North Kings Road: Actors, Architects,
Novelists and Their Ghosts
From Charlie Chaplin to Aldous Huxley, Rudolph Schindler to Warren Zevon, Bob
Bishop takes a look at this creative and sometimes eccentric neighborhood.
FIRST OF TWO ARTICLES
MONDAY – AUGUST 10, 2015
Architect Rudolph Schindler had an uncanny ability to design three-dimensional spaces.
To him, the real medium of architecture was space, leading to a style he called SPACE
architecture. (Photo by Joshua White, MAK Center)
With North Kings Road development issues in the news (again), let’s take a few minutes
for a refresher course on lesser-known events in the street’s history. These tend to lurk in
the background of larger stories but they still contribute to what residents call the
neighborhood’s atmosphere. The news, at least, can never be demolished regardless of
the outcome of current density debates.
Planners Nearly Ground Space Architecture
Everyone knows that maverick architect Rudolph Schindler built his now-iconic house at
835 N. Kings Rd. The home assured the street would be forever associated with a
distinctive Southern California style of modern residential design. But did you know how
very close it came to never being built?
Local planning authorities initially denied Schindler’s request for a building permit,
citing his novel “tilt-slab” construction technique as being “too radical” for that time
(1922). Many trips and extensive talks later, planners relented somewhat by granting
Schindler a temporary permit. This meant that the building department reserved the right
to halt construction at any stage.
That didn’t happen, of course, and Schindler went on to design some 500 projects.
Almost 150 were built using his “radical” Schindler Frame technique. The modernist
studio-residence remains a West Hollywood landmark visited by thousands of
architectural enthusiasts annually. It has been listed in the National Register of Historic
Places since 1971.
Huxley’s Haunted House
How many have heard the unusual story about the death of Aldous Huxley’s first wife,
caretaker and companion of 36 years? Maria Huxley died of breast cancer at their 740 N.
Kings Rd. home in 1955. Friends said her death caught the author of “Brave New World”
(1932) almost by complete surprise – he was legally blind and unaware of his wife’s
terminal illness until her final week. She also had tried to keep her illness to herself for as
long as possible.
Then the story got spooky when a local newspaper columnist reported that Maria
Huxley’s ghost “haunted the house.” The reporter was Paul Coates, known for his
popular daily newspaper column in the Los Angeles Mirror-News.
For whatever reason, Huxley moved from the Kings Road house in 1956. A 72-unit
condominium development was built in 1973 on the site of their former home. There was
no further word about her ghost, officially or otherwise.
The house looms large in literary history and in rock ‘n’ roll folklore as the place where
the British writer with mystical inclinations first took mescaline and began his legendary
experimentation with psychedelic drugs. Huxley described those experiences in his 1954
Pall bearers at Theodore Dreiser’s funeral
were led by Charlie Chaplin, front and
center. (Photo courtesy of Southern
California Architectural History)
book, “The Doors of Perception.” He took the title from a poem by English romanticist
William Blake – a line that also inspired the name that Jim Morrison would give his rock
band slightly more than a decade later.
The Pall Bearer Was a Tramp
There’s plenty of documentation about
Theodore Dreiser, author of “Sister Carrie”
(1900), and his relocation to Los Angeles from
New York in 1938 with his lover and second
cousin, Helen Richardson. They lived at 1015
N. Kings Rd. from 1938 until his death there in
But you may not know who served as lead pall
bearer for Dreiser’s funeral at Forest Lawn
Cemetery – his official bio at Dreiser Online
doesn’t even note that it was none other than
Charlie Chaplin, a close friend and frequent bon
vivant at several Kings Road homes.
Chaplin kept a writing studio only a few steps
away at 819 N. Sweetzer Ave. The group of
English-style cottages where he did much of his
writing is a boutique hotel today that bears his
name, The Charlie.
Actors and Rockers and Hookers, Oh My!
The City of West Hollywood’s website notes that North Kings Road “is exemplified by
its prestigious list of residents” that includes accomplished actors such as Jane Wyatt,
Ray Milland and Betty Furness, in addition to Huxley and Dreiser. More recent residents
have been Billy Bob Thornton and singer-songwriter Warren Zevon.
You’ll have to look elsewhere, though, to learn that the home Milland rented at 1005 N.
Kings Rd. in 1936 was a former house of prostitution, at least according to the website
Movieland Directory.com. Likewise, it takes some digging to get information about the
happenstance pairing of Thornton and Zevon as neighbors in the same North Kings Road
apartment building. After a chance meeting at the mailboxes, the two quickly became
friends. Soon after, residents reported hearing loud arguments between them about which
one was the most obsessive-compulsive. Zevon died from cancer in his North Kings
Road apartment in 2003.
The Irony and the Ecstasy
Many residents are familiar with the story behind the 1970 demolition of the Dodge
House, an international-style architectural and technological gem formerly situated on an
estate-size lot at 950 N. Kings Rd.
The American Institute of Architects deemed it one of the 15 most architecturally
significant houses in the country. Preservationists, though, weren’t able to save it after a
series of government transactions ineptly placed the house in the hands of developers.
Designed by Irving Gill, a master of modern residential design, the Dodge House gave
way to a 194-unit condominium development.
But how many realized the irony when, in 1999, the city dedicated a half-acre “pocket
park” at 1000 N. Kings Rd. on land that was formerly the garden area of the Dodge
House? The architectural fates, it seems, found a way to keep the Dodge House’s
memory alive. The park’s location was initially targeted for a five-story public housing
project before residents protested. Their efforts helped create the much-needed park in
the heart of one of the most densely populated cities in Los Angeles County.
What Do You Wear to a House Built for Swingers?
Stories have circulated for decades about the Sunday open houses hosted by bohemian
Rudolph Schindler and his avant-garde wife Pauline at their Kings Road studio-residence.
Vanity Fair says the couple liked to share their “sweetly decadent life” at their house
“built for swingers.” Musicians, artists and hipsters would invoke the muse, and the
evening would flow from there, on one occasion with topless Balinese dancers.
So you might not expect to find America’s greatest architect in the middle of these
seductive salons. Turns out, though, Frank Lloyd Wright was an early habitué of the
Schindler’s weekly gatherings, where he occasionally performed on his cello. Wright
played six instruments altogether. Schindler was a senior associate in Wright’s firm and it
was only natural that Wright would visit the Kings Road house.
North Garden area of
the Walter Luther
Dodge House (Photo
Library of Congress)
Richard Neutra, left, and Rudolph
Schindler with Pauline and Mark
Schindler at the Kings Road
house in 1928 photo (Source
Southern California Architectural
Wright, in fact, had a substantial influence on the development of North Kings Road. In
addition to its famous residents, the street was exemplified also by its significant
modernist residential architecture, according to West Hollywood’s website.
Wright associates designed at least three houses on the street: the Schindler House at 835;
the Dodge House at 950 (Irving Gill, architect), and the Reif House at 906 (Aaron Green,
architect). Naturally Wright wanted to check up on the work of his former employees and
The Two Princes & Four Ghosts of Kings Road
Enough about the past – let’s take a look at future
news about North Kings Road. Sunset Boulevard, as
it turns out, isn’t the only Los Angeles-area street that
gets theatrical attention.
Coming up in September, the historic Neutra Institute
and Museum in Silverlake will host a play about the
two legendary architects of modern Los Angeles
design, Schindler and Richard Neutra. Called “The
Princes of Kings Road,” the play is based on true
events after the conservative Neutra moved his
family into the Kings Road residence, where he and
Schindler shared a professional partnership.
What could go wrong? Friends since their college
days in Vienna, their personal and business
relationships turned into bitter rivalries described in
painful detail by a 1999 Vanity Fair article on which
the play is based.
It will be the second stage play about the inhabitants of Kings Road. In 2004, Kings Road
resident and playwright Jericho Stone presented a reading of his play about a gathering of
“Four Ghosts of Kings Road” – former residents Schindler, Dreiser, Huxley and singer-
songwriter Zevon. The intimate reading at the Schindler House featured actor Michael
These are only a few of the under-publicized but still newsworthy events in North Kings
Road’s history. The City of West Hollywood has recognized the neighborhood’s unique
character on its website where more information is available.
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North Kings Road, carved from barley fields, developed early on into a distinct, creative
community in a green and gracious expanse that attracted famous actors, writers and
architects. Zoning changes changed the neighborhood’s character dramatically in the
mid-1960s, but through it all, the street and its renowned residents have persevered.
Web Link to Article
About the Author
Bob Bishop is a recently retired public relations manager in the aerospace industry who has
lived on North Kings Road for more than 20 years.
North Kings Road, Part II: The Wild, Wild West
SECOND OF TWO ARTICLES
MONDAY – AUGUST 17, 2015
What role did North Kings Road play in the selection of L.A.'s first police chief? What
act changed the character of the street, with the construction of eight multi-story
buildings with 400 units in a nine-year period? Bob Bishop has these answers and
more insights as he continues looking into the history of North Kings Road.
Schindler-Chace House, 835 N. Kings Rd., 1922. Rudolph Schindler, architect. (Photo courtesy UC
Santa Barbara Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collections, Schindler Collection.)
Class is in session for part two of this “refresher course” on the history of North Kings Road.
Some events may seem less important than others, but knowing what came before takes on added
significance as over-development and density debates rage through the neighborhood and City
Hall. The first article on the history of North Kings Road was published on WEHOville last
Who Says Crime Doesn’t Play?
First question: How did Kings Road help determine who would become Los Angeles’
first chief of police? The Los Angeles Times provides the answer with this account: “In
1874, the colorful robber and horse thief Tiburcio Vasquez was wounded and captured by
Polish Jewish immigrant Deputy Emil Harris near
what is now Santa Monica Boulevard and Kings
Road. The Yiddish-speaking Harris would be
rewarded for his role and became Los Angeles’ first
chief of police . Vasquez also was rewarded after a
fashion: While he was awaiting execution, a play
based on his life opened in Los Angeles.”
The play, appropriately, was named “Bandido!,” and
it debuted at the Mark Taper Forum. The Vasquez
Rocks, near Newhall 40 miles north of L.A., were
one of his many hideouts and are named after him.
At Least They Didn’t Call It “Green Acres”
Kings Road developed as a distinctive creative community early on, providing a unique
atmosphere. A document on the City of West Hollywood’s website states that such an
ambience was fostered by unusually large parcels that provided a broad, flat area for
building within conventional street grids. The result was “a green and gracious expanse
surrounded by an increasingly developed neighborhood.”
With that pleasant, pastoral image in mind, can you guess the name of the large real
estate tract from which North Kings Road was carved? The answer: Hollywood Acres.
Next question: What marketing slogan did developers use to hype Kings Road
specifically? The answer: “The Newest of the High-Class Foothill Subdivisions.”
Marketing would become a more sophisticated tool in the coming decades, obviously. By
1916, two houses had been built on North Kings Road and much of the area wasn’t much
more than barley fields. Those first two houses set a standard for others that would be
distinguished at the least and in some cases would become architectural masterpieces.
The third residence would be designed and built by Austrian-born Rudolph Schindler.
Fair Housing – Why Bother?
Consider yourself well-informed if you’re up-to-speed on the next two events. Together
they show (1) how close Rudolph Schindler came to not building his studio-residence – at
least not on North Kings Road, and (2) why fair housing laws and extensive real estate
regulations exist today.
Here’s the backstory from Susan Morgan’s “A Short History of the Schindler House”: A
pair of businessmen (developers) owned all property along the street in the early 1920s –
Walter Luther Dodge and Raymond Wicks Stephens. Dodge, scion of the famous
automobile brand, also was an inventor. He held a patent for Tiz, a medicine for tired
feet. He built the first residence on North Kings Road at 950, aka the famous Dodge
First event: Dodge hand picked the fortunate few
who would be allowed to purchase parcels and
become his neighbors . Fair housing laws were still a
thing of the future.
Second event: Schindler’s arrival in Los Angeles in
1920. Frank Lloyd Wright dispatched him to
supervise Wright’s largest U.S. commission at the
time – the Hollyhock House for oil heiress Aline
A year later, Schindler was looking to set up his own
practice when he and investor / engineer Clyde
Chace spotted the Kings Road property where the “Schindler-Chace house” eventually
For Schindler, the site offered the professional advantages of living and working in an
accessible “middle-class” section of a city. The area, called Sherman, was ideally located
and a booming garden spot well served by the inter-urban railway system, electric
utilities and the West Los Angeles Water Company. Located eight miles northwest of
downtown Los Angeles, the town would be renamed West Hollywood in 1925 to
emphasize its ties to its glamorous neighbor to the east.
Schindler and Chace seemingly lacked the connections to win Dodge’s blessing. So how
did they eventually purchase nearly a half acre of land on Kings Road in December
1921? Researchers believe that it was a combination of Wright and the architect of the
Dodge House, Irving Gill.
Most likely, Gill vouched for Schindler based on this scenario: Schindler probably
viewed the Dodge House while it was being built during a West Coast trip he made in
1915. He learned of Gill’s work through his introductory visit with Wright in late 1914.
Wright had lived in a Gill-designed cottage in San Diego during 1912 and 1913.
The Perils of Pauline
One of the biggest events in Kings Road’s history would have to be the decision in 1964
by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to rezone the street to R-4, allowing as
many as 200 housing units per piece of property – from a maximum of eight previously.
Within the next nine years, eight multi-story buildings with some 400 units were
constructed along the street. Classic homes on the street were demolished along the way.
Pauline Schindler (Photo
courtesy of Courtesy UC
Santa Barbara Art Museum,
Architecture and Design
Adlai Stevenson II
How was the Schindler House able to withstand the
developers’ onslaught? Architectural historians credit
Rudolph Schindler’s former wife, Pauline. Even though
their marriage broke up in 1927, Pauline returned to the
Kings Road house often. She remained solidly committed
to the brand of modernist architecture in which Rudolph
“After Schindler’s death (in 1953), Pauline continued to
live in the house, staving off real estate developers,
withstanding the grim consequences of the area’s re-
zoning and the despoliation of Kings Road,” is how author
and architectural historian Esther McCoy described those
McCoy was instrumental in bringing the modern
architecture of Southern California to the attention of the
world. The Schindler House was named to the National
Register of Historic Places in 1971. When Pauline
Schindler died in 1977, it was purchased by Friends of the Schindler House in 1980.
Adlai Stevenson’s campaign stop on Kings Road is a well-known
event in his bid for the White House as the Democratic nominee
in 1952. Born in Los Angeles, Stevenson gave a major address at
850 N. Kings Rd. on Sept. 11 of that year. How many are
familiar with the remarks he delivered? You don’t have to be a
policy wonk to appreciate what he said that day:
“In the tragic days of Mussolini, the trains ran on time as never
before, and I am told in their way, in their own horrible way, the
Nazi concentration camp system in Germany was a model of
horrible efficiency. The really basic thing in government is
policy. Bad administration, to be sure, can destroy good policy, but good administration
can never save bad policy.”
“Public confidence in the integrity of the government is indispensable to faith in
democracy; and when we lose faith in the system, we have lost faith in everything we
fight and spend for.”
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