Sunday, September 9, 2012

Walking Tour: Beach Court and Valentino

Above: The Beach Court, built in 1923, still provides vintage apartments a few blocks from the beach.  Note the beach cat guarding the entrance.  (Photograph, M. Urashima, August 30, 2012)

  Haunted by Rudolph Valentino?
    The Los Angeles Times once asked, "where doesn'’t cinema'’s famed “Latin Lover” haunt? Valentino, who died tragically at the age of 31 in 1926, is one restless spirit. His famous Beverly Hills manse on Bella Drive...The beach house that he stayed in in Oxnard while making 1921’'s 'The Sheik'”...Room 210 at the Santa Maria Inn in Santa Maria...

   Well, add the Beach Court to that list....maybe.  It is a locally reported (and fun) rumor that the spirit of silent film star Rudolph Valentino haunts the Beach Court now and then.  Since it is a short walk from the beach and on a charming street, who would blame him?
  
Left: Rudolph Valentino, doing his best "blue steel" for the 1924 film, A Sainted Devil.  If the rumor is true, the Italian star would have stayed at the Beach Court between 1923 (the year it opened) and 1926 (the year he died). (Photograph, Wikicommons)
 
Directions to Walking Tour stop:  The Beach Court is located at the corner of 6th Street and Orange Avenue at 323-32 6th Street (parallel to Main Street).  If you're strolling inland up Main Street, just take a left at Olive or Orange Avenue and continue to 6th Street.

Above: The Beach Court is across the street from Walking Tour stop #15, a 1906 Baptist Church, now the Community Bible Church. (Photograph, M. Urashima, August 30, 2012)

   The arched entrance of the Beach Court--along with its tiled roof line--are trademark of the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture that hit popularity in Southern California around 1915.  (Just like Rudolph Valentino's famous home, Falcon Lair, in Los Angeles County.)

   The Beach Court was built in 1923 during the early days of the motion picture era, the same year the famous Hollywoodland (now Hollywood) sign was installed in the hills above Los Angeles.  It was still several years before the first Academy Awards in 1929 and before  the late 1920s dawning of the "golden age" of film.

The dawning of the silent film era on Huntington Beach's Main Street, circa 1915. (Photo, University of Southern California Libraries)

   Ahead of its time, seaside Huntington Beach knew the film industry was coming.  

   In 1915, the City board of trustees (city council) enacted its first ordinance requiring city permits for motion pictures theaters and that this trendy new activity could only be "on the first or ground floor...shall front on a public street, and the back, or rear, of such room or one side thereof, shall abut upon a public street or alley. No moving picture exhibition or entertainment shall be held, conducted or carried on, in a building, house, barn shed or structure, the outer surface of which are in whole or in part constructed or built of wood or other combustable (sic) material..." (Huntington Beach Ordinance 152, 1915)  

   When most of your community is wooden structures, it's good to make sure movie moguls don't set you on fire.  The rest of the ordinance is fairly specific about theater safety standards, aisle widths, room capacities, and electrical requirements, with exceptions for showing films in churches or schools.  A century later, much of the ordinance stands up to what would be required today.

Left: The tree-lined courtyard once was filled with moneyed beach goers or oil workers. The demand for housing was intense in early 1900s Huntington Beach--with many camping in tents.  By 1923 (three years after the first major oil discovery), the Beach Court was a popular alternative for those who could afford to pay a little extra.  (Photograph, M. Urashima, August 30, 2012)


   But, back to Valentino.  As the Beach Court opened its doors in 1923, Valentino already had hit films, including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and The Sheik.  And, he had yet to make his final film, The Son of the Sheik

       Also in 1923, Valentino took some time off from film and published a book of poetry, Day Dreams, which became a best seller (MacFadden Publications, Inc., New York, 1923).  The 1920s popularity of the Ouija board, spiritualism, and the occult coincided.  Valentino and his wife, Natacha Rambova, "dabbled."  After his death in August 1926, Rambova, said she continued to communicate with him in the afterlife.

Left: Valentino's Arabian horse from The Son of the Sheik, Jadaan, was from the W.K. Kellogg horse ranch in Pomona, California, now part of California State University - Pomona.  Starlets clamored to be photographed with Jadaan, the last horse ridden by Valentino.  (Image, Willard Library)

   Rambova and Valentino were reported to be spiritualists.  After his death in 1926, the reports of the supernatural continued, furthered by his former wife (Rambova and Valentino divorced in 1925).  Valentino is said to have participated in seances and claimed two spirit guides: Meselope, an ancient Egyptian, and Black Feather, a Native American, per Rambova.  

Right: Natacha Rambova. (Photograph, WikiCommons)

   In the book, RUDY: Intimate Portrait of Rudolph Valentino By His Wife, Natacha Rambova (1926) she claims Valentino was a medium and channeled the spirits of deceased poets, writing his poems while in a trance and using automatic writing. (Editor's note: Dealing in the occult, seances, and automatic writing is above our pay grade.  But, you can see how the rumors surrounding Valentino linger to this day.)
 
   By the time of his passing on August 23, 1926, at age 31, Valentino had been part of the young motion picture industry for only twelve years.  His mark on film, and the persona of the devastatingly handsome silent film star, remain nine decades later.

   Does Valentino haunt the Beach Court?  We'll let you decide.  He is said to have loved collecting "muttiola-ing," or collecting mussels along the beaches to cook up Italian style for dinner.  Valentino and Rambova traveled to Mexico to marry (the first time, illegally, which is another story).  And, part of the silent film The Sheik, was reportedly filmed at sand dunes in Yuma, Arizona.  It's conceivable he might have traveled down Pacific Coast Highway and stopped, if not stayed in Huntington Beach.   We already were a beach destination, once a popular stop on the famous "balloon route" for the Red Car, and a lively oil boom town in the 1920s.

   One thing is for sure: Beach Court definitely is a bit of old California, from a time of silent films and film industry publicity teams that loved a good story.  We encourage you to stop for a moment, get out the camera, and strike a pose that would make Valentino proud.

Above: Holding a pose for the cameras is no big deal when you're a star.  The I'm-ready-for-my-close-up-Mr.-DeMille cat that guards the Beach Court.  (Photograph, M. Urashima, August 30, 2012)

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2 comments:

  1. Anyone seen the interiors? Are they kept up or in need of repair? What do they rent for? How does one learn of availability?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Working on an opportunity to go inside! We hear there is more hidden history at Beach Court. A little historical gem!

    ReplyDelete

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