Tichenor & Thorp Architects

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Classic Homes of Los Angeles

Cecil B. DeMille Estate

“See your favorite stars, committing your favorite sins” may have been a slogan used by Cecil B. DeMille, famed director for many of the lavish epics of Hollywood’s Golden Age, but his home life and taste were more subdued than the line suggests. In private, DeMille was reportedly quiet and reserved, a sharp contrast to the pistol-packing megaphone persona by which he was known, and the home he bought from Los Angeles businessman C. F. Perry in 1916 stands in some contrast to the palatial homes later built by such peers as Buster Keaton and Douglas Fairbanks.

Located in the gated enclave of Laughlin Park, an early upper-class development hidden in the hills of Los Feliz, the house was built in 1911 by architect B. Cooper Corbette. Sober Italianate Revival in style, the residence crowns a two-acre grass knoll and has commanding views of the greater Los Angeles basin. From its approach, the house cuts a dignified silhouette against extensive greenery. Nearly 8,000 square feet, though with rooms of modest scale, the main house feels as if it had been designed more for intimate family life than for entertaining, which apparently precisely fit the bill for DeMille.

In 1918, newlyweds Charlie Chaplin and his sixteen-year-old wife, Mildred Harris, purchased the house next door. The couple was divorced by 1920, and Chaplin sold the house to DeMille, who soon connected the two houses via a breezeway extending from an atrium, possibly designed by Julia Morgan. The old Chaplin House served as DeMille’s office and screening room until his death in 1959. Both houses remained in the DeMille family for nearly three decades after that, preserved just as he had left them.

The current owners, avid architectural preservationists who have renovated a number of significant houses, found DeMille’s estate in poor condition. The Chaplin House, designed by architect William J. Dodd, was literally crumbling and needed most immediate attention. The couple hired architects Brian Tichenor and Raun Thorp to restore the house. Over the next two years, the interior was dismantled and reassembled, preserving the famous Tudor living room and all the significant details. Eventually, the couple sold the Chaplin House, in order to devote their full attention to reviving the DeMille Estate. Tichenor and Thorp were called in again, this time to renovate the DeMille house and bring the landscape back to its former glory. The interiors now convey a sense of grandeur that was previously lacking. Ceilings were raised where possible. The servant’s quarters were poached to make way for a bigger kitchen and library. Though the winding staircase and period details evoke the past, the art on the walls serve as a reminder that this nearly 100-year-old house is very much in the here and now. In remaking the garden, Tichenor looked to Florence Yoch, studying her plant lists for designs executed for other Hollywood moguls such as Jack Warner. He also designed a studio where DeMille’s stables once stood and a new pool house.