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HOMEOWNERS — Judson Rothschild

BUILT — 1916

LOCATION — Hollywood, California

ACQUIRED — April 2002

RENOVATED — April-September 2002

PROPERTY — Approximately three-quarters acre within walking distance of the heart of Hollywood

MAIN HOUSE — 6,800 square feet with six bedrooms

GUEST HOUSE — Living room, kitchen, bath, and bedroom

FAVORITE ROOMS — Kitchen ("I love to cook and look out over the whole property"), sleeping porch ("the light is spectacular"), and media room ("the best ticket in town")

FAVORITE PASTIMES — Gourmet cooking, entertaining, reading in the media room or sleeping porch

DECORATING TIP — "Let your furniture and artwork be sparse — the house will appear bigger, lighter, and brighter"

WHY FRONTGATE? — "As a designer, I'm always looking for things with an architectural detail. At Frontgate, I find products that I can use not only for myself but for my clients." — Judson Rothschild

Living Room

Entry

ARCHITECT
DESIGNER & PROJECT MANAGERRothschild Productions, Inc. (310-710-3160)

Hollywood, California — Like a gifted performer staging a successful comeback, Judson Rothschild's refurbished home is once again the grande dame of the neighborhood.

During its heyday as the residence of Samuel Goldwyn ("the G in MGM," says Judson), this jewel of neoclassical architecture was "the ultimate Hollywood house. Rosalind Russell, Betty Davis, Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler — every major player was a visitor here." Built in 1916 by a developer named Fuller, the estate was acquired by Goldwyn in the late 1920s. He remained there for the next eight years.

Over time, however, the mansion suffered such neglect that it was in danger of falling prey to the wrecking ball. "It was on the market for about two years before I saw it," says Judson. "The property was in a terrible state of disrepair, and there were 10 people living here. The house had been in and out of escrow about six times. Potential buyers got the inspection report and ran for the hills.

"The day I walked in,
I knew I had to buy it."

"The day I walked in, I knew I had to buy it. There was a rumor that there was going to be a competing bid against mine, that a consortium of developers wanted to get rid of the house and build condos in its place. They would have torn it down if I hadn't won out.

"In Europe, 100 years old is nothing. But in our country, anything that old deserves to be preserved — especially if it has value and looks good. But people just can't wait to decimate something if it will make money. Every other developer and designer had passed over the house. It really was horrific. But I could see underneath it all, and I understood just how incredible the architecture was. The house was designed by one of the Heinemann brothers, and from the flow, it was obvious that he absolutely knew what he was doing. The house is a beauty."

A GLAMOROUS MAKE-OVER

Intent on restoring the integrity of the original design while bringing the property up to functional standards of the 21st century, Judson assigned himself the task of renovating the house top to bottom. A specialist in the rehabilitation of old houses, he envisioned, designed, and supervised the revamping of the interiors, exteriors, and landscape. "My job was fixing the debilitation of the house, from elevating the foundation to putting a brand new roof on the main house, pool house, and guest house."

It's not unusual for a project of this magnitude to last about two years, start to finish. But Judson completed the job in just seven months. "I knew how to orchestrate it," he says. "The day escrow closed, there were 45 workmen on site. We immediately went to work."

The house had to be jacked up in two locations. "During the 70s," Judson explains, "when the owners replaced the original gravity gas heating system with forced air, they took out a retaining wall, and the house eventually collapsed. The great thing is that it's built in redwood, so we knew the problem wasn't termites. Everybody got nervous about the two areas that had collapsed, but there was a simple, easy solution. Anybody would sag if somebody cut off one of our legs; we just had to give the house another leg."


During its heyday, this jewel of neoclassical architecture was "the ultimate Hollywood house." Shop Outdoor Living.

Earlier remodeling efforts had seriously comprised some of the home's finest features. "Someone had taken out the arched doorways in the entry and put in sliding-glass doors. They hadn't plastered well or bothered to take out the header, which showed me what had once been there. I simply recreated the archway and two windows on the side." All the French windows on the first floor had been replaced with plate-glass windows, and they had to be restored. Every wall and ceiling had to be replastered. Late-addition built-ins were replaced with cabinetry Judson recreated along neoclassical lines, and, though most of the tile in the master bath dates back to 1916, replacement tiles are exact reproductions.

"A house of this caliber deserves somebody spending a little time creating something. You're supposed to come in, look around, and say, 'That's the original, right?' I doubt that this house ever looked as good as it does now."

Though he undertook the restoration with an eye to the past, Judson was equally deliberate in anticipating the future. "You have to think ahead when you set things up," he says. "I wired this house for the next 100 years." He brought the electrical up to code, installed 189 lighting fixtures, and laid a mile of speaker cable and telephone wire. "Every room is wired for sound. There are three separate sound systems in all. The media room is THX, and the master bedroom, which consists of six rooms, is on its own sound system — or I can switch to the main system, which serves the rest of the house."

BEAUTY REIGNS IN EVERY ROOM

High on Judson's list of priorities was creating a more efficient, inviting kitchen environment. So he started from scratch; everything from the prep kitchen to the butler's pantry is entirely new — but getting there wasn't always easy.

Identifying the lack of light as a major issue, Judson brought in a structural engineer who redesigned the walls to tolerate much larger windows. "It opened up the whole room," he says. "Your money shot is out the window that looks into that gorgeous yard. I love to cook, and I wanted to be able to look at beauty."

Making room for the refrigerator and freezer required moving a door frame, and two other doors were also relocated to create a beeline from the kitchen to the butler's pantry. "In the old days, kitchens were designed so there was no contact with servants. The changes have made the house better than it originally was."

The too-small window in the adjoining breakfast room posed a problem. "I didn't like the fact that I couldn't get out to the patio quickly," Judson explains. The window soon gave way to two light-admitting doors whose frames and architectural detail mimic that of the dining room's French doors. The breakfast table is a Rothschild original.

The age-darkened mahogany of the foyer's floating stacked-staircase was given new life. "Your eye immediately went to the darkness instead of the room," Judson says. "I bleached it and kept bleaching it lighter and lighter. It's a much warmer color now; your eye accepts it." The Batchleder fireplace, one of three in the house, is the work of "a very famous tile-maker." It was here that guests once warmed themselves while waiting for their host and hostess to make their grand entrance.

The living room presented a few challenges of its own. The French windows that had been taken out needed to be recreated, and the Colonial-style brick fireplace seemed terribly out of place in a setting that was predominantly Italian. Judson's solution was to bring in historical painters to camouflage the fireplace. "They stenciled it, and now it looks three dimensional. Your eye goes to that instead of the brick."

LARGE-SCALE DECORATING

Just off the living room is the Batchleder-tiled card room, originally a conservatory. "In the old days, that's where you put your plants. There's a drain in the wooden floor for water run-off and an electric heater that created hot-house conditions. One of the most exciting things was getting that heater to work."

As for the dining room, Judson notes that "Katharine Hepburn said you knew where you were in your career by where you were seated at Samuel Goldwyn's table." To recapture the Old-World feeling of that earlier era, he refurbished the sconces, repaired the chandelier, and put in French windows. Things still weren't quite right. "I like my rooms to speak for themselves, but this one was a little too vanilla. I had two options: either put up drapes like I did in the media room and master bedroom or else paint the ceiling." The ceiling won out; Jusdon again brought in historical painters to add the necessary burst of color.


With the pool and cabana as its centerpiece, "the backyard is an entertainer's dream," says
Rothschild. Shop Pool & Beach.

Shying away from rows of theater-style recliners that "look like you're in a 747", Judson fitted the media room with comfortable den-like furnishings, thereby enhancing its functionality. "I wanted to create a room with more than one purpose. It's where everybody wants to be. I like to hang out there and read, and my guests love it."

The master suite consists of the original six rooms. To one side of the bedroom is a masculine den/dressing area with a small fireplace, the room where Samuel Goldwyn is reputed to have read all his scripts. "A little further is the bath," says Judson, "and further still the sleeping porch, one of the most beautiful rooms of the house. In the old days, the sleeping porch required three walls that had windows. The light in there is spectacular. It's a beautiful room for reading. If the media room is the best ticket in town, then the sleeping porch is the second best ticket in town." To the other side of the bedroom is a more feminine den/dressing area and bath. There are two other bedroom suites upstairs as well as a laundry room. Two bedrooms that once served as servants' quarters are located off the kitchen on the first floor.

SPRUCING UP THE GROUNDS

Early on in the project, Judson brought in a tractor and tore out the entire backyard - except for the shell of the swimming pool. "It was the original 1918 pool," he says, "one of the first private pools in Los Angeles. Only three little stairs had to be changed."

The landscaping had to be reconstructed from the ground up. "There wasn't one single hedge or plant around the perimeter of the property. An even bigger issue was getting more light into more places. The yard was so dark! Only after the tree trimmers had worked for two weeks could you really see the house. But as soon as they started, I immediately knew what a difference it would make." Judson later added an imposing entry with a pair of French gates and created a privacy screen using 200 ficus trees.

The outbuildings on the property also stood in need of a complete overhaul. "The pool house was so overgrown you couldn't see it," Judson says. "It was a dark, dark house. It had been remodeled, and the steam from the indoor Jacuzzi, which had been added in the 70's, had eaten out most of the structure. We tore out the floor, doors, and windows, and turned it into an indoor/outdoor cabana.

The whole guest house had to be entirely reconfigured. "It was the deal breaker for most people," says Judson. Today, the guest quarters — comprising a living area, kitchen, master bath and bedroom — exude an entirely different air, one of graciousness and welcome.

Today, the backyard is an entertainer's dream. "When you walk through those gates, it's like a secret garden," says Judson. "You can't believe this exists right here in the middle of Hollywood."

ENJOYING THE FRUITS OF HIS LABOR

Judson is in his element here. He entertains regularly, staging dinner parties for friends or hosting fundraisers for charity. "I've had close to 500 people on the property," he says, "and never felt overwhelmed."

Every morning presents a new opportunity to appreciate the magnificence of his surroundings. "This house has the nicest energy of any I've ever lived in. I feel so comfortable being here. It has a lot to do with the architect and the design."

"This house has the nicest energy of any I've ever lived in. I feel so comfortable being here."

It also has something to do with Judson's own aesthetic sensibilities. "At certain points, we all wonder what our destiny is," he says. "Mine is to create beauty. The house never looked as good as it does now. When I bought it, there was dark wood everywhere. I didn't want anything dark in the house. Darkness causes depression; people are light sensitive and don't realize it. One of my strengths is taking something dark and making it into a really light environment. I don't overfill my house with furniture; it's one of the biggest mistakes people make. Let your furniture and art be sparse - the house will appear bigger, lighter, and brighter."

He is heartened by the resurgence of interest in his beloved Hollywood, a resurgence he himself has helped generate. "Hollywood is just up and coming again. It only takes a few of us to rehab and people start paying attention. Hollywood is hipper than Beverly Hills as far as I'm concerned. I personally like a diverse community; I graduated Hollywood High, and we represented 45 nations."

Judson feels the old restlessness stirring again, the desire to rescue yet another fine property from extinction. "I need something new to save," he says. "I may find a bigger house, but I doubt I'll ever find a better house."

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