Francis Lederer Residence (photograph by Julius Shulman)
When my brother and SIL moved into their brand new house in 1983, they were at the western edge of town, their subdivision surrounded by not-yet-developed farm/ranch land. I stayed a couple of nights with them, heard the crickets, smelled the manure, wondered about the gophers.
They are no longer at the edge — in fact, their end of town became its own city awhile back. A major landowner in the area was the former (and fairly obscure) Hollywood actor named Francis Lederer, who sold off most of his 300-acre ranch over the years to make way for some very lucrative enclaves — including the one my parents moved into over twenty years ago. What’s left of the ranch is a Mission-style house on top of a small hill, which could be reached by decrepit driveways except for the many signs warning away trespassers (read Natalie Costanza-Chavez‘s evocative piece, “The nostalgic scent of a forbidden hill.“) The Northridge earthquake damaged the house in 1994, and from the bottom of the hill, it looks like it is still crumbling to pieces.
The city extended a major San Fernando Valley thoroughfare through Lederer’s land in the 1960s, stranding his stables across the way. It too is a fake-old Mission-style building, now a gift shop called The Hidden Chateau and Gardens. The store sell shabby chic vintage furniture and knickknacks shoehorned into every inch of the former stalls, and has a pretty — if not particularly quiet and serene — garden, available for weddings and parties.
Crammed at the bottom of Lederer’s hill is a new, but already going-to-seed condo complex. Lederer’s widow objected to the development, claiming it would “adversely impact” her historic house and former stables because of increased traffic and other environmental issues. As much as I think the new condominiums are an eyesore and a mistake for the area, her historic house and stable were compromised a long time ago — say, around the time the major road bisected the ranch, or later when the couple sold off their acres to real estate developers. Meanwhile, the condominiums have been there for almost two years now, but are still unfinished. They wait, dreary in the rain. Like the Lederer driveways, many warning signs festoon the condo buildings — and in fact a security trailer seems to be permanently parked behind the gates. Perhaps the patrols are for real, because despite some open windows and lots and lots of blank walls, vandals haven’t had a go at the place. Yet. With enough rain, maybe Lederer’s hill will slide down and bury the place.
Francis Lederer in the 1940s, channeling Laurence Olivier ...
(Photograph from http://digital-library.csun.edu/copyright.html)