Monday, December 03, 2007

DeMille Dwellings, The Preface

If you made a list of all the different kinds of places to rent in Hollywood you might end up with some sort of architectural history of apartment dwelling in the 20th century. There are your former mansions from the teens and 20s cut down to a rat's nest of one- and two- room flats. The linoleum in them tends to peel up at the corners, and there's a fusty smell about them that one could call Eau de Old Man. In the 30s they built tall apartment buildings, modeled after those on New York's East Side. They’re called The Franklin Arms or The Excelsior, and each of the ten or so stories has two or three grand apartments with dumbwaiters and laundry chutes and that teeny cubby off the kitchen that was the butler's pantry but now more often holds a stacked washer/dryer combo and the dog food. Then there are the motel models, two story horseshoes ringing a central swimming pool. These are circa the 50s and 60s and they smack of Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb starlets lounging poolside in hip hugger 2 piece bathing suits and artfully coiffed platinum hair. The 70s and 80s gave us huge piles, proper apartments with elevators and subterraneum parking for tenants, monuments to uniformity and cheap construction.

And then there’s the likes of DeMille Dwellings, where I live. It’s a clustered hodgepodge of duplexes and triplexes that share a central garden feature--and not much else. It was built in the late twenties and is, depending on who you talk to, either a relic of Hollywood's back-lot working class stiffs or of Hollywood's above-the-line love nests. Considering that some of the former still live here and considering the stories they tell, I suspect both versions are true. That is, DeMille Dwellings did once house the lighting guys and costume girls of the Talkies and they did once entertain Rudy and Charlie and the lovable Fatty himself.

You can't really see the Dwellings from the street. The entrance to it is a brick portico, covered with scraggily ivy and one die-hard San Juan rose bush. Push through that and you're in a courtyard of sorts, part gravel, part grass, part overgrown weeds. The concrete fountain is off to the side a bit. It must have once been stunning, but now it's as tattered and forsaken as an old Hollywood whore. A frieze of mosaics once ran along the inside wall. I think it had something to do with the zodiac because there are still parts of Scorpio and Cancer that can be picked out. Most of the tiles are missing, pried off by--who? Kids? Vandals? Is there a market for used mosaics tiles?

The fountain doesn't work any more, of course. Or maybe it does, but no one has bothered to try it. It has become a gigantic ashtray cum garbage can. People throw their trash in it as if they were pitching pennies at Trevi. In some ways, I itch to clean it up. I have a thing about old things and restoring them and letting them live again. But I don't expect to be here long enough to really care, to get invested enough to be willing to stick my hands, begloved though they be, into the layers of detritus in that fountain.

I live in Number 3 1/4. It’s a studio bungalow squeezed in behind Number 3-1/2. There is no Number 3.


  1. Wait a minute - are you temporarily aboded in L.A.? For how long?

  2. This post makes me itchy to see a picture of the fountain.

  3. margaret: nope, just in my imagination. this was written in good old elk grove.

    velma: it exists only in my mind--and there's no camera there!


So--whaddaya think?