Inside Villa Bonita, the Hollywood building that Errol Flynn, Francis Ford Coppola and others called home


Studio heads in the heyday of early Hollywood often commissioned the building of apartments to house their crews and performers, and many of those so-called artist high-rises are still standing: the Knickerbocker Hotel, the Alto Nido, the Villa Carlotta.

But it was the Villa Bonita on Hillcrest Avenue that caught the eye of Los Angeles photographer Pamela Littky. She’d been looking to document a piece of Hollywood and its transient nature, told through the lives of the inhabitants of one building. She has compiled her portraits in a new book, “The Villa Bonita.”

“The sign with the script writing and the ivy growing over the windows and up walls for years had this mythic quality that intrigued me,” Littky said.

SIGN UP for the free Essential Arts & Culture newsletter »

The seven-floor building, set on a hillside behind the Hollywood and Highland Center, was built in 1929 for the cast and crew of director Cecil B. DeMille. Since then, the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural monument has housed the likes of Errol Flynn and Francis Ford Coppola.

The entrance to Villa Bonita, built in the 1920s to house film cast and crew members, sits behind iron gates. (Pamela Littky)

For Littky, better known for portraits of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Oprah, this project was an opportunity to capture the not-so-glamorous side of those who pursue their dreams.  

Her first conversation was with seven-year resident Josh, a photographer and bartender. “He became my entry into the building,” said Littky, whose goal became to interview every person in the 18-unit complex.

Tenants range from Frances, a former dance instructor who has lived in the building for 43 years, to Judith and Travis, a model and aspiring rapper, respectively, newbies at just three months. Littky caught “The Lost Boys” actor Billy Wirth and his girlfriend packing up and moving out after 25 years.

Josh, a photographer and bartender, has lived in the Villa Bonita for seven years. (Pamela Littky)

Knickknacks lying around the rooms reveal bits and pieces of lives. “The vibe reminds me of Jim Goldberg’s ‘Rich and Poor,’ ” Littky said of the 1985 book of the wealthy and destitute of San Francisco.

In the forward of “The Villa Bonita,” director Cameron Crowe writes of his salad days in Tinseltown. His dream of sharing a mythical, bohemian community of artists, writers and musicians ended up being a 12-unit condo with little interaction among aloof apartment dwellers.

A sense of history and architecture can draw creative types to a particular building. At Villa Bonita, Littky learned it was much more personal.

Residents have cookouts, share a garden and hang out together in the park across the street, she said. “In a town that can be isolating, it’s the rare sense of community within the building that the tenants love and admire.”

Frances, a former dance instructor, has lived in the building for 43 years. (Pamela Littky)

Follow The Times’ arts team @culturemonster.


David Burnett's Olympics photography: The poetry of sport, written in pictures

Georgia O'Keeffe's early watercolor paintings: Vivid, free-wheeling and full of surprise

Drones see the world in a way human photographers can't: See Dronestagram's winning contest photos