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Owners Donate Building to Historical Society : Good Witch of Beverly Hills to Take Her Cottage Back to Culver City

November 15, 1987|SHELDON ITO | Times Staff Writer

It must seem like a fairy tale come true to Lupe Smith and the Culver City Historical Society. They are being rescued from their cramped office in the city yard . . . by a witch.

Well, a pretend witch and her real-life pointy-roofed storybook chalet.

Doris Green and her husband, Martin, have offered the famed Witch's Cottage in Beverly Hills to the historical society if it can find a piece of land to put it on, said Smith, the society's president.

The society, which has wanted to establish a Culver City history museum since its inception in 1980, has asked the city to donate land for the house and is scrambling to raise $100,000 to move it, she said.

It will be a real homecoming for the historic structure that was a Culver City movie studio once upon a time. Now a private home, the house has been a popular tourist attraction, particularly since it was moved to Beverly Hills in 1926.

Green said she and her husband tried to sell the 12-room house, at the corner of Walden Drive and Carmelita Avenue, for $1.75 million, but the only offers they got were from builders who wanted to buy the lot and tear the house down.

"That's why we're giving the house away," said Green, who dresses up as the "Witch of Walden" each Halloween and gives candy to visiting children.

"We couldn't stand to see it torn down."

The society intends to turn the house into a museum displaying items such as old photographs, jewelry, fans and rosaries that once belonged to early Culver City settlers and costumes from "Jumbo," "Singin' in the Rain" and other MGM classics that were filmed in the city, Smith said.

Society Vice President Carolyn Cole said she expects the museum to become a tourist attraction. "This area has a lot of history in it," she said.

"Our goal is to display this history to the residents and the tourists who come through Culver City."

Cole said the city is considering two sites for the house, which sits on a 140-by-90-foot lot.

One site is in Culver City Park at the corner of Duquesne Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard and the other is at Slauson and Hannum avenues, she said.

Displaying movie memorabilia in the house seems appropriate, since it was built for the Irvin V. Willat Productions Movie Studio in 1921 by Harold Oliver, an art director who won Oscars for his work on "Seventh Heaven" and "Street Angel."

The house's life as a studio lasted just five years.

So many drivers slowed to stare at the building on Washington Boulevard that it became a traffic hazard, and in 1926 the Culver City Police Department asked that it be removed, Green said.

The Greens bought the house in 1965, but, after 22 years, Doris Green said it is time for a change.

They plan to keep the lot and build a new house of a different design.

"You couldn't afford to build a house like this now, because of the cost of handwork," she said, explaining that the window frames are hand-carved and the stucco was brushed with apricot tree branches to achieve a weathered look. "It would be out of anyone's price range."

The 3,700-square-foot house includes two bedrooms, four baths, maid's quarters, three fireplaces, a dining room, a wet bar with wine cellar and a kitchen.

Smith said she is confident the city will soon find a place for the house.

"I would have liked to have seen the museum opened yesterday," she said. "But being realistic, the house will probably be moved in mid-summer and it will probably be another year after that before the museum opens."

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