Monday, May 18, 2009

Park Avenue on Wilshire . . . almost

The Talmadge, at 3278 Wilshire (official website), was built in 1924 by producer and United Artists president Joseph Schenck as a gift (read: revenue stream) for his then-wife, silent film star Norma Talmadge. The cost was an eye-popping $1.5 million.

The Talmadge, 1924

There is no evidence that Norma Talmadge actually lived here, but former residents do include
Schenck protégé Buster Keaton, Captain Alan Hancock of Hancock Park fame, and, much later, television star Telly Savalas.

The Talmadge today, pride of Mid-Wilshire

Architects Aleck Curlett and Claude Beelman—designers of the Elks Club (later the Park Plaza Hotel), not far away, and several other large L.A. projects—chose to work in a Georgian revival style unusual for Los Angeles.

The red brickwork in American bond, the Ionic pilasters, the six-over-six sash windows, the neoclassical limestone friezes and roundels set into the façade, and the prominent balconies on the top floor with broken-pediment window surrounds all conspire to bring a healthy dose of East Coast sophistication to this once-glamorous strip of Mid-Wilshire.

God is in the details

The Talmadge would provide design cues to the stately Sheraton Townhouse just down the boulevard, built a few years afterwards and designed by Clarence Russell and Norman Alpaugh (blogged here).

The building's marquise—a lovely but incongruous Beaux-Arts element
is still in place but has been rather insulted and made redundant by a later burgundy canvas awning with crude lettering; this should be removed post-haste.

Like it rains in L.A.?

The ten-story Talmadge recalls the classic New York apartments of Park Avenue (which are generally a couple of stories taller but have no groovy palm trees waving outside) and was considered the finest apartment house west of Manhattan at the time.

Park Avenue apartment houses
(coutesy of Carter B. Horsley's excellent City Review)

The interior is perhaps not quite up to New York's finest snuff, but it's still serveral cuts above average, with entry halls in each apartment, delicate two-tiered crown moldings, and maid's quarters in the larger units.

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