Memories of Villa Esperanza – Part 2
We’re continuing last week’s description of Villa Esperanza related by Marjorie Faddis. To recap, Villa Esperanza was a rambling Victorian mansion on the southeast corner of Rosemont and Foothill, where Rosemont Veterinary is today. It had been built as a retirement home for the learned Professor W.C. White in the late 1880s, but by 1909 it served as a resort hotel/boarding house run by the Nye family. Marjorie provides a description of some of the paying guests at Villa Esperanza:
“The most interesting paying guests were from the old Kalem Film Company, the very first I ever heard of in Hollywood,” said Faddis. “They were always happy to have the natives watch, and even permitted them to appear as extras, with no money compensation.
“Another person of great interest was the man who came up with his automobile. He took me for rides, going up to 25 miles an hour, but none of the kids at school would believe it.
“The only teacher of our little school boarded at our house, which was sometimes frustrating to us young rebels. Among noted people who attended our little school was Bebe Daniels, a seasoned actress who appeared in silent films at the age of 7. She was in Hal Roach comedies and appeared as Harold Lloyd’s leading lady. Later she starred for Cecil DeMille, and finally married Ben Lyon in 1930. She came to our school between acting engagements in a little square wicker cart pulled by a beautiful little Shetland pony.
“Mr. Gordon, a genial, dignified old philanthropist lived in Gordon’s Castle. It really was built of native rocks with turrets, et al. He was always giving beautiful parties for teenagers.
“Brush fire was the terror of all. With absolutely no protection it was up to the natives to organize and to literally beat out the fire with gunnysacks dipped in water. These fires spread with horrifying rapidity. When the alarm sounded, we gathered every conceivable vessel, filled them with water, and spread them at the edge of our property. It was up to the women and small children to keep these filled with water while the men beat out the fire. Once a fire came so close that all the small children were laid on the floor and covered with wet sheets to protect them from the intense heat.”
Great detailed memories! The reference to the Kalem Film Company is really interesting. Kalem was indeed one of the first film companies to locate in the Los Angeles area. They set up a studio in Glendale in 1910 on the west side of Verdugo Road, just south of today’s Glendale College. The Wikipedia article on the Kalem Company has a film clip from “The No Account Count” (1914), which has exterior shots that look remarkably like old photos I’ve seen of Verdugo Park. The Kalem Company is best known today for its “Hazards of Helen” serials. Helen was shown in perilous situations such as driving fast, fighting bad guys, leaping off tall buildings and jumping from moving trains (including a Glendale and Montrose Trolley) with the star Helen Holmes doing her own stunts. I wonder how many films were shot in the Crescenta Valley when the Kalem Company actors were staying at Villa Esperanza?
The reference to actress Bebe Daniels is a great coincidence as I just had someone inquire about her childhood home and so knew where it was located. The grand circular house was located on La Crescenta Avenue right on the curve where La Crescenta Nursery is today. Bebe Daniels, largely forgotten today, was huge in early Hollywood, starting as a child actress in “Squaw Man,” considered to be the first feature-length Hollywood film and culminating with 230 film appearances in a 50-year career. She was a Hal Roach star opposite Harold Lloyd, played lead with Valentino, and was in “42nd Street.” I hope to find more on her early years in La Crescenta.
This was a fascinating and very detailed look into the past of La Crescenta. We are lucky to have preserved memories like this!