by Dave Moorman
Historic photos, with captions, covering the history of the Castellammare region:
1. The intersection of Beverly Boulevard (later Sunset Blvd.) and the Roosevelt Highway (later Pacific Coast Highway) was the location of the Inceville, the film studios belonging to Thomas Ince. Ince branched out from Carl Laemmle and became a director for Bison films in Edendale (now Echo Park). In 1911 he set up a film studio in Pacific Palisades and shot hundreds of westerns on a wide range of standing sets. Ince joined forces with Harry Culver in 1915 and they created Triangle Studios (based on the triangular shape of the property), which later became the Culver Studios. William S. Hart later owned the Inceville property (and called it Hartville). Ince died at the age of 42.
2. A lighthouse was part of the New England seaside set, and this location is where Gladstone’s restaurant is today.
3. The Santa Ynez Canyon area (where Inceville was) was bought by Alphonzo Bell and grading began in 1927. During a stoppage, a large depression filled with water and this is now Lake Santa Ynez. In 1940 Everett McElroy purchased the land around the lake, brought in a houseboat from Lake Mead, and lived in the boat while he developed the landscaping around the lake, including this replica of a Dutch windmill. In the late 1940s McElroy sold to an oilman, who moved into the windmill. One night he had a dream involving a “Church of all religions,” and the next day located such an organization in Hollywood – the Self-Realization Fellowship. He was put in touch with Paramahansa Yogananda, who had started the church a few years before, but his Golden Lotus Temple (at Swami’s point in Encinitas) had collapsed into the sea in 1942. Yogananda supposedly knew that the man calling was offering to sell his land.
4. The Self-Realization Fellowship was dedicated as a place of worship for all religions.
5. Paramahansa Yogananda with Governor Knight and his wife at the Lake Shrine’s opening in 1950.
6. Alphonzo Bell was an early developer in Los Angeles, and created Bel-Air and the Bel-Air Country Club. In 1927 Bell built the Bel-Air Bay Club as a beach resort club for his wealthy Bel-Air residents.
7. The Bel-Air Bay Club included the club, restaurant, and ballroom on the bluff as well as the beach club across the highway. This photo is from 1928 as the club was nearing completion.
8. The Castellammare neighborhood was designed to be reminiscent of the Castellammare di Stabia hillside village on Naples Bay in Italy. The streets had Italian names and stairways connected the streets as shown on this 1934 WPA map. The red lots were commercial. Due to landslides, several of these streets are partially gone, as are several stairways and walkways on the hillsides.
9. In 1928, the Castellammare Shopping Center was built, with arched sections used as a farmers’ market. In 1934 silent film star Thelma Todd, along with director Roland West and his wife Jewel Carmen, purchased the building, and opened Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café on the ground floor, with Joya’s nightclub (“joya” is Jewel in Spanish) on the second floor. The pedestrian bridge over the highway was rebuilt later to allow widening of the road.
10. Thelma Todd had appeared in over 120 movies by 1935, working with the Marx Brothers (“Horsefeathers,” “Monkey Business”), Laurel & Hardy, and Buster Keaton. She was known for her comedic acting style. She had married then divorced Pat DiCicco, an agent and producer who associated with gangster Lucky Luciano, and who had later been married to Gloria Vanderbilt.
11. Thelma Todd had intended for the Café to be her retirement plan, as actresses had short careers. Roland West and Jewel Carmen had built a grand mansion up the hill from the Café, but they split up and West moved in with Thelma in the upstairs apartment above the nightclub.
12. The door to the stairway leading up to Joya’s on the second floor. These doors still exist in the building and can be seen inside the front gates.
13. A personal letter written by Thelma on one of her menus.
14. The Joya’s bar area on the second floor.
15. Late on the night of Dec 15, 1935, Todd was dropped off by a driver at the foot of the stairs by the pedestrian bridge after a party at the Trocadero on the Strip. She was found the next day dead in her car, which was parked up the hill inside the garage of Roland West and Jewel Carmen’s house. The police concluded that it was either an accident or suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. She was 29. Rumors of foul play surrounded her death and this map shows the area and how she could have ended up in the garage. It was theorized that she walked up the stairs from the street to her apartment, and she did not have both of the keys necessary to get in. West, an apparent heavy sleeper, claimed he did not hear her knocking. She would have then headed up to the garage (where her car was kept), got inside, and ran the engine and heater as it was a very cold night. Castellammare Drive and Posetano Drive both no longer connect to the area above Stretto Way where West’s house is, but the walk would have been a significant one climbing several stairways.
16. Not only did Todd’s high-heel shoes show no sign of scuffing from the walk, had she taken them off her stockings would have been marred, yet they were not. Todd used the right-hand garage, located at the intersection of Positano and Stretto Way. Her restaurant manager lived in the apartment above the garage, yet she apparently didn’t try to wake him. Here’s the Dec 17 1935 L.A. Times story where this image came from: http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/archives/la-me-thelma-todd-19351217-story.html
17. Thelma Todd’s assistant came to the garage to bring the car down the next morning, but found Thelma slumped on the front seat, apparently having hit her face on the steering wheel. She suffered a split lip, broken nose, and facial bruises, plus there were reports that she had several cracked ribs.
18. This is Thelma Todd’s open-casket funeral. Rumors that she had turned down Lucky Luciano’s bid to open a casino in the Café building (although Luciano was not in town), the violent history of Pat DiCicco (although she and he had friendly words at the Trocadero that night), and the conflicting evidence added to the theories that she was murdered. There was also a story that Roland West confessed on his death bed to her murder.
19. Thelma Todd was an automobile enthusiast, and a 1931 Lincoln Phaeton like this was the car she died in.
20. Thelma was buried in a family plot in Lawrence Massachusetts. Her mother Alice was her sole heir and sold the Café building to Roland West. West’s last wife sold the property to her pastor, and it was purchased recently by a development company to remodel into creative offices.
21. Thelma Todd at her height of popularity. Raymond Chandler was obsessed with her story, and in his 1940 novel “Farewell, My Lovely” Philip Marlowe describes visiting an area strikingly reminiscent of her climb: “Above the beach the highway ran under a wide concrete arch which was in fact a pedestrian bridge. From the inner end of this a bight of concrete steps with a galvanized handrail on one side ran straight as a ruler up the side of the mountain. Beyond the arch the sidewalk cafe…was bright and cheerful inside, but the iron-legged tile-topped tables outside under the striped awning were empty save for a single dark woman in slacks who smoked and stared moodily out to sea, with a bottle of beer in front of her. A fox terrier was using one of the iron chairs for a lamppost…I…started up the steps. It was a nice walk if you liked grunting. There were two hundred and eighty steps up to Cabrillo Street. They were drifted over with windblown sand and the handrail was as cold and as wet as a toad’s belly.
When I reached the top, the sparkle had gone from the water and a seagull with a broken trailing leg was twisting against the off-sea breeze. I sat down on the damp cold top step and shook the sand out of my shoes and waited for my pulse to come down into the low hundreds. I shook my shirt loose from my back and went along to the lighted house…”
22. Roland West and Jewel Carmen’s Castillo Del Mar. The garage is located on the street below the house.
23. Castillo Del Mar, at 17520 Revello, still is very much like it was when Jewel Carmen lived there. This is a current interior shot from a real estate brochure when it was recently up for sale.
24. This postcard shows what it looked like from the intersection of Breve Way and Porto Marina Way, when there were numerous stairs to the beachfront highway. This stairway still exists, but is blocked at the bottom. The house on the right still exists. In the distance you see Castle Rock, a notable landmark, with Haystack Rock behind it. Castle Rock was slated for demolition in the late 1930s for highway widening, but residents had kept it from happening, until everyone’s attention was elsewhere during the war, and it was leveled. Haystack Rock still exists.
25. The Villa Leon was one of the first homes built in the area, before the Rindge family lost their bid to keep the highway from extending through their Malibu Rancho. Built for wool magnate Leon Kauffman and his wife Clemence in 1926. She died a few years after they moved in, and he died shortly after that. The rams-head statues on the house are a tribute to where he gained his fortune. The house has 9 bedrooms, 11 baths, 12,000 square feet, and a garage with a carwash built in. It was built before the highway, and once had a stairway and funicular down to the beach. Often confused for the Getty Villa, which is up the adjoining canyon, the name should not be pronounced “Lay-own” but “Lee-on.” Currently owned by a urologist – the pee business being very good…
26. In 1928 Architectural Digest did a spread on Villa Leon, and this is a shot of the interior.
27. This is a more current view of the living room in Villa Leon.