Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The House of my dreams

Are there places you return to in dreams? Places you recognize when your dream-self goes there - you get a sense of "Oh, I'm here again."

For me, it's a house.

It's a big wood frame house, built 100 years ago. Foursquare, with bare floors made of planks of douglas fir.

I've never visited this house awake, but it shares features with a house where I once lived. But this house is larger, emptier, less whole and more haunted.

It may be in Seattle; it may be in the midwest; it may be in the upstate New York town where my son was born. It's defnitely not in Los Angeles. The house sits on a typical size city lot, in an older residential neighborhood. Here the houses crowd one another - only a narrow passage separates the house from the one next door. The entrance is at the street grade, the lot slopes away to the back. There is an alley - of that detail I'm sure.

It's ours, but we've been gone a long time. We've returned to find it abandoned. Sometimes when my dreams take me there, I am frantic to seal the front doors against intruders. Sometimes the back garden's retaining walls are falling away. Sometimes I pry boards off windows - or nail them back on.

This time, I dreamt I was in the kitchen, where leaking rain had soaked and swelled the wooden cabinets, where piles of wet newspaper rot in piles. From the ceiling above, plaster falls and reveals the fragile lath.

I hear a scuttling sound, animals in the upper floors or within the walls. Rodents?

Then I realize it's my first dog, Trouper, who I adopted as a puppy. How had I forgotten him here? He is in the dark empty room, he is cold and thin and his fur is matted. I need to feed him. Can I find the dog food in the cracked and buckled cabinet drawers? Are the cans and bags buried beneath the rotting newsprint? Is there a can opener that works? Here the dream-sense of thwarted goals, of frustrated tasks, of chases that never end, of trains or planes missed -

And it wakens me. My eyes open in the dark. The frantic rush to feed the starving dog falls away. Just the memory of being there, in that familiar yet strange house remains.

What are the places you return to in your dreams?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hot house

There's nothing more otherworldly than visiting a conservatory during the height of winter.

We walked in Seattle's Volunteer Park and after we'd had our fill of the chill and damp and freezing slush, we visited the Conservatory. Built in 1912, it has four separate climate chambers for growing display plants.

It was so warm and moist my camera's lens fogged up to take this photo of paphiopedlium orchids.

When you enter the greenhouse, you come into the hottest of the rooms - where palms, tropical plants and orchids thrive in a hot, humid sweat.

To the right, a more temperate greenhouse shelters coleus, tender perennials, and - this year's exhibit - fancy Chinese chrysanthemums.

This one looks as though it's made of fine curls of paper.

Beyond this room, a dry and sere room of cactus and desert succulents feels like an oven.

If you cross back through to the center, you pass into a moist yet cooler room for temperate rain forest plants, hardy begonias and cycads.

Beyond, the last room holds bromiliads, staghorn ferns, and other epiphytes.

A selection of carnivorous plants are displayed by the vestibule.

Don't fall in.

The way out takes you past the pretty prom-dance orchids once again.

Isn't this a great way to beat the winter chill?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thematic Photographic - Sepia

"Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is SEPIA.

Sepia is a brownish pigment made from the ink of the cuttlefish, or squid. It was used as ink for drawing, but also as a toner in early photographic processing. It gives a mellow, warm and evocative tone to images.

Check in and see who else contributes photos based on this idea.

My photographs aren't classically sepia-toned, but I think the ones I've chosen are evocative of another era and place.

I'm experimenting with a new camera that has a setting for photos in low light, and this shot of carved stonework in a darkened room has a muted monochromatic feel similar to sepia-toned photos.

As does this photo of an oxidized door knocker in the shape of an antlered deer.

We are at dinner in an old building, dating from 1903 and the era of sepia-toned photos. The lights are low, and the room is dim.

The room and the faces are gently toned, almost like a faded, sepia photograph.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What is it?

Is it a shower enclosure?

Or a time machine?

Friday, November 26, 2010


To be back in Seattle.

The housekeeping chronicles - A legendary couple

After we lost the services of Rita, our long-time housecleaner, I tried to go it on my own, but soon [The Man I Love] found a better solution to our domestic maintenance. Oeuf and Eigh are a couple, and work together to clean houses. They came highly recommended. Their price is a bit higher than Rita's was, but they promise far better service.

They are middle-aged. Oeuf is a tiny woman with short black hair and a sweet smile. She wears sweatsuits and sneakers and fancy glasses. Eigh is a big bear-like man, who favors shorts, black socks and sandals, and T-shirts printed with metallic fleur-de-lis and other rock-goth designs. They come from a European country to go unnamed in these dispatches, and their English is just shy of fluent - sometimes we have communication difficulties that have to be sounded or mimed out.

When we first interviewed them, they were delighted to hear of [The Man I Love]'s work in music. They had worked for a musician once, they said, at his home in Calabasas. "You know this...ah... this Shoooog Nite?" asked Eigh.

The first day they worked, they were in our house for seven hours. Now, it's true our house had gone uncleaned for a couple of months. [The Man I Love] and I had managed to do some triage cleaning, but I am not embarrassed to say that I have become so spoiled over the years by even Rita's lack-luster work that it took me a couple weeks of her absence for it even to occur to me to pick up a broom. But seven hours!

One thing that might have lengthened that first day was that, a half hour into the day, Eigh discovered that the sliding glass shower enclosure door needed repair - it didn't slide properly and sometimes jammed. This, of course, is something that [The Man I Love] and I have been not-dealing-with for thirteen years, and something Rita cheerfully put up with as if it were a fact of life. From the bathroom, we heard the door scraping and thudding and rumbling, and [The Man I Love] dashed into the room to tell Eigh, "Oh, don't worry, that's always been that way, you don't have to -"

By that time, Eigh had the whole door off its track and was unbolting the broken and corroded rollers. He stammered apologies in broken English, and we worried that maybe our new house cleaner was going to well-meaningly break everything in our house. He asked if there was a hardware store nearby.

By the end of the day, the door rolled along its tracks smoother than it had ever rolled before.

"Just you wait," said Eigh. "In one year, maybe two years, I finally fix everything you need fixed."

Slowly, Ouef and Eigh have begun to take over our house. And it's sometimes alarming. The built-up nasty finish on the hardwood floor? We told Eigh about it. When we came home after the second week's cleaning, the entire kitchen floor was clean. The third week, half the living room was clean. On the fourth week, I had to stay home from work and discovered to my shock and horror that Eigh was pouring un-diluted ammonia on the boards and scrubbing it with a machine. The fumes drove me from the house.

But the floor was clean. I checked their contractor records to make sure their insurance was paid up.

True to his promise, Eigh has repaired many things in the house, including a kitchen light fixture that stopped working; some loosened slate tile in our entryway; a blocked sink drain and a broken light switch.

They clean the oven each week, scour grease-blackened baking pans, and clean the refrigerator. Eigh even deep-scrubbed and oil-treated our wooden cutting board - with an admonishment to me not to use water on it ever again.

They even take Jack for a walk when they're here.

Oeuf and Eigh have a small dog who used to stay in a carrier when they worked, until we determined that Jack enjoyed the companionship. So each Monday when they arrive, Jack and the little dog chase each other around the house. Then the little dog has a snack from Jack's food dish.

Oeuf is the quiet one. If she needs to clean where you happen to be, she apologizes profusely, eyes blinking behind the fancy glasses. "I'm sorry!"

About three weeks into our relationship, Eigh started pressing the clothes left on the ironing board. Since these were mostly [The Man I Love]'s suits and slacks for work, and I am a reluctant ironer, he loved it. One week, Eigh asked for permission to take one of [The Man I Love]'s shirt home, so he could properly select the right replacement button from his collection. When he brought the shirt back, he presented it for our admiration. Indeed, the button perfectly matched.

[The Man I Love] is delighted with this kind of service, which is a testimony to how much pampering he's been denied living for 25 years with a housewife as lax as I am. I teased him that he now had his own manservant.

But to be honest, all this is making me a little nervous. Oeuf and Eigh are also doing our laundry, folding our clothes and reorganizing our dresser drawers. I'm not used to this level of intimacy from strangers.

It took a while to adjust to having other people deal with our clothing. We found that our familiar methods of dividing dirty from clean didn't translate immediately to other people. We learned this after Eigh, doing the shirts on the ironing board in the spare room, also ironed and hung up the dirty clothes piled on the floor, which were meant for the dry-cleaner. We didn't realize this until [The Man I Love] took a meticulously pressed pair of slacks off the hanger, only to realize it stank. Now we carefully segregate the dry-cleaning from the ironing into hampers.

They certainly do go above and beyond the call of duty. Back in the spring, when the local fire department did its annual inspection, we were not at home, but Oeuf and Eigh were cleaning that day. The firefighters noted we needed to clean the leaves off our flat roof.

The next week, Eigh was up on the roof, sweeping off the leaves. Once again, I hoped their insurance was paid up.

They both take great pride in their work, and want to share in their enthusiasm. They want us to know what a good job they've done. Each week when Eigh arrives, he asks how we enjoyed whatever project he completed last week, and points out the next target of his attention. He often arrives with a package, unveiling the next improvement for our lives. One morning it was a new iron - he said the old one leaked.

Last week, as I pulled out of the driveway, they were unloading the many appliances and cleaning products they bring for their workday from their car trunk. Eigh hailed me, and brandished two narrow fluorescent fixtures. "I put these in kitchen!" he said excitedly. "To fix the lighting!"

Now, this is something of a sore spot with me. When we remodeled the kitchen eight years ago, I wanted to install low-voltage lights underneath the upper cabinets, to light the counters and work surfaces. The contractor ran the wiring for it, but then presented me with his choice of light fixtures - really ugly fluorescent tube lights. I said - forget it. That wasn't what I had in mind. Just leave the wiring there and I'll regroup later on and install the kind I want.

Well, it's been eight years. I know exactly what I want - I want under-cabinet LED lights. They're compact, the light source is hidden behind the cabinet face so it doesn't glare, and they are energy efficient. But they cost a lot and you have to plan carefully which components to get, and I just simply have not gotten around to doing it or finding a contractor to work with.

I've learned that you have to be careful what you mention to Eigh. If you say, "Oh, I haven't got around to fixing the ____" or "I wish I could find a ____ that would do____" he will take it on as a project. So the only thing I can think is that at some point [The Man I Love] or I mentioned that it was a shame the lighting in the kitchen was so bad but that we wished someday we could have under-cabinet lights - and Eigh acted on it.

So I looked in horror at the two fluorescent fixtures. But I was on my way to work. "I get from IKEA. I try them," said Eigh. "You will like!"

"Um..," I said, "Okay, let's see, but don't buy anymore until we can talk!"

[The Man I Love] called me at work to report his conversation with Eigh after I left. "She will like, you will see," Eigh had promised. "Kitchen will be so bright she will have to wear sunglasses!"

As a little aside here, I have to mention that as an anthropologist, [The Man I Love] really enjoys other people, and enjoys the often unique and fascinating way people of other countries have adapted to the culture of the U.S., and particularly Los Angeles. The fact that a couple from a former Soviet-bloc country could come to L.A. and allow their work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit to flourish and succeed is wonderful, and it's great to know them and learn from them. But sometimes [The Man I Love]'s interest in the characters leads to bad decisions. Like the time we hired a charming yet crooked contractor to remodel the basement, hiring undocumented Persian workers. I mistrusted the guy from the start, but he won over [The Man I Love] with his quirky sense of humor and his assurances of success. "You're gonna love it," he promised, even while he was swapping out our older fixtures for cheap junk, installing the wrong kind of hardware, and stealing building materials we paid for.

To this day, "You're gonna love it!" is what my family says when we sense a conman's pitch.

With Oeuf and Eigh, it's different. They're not dishonest, and they're not incompetent. It's just - I don't want Eigh to install ugly fluorescent tubes under my cabinets. When I came home that night, there were were, glaring out at me with the tubes flickering starkly. I hated them.

I had to figure out how to tell him to STOP. WAIT. But I wanted to be constructive. I didn't want to dampen his enthusiasm, or hurt his feelings. And I also feel a little bit at a disadvantage. I mean - this is a the guy who launders my underwear. I don't want to get on his bad side. I asked [The Man I Love] to call him and tell him to hold off buying any more lights, we would talk with him the following week.

So I spent the weekend doing what I had avoided for the last eight years. Measure the cabinets. Research the fixtures. Go to the lighting store and look at the products. Get brochures. Price them out. All that work and time spent, just to stop Eigh from forcing his will on my kitchen.

The relationships you have with the people who do domestic work for you are tricky. We pay them for their services, yet they know our secrets. We hire them, yet we allow them to dominate us. We fear offending them. In 1934, Dorothy Parker wrote a short story called "Mrs. Hofstadter on Josephine Street." Although the story suffers from the casual racism of the period, it captures hilariously the sense of obligation and helplessness the two main characters - Parker and her husband - feel as their lives are held hostage to a garrulous and attention-craving servant who insinuates himself into their family and simply won't leave them alone.
"Can you have a glass of water!" Horace said. "Can you have a glass of water! Well, I'll tell you just what Horace is going to do. He's going out there in that kitchen, and he's going to bring you just the biggest, coolest glass of water you ever had in your life. There's going to be nothing too good for you, now Horace is here. Why, he's going to do for you just like you was Mrs. Hofstadter, out in her lovely home on Josephine Street; yes, he is."

He left, turning his head archly back over his shoulder to bestow his parting smile.


Horace returned with the water and spoke to us. Through his preparations for dinner he spoke to us. Through dinner, which was held at six o'clock, according to the custom obtaining in Mrs. Hofstadter on Josephine Street's lovely home, he spoke to us. We sat there. Once the Colonel asked Horace for something and so learned his lesson forever. Better go without a service than bring on rich and recommended assurances of the tender perfection of its fulfillment.

On the next cleaning day, Eigh came in the house and asked me with a sad face, "You don't like the lights?"

I chose my words carefully. I liked having better lights, I told him. But there is a kind of light I really want instead. So please, don't get more of this kind - let's wait until I can get the kind I want. I had a printout from the Internet to show him. I praised his enthusiasm and thanked him for giving us the motivation to get back on track with this project.

He seemed to take it well. I felt better. And it's true - we will get the project back on track. Finally. I really should feel grateful for that.

As I gathered up my things to get ready to go to work, I overheard [The Man I Love] talking with Oeuf and Eigh in the living room. "It's cold today," he said. "You can turn on the furnace in the basement, but it doesn't really do that great a job of heating the house. I think we need to have someone in to look at it...."

Uh oh.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thematic Photographic - Candid

"Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is CANDID. Check in and see who else contributes photos based on this idea.

As Carmi puts it: "This week's theme, candid, is all about capturing people when they may not be aware you're doing so. It's about telling stories of people as they are, not as they're trying to be."

This is one of my favorite photos of an evening we spent at the "Cabaret Sauvage" a circus-tent-like nightclub in a suburban park in Paris, at a concert featuring three African pop bands.

From a little corner by the stage where I found myself, I took photos of the performers, and this one in the wings. This is one of the dancers in the Congolese group Kasai All-Stars. She is off stage after dancing and watches and waits for her cue to go back on.

Here is a sense of concentration, seriousness, and attention. She is a professional - she knows how to be at rest during the break, but is poised and ready to return on her mark. Although I was focusing on the action on stage, I caught a candid glimpse of a person off stage, in the moment.

Over the river and through the woods

We're not going to Grandmother's house, but we are traveling for the holiday. We're invited to dinner in Seattle.

We're thankful that we have such good friends there, and that they invited us. We're thankful we have the freedom, health and ability to make the trip.

Here's wishing everyone a wonderful holiday with family and friends and delicious food.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The housekeeping chronicles - Self-pity and Slovenliness

Photo from the Library of Congress digital collections

This post has been updated from a post originally published at The Women's Colony in March, 2010.

In February of 2010, Rita, our housecleaner, called to tell us she won’t be working for us anymore.

Rita had been cleaning our house for ten years. When we met, she was the mother of a child at my son’s school. She was an immigrant from Eastern Europe, relatively uneducated, and had escaped a bad marriage. House-cleaning was her only means of support.

Today, Rita is married to a wonderful guy, has a college degree and her daughter is in graduate school. We were among the few clients Rita kept after she started a new, great job, but finally it was over. Her marriage, and some chronic health trouble made her decide to drop her clients. She won’t be cleaning our house anymore.

Before you denounce me as a Los Angeles elitist who employs servants, know this – I am not used to having “help”. My mother never had what we used to call in those days a “cleaning lady.” Up until she left her house, at age 82, she did all her own cleaning. [The Man I Love] and I first hired Rita ten years ago when I had a job offer that required me to travel away from home, sometimes for as much as a month’s time. My husband made a bargain with me – he would support my decision as long as I agreed to hire someone to clean the house once a week.

Truth be told, Rita wasn’t that great a housecleaner. She never tackled the cobwebs in the ceiling of our post-and-beam house. She constantly miss-filed kitchen utensils so you couldn’t find them. She often failed to empty vacuum cleaner bags for weeks, so that as she rolled the thing across our carpets picking up dust, an equal amount of dust spewed out the outtake vent. She cleared kitchen counters by gathering anything left upon them into teetering piles she left on the dining room table – we called them “Rita piles.” She refused to do windows or laundry, and one time she applied wax to our hardwood floors that deposited sticky, dirt-trapping goo that we still have to scrub off in places.

But it was awfully nice to come home on Friday evenings to clean bathrooms and a freshly made bed. Rita tolerated the three big dogs who shared our home over the ten years. And she was a good friend, a funny person, and we grew to care for her and her daughter.

But now it was over. So it was up to us. Or up to me. I was pretty sure [The Man I Love] – although he contributes in his way – was not going to take on much more of the housework than he had already been doing.

As far as my qualifications for the job go, you can ask my mom about my cleaning habits. I was nagged to clean my room until she finally gave up, and just asked me to keep the door closed. I had a few tearful tiffs with college dormmates about housekeeping. And my first New York City apartment-mate cited my inability to contribute to cleaning efforts in our break-up dispute.

In the theatre, the Propmaster or Propmistress job is similar to that of a housekeeper. They clean floors, tidy the set, organize everyone’s personal belongings. As a young woman, I toured the U.S and Canada as a Propmistress, and I remember during one after-show evening at the hotel bar, the stage manager confided to me that I was the “messiest Propmistress” he’d ever worked with.

It all goes to show that I am not a very good housekeeper.

Yet – I managed a house, a husband, a dog and a growing child for the first 8 or so years of my marriage, with only minor complaints from my co-habitants. I think [The Man I Love] and I are well-matched in our tolerance for a kind of relaxed slovenliness and casual disorder. Of course, he is an anthropologist who did his field work in a third world country…..

Rita cancelled a week on us before she broke the news. We were busy, and let time pass. And last week we spent some time away from home. By mid-March, I realized that it had been three weeks since any serious cleaning has gone on in our house. Three weeks of unvacuumed rugs, unswept floors, and the same sheets on the bed.

It was brought home to me when I walked in the door one lovely spring evening home from work, and, frankly….our house smelled dirty. I looked at my kitchen cabinets and realize there were food spills down the front of them. There were furry dust-bunnies the size of cats under our bed. In a porous house like ours, in a rural environment, dust and cobwebs and bugs accumulate, and when you share your home with a four-legged creature that sheds hair and walks in mud, you end up with quite a murky stew on your hardwood floors.

So after ten years of doing pretty much nothing beside daily dishwashing, I vowed to start a regimen of regular cleaning. It would be a timely change, since budget cuts had hit us as it did many that spring, and not paying a weekly housecleaner was a saving.

I signed up for the FlyLady email tips. I vowed to shine my sink! I knuckled down to clean our hardwood floors.

The funny thing is, I didn't really know how to keep house anymore. I had no engrained habits, no learned short-cuts, no timely tips. I didn’t know how often certain tasks were supposed to be done, and when to do them. I’d purchased scores of assorted mops, dusters, and cleaning implements for Rita over the years and never used them myself.

It was hopeless. I could barely keep up with the laundry, let alone the dog hair. By April, [The Man I Love] was going through Angie's List and newspaper want ads. So....into our lives soon came a new dynamic. Tune in later for an introduction to our new housecleaners.

To be Continued.....

Stairways in Autumn, California style

With the cold and rain we've experienced this last weekend, and Thanksgiving coming up, I'm showing you one last breath of autumn in Southern California before winter arrives.

[The Man I Love] and I took another walk following the route laid out by Charles Fleming in his book, "Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles". This is Walk #1, La Loma Road in West Pasadena.

Fresh from a warming meal at Chuan Yu Noodle Town in Alhambra, we found the start of the walk.

Unlike the previous walks in Hollywood, Silver Lake or Castellammare, these neighborhoods didn't hold the sense of history for me. They were simply pleasant neighborhoods with beautiful gardens and nice views. We walked up shady La Loma Road, turned off on a small side street, and found the first staircase.

At the top, we crossed the street and found another flight, up again.

The day was autumn-breezey, the sun a wintery glow, and the sky filled with clouds that scudded by, now white, now grey and threatening. Wind blew dried leaves along the pavement, and ripe fruit and berries hung on trees.

This house had a pomegranate tree that bore huge ripe fruit.

Another autumn thing we noticed right away about this neighborhood was that many residents seemed to be college football fans.

In L.A., there's a fierce rivalry between two home schools, UCLA and USC. Everywhere we went in this neighborhood we saw flags. Both teams play at the Rose Bowl, not far from this neighborhood.

Go Bruins!

Go Trojans!

This house flew flags for both teams.

There weren't as many stairs as in some of the other walks we'd taken, but the streets themselves were steep and winding.

Along the way, we were treated to glimpses of stunning views.

Like this vista of the Valley, the mountains, and the 118 freeway, from a landing on a staircase.

This pretty home at the crest of one hill has a beautiful territorial view.

Many of the homes had beautiful gardens.

The winter camellias are starting to bloom here.

The route took us back to La Loma Road, and we headed back towards the starting point. Along La Loma we encountered this cheerful garden:

Complete with Santas!

It was the perfect end to a great walk.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thematic Photographic - Candid

"Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is CANDID. Check in and see who else contributes photos based on this idea.

As Carmi puts it: "This week's theme, candid, is all about capturing people when they may not be aware you're doing so. It's about telling stories of people as they are, not as they're trying to be."

Once I started looking for candid photos, I suddenly saw them everywhere. Or, at least, I suddenly saw them all over Paris. You just have to know where to look.

This is another photo from our Paris trip. We were inside the famous Left Bank bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. This is cropped from a photo I took of a welcoming armchair among the bookshelves.

This young woman browses the stacks, totally absorbed in the books before her - as only those who truly love to read can become absorbed.

Thematic Photographic - Candid

"Thematic Photographic" - Carmi at the blog Written, Inc. presents a weekly themed photographic challenge. This week's theme is CANDID. Check in and see who else contributes photos based on this idea.

As Carmi puts it: This week's theme, candid, is all about capturing people when they may not be aware you're doing so. It's about telling stories of people as they are, not as they're trying to be."

I had a hard time with this one, because I don't often take pictures of people unless they know I'm doing it. Most candid shots I get are distant, and not very good.

When we were in Paris, strolling through the Marche Vernaison, like many tourists, I took a lot of pictures of objects. I'm sure that people who work at the market and serious shoppers find tourists a little annoying but at the same time amusing.

Here, a mischievous fellow poked a little fun at me, getting in the shot and mugging for the camera. Candid? certainly not - he was definitely aware of the camera. But does it show him as he is? I think so. A funny fellow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

French Hollywood

When you think of the history of Hollywood, it's easy to forget how fast it happened. It took only about twenty years for Hollywood to grow from a poky little farm community into a boomtown. In 1900, the year the first streetcar rolled down Prospect Avenue, later called Hollywood Boulevard, fields of strawberries ranged from Highland to LaBrea Avenue. Lemon groves grew along Cahuenga

Prospect Avenue (Hollywood Boulevard) at Highland, 1910. Los Angeles Public Library photo.

The town was quiet and conservative. Liquor was banned, so was gambling. The streetcars stopped running at 10:30 at night.

In 1910, a young movie director from New York named David Griffith, visiting Los Angeles, decided to use the pretty little town as a location for a film he was shooting, called "In Old California." It was the first movie to be shot in Hollywood.

In the following years film companies built their studios in the flat lands around the Cahuenga Valley, cutting down the citrus groves. By 1920 Hollywood was the center of the American film industry. RKO, Warner, Paramount, Columbia, Lasky, DeMille and Laemmle all had studios.

Suddenly, the town was full of actors, directors, and film workers. Film companies rented entire hotels or rooming houses to board their employees. Young, creative, uneducated and from poor backgrounds, these newcomers flouted all the rules. They smuggled booze into the staid Hollywood Hotel. They stayed up late and danced wildly in the ballroom - often with unmarried partners (even same sex partners!), later going up to the rooms together. With the start of Prohibition, it got even wilder, as everyone broke the law.

The population growth created a huge demand for housing. If you were a big enough star, you bought a lot in the new real estate developments in the hills and built your own mansion. But others were less successful or transient workers. Turn of the century mansions built for wealthy East Coasters summering in California were divided and turned into rooming houses and flats. Homeowners built cottages on their property, or even tore down the main house to build small courtyards of cottages. Apartment buildings went up everywhere.

Hollywood was all about fantasy. It was the era of the great movie palaces, where audiences enjoyed costume dramas about sheiks and matadors and cowboys while sitting in auditoriums decorated in French Baroque, Spanish Gothic, or Italian Renaissance styles. Naturally, residential design reflected the public's desire to extend this fantasy to their home lives.

The California climate and heritage made it a natural to build houses and apartments designed to evoke Old Mexico or the Mission era, and those styles still predominate Southern California today.

But in 1920s Hollywood, another style became predominant - and it was perfect for a town with a large population of up-and-comers craving fantasy, status, and flashy elegance.

Chateau Elysee, Franklin Avenue at Bronson, built 1927, Los Angeles Pubic Library photo

Magnificent French chateaux soon sprouted up among the citrus groves and palm-lined avenues of Hollywood.
The Fleur de Lis

Some were built to house young actresses, like the Fleur de Lis, designed by architect Leland Bryant in 1929, and the Chateau Beachwood.

Developers strictly controlled the styles of homes built in neighborhoods like Hollywoodland, where only four styles were allowed - Mediterranean, Spanish, English Tudor and French Normandie.

This home is on Beachwood Drive, with similar neighbors.

L. Milton Wolf, the real estate mogul who was part owner of Hollywoodland, built "Wolf's Lair" in the hills, a Loire-style chateau fortress complete with granite dungeons and secret tunnels.

Why was French architecture so popular? With its slate roofs and steeply pitched towers, narrow gothic arched windows and fortress-like turrets, this northern-European style strikes an odd note in sun-kissed palm-lined Southern California.

Chateau Beachwood, Los Angeles Public Library Photo

One architecture scholar, Laura Massino, suggests it was partly due to the fact that so many young American men had returned from military service in France, where they had seen castles, chateaux and medieval villages. Residential architects in particular used style pattern books for inspiration, and suddenly the trade journals were filled with articles from young architects like Samuel Chamberlain, whose "Highlights of a Sketching Tour in France" appeared in a 1923 journal for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alumni Association.

Chamberlain's sketch of the Chateau at Azay le Rideau

Some went in for more modest French style, as reproductions of quaint half-timbered French villages were built to house apartment courtyards, like the one built by the Davis brothers in 1919 on Highland Avenue. Like Chamberlain, Walter S. Davis had served in France.

The French Village style was used for commercial buildings, too, most notably for Charlie Chaplin's own studio complex, built in 1917 on La Brea south of Sunset.

French Normandy style even appeared at the beach - this slate-tiled and dormered manor house in Santa Monica was built for Norma Talmadge and later bought by Cary Grant. Further north, actress Norma Shearer's beach house was a touch of olde Strasbourg on the beach. both houses still stand today.

This story-book cottage style beach house is shown on the shore in Malibu. Architect William Raymond Yelland, also a veteran of the war in France, was known for designing quaint storybook cottages, in Southern California and the Bay Area.

Those who couldn't afford their own French style beach house could bask in the elegance at the Deauville Beach Club - like its name, its style was inspired by Normandy.

The Chateauesque style was particularly suited for the large imposing urban apartment houses and hotels proliferating in Hollywood.

Hotels advertised their names with huge neon signs erected on the roof, like this sign at the DuBarry. These signs are so iconic of L.A.'s history that many of them have been given landmark status by the City of Los Angeles.

Leland Bryant was one of the most productive architects of French inspired apartments. Here's a list of some of his buildings erected in the course of just a few years:

Faubourg St. Denis, 308 N. Sycamore, 1926

Faubourg St. Gilles, 316 N. Rossmore, built 1926.

Chateau Laurier, 4353 W. 5th, built in 1928.

The Trianon, 1752 Serrano, built in 1928.

The Fontenoy, 1811 N.Whitley, built in 1928.

The Savoy Plaza, 1360 N. Crescent Heights, built in 1929.

St. Germaine, 900 S. Serrano, built in 1929.

The Granville Towers, 1424 N Crescent Heights, built in 1930.

La Fontaine, 1285 N. Crescent Heights, built in 1930.

Other magnificent and notable buildings were the Hollywood Tower, also called La Belle Tour, built in 1929, its peaked roof with a huge neon sign is visible from the 101 freeway. Actor George Raft owned a part interest in it, and lived there for a while. It was quite the place to stay for visiting actors, writers and other Hollywood celebrities. As the neighborhood declined in the '50s and '60s, so did the hotel. In the '70s it became a retirement home.

The Chateau Elysee's beginning was scandalous. Newspaperman William Randolph Hearst donated the land to Eleanor Ince, widow of movie producer Thomas Ince, who had died under mysterious circumstances on Hearst's yacht. Some said the hotel was part of a bribe to buy Mrs. Ince's silence. The huge hotel had 77 luxurious suites. Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Kate Hepburn are among the stars that stayed there. In 1935, Carl Van Vechten recommended it to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Aaron Copeland wrote letters to Leonard Bernstein on its stationery. By the late '40s, however, people were beginning to describe it as tatty and rundown.

In West Hollywood, a massive new apartment house was just completed as the stock market and the rental market crashed. The owners decided to operate it as a hotel, and the Chateau Marmont became the hotel of choice for Hollywood intellectuals and artists who needed a bit of privacy and tolerance for their bad habits. Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo and Vivian Leigh lived here, happy for the privacy and seclusion. Billy Wilder, fresh off the boat from Vienna, slept for a while on a cot in the basement. Film executive Harry Cohn famously advised William Holden, "If you must get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont."

Writers Gore Vidal, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Hunter S. Thompson stayed here at various times. In later decades, the Marmont was home to rock stars like Warren Zevon, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, and Led Zeppelin. Bad girls Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears spent troubled nights here - Britney was banned after making a spectacle of herself in the restaurant.

Like Hollywood itself, these elegant palaces went into a decline in the '70s through the '90s, but recently - just like Hollywood - there's been a bounce back. Real estate booms and tourism have helped.

These classic buildings are now valued for the glamor and fantasy they inspire.

The Chateau Elysee was given a new start when it was bought by the Scientology Church and renovated. It's now the church's Celebrity Centre, a kind of members-only luxury hotel. You can take a virtual tour at their site.

The Hollywood Tower has its own special notoriety - it's inspired a Disney thrill ride called the Tower of Terror - based on an old Twilight Zone episode set in the hotel. The actual Tower is now renovated, and luxury apartments are on sale.

So French Hollywood has come full circle - from the height of fashion to the dumps, and back again. It almost makes me want to brush my pin-curls, slip into a satin dressing gown and sip some bootleg champagne.

Historic photos are from the Los Angeles Public Library. Historic postcard images are from the LMU Library.