Glen was kind enough to inform me when Arne passed away in 2017, but otherwise I thought my time with Ann Land was complete.
A couple of months back, Penny got in touch because Ventura Blvd Magazine was going to be doing a feature on the gardens, and she hoped I would be willing to speak with the reporter about Ann. I don’t have to be asked twice to talk anyone about the Divine Miz Dvorak! I was also invited to come and visit the property which I was less enthusiastic about. However, my daughter, who is almost 12 and only visited Ann Land when she was a baby, was eager to see the place she has heard so much about. I relented, and what I thought would be an hour visit, turned into a five hour one! While I still can’t say I am thrilled with some of the changes that were made to the house, the gardens are impeccable and it’s evident how much love and care they have put into the land and Ann’s memory. And ultimately, the gardens, which were so carefully curated by Ann, are the soul of the property. Arne could not have chosen better people to be the custodians of this special place, and I like to think that Ann has brought yet two more wonderful friends into my life. I especially love that the gates at street level are replicas of the original property gates. What a wonderful touch!
The issue of Ventura Blvd. hit the newsstands a couple of weeks ago featuring a breathtaking image of Ann’s greenhouse on the cover. As you can see, the photos capture the majesty of the place and the article pays such a lovely tribute Ann. It’s wonderful that her legacy lives on in so many difference ways and through so many different people.
Read the full article here: venturablvd.goldenstate.is/a-historic-estate-in-encino-gets-a-loving-makeover/
My photo of Ann Land are compiled on this page: www.anndvorak.com/cms/galleries/ann-at-home/