Thursday, February 19, 2015

Written Alison Martino


As Burton Way becomes “Little Santa Monica,” an unlikely landmark welcomes people to the heart of Beverly Hills. It’s a gas station.

Originally intended to be part of the Los Angeles International Airport, the curved modern structure that looks like more like a spaceship or a ride straight out of Tomorrowland with palm trees than a place to fill the tank was installed instead at the center of Beverly Hills. Its red, boomerang-shaped roof is hard to miss, but for those who don’t pass by often, Jack Colker’s 76 Station is catty-corner to Beverly Hills City Hall and across the street from the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

As a child I used to love gazing at the station’s fluorescent neon lights as my parents drove us past on our way to Ah Fong’s or the Luau; It was like the North Star calling out to us from the future. Unlike most Southern California space-age structures that were popular during ’50s and ‘60s, such as Tiny Naylors or Ships Coffee Shop—two spots which exist now only in the past—this modernist masterpiece has just been nominated for landmark status that will  protect it from being torn down or altered!

Designed by Gin Wong, who later became president of William L. Pereira & Associates, the station looks different from every angle and has had several brushes with fame. Brit rocker Noel Gallagher used it as a backdrop for the cover of his album High Flying Birds. It was also referenced in the movie Shampoo and featured in L.A. Story with Steve Martin. (Legend also has it that Tony Hawk was once seen skateboarding on the station’s sloping roof!)



Noel Gallagher’s LP “High Flying Birds”
To celebrate the structure’s new legal protections, we got in touch with Gin and his daughter, Janna Wong Healy, to learn more about it.

How did Gin become an architect in Los Angeles, and what other local buildings did he design? 


JWH: My father was serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII (he was the lead navigator of his bomb unit) and was stationed on Tinian Island. A friend in his platoon noticed his strong math skills and his excellent artistic abilities (he used to create posters for the platoon and do other lettering projects) and suggested architecture, since it utilizes both skill sets. When my father’s tour of duty was completed, he attended college, first at the University of Illinois for a year and then at USC’s School of Architecture. At that time, professionals in the field were teaching architecture courses at USC and William L. Pereira was one of his professors. My father won the school’s first Producer’s Council Design Award and Mr. Pereira, then with Pereira & Luckman, offered him a job as a designer. When Pereira and Luckman split, my father went with Mr. Pereira. He rose through the ranks from designer to director of design to president. He has designed many buildings in Los Angeles and around the world. 

In L.A., with Pereira, he designed CBS Television City at the corner of Beverly and Fairfax, the Union Oil building at Fifth and Bixel, the inverted library on the campus of UCSD, the Occidental building, now called the AT&T building, which was the first skyscraper to be built after the moratorium on skyscrapers ended, and Marineland. 


These are only a few of the buildings he has designed! Throughout his career, he has also been active in the design of LAX. Pereira was one of the design firms of the Theme Building. And, Gin Wong Associates designed the second level roadway of LAX in the lead-up to the 1984 Olympics.

Where did the inspiration for 76 Gas Station design come from?

GW: This was always designed as a simple structure, to represent everyday life. LAX wanted the gas station on its property, near the entrance/exit off the main terminal, and the inspiration came from the airport itself. LAX realized there would be 60 to 70 million people traveling through the city and the airport wanted a gas station on the property so that when people rented cars they would be able to fill them up right there.

How did it arrive in Beverly Hills of all places? 

GW: When LAX changed its mind about the gas station they had a competition to see who would take the structure. Union Oil Company had a family of station owners and they won the rights to the design. The station owner had that corner at Crescent Drive and “Little Santa Monica.”




How did people to respond to it at the time? 

GW: People liked the simplicity of the design.

What do you think of it now? 
 

JWH: I love the design—it’s so clean and modern. It was designed almost 60 years ago and yet it has lost none of its modernity. That, to me, is a design that withstands the test of time!

Gaining landmark status must have made your family very proud.

GW: I’m very happy about this.

JWH: Bravo, City of Beverly Hills, for protecting this important design, an excellent and important example of post-modern architecture. I am so happy and proud that this signature building will never be demolished! It will remain an iconic building in our city and a beautiful example of my father’s wonderful and forward-thinking designs.



Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram





Sunday, February 1, 2015

Clifton's Cafeteria


(Photo taken by a total stranger! Thank you kind Stranger!)

Clifton’s Cafeteria is Coming Back to Life at Long Last!

The iconic restaurant’s new retro neon sign lit up Broadway this weekend
February 2, 2015 Alison Martino Architecture, Dining, L.A. History Add a comment


The once busting Clifton’s Cafeteria has been sadly quiet, closed for renovations for three years. Saturday night, the restaurant showed a big sign of life. Stephen Russo, a member of Vintage Los Angeles, tipped us off by posting a photograph of workmen installing a new retro neon sign to the page. Hundreds of VLA fans reacted by sharing and commenting on the post. Me? I bolted downtown to see the sign in person.


              Photo: Stephen Russo

 I speculate Clifton’s owners moved now so that the beloved destination to be included as one of the top attractions during Saturday night’s Bringing Back Broadway event, which brought more than 30 thousand people to downtown’s theatre district. Seeing the iconic structure light up DTLA in the center of seven historic movie palaces couldn’t have been more powerful! The historic structure now consists of red neon lights that frame the five windows on the second floor. A sign above the entrance spells out “LIVING HISTORY – CLIFTON’S – ESTABLISHED IN 1932” in honor of its legacy. It is quite an achievement.


 Developer Andrew Meieran has put $5 million into renovating the 83-year-old structure and his vision is one to admire. He’s peeled back Clifton’s 1960s kitschy fa├žade that covered up the cafeteria’s original design and revealed what’s been hidden underneath for more than 50 years, including the Clifton’s ghost sign. The photo showing the marquee letters going up and was taken on January 31s. It's finally restored back to its original glory!  


While updating the 47,000-square-foot space, Meieran’s team made an amazing discovery! While restoring a woman’s restroom, they noticed a neon bulb burning brightly behind a wall. Behind layers of plywood was a light panel that had been covered by plaster for 77 years. Someone forgot to turn it off during the Great Depression and today the light is the oldest existing neon bulb still working in the entire world. Meieran has said the lit bulb cost $17,000 in electrical bills over the years. It will be on display when Clifton’s officially reopens (so long as it doesn’t burn out before that).

I was fortunate enough to produce a short segment on the work being done at Clifton’s for EYE ON LA back in the summer of 2013 and got a sneak peek inside. I was in heaven. The restaurant’s original forest motif, including the redwood trees, murals, and terraces, were completely intact and were undergoing restoration.




 I also noticed the ‘60s blade sign—the one that went up and down—resting on the floor inside! Today the sign hangs in the alley attached to the structure.










There’s no official date for Clifton’s reopening, but I suspect we’ll be eating turkey dinners with sides of mashed potatoes and Jell–O very soon. If the owners achieve the vision they’ve described, the lower level cafeteria will be our familiar hang and continue to serve traditional cuisine. The underutilized second floor will consist of theme bars designed in an art deco, streamline style. The third floor will house a sit down restaurant and a museum called A House Of Treasures, while the fourth floor will pay homage to the Clifton’s that was once located on Olive Ave. with a retro Polynesian theme and a bar called The Seven Seas. The entire project sounds like a time machine! When Clifton’s reopens, there is sure to be a line down the block.

                                           Clifton's Cafeteria POSTCARD dated 1956

The following photos show the various stages of Clifton's starting the the 30's until present day.





    Photo by Hunter Kerhart


Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the FACEBOOK PAGE Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to writing for Los Angeles Magazine and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram

alisonmartino.com



A Cast of Caricatures

Vintage Los Angeles is back with a new episode produced by the Ebersole Hughes Company! This time we take you inside the Palm’s west Hollywood location before their big move to their awesome location. I’m sure many of you have also been wondering what happened to all those caricatures that have graced the walls for over over 40 years. Well, VLA was there to capture all the excitement with Angie Dickinson, Mamie Van Doren, Shecky Greene and other dedicated customers!!  We also reveal the back story of the Palm with owners, Bruce Bozzi, and Wally Ganzi! Enjoy!


We were thrilled to interview Angie Dickinson who just happened to be there on this historical evening. I was even more blown away noticing our outfits were so similar!


With Mamie Van Dorren. Picking up her caricature on October 6th, 2014!



My father, Al Martino was one of the first caricature's to go up in 1975. What an honor to have it. As a collector of Vintage Los Angeles artifacts, this just became my most prized collection.


There's no way I'm going to ask to ride shot gun when Shaune Steele (the wife of radio legend, The Real Don Steele) is in the passenger seat with Shut Gun Kelly - disc jokey for K Earth 10. How cute that they came together!

 

 Bruce and Kent McCord

Bruce showing off his vintage Palm jacket from the 1970s!


Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the FACEBOOK PAGE Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to writing for Los Angeles Magazine and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Inside the "Witch's House" in Beverly Hills



       By Alison Martino 



I grew up trick or treating on Halloween in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Witch’s House. The owners at that time would dress up as ghosts and goblins and hand out taffy from a witch’s kettle. There was dry ice coming from the moat around the house and Disney’s Haunted Mansion soundtrack could be heard out the upstairs window. It was an event. - See more at: http://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/exclusive-look-inside-witchs-house-beverly-hills/#sthash.iVNgewYR.dpuf
I grew up trick or treating on Halloween in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Witch’s House. The owners at that time would dress up as ghosts and goblins and hand out taffy from a witch’s kettle. There was dry ice coming from the moat around the house and Disney’s Haunted Mansion soundtrack could be heard out the upstairs window. It was an event.

Then suddenly, the house went dark in the ‘90s, no explanation given. Over time, the property started to show neglect. Thankfully, REAL ESTATE AGENT Michael J. Libow purchased the cottage in 1998 and taken wonderful care of it since. What began as a gradual renovation project 15 years ago turned into something else: Landmark #8 for the City of Beverly Hills. 

In addition to restoring the property, Michael has made some incredible additions to the house. The landscaping in the front yard is purposefully bizarre, with gnarled, twisted trees and a wooden bridge crossing a mystical moat with a ceramic glass bottom. The home now looks more organic, like it’s growing up out of the ground. There is a huge wrought iron spider web COMPLETE with a nefarious looking spider and the house is surrounded by a rickety-looking picket fence.

I had the pleasure of visiting my childhood haunt earlier this year, and it immediately reminded me of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disneyland. I half expected Walt’s ghost to appear at any moment. Its dilapidated-looking pitched roof is pointed like a witch’s hat, and the walls of the house slope precariously, giving the impression it could collapse at any moment. Saggy, wooden WINDOW SHUTTERS are hung at odd angles.


Michael was kind enough to allow me and photographer Stephen Russo, my Vintage Los Angeles colleague, to TOUR the home while he prepared to welcome more than 4,000 trick-or-treaters this Halloween. Between a few rounds of pinball on Michael’s vintage Captain Fantastic pinball machine, he spoke with me about his oddball home and what it’s like on All Hallows Eve.
Tell me about the Witch’s House history.



The house was built for Willat Studios back in 1920 as a set for a few silent films, including Hansel and Gretel, and a studio office. It was not built to be lived in. Nobody’s certain when exactly it was moved to Beverly Hills. I am desperately searching for photographic evidence of the house being moved on a truck. You can imagine what a big deal that must have been back in the 1920s. I’ve seen building permits from 1924, so that helps narrow the date down, but back in the 1920s, Ward Lascelle, one of the producers who worked with the Willats, bought the structure because the studio was planning on demolishing it. 


  Ward Witch's outside the Witch's house at the corner of Carmeleta and Walden Drive shorty after it was moved   
  from Wallet Studios to Beverly Hills
 
I would love to know what he was thinking back then. Some Web sites and historians refer to this house as the Spadena House. Let me explain why: Ward Lascelle’s wife, Lillian, DIVORCED Ward, kept the house, and then married the house boy/guest/man servant, whose last name was Spadena. Lillian took over the house’s legacy and eventually sold it to the Green family in 1965. I purchased it from Mrs. Green in 1998, so I am truly now the keeper of “The Witch.”






                            The entryway in 1933


                            Entryway Today


Why did you want to own it? 

I was raised in ‘baja’ Beverly Hills, so I knew the Witch’s House as a kid. It was the place that everyone migrated to on

Halloween. I was actually scared of it back then. I never imagined I would one day be the owner. I graduated from Beverly Hills High in 1981 and from UCLA with A MAJOR in mathematics in 1986. My initial inclination was to become a rocket scientist, but as fate would have it, my family was forced to move around quite a bit in the early ‘80s and I became fascinated with architecture and real estate. I decided to get a real estate license to support myself through school and I’m glad I did. I began my career in Cheviot Hills which, oddly enough, introduced me to a well-known 1930s architect named Aiken who designed storybook-style homes. Consequently, I fell in love with that style.

Years later, after growing my career at Coldwell Banker, I was searching for a home in the flats of Beverly Hills. The Witch’s House was placed on the market in 1997 and it was being shown extremely discreetly by the Greens. In fact, Mrs. Green would only allow a prospective buyer to visit the house if he or she brought a deposit toward the purchase price with them in the form of a cashier’s check. If she sensed a buyer would want to tear it down, she casually ignored that person. I had to cajole the listing agent to allow me to view it because I wanted to see if I could remodel the home. After buying it, I thought I could get away with powdering its witch’s nose. Boy, was I wrong!


How did the house look before you purchased it?


The exterior looked similar. It always had that Gingerbread-house-in-Bavaria look to it. The entire interior, unfortunately, had the look of a bad tract home from the 1960s with sliding glass doors and recipe tiles adorning the kitchen, red shag carpet throughout, ELECTRIC FIREPLACES, and super low cottage cheese ceilings in many rooms.



 198os


What was your overall vision? 


The home always straddled the line between cool and kitschy. In my remodel, I wanted to keep it a bit more cool and a little less kitschy. I had been to Barcelona, Spain and fallen in love with Antoni Gaudi’s sensibility. I was fascinated with how his buildings appear to emanate from the ground in an organic fashion. I wanted my home to have a similar vibe as it is such an anomaly for the flats of Beverly Hills. I designed the home with barely a right angle in it, as I’m told that this is a sign of good Feng Shui. There’s also a nice mix of water and fire elements, which supposedly contributes to good chi, but the funky shapes of the doorways and entryways were most certainly influenced by the Gaudi structures I saw in Spain, and not by a Feng Shui master.










Who helped you execute your vision?
 
I worked with a fantastic film production designer named Nelson Coates and an equally wonderful landscape designer, Jane Marshall; they were able to draft things that I couldn’t. The ceilings in the living room, den, and entry were the same height they are today, but the rest of the house was much, much lower. I used to hit my head in the bedroom hallway. All of the wild hardware comes from J Nicolas Hardware in Corona Del Mar. The expert woodworker who created all the incredible cabinetry, doors, WINDOWS and custom built-ins is a film industry veteran named Jim Betts who typically worked with Styrofoam on film sets and was super excited to be able to fabricate items out of solid oak at my home. For the pool, which I put in, I wanted a lagoon style and requested “beach entries” on either side so that I could walk into it without stepping down stairs. 





The most difficult task was placing each tile on the pool surface. The exact process had never been done before according to my tile expert at Ann Sachs Tile. Each tile was laid in a mosaic pattern individually, not in sheets. All of the glass inside the home was done by James Thomas Stained and Leaded Glass in Studio City, which is owned by Dawna Miceli and her husband, Jim Thomas. Dawna is a relative of the legendary Miceli’s Pizzeria family, so some of the glass may look very familiar!




What goes down here on Halloween night?
 
The Witch’s House is a Mecca on Halloween—I knew that when I bought the house. What I didn’t realize is how much work it really is! In just a few hours we typically have between three and four thousand children and their families visit with hands outstretched and mouths agape. I hire private security for the night. Police and volunteer officers also maintain control in the area. The surrounding streets are cordoned off as it’s simply too dangerous to have traffic flow when masses of children are in the streets. When I look out from the WINDOW on Halloween night, it can be a bit frightening how many people are out front, but it’s an incredible tradition and I’m happy I brought it back. Some neighbors love it, some don’t. Out of courtesy to certain ones who asked me to one year, I tried to shut the whole event down. I even placed newspaper announcements and left off the lights—but people still came by. Now I embrace it.



 

                                                Halloween Night 2014

              Alison Martino and Michael J. Libow on Halloween night passing out candy to 5,000 visitors

How often do tour buses come by?

Countless times per day, and more in the past 10 years since the “crop top” VAN CONVERSIONS have been in place and new independent TOUR companies exist. I was told by a Starline tour guide that mine is the most requested and most visited non-celebrity house in all of the West Los Angeles!

Do you ever see yourself moving?


I can’t imagine living anywhere else. My home is irreplaceable. I tell my clients, I will never treat their homes as a commodity; the same goes for my Witch’s House.




Who would you like to have at your next dinner party?

 I would love to have Tim Burton over. He’s such a master at melding fantasy and reality. That’s what I have tried to do in my home. It’s very Burton-esque!




Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the FACEBOOK PAGE Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to writing for Los Angeles Magazine and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram






I grew up trick or treating on Halloween in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Witch’s House. The owners at that time would dress up as ghosts and goblins and hand out taffy from a witch’s kettle. There was dry ice coming from the moat around the house and Disney’s Haunted Mansion soundtrack could be heard out the upstairs window. It was an event.
Then suddenly, the house went dark in the ‘90s, no explanation given. Over time, the property started to show neglect. Thankfully, real estate agent Michael J. Libow purchased the cottage in 1998 and taken wonderful care of it since. What began as a gradual renovation project 15 years ago turned into something else: Landmark #8 for the City of Beverly Hills.
In addition to restoring the property, Michael has made some incredible additions to the house. The landscaping in the front yard is purposefully bizarre, with gnarled, twisted trees and a wooden bridge crossing a mystical moat with a ceramic glass bottom. The home now looks more organic, like it’s growing up out of the ground. There is a huge wrought iron spider web complete with a nefarious looking spider and the house is surrounded by a rickety-looking picket fence.
I had the pleasure of visiting my childhood haunt earlier this year, and it immediately reminded me of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disneyland. I half expected Walt’s ghost to appear at any moment. Its dilapidated-looking pitched roof is pointed like a witch’s hat, and the walls of the house slope precariously, giving the impression it could collapse at any moment. Saggy, wooden window shutters are hung at odd angles.
Michael was kind enough to allow me and photographer Stephen Russo, my Vintage Los Angeles colleague, to tour the home while he prepared to welcome more than 4,000 trick-or-treaters this Halloween. Between a few rounds of pinball on Michael’s vintage Captain Fantastic pinball machine, he spoke with me about his oddball home and what it’s like on All Hallows Eve.
Tell me about the Witch’s House history.
The house was built for Willat Studios back in 1920 as a set for a few silent films, including Hansel and Gretel, and a studio office. It was not built to be lived in. Nobody’s certain when exactly it was moved to Beverly Hills. I am desperately searching for photographic evidence of the house being moved on a truck. You can imagine what a big deal that must have been back in the 1920s. I’ve seen building permits from 1924, so that helps narrow the date down, but back in the 1920s, Ward Lascelle, one of the producers who worked with the Willats, bought the structure because the studio was planning on demolishing it. He had owned this lot at the time, so he moved the house here to Beverly Hills and turned it into a functioning home. It was really small at the time. There was only the entry foyer, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a tiny kitchen. I would love to know what he was thinking back then. Some Web sites and historians refer to this house as the Spadena House. Let me explain why: Ward Lascelle’s wife, Lillian, divorced Ward, kept the house, and then married the house boy/guest/man servant, whose last name was Spadena. Lillian took over the house’s legacy and eventually sold it to the Green family in 1965. I purchased it from Mrs. Green in 1998, so I am truly now the keeper of “The Witch.”
Why did you want to own it?
I was raised in ‘baja’ Beverly Hills, so I knew the Witch’s House as a kid. It was the place that everyone migrated to on
Halloween. I was actually scared of it back then. I never imagined I would one day be the owner. I graduated from Beverly Hills High in 1981 and from UCLA with a major in mathematics in 1986. My initial inclination was to become a rocket scientist, but as fate would have it, my family was forced to move around quite a bit in the early ‘80s and I became fascinated with architecture and real estate. I decided to get a real estate license to support myself through school and I’m glad I did. I began my career in Cheviot Hills which, oddly enough, introduced me to a well-known 1930s architect named Aiken who designed storybook-style homes. Consequently, I fell in love with that style.
Years later, after growing my career at Coldwell Banker, I was searching for a home in the flats of Beverly Hills. The Witch’s House was placed on the market in 1997 and it was being shown extremely discreetly by the Greens. In fact, Mrs. Green would only allow a prospective buyer to visit the house if he or she brought a deposit toward the purchase price with them in the form of a cashier’s check. If she sensed a buyer would want to tear it down, she casually ignored that person. I had to cajole the listing agent to allow me to view it because I wanted to see if I could remodel the home. After buying it, I thought I could get away with powdering its witch’s nose. Boy, was I wrong!
How did the house look before you purchased it?
The exterior looked similar. It always had that Gingerbread-house-in-Bavaria look to it. The entire interior, unfortunately, had the look of a bad tract home from the 1960s with sliding glass doors and recipe tiles adorning the kitchen, red shag carpet throughout, electric fireplaces, and super low cottage cheese ceilings in many rooms.
What was your overall vision?
The home always straddled the line between cool and kitschy. In my remodel, I wanted to keep it a bit more cool and a little less kitschy. I had been to Barcelona, Spain and fallen in love with Antoni Gaudi’s sensibility. I was fascinated with how his buildings appear to emanate from the ground in an organic fashion. I wanted my home to have a similar vibe as it is such an anomaly for the flats of Beverly Hills. I designed the home with barely a right angle in it, as I’m told that this is a sign of good Feng Shui. There’s also a nice mix of water and fire elements, which supposedly contributes to good chi, but the funky shapes of the doorways and entryways were most certainly influenced by the Gaudi structures I saw in Spain, and not by a Feng Shui master.
Who helped you execute your vision?
I worked with a fantastic film production designer named Nelson Coates and an equally wonderful landscape designer, Jane Marshall; they were able to draft things that I couldn’t. The ceilings in the living room, den, and entry were the same height they are today, but the rest of the house was much, much lower. I used to hit my head in the bedroom hallway. All of the wild hardware comes from J Nicolas Hardware in Corona Del Mar. The expert woodworker who created all the incredible cabinetry, doors, windows and custom built-ins is a film industry veteran named Jim Betts who typically worked with Styrofoam on film sets and was super excited to be able to fabricate items out of solid oak at my home. For the pool, which I put in, I wanted a lagoon style and requested “beach entries” on either side so that I could walk into it without stepping down stairs. The most difficult task was placing each tile on the pool surface. The exact process had never been done before according to my tile expert at Ann Sachs Tile. Each tile was laid in a mosaic pattern individually, not in sheets. All of the glass inside the home was done by James Thomas Stained and Leaded Glass in Studio City, which is owned by Dawna Miceli and her husband, Jim Thomas. Dawna is a relative of the legendary Miceli’s Pizzeria family, so some of the glass may look very familiar!
What goes down here on Halloween night?
The Witch’s House is a Mecca on Halloween—I knew that when I bought the house. What I didn’t realize is how much work it really is! In just a few hours we typically have between three and four thousand children and their families visit with hands outstretched and mouths agape. I hire private security for the night. Police and volunteer officers also maintain control in the area. The surrounding streets are cordoned off as it’s simply too dangerous to have traffic flow when masses of children are in the streets. When I look out from the window on Halloween night, it can be a bit frightening how many people are out front, but it’s an incredible tradition and I’m happy I brought it back. Some neighbors love it, some don’t. Out of courtesy to certain ones who asked me to one year, I tried to shut the whole event down. I even placed newspaper announcements and left off the lights—but people still came by. Now I embrace it.
How often do tour busses come by?
Countless times per day, and more in the past 10 years since the “crop top” van conversions have been in place and new independent tour companies exist. I was told by a Starline tour guide that mine is the most requested and most visited non-celebrity house in all of the West Los Angeles!
Do you ever see yourself moving?
I can’t imagine living anywhere else. My home is irreplaceable. I tell my clients, I will never treat their homes as a commodity; the same goes for my Witch’s House.
Who would you like to have at your next dinner party?
I would love to have Tim Burton over. He’s such a master at melding fantasy and reality. That’s what I have tried to do in my home. It’s very Burton-esque!

- See more at: http://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/exclusive-look-inside-witchs-house-beverly-hills/#sthash.iVNgewYR.dpuf



I grew up trick or treating on Halloween in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Witch’s House. The owners at that time would dress up as ghosts and goblins and hand out taffy from a witch’s kettle. There was dry ice coming from the moat around the house and Disney’s Haunted Mansion soundtrack could be heard out the upstairs window. It was an event.
Then suddenly, the house went dark in the ‘90s, no explanation given. Over time, the property started to show neglect. Thankfully, real estate agent Michael J. Libow purchased the cottage in 1998 and taken wonderful care of it since. What began as a gradual renovation project 15 years ago turned into something else: Landmark #8 for the City of Beverly Hills.
In addition to restoring the property, Michael has made some incredible additions to the house. The landscaping in the front yard is purposefully bizarre, with gnarled, twisted trees and a wooden bridge crossing a mystical moat with a ceramic glass bottom. The home now looks more organic, like it’s growing up out of the ground. There is a huge wrought iron spider web complete with a nefarious looking spider and the house is surrounded by a rickety-looking picket fence.
I had the pleasure of visiting my childhood haunt earlier this year, and it immediately reminded me of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disneyland. I half expected Walt’s ghost to appear at any moment. Its dilapidated-looking pitched roof is pointed like a witch’s hat, and the walls of the house slope precariously, giving the impression it could collapse at any moment. Saggy, wooden window shutters are hung at odd angles.
Michael was kind enough to allow me and photographer Stephen Russo, my Vintage Los Angeles colleague, to tour the home while he prepared to welcome more than 4,000 trick-or-treaters this Halloween. Between a few rounds of pinball on Michael’s vintage Captain Fantastic pinball machine, he spoke with me about his oddball home and what it’s like on All Hallows Eve.
Tell me about the Witch’s House history.
The house was built for Willat Studios back in 1920 as a set for a few silent films, including Hansel and Gretel, and a studio office. It was not built to be lived in. Nobody’s certain when exactly it was moved to Beverly Hills. I am desperately searching for photographic evidence of the house being moved on a truck. You can imagine what a big deal that must have been back in the 1920s. I’ve seen building permits from 1924, so that helps narrow the date down, but back in the 1920s, Ward Lascelle, one of the producers who worked with the Willats, bought the structure because the studio was planning on demolishing it. He had owned this lot at the time, so he moved the house here to Beverly Hills and turned it into a functioning home. It was really small at the time. There was only the entry foyer, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a tiny kitchen. I would love to know what he was thinking back then. Some Web sites and historians refer to this house as the Spadena House. Let me explain why: Ward Lascelle’s wife, Lillian, divorced Ward, kept the house, and then married the house boy/guest/man servant, whose last name was Spadena. Lillian took over the house’s legacy and eventually sold it to the Green family in 1965. I purchased it from Mrs. Green in 1998, so I am truly now the keeper of “The Witch.”
Why did you want to own it?
I was raised in ‘baja’ Beverly Hills, so I knew the Witch’s House as a kid. It was the place that everyone migrated to on
Halloween. I was actually scared of it back then. I never imagined I would one day be the owner. I graduated from Beverly Hills High in 1981 and from UCLA with a major in mathematics in 1986. My initial inclination was to become a rocket scientist, but as fate would have it, my family was forced to move around quite a bit in the early ‘80s and I became fascinated with architecture and real estate. I decided to get a real estate license to support myself through school and I’m glad I did. I began my career in Cheviot Hills which, oddly enough, introduced me to a well-known 1930s architect named Aiken who designed storybook-style homes. Consequently, I fell in love with that style.
Years later, after growing my career at Coldwell Banker, I was searching for a home in the flats of Beverly Hills. The Witch’s House was placed on the market in 1997 and it was being shown extremely discreetly by the Greens. In fact, Mrs. Green would only allow a prospective buyer to visit the house if he or she brought a deposit toward the purchase price with them in the form of a cashier’s check. If she sensed a buyer would want to tear it down, she casually ignored that person. I had to cajole the listing agent to allow me to view it because I wanted to see if I could remodel the home. After buying it, I thought I could get away with powdering its witch’s nose. Boy, was I wrong!
How did the house look before you purchased it?
The exterior looked similar. It always had that Gingerbread-house-in-Bavaria look to it. The entire interior, unfortunately, had the look of a bad tract home from the 1960s with sliding glass doors and recipe tiles adorning the kitchen, red shag carpet throughout, electric fireplaces, and super low cottage cheese ceilings in many rooms.
What was your overall vision?
The home always straddled the line between cool and kitschy. In my remodel, I wanted to keep it a bit more cool and a little less kitschy. I had been to Barcelona, Spain and fallen in love with Antoni Gaudi’s sensibility. I was fascinated with how his buildings appear to emanate from the ground in an organic fashion. I wanted my home to have a similar vibe as it is such an anomaly for the flats of Beverly Hills. I designed the home with barely a right angle in it, as I’m told that this is a sign of good Feng Shui. There’s also a nice mix of water and fire elements, which supposedly contributes to good chi, but the funky shapes of the doorways and entryways were most certainly influenced by the Gaudi structures I saw in Spain, and not by a Feng Shui master.
Who helped you execute your vision?
I worked with a fantastic film production designer named Nelson Coates and an equally wonderful landscape designer, Jane Marshall; they were able to draft things that I couldn’t. The ceilings in the living room, den, and entry were the same height they are today, but the rest of the house was much, much lower. I used to hit my head in the bedroom hallway. All of the wild hardware comes from J Nicolas Hardware in Corona Del Mar. The expert woodworker who created all the incredible cabinetry, doors, windows and custom built-ins is a film industry veteran named Jim Betts who typically worked with Styrofoam on film sets and was super excited to be able to fabricate items out of solid oak at my home. For the pool, which I put in, I wanted a lagoon style and requested “beach entries” on either side so that I could walk into it without stepping down stairs. The most difficult task was placing each tile on the pool surface. The exact process had never been done before according to my tile expert at Ann Sachs Tile. Each tile was laid in a mosaic pattern individually, not in sheets. All of the glass inside the home was done by James Thomas Stained and Leaded Glass in Studio City, which is owned by Dawna Miceli and her husband, Jim Thomas. Dawna is a relative of the legendary Miceli’s Pizzeria family, so some of the glass may look very familiar!
What goes down here on Halloween night?
The Witch’s House is a Mecca on Halloween—I knew that when I bought the house. What I didn’t realize is how much work it really is! In just a few hours we typically have between three and four thousand children and their families visit with hands outstretched and mouths agape. I hire private security for the night. Police and volunteer officers also maintain control in the area. The surrounding streets are cordoned off as it’s simply too dangerous to have traffic flow when masses of children are in the streets. When I look out from the window on Halloween night, it can be a bit frightening how many people are out front, but it’s an incredible tradition and I’m happy I brought it back. Some neighbors love it, some don’t. Out of courtesy to certain ones who asked me to one year, I tried to shut the whole event down. I even placed newspaper announcements and left off the lights—but people still came by. Now I embrace it.
How often do tour busses come by?
Countless times per day, and more in the past 10 years since the “crop top” van conversions have been in place and new independent tour companies exist. I was told by a Starline tour guide that mine is the most requested and most visited non-celebrity house in all of the West Los Angeles!
Do you ever see yourself moving?
I can’t imagine living anywhere else. My home is irreplaceable. I tell my clients, I will never treat their homes as a commodity; the same goes for my Witch’s House.
Who would you like to have at your next dinner party?
I would love to have Tim Burton over. He’s such a master at melding fantasy and reality. That’s what I have tried to do in my home. It’s very Burton-esque!

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