In the summer of 2016, a house that had largely remained unchanged for decades was sold for a princely sum: a whopping $5.85 million. The 5,100-square-foot property in Beverly Hills, California, had been featured in countless films and TV shows over the years, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that it really started attracting attention from Hollywood filmmakers. The year was 1915, and movie studios were keen to experiment with new technologies – such as cinema – that could rival the realism of live theatre. The result was groundbreaking cinematography and acting that laid the groundwork for the “film noir” movement.
An Early Experiment In Cinema
The first film to feature the Beverly Hills house was an early masterpiece by an up-and-coming director named John Ford. Entitled The Informer, its narrative follows a man who discovers that the wife he loves is actually a ruthless criminal mastermind who has been brainwashing him into betraying his friends. The way Ford photographed the house in close-up detail and used lighting to create shadows on the walls is unparalleled in cinema history.
A King Among Filmmakers
The Informer was followed by a string of classics that are now considered pivotal to the film noir movement, including Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, and Out of the Past. These films are notable for their dark atmospheres and plot twists that are set within the confines of the beautiful yet oppressive villas and estates that Hollywood landowners were building at the time. Ford himself went on to build a similar villa in the mid-1930s and called it the Glenboro Palace.
Hollywood’s Oldest Standing House
The film noir movement really took off in the early 1940s, and the subsequent popularity of the Villa Capricorn in Pacific Palisades, California – which was featured in several noirs from that time – saw the construction of a number of similar buildings in the Hollywood Hills. The period also saw the creation of the first neighborhood watch groups, whose members were often called upon to patrol their local estates at night.
A Design Legend
The villa style would go on to influence generations of Hollywood creatives, from directors to set designers, who continue to this day to enjoy re-creating its unique look and feel. In fact, it’s hard to find a Hollywood icon that doesn’t feature a villa or an estate of some kind.
A Room With A View
The villa style’s biggest admirers are probably filmmakers from the latter part of the 20th century, who embraced the building’s distinctive mix of historic architecture and modern-day comforts, such as swimming pools and rooftop terraces. The most recent example of this affinity for luxury living is the Beverly Hills house itself, which was completely restored and renovated by an architect named Harry Hussey Jr. When it came to selecting which room to make the main residence, he opted for the one with the view: the 360-degree rooftop terrace, complete with outdoor furniture and a decorative gas fireplace.
A Filmography That Numbers Over 100
Even if you’ve never heard of the Villa Capricorn, you’ve probably seen its cinematic counterpart. It’s featured prominently in some of the most iconic films of all time, appearing in both the foreground and the background, often doubling for both locations. Most notably, it’s the setting for the final scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece The Birds, where the lonely Scottie (played by Tippi Hedren) stands at the edge of the pool, looking out over the lights of Los Angeles at night in a state of melancholy reflection.
A Beautiful, Dark House
Hollywood really came into its own in the post-war era, and the Villa Capricorn’s popularity as a background location didn’t slip over the years. It continued appearing in hit films such as Chinatown, Midnight Cowboy, and The Godfather, often standing in for the more famous homes that the characters live in, such as the Walkers’ mansion in The Godfather, or the Bates family’s elegant home in Psycho.
The Iconic Dressing Room
One of the most striking features of the villa is its opulence, which is reflected not only in the grand scale of the rooms but also in the design details, such as decorative molding and wallpaper. In addition to its cinematic legacy, the Beverly Hills house also boasted a well-designed bathroom that was featured in Elle magazine, and a dressing room that was used by Grace Kelly in the classic 1954 film The Country Girl, where she plays the role of a rich widow, living in a grand house in Malibu with her two children. The room is a veritable inspiration for any fashion stylings.
An Ingenious Way To Game
It was in the 1950s that gaming really started to become a way of life for the Hollywood elite. Several game rooms were built into the villas, complete with billiards, ping pong, and various other tables for darts, dominoes, or mahjongg. One of the most ingenious ways of playing these days is the Mario Party series, which puts a new spin on traditional games by integrating them with modern elements such as the touchscreen panel, video chat, and a living room vibe. The result is a hybrid between a board game and an app: a truly immersive, interactive experience that feels like being inside a real-life video game.
A Place To Retreat
The film and TV industries really came into their own in the digital age, and the desire for more intimate story arcs and character studies led to an increase in one-on-one interviews and the production of documentaries.
While the spotlight may have shifted to the Big Apple, with its bustling streets and endless attractions, Los Angeles still has Hollywood, which is a place where stars can go to be themselves. It’s an ideal place to retreat and take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, surrounded by nature and with plenty of room for privacy. The city really does have something for everyone.