Hayvenhurst c. 1917 - woman on balcony is likely Katherine Hay
Hayvenhurst c. 1917 – woman on balcony is likely Katherine Hay

Crescent Heights

In 1909 William Hay, a wealthy 45-year-old real-estate entrepreneur, went on a honeymoon cruise around the world with his second wife, Katherine Edmondson. Along the way they collected decorative items and finishes — a shipment of Circassian walnut paneling, for example. They planned to incorporate these exotic elements into the design of the dream home they were planning in Hay’s latest residential development, Crescent Heights.

William Hamilton Hay

Construction on the home began in mid-1912. Ten months later, the Times reported on its progress in a story headlined, “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 development was 160 acres bounded by trolley lines at the north and south, Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard respectively. Its east-west boundaries were Fairfax (then called Crescent) Avenue and Hayvenhurst Drive (now spelled Havenhurst), a new street Hay named after himself, as he did with Hayworth Avenue a few blocks away.

Most of the homes in Crescent Heights were marketed to middle-class buyers, but Hay set aside the south side of Sunset Boulevard for a row of mansions. He reserved the largest lot, two-and-a-half acres in the northwestern corner of the neighborhood, at Sunset and Hayvenhurst, for himself. It was there that he and Katherine built their estate. They called it Hayvenhurst.

Not long after they moved in, they decided to build another new home, reportedly a larger house on a smaller lot at Sunset and Hayworth (where the Director’s Guild building is today). Hay had trouble selling Hayvenhurst. After it sat empty for a while, he allowed the Red Cross to use it as their local headquarters during the war.

Alla in Hollywood

Alla, Charles and their small entourage arrived in Los Angeles, in October 1918, just as the war was ending. 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 and Charles scoured the city for suitable digs. At that time actors and Jews were not welcomed in the new planned community of Beverly Hills. Movie people lived in the hills around Silver Lake, which was close to studios in Edendale and Downtown, or in stately mansions in West Adams.

By the time they toured Hayvenhurst, the Red Cross had vacated the house. The Hays were having trouble selling it once again. Downtown was six miles east, and the estate’s remoteness may have depressed interest. 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 farmhouses; to the west Japanese gardeners leased land for their plant nurseries. The rutted-out dirt road that would one day be the Sunset Strip terminated at the country estate of a Belgian immigrant whose heirs would develop his land into Sunset Plaza, the Strip’s upscale shopping and dining district.

From Alla’s perspective, the location of Hayvenhurst was ideal. Metro had built its West Coast studio on Cahuenga Boulevard near Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, just two traffic-free miles east. Downtown Hollywood was starting to bustle. The earliest incarnation of today’s Musso & Frank Restaurant would open the following year.

Hayvenhurst’s luxurious house and lush gardens counterbalanced the remoteness and rusticity. The estate offered the refinement of her apartment at Hotel des Artistes in Manhattan in a setting as bucolic as her country home, Who-Torok. She took a lease on the house right away.

In moving to Crescent Heights at the western border of Hollywood in 1918, Nazimova pioneered the movie colony’s migration west from Hollywood. It was a year later that Douglas Fairbanks Jr. bought a hunting lodge on Summit Drive that he and Mary Pickford would later transform into Pickfair, an estate as famous in its era as the White House. But Nazimova blazed the trail westward from Hollywood.

The luxurious house and lush gardens counterbalanced the remoteness and rusticity. In Hayvenhurst she found the refinement of her apartment at Hotel des Artistes in Mahnattan in a setting as bucolic as Who-Torok. She took a lease on the house right away.

Over the next few months, Nazimova spent about $30,000 — a half-million dollars today – on improvements. She added a terrace with an aviary, a rose garden and masses of semitropicals — mimosa, birds of paradise and poinsettia — but left the orange grove, lily pond, cedars and palms as she found them.

She was fully ensconced by mid-December. Around that time she told Los Angeles Times reporter Grace Kingsley, “Yes, I’ve a wonderful home out near Laurel Canyon, where there are a swimming pool and five fireplaces and even chickens in the back yard by day and mocking birds by night. And please say that I’m tremendously happy to be in California.”