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Fire at the Normandie Village Apartments

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jan 3rd, 2011
2011
Jan 3

READERS REQUEST

The Normandie Village Apartments

 

 

The Sunset Strip — where the Normandie Village Apartments

once stood near the upper left part of the photo

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

I love the challenge when a reader requests information about an old landmark or some obscure Hollywood institution. That happened the other day when Patricia asked about an old apartment complex she lived in as a child called The Normandie Village:

 

“Hi, I am trying to find out about a complex of Hollywood bungalows from the late 40′s early 50′s called Normandy or Nomandie Village. I believe it was on, or near Sunset Blvd. It cannot have been expensive because we lived there when my family was very broke. There was a fire, probably in 1953 or 1954? I was only 4 or 5, but I remember it, and that a neighbor and I ended up in a photo in the Los Angeles Times. I doubt that the complex survived at all, but I would love to see any old photos, and just to know the street address it was at!”  — Patricia

 

Well, when she mentioned the Nomandie Village, I knew exactly what she was referring to – a jumble of peaked-roof French Provincial apartments that at one time drove up its chimneys and shingles from the cascading hillside on the Sunset Strip. I couldn’t find any real photographs of the Normandie, which stood at 8474 Sunset Boulevard, but discovered that a fire did occur there in 1955. And there along with the story, just as she said, was a photo of two little girls – and one of them was named Patricia.

 

Built in the 1920s, the Normandie Village competed with the Garden of Allah, farther east on the strip, for Hollywood-type history. In the apartments clustered amid vine-covered pathways that made the Normandie Village resemble medieval suburbia of Marseilles or Toulon, great stars of silent movies and the new “talkies” lived, partied and nervously waited out “between pictures” idleness.

 

There are many stories that circulated about the Normandie but no one can know for sure if some of them are true. One story claims that actor John Barrymore sent an architect to Europe to study French Provincial architecture and that he designed the Normandie Village’s high-peaked buildings as replicas of what he saw on his tour.

 

Over the years, the Normandie was home to many film stars. Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, did his last writing at the Village. Richard Dix, an aspiring young actor, checked in there about 1924 when he arrived from New York to seek employment in films.

 

Myrna Loy and Billie Dove, two of the Hollywood’s film queens, lived there. Jimmy Stewart once recalled in a Saturday Evening Post story how he and Henry Fonda lived at the Normandie Village in their early Hollywood days.

 

Not only was the Village the scene of some Babylonian bashes, but nearby, according to unofficial history, Charlie Chaplin had a private “key club” for close friends.

 

The fire that Patricia referred to coincidentally occurred in the early morning hours of January 4, 1955 – 56 years ago tomorrow! A cigarette burning in the upholstery of a garaged car was blamed for the fire that destroyed the garage, ten parked cars and 24 of the 55-units of the Sunset Strip apartment building. The fire ravaged the rear half of the Normandie, but all the tenants, including about 25 children, escaped the fires without injury.

 

 

Of those 25 children, were Heather Harzley and Patricia Ann Deberck. Like the other children who had escaped, they clutched their most prized belongings. Someone asked Patricia Ann where she lived. “We lived in Apartment 21,” she said somberly, “but it isn’t there anymore.” The following photo appeared in the Los Angeles Times, just as Patricia remembered.

 

 

The Normandie Village was inhabited for another seven years until it was sold in 1962 to make way for a proposed 22-story hotel to be called the Hollywood Thunderbird. However, the hotel never happened and the Normandie stood vacant for another eight years until it was finally razed for the Sunset Americana, a residential hotel which was built in 1973. I haven’t had a chance to check out the sight currently, but a trip to Google Maps once again shows a vacant lot at the address (8474 Sunset Blvd.).

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