After a decade of inaction, the resurrection of the old Marion Davies estate at 415 PCH is now moving forward rapidly – perhaps too rapidly.
Last week, we ran some of the comments and suggestions made by residents at an open house at 415 PCH, along with the architects’ model of the preliminary design.
The design is superior in every way to the perfectly awful 1998 concoction of the 415 PCH Working Group, and does reflect some of the residents’ suggestions, but it is preliminary and still insufficient, and incomplete.
The final design for 415 PCH must 1. faithfully restore the only remaining parts of the original Davies estate – the guest house and the swimming pool – and their historic context, as well as preserving and using other significant remnants, fragments and fittings, such as the bulkhead’s hardware ; 2. be fully accessible to the public; 3. be both beautiful and useful; and 4. tell the history of the estate and its era.
Many residents’ comments echoed Wallis Annenberg’s belief that the history of the Davies’ estate, which is, in effect, a capsule history of Hollywood’s most colorful era, be vividly expressed in the revived 415.
Publisher William Randolph Hearst, who ordered the estate, was one of the most powerful men in America. His newspapers didn’t simply report the news, they tailored it to promote Hearst’s views. He also owned a movie studio.
Marion Davies was one of the most popular and successful movie stars of the era, one of the few leading ladies to make the transition from silent pictures to talkies, and one of the smartest and most generous women in Hollywood.
The estate architect, Julia Morgan was arguably the first successful woman architect.
The estate was built and flourished during the era when Hollywood was reinventing itself and reinventing America, and Hollywood gravitated to Santa Monica’s Gold Coast. In Casablanca, “everyone went to Rick’s.” In Hollywood in the 1930s, everyone went to Marion Davies’ estate on the sand, and many of the European actors writers and directors who fled Hitler gathered there, too. All that color and drama, all that history must be incorporated in the final design.
A kiosk perpetually screening a DVD of vintage stills and film clips will not do. Rather, stills, film clips, soundtracks and other historic material must be literally embedded in the structures.We should settle for nothing less than a new masterpiece. Making it will require a unique kind of aesthetic ingenuity, but the Annenberg Foundation has committed $21 million to make this rare beach treasure accessible to the public and to resurrect and preserve the estate’s extraordinary history, and those are laudable and serious ends and must be honored.