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Hollywood’s Peyton Hall Had Drama, Glamour

Times Staff Writer

Mansions and millionaires once populated this modest section of Hollywood Boulevard. Later, garden apartments provided homes and hideaways to glamorous up-and-comers waiting for big breaks -- and Beverly Hills compounds.

Cary Grant spent time here, as did Shelley Winters and Johnny Weismuller.

Johnny Grant, Hollywood’s unofficial mayor and most famous booster, used to live across the street from Peyton Hall, the garden apartment complex. He remembers starlets and lines of limousines.

“This was Hollywood’s first Peyton Place,” he said.

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Over the past century, the fabled property in the 7200 block was home to the Ralphs supermarket founder; the wealthy scion of the Cudahy meatpacking family; and producer Joseph M. Schenk and his then-wife, actress Norma Talmadge. Before that, in 1904, it was reputedly owned by Hollywood’s first official mayor, George Dunlop.

Hollywood was born in 1887, when the “mother of Hollywood,” prohibitionist Daeida Wilcox, subdivided 120 acres, plotted streets, planted pepper trees and offered free lots to any church community. Gambling halls, billiard dens and saloons were prohibited.

Hollywood incorporated in 1903, and Dunlop was elected mayor.

At first, Hollywood attracted retirees who settled in Victorian and Craftsman-style homes along what is now Hollywood Boulevard. Dunlop, who had lived in the area since the 1880s, reportedly bought a chunk of land at Hollywood Boulevard and what was later named Fuller Avenue. It’s unclear whether Dunlop built a house there.

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Ranchers herded sheep down the unpaved boulevard. Dunlop, weary of the dust, signed an ordinance in 1905 banning herds of more than 800 sheep from the boulevard, according to a 1931 Times story.

Hollywood became part of Los Angeles in 1910, lured by ample water supplies. Three years later, Ralphs founder George Albert Ralphs built a Mission Revival mansion with a red-tile roof and a tennis court on 3 pastoral acres at 7269 Hollywood Blvd.

“They had a small swimming pool in front which they emptied often to water the [citrus] orchard,” Ralphs’ great-granddaughter, Linda Ralphs of Rancho Santa Fe, said in an interview.

In 1914, Ralphs was killed during an excursion to Lake Arrowhead: A boulder he was standing on gave way and rolled down a canyon, carrying Ralphs with it.

The Ralphs family moved out. Their house was eventually sold or leased to John “Jack” Cudahy, scion of a meatpacking family. (The town of Cudahy was later named for the family.) The frontyard pool was filled in.

On April 20, 1921, Cudahy, despondent over financial setbacks, committed suicide with a shotgun blast to the head. His wife and two children were home at the time.

In later years, gossip columnist Louella Parsons called the house “The Jinx Mansion,” according to Ken Schessler, author of the book “This Is Hollywood,” first published in 1978.

In 1922, Talmadge and Schenck moved in. By this time, studios, moguls and stars were Hollywood’s foremost residents.

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This was the Roaring ‘20s, when Tom Mix drove down Hollywood Boulevard in a convertible with Texas longhorns affixed to his radiator. Clara Bow, the “It Girl,” drove her convertible with two passengers: chow dogs dyed to match her red hair. On moonlit nights, Rudolph Valentino would ride his horse down from the hills to have a drink at a Hollywood Boulevard bar and dance a smoldering tango with beautiful women.

More mansions went up along the boulevard, but their era proved short; apartments replaced them. The Ralphs mansion was bulldozed in 1940 to make way for Peyton Hall, the first apartment house to go up on Hollywood Boulevard west of La Brea, The Times reported in 1980.

Actress Claudette Colbert owned the complex at one point, and its residents were almost all Hollywood types.

Actor and filmographer Michael St. Angel moved in right away and lived there more than 40 years.

“Oh, it was a grand place when I came” in 1940, St. Angel told The Times in 1980, four years before he died. “All the buildings around it were mansions. Deanna Durbin lived across the street from us in one. Everybody in the industry lived here.”

The apartments filled up almost instantly, he said. “You couldn’t get in for love or anything.”

The colonial-style garden apartment complex on 2.7 acres included more than 70 apartments in fewer than a dozen buildings. A red carpet rolled all the way from the grand portico to the boulevard. Lines of limousines picked up and deposited elegantly dressed celebrity residents, including Susan Hayward, George Raft and Janet Gaynor.

Many of the apartments came furnished, right down to tea strainers and tableware. There were discreet private entrances, and a loudspeaker on the grounds summoned stars to the studios.

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Cary Grant stayed here during World War II “on an occasional night when I couldn’t get back to Pacific Palisades,” he told The Times in 1980. “There was gas rationing then and it was a long way to go.”

People read movie scripts around the pool, St. Angel said. On Aug. 14, 1945 -- the day World War II ended -- western actor Don “Red” Barry ran out of his apartment firing his six-shooter to celebrate, St. Angel said.

Winters and Weismuller swam laps in the pool, St. Angel said. Big-band leader Charlie Barnet wrote the jazz tune “Murder at Peyton Hall” at his apartment in 1941.

Johnny Grant remembers escorting many starlets who were living there in the ‘50s to benefit shows. He lived across the street in another apartment building and saw all the comings and goings. “There was a lot of action there, day and night,” he said.

In 1946, Claudette Colbert sold the complex for about $450,000 to the first of a succession of owners. In 1960, an investment group bought it for $790,000.

Beginning in 1978, preservationists waged a two-year battle to save the landmark complex -- to no avail.

The buildings were demolished in the early 1980s, making way for the Serravella apartments, which were built in 1988 and still stand today.

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cecilia.rasmussen@latimes.com


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