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The gentrification of a Hollywood landmark

I’ve always had modest ambitions. When I was a kid I wanted to have my own apartment and work in a newsroom like Mary Tyler Moore and now  I’m living the dream!

At one time I hoped that apartment would be located inside the historic Villa Carlotta, located at the base of the Hollywood Hills.

The Villa Carlotta, four stories and 50 units of embattled and endangered Old Hollywood noir that has for generations housed all manner of strivers and connivers on their ways either up or down the precipitous Tinseltown social ladder, was seedy from the moment the mortar set. The developer Luther T. Mayo built the Italianate villa at the corner of Franklin and Tamarind Avenues in 1926 from a design by architect Arthur E. Harvey, with rumored financing from William Randolph Hearst. Upon completion, it belonged to Eleanor Ince, widow of silent-film magnate Thomas Ince. According to legend, Hearst gave her the building as a gift after accidentally killing her husband on his yacht in 1924. The bullet, so the story goes, was intended for Charlie Chaplin, whom Hearst suspected was having an affair with his mistress, Marion Davies (Rosebud herself). Supposedly, Ince’s wife received the luxury residence hotel for her grief. Edward G. Robinson, George Cukor, and Marion Davies were among its early celebrity tenants. Louella Parsons, the most famous gossip writer of the era, penned her column from a two-story apartment on the courtyard. A personal favorite of Hearst’s, Parsons was on the yacht the night of Thomas’s alleged shooting, and is said to have received The Carlotta’s finest apartment for her silence.

I lived next door and would often make my way up to the roof, a great place to smoke a joint and stare at the Hollywood sign, or the menacing Scientology Celebrity Centre across the street. I could crash parties thrown by people I didn’t know, make a scene, and still be welcomed back the next day.

But those days are gone. Developers have taken over, hijacking the Villa Carlotta’s history to sell luxury hotel rooms while forcing me to sound like a hippie.

Still, it sucks to lose personal institutions. My favorite Hollywood drinking hole, Boardner’s — where you could get fried chicken cooked by a homeless guy who lived in the upstairs office — has transformed into a slick faux dive with, according to one Google review, “a frat party crowd.”

As Villa Calotta resident Stinson Carter reminds us, there’s a dark side to economic recoveries:

The Carlotta was a culture, and now it’s a quaint arrangement of brick, plaster, and wood. The courtyard is barren, the lobby is empty, and the hallways are dead quiet. The smells of rooftop barbecue, Nag Champa incense, and Humboldt Fog have been replaced by smells of old paint, crumbling drywall and dusty carpet. I could point a finger at the new owners, but that seems too easy. Artists make a place cool, and eventually “cool” acquires a dollar value. So money replaces it and the cool either moves on or dies off. Multiply that a thousand times, and across the 3,000 miles from coast to coast, and you understand why the most interesting urban neighborhoods in the country are becoming so beautifully bland.


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