Wallace Neff, known as "the architect to the stars," died in 1982, but his work lives on in many mansions he created in the '20s and '30s and in a book that will be presented for the first time today.
Conceived by Neff's son and namesake, Wallace (Wally) Neff, the coffee-table type art book--"Wallace Neff, Architect of California's Golden Age"--will be introduced at a gathering of a couple hundred of the architect's fans at one of the best examples, if not the best example, of a Neff-designed home.
"The party will be at one of his dad's best houses--'best' because it's how everybody pictures a Southern California estate," said Jeff Hyland, a Beverly Hills real estate broker who helped Neff's son, a Laguna Niguel real estate broker, research the book and who will co-host the party.
What comes to mind when people think of a California estate built, as this one was, in the heyday of the '20s is what Hyland described as "a romantic home on a fabulous piece of property."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 15, 1987 Home Edition Real Estate Part 8 Page 2 Column 3 Real Estate Desk 2 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Two headlines on a Jan. 18 story incorrectly described Wallace Neff, namesake of Wallace Neff, famed California architect, as the author of a newly published book, "Wallace Neff, Architect of California's Golden Age." The book was written as a collaborative effort, with Alson Clark, director of the Architecture/Fine Arts Library at USC and an associate professor there, writing all but the preface and foreword.
The home where the party will be held is romantic in style--which is Spanish Colonial Revival, with balconies, balustrades, about an acre of rolling lawns in front of the main house and a pine forest with trees more than a century old. The home also has a romantic past.
It was built for silent-screen, cowboy star Fred Thomson and his wife, Academy Award-winning screenwriter and World War I correspondent Frances Marion, and they entertained lavishly with lawn parties for 200 or 300 guests, including such greats of the entertainment world as Rudolph Valentino, Greta Garbo, Marie Dressler and Max Reinhart, who remarked, while repaying a visit after Marion had been his guest in Germany: "I apologize for my oh-so-small castle."
Guest House Destroyed
The home where the party will be held is large--with a 10,000-square-foot main house, caretaker's cottage, gate house, chauffeur's quarters and stables (it also had a three-story guest house, which burned down)--and is on a fabulous piece of property: 120 acres in Beverly Hills.
"One reason Neff was so successful as an architect was that he secured the greatest sites for the celebrities that were emerging in the '20s," Hyland said. "Then, of course, Neff probably had his pick of the lots."
The architect only picked 13 acres for the Thomson/Marion home, but the site was on the highest hilltop overlooking Beverly Hills, yet it had miles of trails for Thomson's horses. "He had 20, and every one was white," Hyland noted. "Each was trained to do another part of his act."
Today the home is the largest estate on the Westside, thanks to the foresight of Paul Kollsman, who bought the property 25 years ago and since then acquired the additional land.
Kollsman, who invented a barometric altimeter and 23 other patented devices, died the same year as the architect, but the home is still owned by his widow, Eva, who was pleased to open it today to the invited guests, who include many other owners of Neff-designed homes.
The list of owners, past and present, looks like a "Who's Who of Hollywood," and Neff's son managed, during the couple of decades he has spent compiling items about his father, to get some of these and other luminaries to provide statements for his 260-page, $50 book, published by Capra Press in Santa Barbara.
Among the contributors: Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon, Mary Pickford, Joan Bennett, Mrs. Harpo Marx, Mrs. Harry Culver and her daughter, Patricia (Harry Culver founded Culver City), producer Richard Zanuck, son of movie mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, and architectural historian David Gebhard.
Alson Clark, director of the Architecture and Fine Arts Library at USC, completed the rest of the text. Like the younger Neff, Clark bears the name of his father, who was a well-known early California artist.
Another son of a famous father--a fellow who became famous himself--also contributed to the book: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. His dashing dad bought a Beverly Hills hunting lodge in 1919 and commissioned architect Neff to remodel it into a residence, which became known as "Pickfair" for its owners: actor Fairbanks Sr. and his bride, actress Mary Pickford.
Pictures of Pickfair
"My father begged them to tear it down," the younger Neff said, "but they were sentimental about meeting there, so he did his best to make the hunting lodge look like the home of a lady. It still wasn't his cup of tea, but he cleaned it up, softened the windows and took off the timbers and gables."
In his book, the younger Neff included pictures of Pickfair before and after it was remodeled by his father. "There are some pictures of Pickfair that have never before been shown to the public," he said.
The book has photos of and copy about the homes Neff designed that belonged to Cary Grant and Barbara Hutton, Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Joan Bennett, Jack Lemmon, Red Skelton, Darryl F. Zanuck and silent-film director Fred Niblo, whose home was later purchased by philanthropist Jules Stein and, within the past year, by media magnate Rupert Murdoch.