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Hollywood Regency and the Woolf Pack

Hollywood Regency and the Woolf Pack

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John Elgin Woolf is credited with creating the currently popular Hollywood Regency look. But his private life may have been his most daring design.

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Architecture in Los Angeles and its region ranges from the divine to the degraded. The influence of the film industry is certainly to blame for the Snow White mansions, bastard Tudors, and ersatz mini-Palaces of Versailles crammed onto postage stamp-sized lots.

On the other hand, some of the most talented and successful designers and architects of the 20th century made Los Angeles their well-designed and decorated home: Elsie De Wolfe, Tony Duquette, Billy Haines, Charles and Ray Eames, John Lautner, and Richard Neutra. There are even a fair share of Frank Lloyd Wright homes dotting the our parched landscape, notably the recently reopened Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park.

But the current trend favored by those in the know in SoCal (Kelly Werstler among them) has been the native-born look of Hollywood Regency.

Young and good-looking, John Elgin Woolf came to Hollywood in 1936 with the hope of landing a role in Gone With the Wind. But his meeting with gay director George Cukor shaped his path as an architect and designer to the stars.

The Palos Verdes Art Center is mounting the first-ever exhibition of Woolf's collection of drawings, schematics, and renderings, which have been housed at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The exhibit opens Friday and runs through May 29. (See the end of this article for information on the Mid-Century Desert Dream House Raffle. You can win a beautifully decorated John Elgin Woolf home.)

Woolf gave film royalty a new luxury style. According to The New York Times, Woolf "established a new vocabulary for glamorous movie-star living ... synthesized 19th-century French, Greek Revival, and Modernist touches into a heady mixture that has since been christened Hollywood Regency, which foreshadowed aspects of postmodernism." He designed houses for many luminaries, including Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, David O. Selznick, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy.

Woolf worked primarily in Bel Air and Beverly Hills, often renovating older buildings, but also did work as far away as Nassau, such as the residence for Lady Stanley of Alderley, also known as the fourth Mrs. Clark Gable. One of his largest projects was the design of Marrakesh Country Club in Palm Desert, Calif.

Woolf's other great creation was an imaginatively structured love and family life. In a detailed and delicious account of Woolf's career and life in a 2009 Vanity Fair article, special correspondent Matt Tyrnauer tells that Woolf met the man who would be his partner, lover, and eventually adopted son in a shop across from his on Melrose Place called, appropriately enough, Design for Living.

Robert Koch eventually took Woolf's name, but he was much more than a handsome younger lover. He helped shape the business side of John Elgin Woolf's life and turned him into the multimillionaire he eventually became. And as their partnership developed and new young men came onto the horizon they were enfolded into the menage, and eventually Woolf had three adopted sons who all took his name. They were known in thier intimate circle as the Woolf Pack. And as odd as that may sound to modern, post same-sex marriage ears, that was a way gay men and women tried to legally secure their relationships before there were laws to protect them.

The three sons, Robert Koch Woolf, Gene Oney Woolf, and William Capp Woolf, all eventually ended up living together in their senior years after John Woolf -- whom they referred to as 'Papa' -- died.

Frank Ross Residence, 1139 Tower Rd., Beverly Hills. Photograph of exterior entry way with two lamps and Asian-influenced statues. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

2_frank-ross-pool-housex633_0 Frank Ross Residence,1139 Tower Rd., Beverly Hills. Photograpic view of the swimming pool and pavilion. Photo by George de Gennaro. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

3_frank-ross-housex633_0 Frank Ross Residence, 1139 Tower Rd., Beverly Hills. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

4_wellborn-housex633_0 Olin Wellborn Residence, 1196 Brooklawn Drive, Los Angeles. Entrance detail, photograph by Max Eckert. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

5_mrs-clark-gable-residencex633_0 Mrs. Clark Gable (Lady Stanley of Alderley): Proposed Residence in Nassau, Bahamas. Entrance Court Facade. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

6_day-dream-housex633_0 John & Robert K. Woolf Residence (project) "Day Dream House." Ink and watercolor rendering of facade. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

7_day-dream-house-floor-planx633_0 John & Robert K. Woolf Residence (project), "Daydream House" (Los Angeles). Ground floor plan. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

8_frank-vincent-residencex633_0 Frank Vincent Residence Alteration for Mrs. Cary Grant (Barbara Hutton), Bel Air. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

9_pendleton-housex633_0 James R. Pendleton Residence, Beverly Hills. Entrance Facade, photograph by Fred A. Dappich silver gelatin print. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB.

The Pendleton house was considered one of Woolf's more perfect and iconic homes and was eventually the home of producer Robert Evans. In a Vanity Fair interview with Matt Tyrnauer, Evans spoke of the house: "The deal for The Godfather was made here; the deal for Chinatown was made here. Orson Welles loved to come here, and Alain Delon stayed here for six months. Roman Polanski lived here after [his wife Sharon Tate's] murder. Laurence Olivier lived here for six months when he was making Marathon Man. Some very famous women stayed here, but I can't -- let me just phrase it that I've had at least three dozen above-the-title female stars stay here. I don't mean for the night -- I mean they resided here for a while."

10_menefee-housex633_0 W. Thomas Menefee Residence Alteration, Beverly Hills. Entrance facade. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

11_woolf-residencex633_0 John & Robert K. Woolf Residence, 325 North Carolwood, Los Angeles, 1969. Graphite on vellum rendering of house facade. "Office of John Woolf" written large at top of drawing. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

12_john-woolf-portraitx633_0 Photo portrait of John Elgin Woolf. Courtesy Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

13_marrakesh-country-club-condominium-type-ax633_0 Marrakesh Country Club, Condominium Type A. Courtesy Marrakesh Country Club Collection

14_marrakesh-gatehousex633_0 Marrakesh Country Club, Gate. Courtesy Marrakesh Country Club Collection

A most amazing raffle of a John Elgin Woolf residence:

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Raffle02x400_0An elegant mid-century vacation home by the master of Hollywood Regency style is just a $150 raffle ticket away for the lucky winner of Palos Verdes Art Center's 2015 Mid-Century Desert Dream House Raffle. The first and oldest house raffle in California, proceeds from the raffle help fund the center's exhibitions and educational programs.

Also included in the Grand Prize House Package are a 2015 Jaguar F-Type V8 S Convertible, a 2015 Jaguar XK Coupe, a Fantasy Trip for Two to Morocco, two Garia golf cars, two Louis Vuitton golf bags, a five-year golf membership in the Marrakesh Country Club - and $675,000 in cash.

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Christopher Harrity

Christopher Harrity is the Manager of Online Production for Here Media, parent company to The Advocate and Out. He enjoys assembling online features on artists and photographers, and you can often find him poring over the mouldering archives of the magazines.
Christopher Harrity is the Manager of Online Production for Here Media, parent company to The Advocate and Out. He enjoys assembling online features on artists and photographers, and you can often find him poring over the mouldering archives of the magazines.