The ever-handsome Dylan McDermott is pitching the telecommunications services of Cellular South. He's in a superb room adorned by 50-foot-long wooden beams, dark leather chairs, rustic pine cabinets and light fixtures of haunting Indian designs. It's an outdoorsman's dream suite, born in 1928 when novelist Zane Grey handed his wife $55,000 and said of the wing he wanted her to build, "If I like it, I'll keep it, if I don't, I'll tear it down." It still stands, and the Cellular South ad is the first in what fans of the Grey house in Altadena hope will be a new career as a commercial and film location for a building inspired by a fire, embellished by Grey and almost destroyed by his son.
Edith Norton Woodward narrowly survived the Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago in 1903; 602 playgoers did not. The doors to the theater opened inward, a mistake the socialite would not repeat when she hired renowned Pasadena architect Myron Hunt in 1907 to build her home in the hills above Pasadena. Not only do the original doors open outward but the house is entirely constructed of concrete. Thirteen years later the Woodward family returned to Chicago, and the house was sold to Grey, whose "Riders of the Purple Sage" and other romantic cowboy yarns would bring him the sort of popularity accorded period heroes Seabiscuit and Babe Ruth. Fans would line up outside the house, prompting Grey to add a third story so that he could not be watched. On the terrace behind the new chambers, he installed a rowing machine from which he could see Santa Catalina Island, where he owned an adobe.
Today the house relies on the kindness of Rose Jane Rudicel, a fine-boned daughter of Italian immigrants who purchased it from Grey's son Romer. Success eluded Grey's eldest child, an erstwhile writer and hopeless investor who sold the house in 1970, says Matthew Berkley, Rudicel's property manager and one of two renters in the eight-bedroom, 19,000-square-foot house. Rudicel and her husband, Charles, slowly brought the house back from purgatory; in the first year alone, they tore down 60 tons of ivy smothering the exterior. Many features were intact, including wall paintings of Indian figures by Lillian Wilhelm Smith, who, along with Frederic Remington, was the primary illustrator of Grey's books.
Only the kitchen was significantly altered, and it's there that the heavy work goes on for the private parties, weddings and fund-raisers for which the house is rented. Most of the catering is done by Rose Jane, who, at age 69, reinvented herself as a chef, establishing The Press vegetarian restaurant in Claremont. But then Grey himself knew a lot about second chances-before the consummate Westerner became a novelist, he had been a doctor, not of lonesome cowboys, but of dentistry.