Sunday, December 12, 2010

Iconic in Long Beach

I went to the Open House at the Villa Riviera on Sunday.

The event, held twice yearly, benefits the Friends of Villa Riviera, a non-profit organization devoted to maintaining the building and preserving its history. The building's website is here.

Each time I visit Long Beach, I make a point to stop for a while and gander at this stunning tower by architect Richard D. King. When it opened in 1929 as a condominium building (the tallest building in Southern California after Los Angeles City Hall), it was touted in the sales brochure that "this wonderful structure of apartment villas . . . will transcend anything of the kind on the Pacific Coast." It later served as a hotel and as naval housing during WWII; it was reconverted to condos in 1991.

Gargoyles keep watch on the battlements.

Although some of Wilshire Boulevard's modern Condo Canyon buildings may top it in space and amenities, there are few residential structures even today in Southern California that exude the commanding street presence of the Villa Riviera.

800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach.

As can be seen in one of the original sales brochures, the building was originally painted aqua* in keeping with its beachfront location. Although the Pacific no longer laps the building's foundations, as it originally did, residents still have beach access. Fortunately, the color has been toned down to a lovely limestone hue.

Beachy but gaudy.

The interiors are another matter, alas. The hallways come across as dingy and in need of an overhaul, and the cheap furniture that lines them smacks of a Salvation Army thrift store shopping spree.

The HOA rehabbed the exterior two years ago at considerable expense. Its time to consider a major re-do of the interior.

Dingy hallways.

Respecting privacy, I didn't take photos in inhabited apartments (even the three that are currently for sale: listings here, here, and here), but I did come across a couple of horrifically brutalized units that were vacant and will soon be available for rent.

Shag carpeting? Cheap pressed-wood paneling? What were these owners thinking?

A ravaged bedroom in need of emergency TLC.

The views, especially from the higher floors, are stunning, and they must be even better at night. Unfortunately, the tower was not open on this tour, although it may be on some future occasion.

Views galore.

The building has a museum that holds some relics from the past, including a few verdigrised exterior ornaments and even a coat hanger from the building's glory days.

The museum.

On leaving, I had mixed emotions. Many of the residents try, naïvely and somewhat sadly, to make their apartments look as if Norma Talmadge were about to waltz through the front door. Frilly shawls are draped theatrically across uncomfortable-looking mahogany and velvet divans, as if time had stood still since the advent of the talkies.

Other owners have thoroughly modernized to point that their apartments look like any cookie-cutter box in WeHo, with furnishings from CB2. Both approaches, IMHO, are wrong, but, of course, not all the owners' apartments were open on the tour. (By far the best one open was #804; alas, the photos posted with the real estate listing do absolutely nothing to capture the true elegance and taste of this apartment.)

I'm sure the building holds many more secrets as yet unseen. Let's hope that more of the residents have given their apartments a style, polish, and glamor to match the Villa Riviera's stunning image on the Long Beach skyline.

*Update, Feb. 2, 2011:

A reader has corrected my assertion that the building was originally painted aqua (information which was passed on to visitors by the guide at the Open House). Evidently, the aqua color was only used for the sales posters; the original color, as determined by a specialist in historic buildings, was the limestone hue that the building is currently painted.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bold and Beautiful on Carolwood Drive

The January 2011 issue of Architectural Digest is out—the first edited by Margaret Russell—and it's a keeper.

The issue is getting lots of huzzahs on Curbed National, among other places, for Russell's fresh vision for what had become a terminally ossified design publication.

One of the feature stories is on a George Washington Smith–designed house (with sensitive additions by architect and G. W. Smith scholar Marc Appleton) on Carolwood Drive—the same one featured on the cover of real estate agent Jeffrey Hyland's book,
The Legendary Estates of Beverly Hills.

391 Carolwood Drive, Holmby Hills (photo copyright Appleton Architects).

Although the owners are unidentified in the AD story, it doesn't take Charlie Chan to snoop out that the house is owned by Bradley and Colleen Bell. Bradley Bell was the creator, with his father, William J. Bell, of the soap opera
The Bold and the Beautiful, and also wrote many of the episodes himself. According to Wikipedia, it's "the most-watched soap in the world." In the Czech Republic, it's simply called Fabulous and Rich. Enough said?

While Hyland's book doesn't dwell on the interiors of this house, the
Architectural Digest story, written by Joseph Giovannini and beautifully photographed by Erhard Pfeiffer, does. I noticed that the walls of the garden room—like the others, designed by the always inspiring Windsor Smith—are covered with silver wallpaper decorated with gouache murals by artist Scott Waterman.

Murals by Scott Waterman.

I've been a fan of Waterman's work since discovering it via the Mrs. Blandings blog several weeks ago. A couple of examples:

Waterman also does fine art, as in these examples:

Images courtesy of

As if that's not enough, it also turns out that the artist is an accomplished blogger whose blog, Corbu's Cave, I had visited several times previously without making the connection.

It's a small, circular world, full of wonderment.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lake Como above Sunset

This 1940 villa by F. Pierpont Davis, situated just above the Sunset Strip, is having an open house on Tuesday.

8960 St. Ives Drive, West Hollywood

Davis was the architect, with his brother Walter, of the exquisite Villa d'Este apartments (1928) on Laurel Avenue. He died in 1941, the year after this house was completed.

The current owner has taste and a predilection for equine portraiture—both rare commodities in MLS listings. One wants to know this person as eagerly as one wants to shun the owners of McMansions. Official ownership information and assessed values can be found here.

A predilection for equine portraiture.

The architecture, if somewhat quirky, is substantial and stylish throughout.

Substance and style in architecture.

John Woolf, doyen of the Hollywood Regency style, reportedly did some later revamping of this house, which may explain the more contemporary look of the master bedroom.

The outdoor pool area is compact, due to the steeply sloping lot on which the house is situated, but is nevertheless wonderfully articulated and landscaped.

The listing is here.