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carole lombard 03

Oceanside paradise

Posted by vp19 on 2008.07.30 at 00:47
Current mood: enthralledenthralled
When one examines the glory days of Hollywood, particularly the 1920s and '30s, it's hard not to feel a bit dwarfed by the stars, as if you were in the presence of gods or giants. The way they lived, the way the public perceived them from seeing them on colossal screens every week...surely they were somehow above the rest of us puny mortals. They weren't, of course, and inside we knew it -- but they nonetheless filled us with awe. And their residences themselves seemed larger than life, as if some mansion from Mount Olympus had been magically been moved down here to earth.

Take, for example, this palace:



It's Ocean House, the official name for the Santa Monica beachfront mansion owned by Marion Davies. (I don't believe the above is an actual color photo, but whomever did the tinting must be credited with an excellent job.) Built for Davies in the 1920s by her publishing paramour, William Randolph Hearst, Ocean House was the southern California equivalent of his famed San Simeon castle...overwhelming in its bigness (118 rooms) and lavish features. (Like San Simeon, it was designed by architect Julia Morgan, whose Los Angeles-area projects included the old Herald-Examiner offices on 1111 South Broadway.) Ocean House may not have had the public acclaim of Pickfair over in Beverly Hills, but many more people saw it since it was located on the famed Pacific Coast Highway.

Davies was a frequent party-giver, and the colossal facility could reportedly host up to 2,000 guests. Since Carole Lombard was good friends with Davies and went up to San Simeon several times, it's a pretty safe bet she also visited Ocean House on a number of occasions. This picture, from 1935 (and with Clark Gable on hand, before he and Carole became "an item"), may well have been taken there:



By the 1940s, Davies' acting career was over, and she sold Ocean House, using some of the money to help Hearst through tough financial times. Several years before Davies died in 1961, much of the mansion was razed -- leaving only rooms including servants' quarters (which in themselves were pretty sumptuous), pool and tennis courts. It eventually became a private club for a while, but some parts of the building were demolished after suffering severe damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

However, Ocean House lives again...well, sort of. Profiles In History is selling a variety of Hollywood memorabilia, and one of the items is a series of 13 photographs of the magnificent interior of the mansion, taken by William Grimes. Here are three stunning examples:





Even the photos of the kitchen awe the viewer:



Information on these 10 x 13 doubleweight custom prints can be found at http://cgi.liveauctions.ebay.com/611-Set-of-13-photos-of-Marion-Davies-beach-house_W0QQcmdZViewItemQQcategoryZ52933QQihZ014QQitemZ330248746687QQrdZ1QQsspagenameZWDVW. Bidding started at $400 (one bid has already been placed); the deadline is tomorrow, July 31.

But how about "the rest of the story," to borrow Paul Harvey's famous phrase? And how would you have liked to have taken a dip in the Ocean House pool, shown below in the 1940s?



The good news is that starting next year, you can!

In a project scheduled for completion in 2009, the pool will become part of a community center open to the public. Thanks a gift from Wallis Annenberg (herself part of a famed publishing family) as well as funding from the city of Santa Monica, the facility will be known as the Annenberg Community Beach House, with some architectural elements designed to evoke Ocean House.



For updates on the project, go to http://www.smgov.net/beach_house/. Somehow I think Marion -- one of the most generous people in the film community -- would be pleased.

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