Friday, April 6, 2012

Hansel and Gretel Cottages in Culver City

One of Culver City's Hansel and Gretel Cottages: and now I know someone who lives in it!

While I was in Santa Monica this past weekend, one of my friends told me about a house her daughter had rented in Culver City, California--she told me I simply had to see it. We all piled into the family car and it was, as promised, definitely worth the trip.

The house is owned by two sisters who inherited it from their parents--who lived there all their lives. The sisters now rent it out--though they still store some family furniture in the home. 

The roof has recently been re-done with faux shakes but it follows the original design and it is a work of art in itself. It is designed with all kinds of twists and turns out of a scary fairy tale: so wonderful that this (expensive) aspect has been maintained by the owners.

I tried to capture it a little better in this shot: but you almost have to see it in 3-D to appreciate it.

It was really something to see. It is one of three renown Hansel and Gretel style cottages built in Culver City--near MGM Studios--in the 1920s. A Los Angeles Times article from the 1980s says their origins are "murky" and that they are believed to have been built by a studio carpenter with a vivid imagination and access to surplus studio materials.

The one rented by my friends' daughter is one of just two Hansel and Gretel houses that remain near the old studio. The third and largest--which was once a production company headquarters--has been moved to Beverly Hills.

UCLA professor  and architectural historian Thomas S. Hines says of this and other LA styles of the classic Hollywood Era (from Egyptian Theaters to the Brown Derby restaurant--in the shape of a hat):  "Of course many different kinds of people gravitated here [to LA]. Hence, the Hansel and Gretel cottages and Spanish colonial revival fantasies ... there was an openness in Southern California. Maybe just the act of coming here, being reminded that things were different here ... Whatever the explanation, this receptivity to architectural experimentation is one of Los Angeles' greatest cultural achievements."

He adds that about a quarter of the buildings he's studied and written about, that he feels were and are historically significant, have been razed in recent years. Something there is that doesn't love the status quo (with apologies to Robert Frost) in California.

(I am not an American who believes Europeans do everything better. But I do believe they do preservation better. I have come to be a preservationist--not by law or by force. I wish Americans could be persuaded to want to preserve open spaces, our history, and our interesting old buildings and, but I do go on ... )

From every angle, this house, rented by the daughter of a friend of mine, is a treat for the eye.
Anyway, lucky for us, the two Culver City Hansel and Gretel houses remain, and we headed off to see the second, after thoroughly enjoying the fantastical features of the first including a truly odd fireplace mantel and an Easter-egg-blue ceiling under one of the domes that the two sisters told their tenants, " ... has always been that way and can't be repainted another color ever!"

Culver City Hansel and Gretel cottage number two. Wow!

Both houses have totally weird and stunning roof lines. Both appeared to have been recently re-done by a real artist using faux shakes--and I shudder to think of the cost. But they followed the original style and that was a delight. The only other place in California I have seen such fantasies are in a couple of similar cottages in Carmel. Same nutty artists seem to have gravitated to both locations.

The wonderful garage doors on Culver City cottage number two. Gotta have a garage or three. This is, after all, Los Angeles, not the Black Forest. 

If you do ever get to Los Angeles, a real architectural tour would be fascinating, as Dr. Hines, of UCLA, says it is one of the top cities in the world for architectural innovation. Los Angeles can seem cluttered and it does have its blight. But ... 

... it isn't every region that can claim at least three houses straight out of the Brothers Grimm. Bring your breadcrumbs: it might be a dark and dangerous thing, finding your way back home.

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Kathy said...

Do you think Hugh Comstock got his start in Culver City?

Robin Chapman said...

I did a quick bit of research on Comstock (who is known for his design of H & G cottages in Carmel) when I read your questions, and it is the right era, but I haven't found any record he was in Hollywood at this time. It could be an example of "simultaneity" or there could be a real connections. More research for the future ...