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L.A. Scene / The City Then and Now

Hollywood Castles and Curious 'Cures'

March 18, 1996|Cecilia Rasmussen

In the first decades of the 20th century, thousands of Midwesterners flocked to Southern California for its storied sunshine and fragrant orange groves. Still others came to avail themselves of two of the region's other fabled attractions--eccentric religions and equally irregular medical therapies.

Among immigrants in pursuit of the latter, many would eventually find their way to a castle overlooking then-undeveloped Hollywood that served as both dwelling and clinic for the improbably named Dr. Alfred Guido Randolph Castles.

Those who knew him in those years described the flamboyant doctor as short in stature but long on ambition and self-aggrandizement.

A world traveler, art collector and self-described "glandular specialist," Castles changed his name from Schloesser (German for "castles") amid the anti-German sentiment of World War I. The courtly, Viennese-educated physician lived up to both his names by building two Hollywood castles, Glengarry and Sans Souci, where he staged musicales and entertained European royalty.

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Castles was born in 1851 in Chicago. After graduating from Rush Medical College there and continuing his studies in Europe, he married a fellow American, Emma Marie Rose McDonell, in 1874.

At the turn of the century, after striking it rich in the Nevada silver mines, the couple and their four children moved to Hollywood, where the doctor built Glengarry, a copy of his wife's ancestral home in Inverness, Scotland.

Soon this castle proved too small for his burgeoning social life and medical practice. So in 1912, he built Castle Sans Souci ("without care") on a three-acre plot at Argyle and Franklin avenues.

His first castle, which was across the street, would eventually become the home of actor Sessue Hayakawa.

Sans Souci was distinguished by leaded glass windows, corner turrets, a crenelated roof line and a 100-foot tower poking up from its central keep. Its Gothic great hall had a 25-foot-high beamed ceiling, stained-glass windows, suits of armor and an organ loft.

Two marble lions that once guarded the palace of the Venetian doges stood at the entryway.

Castles' home was freely offered as a venue for Red Cross and war relief activities, including dances. Postcards with color pictures of Sans Souci advertised the twice-a-month military dances, discontinued in 1918 during the devastating influenza epidemic.

The patient list claimed by the doctor read like a Who's Who of the contemporary rich and famous, including Monsignor Joseph Tonello, former secretary to Pope Leo XIII. Other guests and patients included philanthropists, princes and princesses, countesses, barons and counts--or so the doctor said.

When Castles wasn't entertaining the rich and famous, he was striving to rejuvenate them.

After World War I, weary Europeans became obsessed with therapies that promised renewed vitality.

Castles advertised a rejuvenating technique for a generally fitter and healthier life that he claimed would reverse the aging process. His method--noninvasive by the standards of the time--involved ingesting goat and sheep pellets.

A patient of Castles, also a physician, claimed his eyesight returned after just 10 months of treatment. He called it "An act of God! With Dr. Castles as my agent."

As rejuvenation remedies gradually fell into disrepute, Castles began to dabble in real estate.

As an investment, the eccentric doctor who always wore a frock coat, heavy makeup and top hat, tore down Sans Souci and built Castle Argyle Arms apartments in 1928, attracting a new breed of royalty: movie makers. Guests there over the next two decades were to include Clark Gable, Howard Hughes, Ronald Reagan and Cecil B. DeMille.

Castles died five years after construction of the seven-story luxury apartments that still stand, proudly bearing their builder's name.

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