Having lived in Los Angeles for a while and being always humbled that I get to walk through Hollywood history on a daily basis, I sometimes forget that the most average streets may hold some kind of connection to yesterday’s Golden Age.
As a history buff, my love of classic movies runs deeper than just the content of the pictures and the people involved – I love the vintage culture of L.A. back in those days and the early history of Hollywood, when Echo Park was Edendale and Tudor Revival was all the rage with the movie stars.
For this month’s Charlie Chaplin Blogathon, I decided to do a semi-exhaustive location scout of some of the more prominent houses and studios Charlie Chaplin reigned over – and see what they look like now. I wanted to limit my adventure to Los Angeles itself, and the important locations he lived and worked at.
Let’s start at the place where it all began, Keystone Studios in then-Edendale. Founded by slapstick pioneer Mack Sennett on now-Glendale Blvd, Keystone was home to the first totally enclosed film stage and where Chaplin cut his teeth in motion pictures, alongside many silent movie peers.
Today, Edendale is now Echo Park and the Keystone Studio a cluster of various chains, from fast food Jack In the Box to Public Storage. But fear not! A rare phenomenon in Los Angeles, the original Keystone film stage is still standing.
Chaplin’s First House
It’s no surprise that Chaplin’s first home was located less than a mile from Keystone, right across from Echo Park Lake on Park Ave. As many of Keystone’s comedies were shot in the neighborhood, his first American bungalow can be seen in early short films A Flirt’s Mistake, A Film Johnnie, Mabel at the Wheel, and Cruel, Cruel Love.
Aside from a wild growth of foliage and a chain-link fence, the bungalow hasn’t changed much. Echo Park, however, has. You’ll be hard-pressed to find parking around the lake, where families and hipsters alike congregate during the weekend.
The Los Angeles Athletic Club
For many years, Chaplin lived in this downtown hotel on the corner of 7th and Olive St. A luxurious private club with all the amenities a gentleman could ever want, Chaplin frequently sought respite and privacy in his regular hotel room during moments of scandal, often staying at the Los Angeles Athletic Club for months at a time.
As a Los Angeles cultural landmark dating back to the 1880s, the Beaux-Arts LAAC has been preserved and maintained as one of the finest private clubs in the city. With everything from gym facilities, to hotel rooms, restaurants, and bars, the LAAC will be around for years to come.
The Breakaway House
Built in 1921 on six acres of land, Chaplin had this Beverly Hills house cheaply constructed by studio carpenters more used to building temporary film sets. The first house he really owned, he picked the location at Summit Drive (then Cove Way) because it was right across from his best friends Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford’s 18-acre estate Pickfair. With a bowler hat-shaped pool, Chaplin principally lived here throughout the ’30s and ’40s.
Up a winding hill, today you’ll see very little of the house as it’s hidden behind foliage and guarded by a gate. We should be glad that it’s even still there – in 1990, Pickfair Estate was demolished by actress Pia Zadora because she claimed it was haunted by one of Fairbanks’s ex-lovers!
Patio Del Moro
Chaplin and Paulette Goddard had adjoining maisonettes at Patio Del Moro on Fountain Ave, now a protected historic landmark. Another tenant was Joan Fontaine.
Charlie Chaplin Studios
Now we come to the heart of Chaplin’s triumphs. Starting in 1917, Chaplin worked in this studio on La Brea Ave. off Sunset Blvd. Anxious to get started with First National Pictures, he went ahead and constructed his own studio so as to manage his own time and perfect his art, hundreds of takes at a time. His best known works were filmed here, The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, etc. And thus, history was made.
Sold in 1953 following his European exile, the lot became Kling Studios, where George Reeves’s Adventures of Superman was filmed, then Skelton Studios in 1960 when comedian Red Skelton bought the facility for his TV series. He sold it to CBS in 1962, becoming the filming location for Perry Mason, and then became the headquarters for A&M Records for over three decades. Finally in 2000, The Jim Henson Company somewhat befittingly bought the studio and erected a large statue of Kermit the Frog, dressed as the Tramp, above the entrance.
Formosa Cottages / Chaplin Court
One street east of the Chaplin Studios are the famous Formosa Cottages, first built by Chaplin in 1923 for his actors and crew so they could live nearby. Chaplin lived here, as did many of his friends, Fairbanks and Pickford, and Rudolph Valentino.
In 2017, investor Michael Kesler purchased the cottages and began a restoration of the site, preserving its history while updating the utilities. At the time of this post, the cottages are available for long-term tenants!
Chaplin’s Beverly Drive House
Chaplin and his wife Oona O’Neill lived in this house on Beverly Dr. during the 1940s. At the time of this photo, it is still unoccupied.
Chaplin’s Alpine Drive House
Chaplin lived in this Beverly Hills house at Alpine Drive with Paulette Goddard in the ’30s and ’40s. There are unsubstantiated rumors of a scandal between Goddard and architect Wallace Neff (designer of the Pickfair Estate), who was hired to do some work on the house.
Atop the narrow roads of Hollywood Hills is the Moorcrest Estate, a massive four-bedroom, six-bathroom compound that combines multiple architectural stylings, making it a very rare Moorish-Mission Revival decadence of a place. With lavish patterns across every ceiling, a beautified garden, sweeping curves and columns set around browns and reds, Chaplin briefly lived in the house for a time in the 1920s before it was sold to actress Mary Astor.
In 2014, Moorcrest Estate was sold to a famous actor and comedian who continues to reside there.
The Charlie Hotel
More folkloric than anything else, the Charlie Hotel was built and established by the mother of actress Ruth Gordon as a farmhouse before Chaplin bought it in 1924, developing the sight into English-style bungalows in 1931. It’s said that Chaplin used one of the cottages as his chief writing studio and often allowed struggling actors to stay there rent-free. Other residents included Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Marilyn Monroe, and Clark Gable.
In 2002, current owner Menachem Treivush saved the cottages from demolition and converted the site into a fairy-tale hotel, naming each of the 13 cottages after a classic film star who stayed there.
In the heart of West Hollywood on Hampton Ave, these cottages were constructed in 1924 by Chaplin’s studio crew. Designed in the Tudor Revival style of cottages, tenants included Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Norma Shearer, Bronco Billy, and other stars of the decade.
Designated a historical building in 2008, the 25 quaint cottages are now rented apartments. With Tiffany stain-glassed windows, medieval-style staircases, and a rooster weathervane, the cottages, referred by its owner as “The Shire”, remain a delight.
“All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S. Charles Chaplin and the Little Tramp are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Inc. S.A. and/or Roy Export”