Museum Without Walls
Hayvenhurst c. 1917 - woman on balcony is likely Katherine Hay
Hayvenhurst c. 1917 – woman on balcony is likely Katherine Hay

In 1909 William Hay, a successful real-estate entrepreneur, age 45, went on a honeymoon cruise around the world with his second wife, Katherine Edmondson. Along the way they collected decorative items and finishes — shipment of Circassian walnut to be used for paneling, for example — to use in the home they were building in Crescent Heights, Hay’s latest residential development.

William Hamilton Hay
William Hamilton Hay
Construction on the home began in mid-1912. Ten months later, the Times reported on the progress of the construction under the headline, “Palatial Homes Near Completion.” According to the Times, “The house contains 12 rooms and four bathrooms. The interior has been finished in various rare woods bought by Mr. and Mrs. Hay on a trip to the Philippines last summer … All the interior walls are being covered with canvas and hand-painted.” The Times also noted that a “garage for two automobiles and with rooms for the help on its second floor” was also being constructed.

The westward sprawl of Los Angeles accelerated in the late 19th century when the interurban railroad connected Downtown with Santa Monica and the beach communities. As the streetcar routes expanded, investors bought up large tracts of farmland and orchards close to the trolley stops and subdivided them into neighborhoods.

Hay subdivided the Crescent Heights tract in 1905. The tract was 160 acres and had trolley lines along its northern border on Sunset Boulevard and it’s southern boundary at Santa Monica Boulevard. Its east-west boundaries were Fairfax (then called Crescent) Avenue and Sweetzer Avenue.

While most of the homes in Crescent Heights were marketed to middle-class buyers, Hay set aside the south side of Sunset Boulevard, from Fairfax Avenue (then called Crescent Avenue) to Hayvenhurst (now spelled “Havenhurst”) Avenue, for a row of mansions. He chose the westernmost two-and-a-half acre lot at Sunset and Hayvenhurst for himself. It was there that he and Katherine built their estate. They called it Hayvenhurst.

Alla, Charles and their small entourage arrived in Los Angeles, in October 1918, just as the war was ending in Europe. First Turkey and Austria-Hungary surrendered and then, in November, Germany fell. This was a high point for Alla. She was not only being showered with good fortune in her career and at home, now her worries about the safety of her mother, brother and their families could be put to rest.

She set about searching for suitable digs. At that time most movie stars lived in the hills around Silver Lake, which was close to studios in Edendale and Downtown, or in stately mansions in West Adams. But Metro was building its West Coast studio on Cahuenga Boulevard near Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

Five years earlier William and Katherine Hay had built a home even grander than Hayvenhurst two blocks east, at Sunset and Hayward Street (where the Directors Guild building is now). Hayvenhurst had been on the market all that time. Its remoteness may have put a damper on sales. The area around it – the future Sunset Strip – was quite rustic. To the north a narrow unpaved road wound into the hills up Laurel Canyon. To the east lay poppy and bean fields and occasional farmhouses, and to the west Japanese gardeners leased land for their plant nurseries.

On the other hand, Hollywood, just two miles east of the estate, was thriving — the earliest incarnation of today’s Musso & Frank Restaurant would open the following year on Hollywood Boulevard, for example. And Metro studios were a quick, traffic-free three-mile trip into Hollywood.

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