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Tourists Who Wouldn't Leave : Just What's Going on at 10000 Sunset Blvd.?

November 17, 1985|JOHN RILEY

They stare nonstop at the house at 10000 Sunset Blvd. She through binoculars. He with naked eyes. His right hand rests lightly on her shoulder. His left arm, upraised, is frozen in mid-gesture.

"A little to the right," is what sculptor J. Seward Johnson Jr. imagined that the bronze man in the navy cardigan is saying to his female companion. That's the name Johnson gave them as one of his droll public artworks, with the political implication intended.

Perhaps they should look leftward. Johnson, 56, of Princeton, N.J., a reclusive son of one of the ampersanded brothers who started the Band-Aid cartel, plans someday to sculpt a work called "A Little to the Left," too.

To the left, the bronze couple might see "Curiosity," by Mexican sculptor Victor Salmones--two little bronze boys once bolted to a Murchison wall in Texas, now climbing and peeking over this six-foot estate wall in Holmby Hills.

Signs say "Private Property" and "No Trespassing." Traffic slows and sometimes stops. Tourists snap photographs. Life imitates art, which directs attention to the house. Tour bus drivers, stumped for the identity of its art-loving occupants, cheerfully attribute false celebrity owners to it.

Designed by architect Wallace Neff in 1939 and built originally for the operator of a downtown Chrysler dealership, Henry F. Haldeman--no relation to the Harry F. Haldeman family of Beverly Hills that produced H. R. (Bob) Haldeman of the Nixon White House and Watergate--the house was resold and rented.

Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli brought baby Liza Minnelli home from the hospital to 10000 Sunset. Jennifer Jones rented the mansion. So did Howard Hughes, who met Terry Moore there. In 1950, car repossessors chased William Holden up the driveway in "Sunset Boulevard."

Later owners of 10000 Sunset included the widow of an adopted heir to a North Carolina tobacco fortune, and the No. 2 leader of an Oriental country, strongly allied to the United States, who collects secret overseas hideaways.

Two years ago, its newest owners--a developer-operator of commercial real estate and his wife--spent 10 months rehabilitating the house and clearing the 2.5 acres of tangled overgrowth, including nests of hawks, rats and wasps--the result of 17 years of landscape neglect. The house's new lady (the owners prefer anonymity) showed domestic generalship so strong that her husband gave her, because she always had her way, a brass plaque, which she chose not to display, proclaiming the house "Haderway Hall."

They threw weddings, with 700 to 800 guests, for both their daughters at the house. Among the guests were several loaned J. Seward Johnson Jr.-sculpted bronze "people"--a photographer, an architect, two tennis players headed for a non-existent court, and, out front, confusing and amusing the passing public, two frozen painters "working" on the wall, an artwork titled "So the Bishop Said to the Actress . . . ."

When the sculpted painters were removed, a real painter attempted to finish painting the wall. Passing motorists, used to the frozen painters, stopped their cars, walked up behind him and pinched him to make sure he was real. He quit the job.

Passers-by left notes in the 10000 Sunset mailbox:

"That man and woman are engaged not in bird-watching, I'm sure, but in some low form of espionage," one wrote.

"Mr. & Mrs. XYZ were spying quite casually / They ditched the Wonderbread bus tour / And hid behind a nouvelle fruit," poetized another.

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Rich Persons, I do miss your painters; could you rehire them?" asked a passing executive.

He received a reply by mail:

"The 'painters' will return in December. Very truly yours, Mr. and Mrs. Rich Persons."

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