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 Â 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.
If you lived in the greater Los Angeles area from 1932 to early 1937 and wanted to see an Ann Dvorak film, you probably would have gone to one of a handful of Warner Bros. theaters around town. This was back in the days of vertical integration when the studios controlled the production, distribution, and exhibition of their films, so it make sense that in a city as big as Los Angeles there would be a few theaters.
Here are some of the the places we might have seen Ann during her Warner Bros. days (all photos from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection).
The Warner Bros. Downtown was originally a Pantages theater until the vaudeville impresario moved his operations to Hollywood in 1930. This beauty ran Warner films until the 1960s and like many of the downtown movie palaces, operated as a church for a time. It’s now a retail jewelry shop, and while the seats have been removed, the interior decor is still intact and visible. Just don’t try to snap photos – the security guards will not be amused.
The Warner Hollywood was a crown jewel for the studio and was supposed to have been the location of the Jazz Singer premiere. However, construction ran longer than expected, so the Al Jolson gala was moved to New York. Unfortunately, Sam Warner who oversaw the theatre project died unexpectedly in the Los Angeles, so none of the Warner brothers were on hand for their great sound success. The theater Â was operated by Pacific Theaters for a number of years and is still standing, though it was drastically altered to accommodate CineramaÂ and eventually triplexed. It’s closed now, and sometimes doubles as a church. I went to a couple of screenings here including a digital showing of Cover Girl in 2005. Despite the hack job inside, it still possesses many of its charms.
This gorgeous 1931 Art Deco theater is part of the Pellissier Building and located at the busy intersection of Wilshire and Western in the neighborhood now known as Koreatown. It was only a Warner theater for a relatively short time and for most of its existence has been known as the Wiltern. The theater underwent an amazing restoration in the 1980s and now operates as a live concert venue. I have been to a number of concerts here and the interior and exterior of this beauty never fail to take my breath away.
The Warner Grand was one of three “sister” theaters designed by architect B. Marcus Priteca. It opened in 1931 and after falling into decline, was purchased by the City of Los Angeles in 1996. The Department of Cultural Affairs now manages it, and the non-profit Grand Vision Foundation has been promoting a gradual restoration. I have been to the Warner Grand a couple of times – once for a screening ofÂ Gone With the WindÂ (fabulous), and another time forÂ TheÂ Poseidon AdventureÂ (not so fabulous, it was a 16mm print). No matter what’s showing on the screen, it’s a movie palace fit for Ann-D.
This is the second of the Priteca sister theaters and opened in 1930. I actually have an Ann Dvorak story for this one: She was supposed to make a personal appearance at the Warner Grand in San Pedro for a screening of one of her films, and showed up in Huntington Park instead (I didn’t claim it was much of a story). The theater is still standing, though unused and apparently for lease.
Here’s the third of the sister theaters designed by B. Marcus Priteca, which opened in 1931 – and demolished in 1988 (and we had been doing so well!). What is it now you ask? Why a parking lot of course.
I have to admit that I stumbled upon this one while looking up street addresses for the other theaters. Unlike Hollywood, Western, and the three sister theaters, the Forum was not originally a Warner theater and I’m not sure how long it lasted. It was in operation in 1936, and could have possibly shownÂ Midnight Court, so it made the cut – plus it’s gorgeous. Mercifully, the building is still standing and operates as a church, though it sounds like not much of the decorative interior remains.
And just in case you want to take a look at the locations today, above is a handy dandy map of all the theatre addresses.
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On March 17, 1932, Ann Dvorak eloped with Leslie Fenton in Yuma Arizona. Upon their return, she left the watchful eye of her mother who was living at 6366 Orange Street and moved in with her bridegroom. Fenton has been residing at 1328 Miller Drive, but after tying the knot with Ann the couple relocated to a charming Spanish style residence at 3339 Troy Drive. Located in a hilly area off Cahuenga Blvd, near Universal Studios, it was just over the hill from Warner Bros., where Ann was spending all of her professional time.
When the Fentons took off on their prolonged honeymoon, all of Ann’s Warner Bros. options where delivered to Troy Drive where a delivery confirmation was signed by a member of the Fenton clan in Ann and Leslie’s absence.
The 1926 residence is still standing and back in 2007, it could have been yours for a mere $913,000.
When Ann Dvorak first walked onto First National/Warner Bros. studio in December 1931, she probably thought it would only be for a short time. She was, after all, under contract to Howard Hughes’ Caddo Company and was only on loan-out to the Burbank studio at the request of Howard Hawks who had cast her in the James Cagney vehicleÂ The Crowd Roars. Instead, Ann would soon find herself the property of Jack Warner & Bros, and would not leave the Burbank lot permanently until December 1936.
The massive studio lot, which butts up against the Los Angeles River, opposite the Forest Lawn cemetery and Griffith Park was originally built by First National Pictures in 1926. When Warner Bros. merged with First National a couple of years later, they acquired the property while also maintaining a Hollywood studio on Sunset Blvd. Â The trademarks of the two studios remained separate until 1936, which is why many of the films Ann made in Burbank are credited as First National Productions.
The Warner Bros. studio is still around and well. It has address listings for 3400 W. Riverside Dr. and 4000 Warner Blvd., though back in the day it was listed as being at Olive & Aliso, though Aliso probably became Rowland which became Warner Blvd. (Burbank experts feel free to correct me). I believe the backlot has suffered fires in the past, but if I am not mistaken, some of the facades from Ann’s day are still there. I have been fortunate enough to attend some screenings on the lot, where my husband and I will spend some time wandering around beforehand.
There is a studio tour available, and while I have not taken the formal tour, a friend of mine who works there was nice enough to spend his lunch break giving me his own tour in a golf cart two years ago (as a Gilmore Girls fan, it was delightful). My daughter was less than a year old at the time, and I had her strapped in the Baby Bijorn. She loved every minute of the golf cart ride, though she was too young to remember it. Something tells me that will not be her last go around on Ann Dvorak’s old stomping grounds.
Today on our road trip, we cross over into West Hollywood to a film production studio now known as The Lot.Â The Lot, located at Santa Monica Blvd. and Formosa Ave. was the onetime studio of Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks, United Artists, and Samuel Goldwyn among many many others. It also served briefly as the headquarters for the Caddo Co., Howard Hughes production company which occupied offices at the studio located at 7208 Santa Monica Blvd. (the address for the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios was 1041 N. Formosa). This is the space where Ann Dvorak would have gone to sign herÂ Scarface contract in 1931 and where parts of that film andÂ Sky Devils were shot. It also would have been the place Ann visited on a regular basis in late 1931, anxiously viewing the daily rushes ofÂ ScarfaceÂ see how she was coming across onscreen. Ann’s time at Caddo was fairly short lived and by December 1931 she was working at Warner Bros.
As for The Lot, it’s still standing – though unfortunately last year a number of the historic buildings were demolished by the current owners.
Today’s stop on our Ann Dvorak L.A. road trip takes us to this charming 1929 Spanish-style residential building at 6366 Orange Street in the Fairfax District. Ann Dvorak moved into this 4-unit building with her mom and stepfather shortly after she began working at MGM. This is where she would live until eloping with Leslie Fenton in 1932, so it was actually one of the longest places she resided up until this point in her life.
Interestingly, by 1932 her friend andÂ ScarfaceÂ costar Karen Morley was also living here with her parents.
On June 18, 1929 a mysterious curtain was standing in a vacant lot at the NE corner of Wilshire Blvd & Shatto Place. At 8:30pm, the curtain dropped to reveal a “living billboard” readingÂ METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYERâ€™S HOLLYWOOD REVUE,Â GRAUMANâ€™S CHINESE THEATRE. Sitting atop the words “Hollywood” and “Revue” were a bevy of MGM chorus girls, with the first “O” adorned by our very own Ann Dvorak.
The corner of Wilshire & Shatto is still more or less vacant – it’s a parking lot. But at least now when driving by this nondescript area, you have an excuse to think of Ann Dvorak.
If you look beyond the No. 1 Furniture Group and Chiropractic Group offices at 6128 Wilshire Blvd, you’ll see a thirty unit apartment building. This is where a teenaged Ann Dvorak was living with her mother and stepfather, Anna Lehr and Arthur Pearson, in 1929. This is where Ann would have been residing when she made the trek down to the MGM Studios to appear as a chorus girl in Hollywood Revue of 1929.
A couple of years ago, a patron came into the library doing research on this building, specifically about Lane’s Cocktails which occupied one of the storefronts in the 1960s. When she gave me the address and said she was looking for information about the building, I responded, “Oh, that’s where Ann Dvorak lived when she first started as a chorine at MGM.” I’m fairly certain I am the only librarian on the face of the planet who could have answered with that.
Ann Dvorak is usually associated with Warner Bros., the studio she was under contract to, and warred with, from 1932-1936. However, the first studio to sign a deal with Ann was Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
Ann was an unfashionable, but spunky teenager when she showed up at MGM’s fabled studio gates, hoping to land a gig in the chorus forÂ The Hollywood Revue of 1929. She made the line-up by the skin of her teeth and was eventually offered a contract as a dancer and assistant choreographer.
Chorine wasn’t a long-term career plan for Ann and when she was still getting cast in uncredited dancer or extra parts two years later, she ceased being enchanted with the studio that boasted, “more stars than in the heavens.”
She eventually left to make a little film calledÂ Scarface, but did return to Culver City a handful of times as a freelancer.
The massive MGM backlot is a thing of the past (check out this book if that’s of interest), and the water tower now reads Sony, but the studio that Ann set foot on countless times and its gates are still there, and always give me a cheap thrill every time I drive by them.
Ann Dvorak may have started her Los Angeles education at the Elliott School, but she ultimately ended up at the Page School For Girls in the Highland Park neighborhood. This is from where she graduated around 1927 or 1928. After Ann became a known actress, she visited her alma mater on at least one occasion.
Like the Elliot School, Page was a converted Victorian home that served as a boarding school. Â The school, who advertised it would prepare its students for “useful womanhood” was started by sisters Emma & Della Page. Della later broke off to start the companion Page Military Academy which served the young male population. There are still Page private schools in existence which are offshoots of the military academy and operated by the descendants of Della Page. Unfortunately, they do not have any records from the girls school.
I have never been able to find a photo of the Page School, which drives me nuts. The above photo, taken by one-time Disney engineer Herman Schultheis is especially maddening. While taking this shot, he was standing at the lower lefthand corner of the above map. Had he just turned around he could have gotten some photos of the school! This image is in the photo archive I oversee, so Herman definitely did not turn his camera behind him.
While this stretch of Pasadena Ave (actually, it’s now Figueroa) maintains many remnants of its long history, the site Page School For Girls is now a rather unsightly shopping center.