IN CHAPTER 15 of I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason, Cece accompanies the architect Burnett Fowlkes to a Hollywood Regency house he's restoring in her neighborhood. In a town renowned for plastic surgery, Hollywood Regency may be the consummate architectural style. You've got an aging stucco bungalow. But what you really want is something sexier, younger, classier. So you tack on a mansard roof, an oversized front door framed by black-and-white striped drapes, maybe a niche with a Greek urn in it on top, and yes, the mail man might mistake you for Gina Lollabrigida.
These remodels, most of which were done in the fifties and sixties, can be seen all over West Hollywood. With their promiscuous mix of Georgian, Federal and Second Empire flourishes, they provide the perfect visual antidote to the ubiquitous cool of mid-century modern (I am not a fan of the latter, though Tom Ford's clothes for Gucci do look best in Richard Neutra houses). They are theatrical, with highly embellished false fronts dropped into place, unintended billboards for their owners' class anxieties. The maestro of Hollywood Regency was John Woolf. Born in Atlanta in 1908, he came out to L.A. In the 1930s to get a part in Gone with the Wind, which didn't happen, though he did make lots of celebrity friends, including Fanny Brice, George Cukor and Ira Gershwin. After doing a remodel for Gershwin, turning the latter's run-of-the-mill house into a swanky Georgian manor, Woolf and a partner opened the offices of John and Robert K. Woolf on Melrose Place in West Hollywood. (Robert K. was eventually adopted by John. Somebody should definitely make a movie about this guy). Eventually, Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, Mae West, and Greta Garbo became clients. Woolf houses, it turned out, made perfect backdrops for even a movie star's fantasies of luxe. Typical features included marble fireplaces with inset windows where the flues would normally be, formal dressing rooms, grill-screened living rooms, Doric colonnades, and pavilions in the pool court. And, of course, high, sloping mansard roofs. By the 1970s, the style look vulgar, over-reaching. False fronts were peeled back to reveal "authentic" Spanish houses beneath. That is, until Vogue did a fashion spread in 2002 at hipster restauranteur Sean K. MacPherson's vintage John Woolf home. Now you can't get one of these camp artifacts, at any price.
FOR FURTHER READING, see John Chase's Exterior Decoration: Hollywood's Inside-Out Houses (Henessey and Ingalls, 1982).
FOR FURTHER VIEWING, see The Kid Stays in the Picture the recent documentary on mega-producer Robert Evans (Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, Chinatown, The Godfather). Much of the movie is filmed in Evans' house, which is a 1942 John Woolf.
IF YOU LIVE IN THE LOS ANGELES AREA, drive by the defunct Perino's Restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard, which now stands empty. Remodeled in 1949, (it was a market) by Paul Williams, Perino's is one of the buildings that helped make the mansard roof a status symbol in commercial architecture.