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Issue: Issue Winter 2004/2005

On the Street Where You Lived


Who would have thought, passing this secluded cul-de-sac off Franklin, you might stumble upon the very heart of Hollywood history? 

That street is Camino Palmero. Driving west on Franklin, half a mile from La Brea,* you could almost pass it by.

To your left, are blocks of condos. But to your right - at the top of the hill, is the Mediterranean villa once lived in by developer C.E. Toberman - creator of such Hollywood landmarks as the Hollywood Bowl, the El Capitan, the Egyptian, the Grauman's Chinese Theater and many of the lovely Spanish revival buildings on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. His neighbors in the 20's and 30's included Al Jolson, Bette Davis, Ruby Keeler and Rosalind Russell. (Also, nearby is the former home of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, but that's another story).

And at the corner, right off Franklin Avenue - its arched entranceway viewable through a wrought-iron gate - you'll see a grand neo-classic-style mansion with an illustrious past.

Known as "The Fuller House," it was built in 1916 for R.E. Fuller (who developed this part of Hollywood and after whom the adjacent Fuller Street is named), by noted architect Arthur S. Heineman. Set on 3/4 acres of land, with a six-room master suite, a glassed-in sleeping porch, sun rooms and even an indoor conservatory - it is a house fit for a king.

Or - maybe for the most successful independent producer in the history of Hollywood - Hollywood's dreammaker - Samuel Goldwyn.

Born in 1879 in a Warsaw ghetto as Schmuel Goldfisz, Goldwyn's story is a true Hollywood rags-to-riches fantasy. At age 15, after his father's death, the enterprising future mogul walked across Europe, then set sail to America. His name anglicized to "Samuel Goldfish," he rose to success as a glove salesman in New York. But by 1913, falling in love with the "flickers," he'd formed a movie company with Jesse Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille, resulting in Hollywood's first feature film, "The Squaw Man".

In 1916, he founded Goldwyn Pictures with Edgar Selwyn (hence, his future name, "Goldwyn"). But the oft-called "lone wolf producer" was forced out when a merger created Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

In 1923, he formed his own company. As head of Samuel Goldwyn Productions for the next half-century, Goldwyn would produce such memorable films as "All Quiet on the Western Front," (1930), "Wuthering Heights," (1939), "The Best Years of Our Lives," (1946), and "Guys and Dolls" (1955). Stamping each with the distinctive "Goldwyn touch," he was one of the first producers to seek out the great writers, such as Sinclair Lewis and Sherwood Anderson, fine directors like William Wyler, and created stars like Vivien Leigh, Gary Cooper and Lawrence Olivier.

Goldwyn and his beautiful young second wife, actress Frances Howard, moved into the Hollywood estate around 1925. Sam Jr. was born in 1926. The family would live there about eight years.

It was here, sitting in his upstairs study by the "Batchelder" tile fireplace - one of three in the house - that Goldwyn reportedly read the scripts for his early films, including "Stella Dallas," (1927), "Arrowsmith," (1931), and "Street Scene," (1931).

Frances - who helped forge his executive image through the 49 years of their tempestuous marriage (to little credit, it is said), would have enjoyed her morning tasks in a sunlit garden room or breakfast room. An indoor conservatory, enjoyed by ladies of the era, sat off the living room.

One can only imagine the entertaining that took place in this house. "Every star who was anybody in that golden age ate dinner there," said current owner Judson Rothschild, quoting "Katharine Hepburn, who once said, "You always knew where your career stood by where you were seated at the Goldwyn table." Guests would arrive in the formal foyer, waiting for the host and hostess to make their entrances down the floating, stacked staircase. After dinner in the chandeliered dining room, men could slip off to the billiards room, and on summer nights, guests sipped cocktails by the lantern-lit pool - one of the first private pools in Hollywood.

Frances, by the way, was said to have put a stop to some major gambling going on in the pool house. A reputedly obsessive gambler, Goldwyn once lost $150,000 at a weekly gambling session and (not the best father), often dropped young Sam Jr. off to the nearby Grauman's Chinese to sneak off to play poker.

Goldwyn moved to a more modern Beverly Hills house in the thirties, but his career can be said to have taken root during his years at 1800 Camino Palmero.

Editor's note:
Visit www.1800caminopalmero.com for more photos and information.
The property is listed for $5.5 million. Contact Frances Gibbon,
Prudential California Realty, (310) 671-1202.

Since that golden heyday, many owners have lived on the estate, each "updating" it to a different era. Over 30-40 years, clashing "adaptations" and misguided "fixes" resulted in its near-total ruination.

 Enter current owner/designer Judson Rothschild, a specialist in renovation of old houses, who has restored the house to its original splendor - and more.

"I grew up near the mansion, and would often pass it, watching it grow further into disrepair," said Rothschild. After touring the house in 2002, he fell in love with it.

"I learned some developers planned to raze it to build condos so I bought it to save it," he said. "I beat them in a last-minute deal! I couldn't believe anybody would let this happen!"

Rothschild used the original plans to restore or recreate such historical elements as moldings, arched doorways, and French doors (to replace sliding glass ones). Modern-era built-ins were replaced with classic cabinetry along neo-classic lines, Batchelder tiles in the fireplaces were duplicated. Also, to create light, Rothschild knocked down walls in the old-fashioned servant's kitchen and butler's pantry.

One of his proudest achievements has been turning the billiards room into a functional "media room" with the feel of an old Hollywood theater - complete with comedy and tragedy masks. With 200 light fixtures added throughout, and sound wired into every room, the Fuller/ Goldwyn house encapsulates old and new Hollywood at its best.

"Historically, this is the house that was meant to be," said Rothschild. "Here I am, sitting in probably the finest example of neo-classic design in Los Angeles - but at the center - just minutes from the Grauman Chinese, and literally in the heart of Hollywood!".

Goldwyn would have felt right at home here.