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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.).

_________________________________________

 

13 Responses

  1. Christine Davis Says:

    Allan, you never cease to amaze me. I’ve been looking everywhere for even a mere mention of the Normandie Village ever since John Gilmore told me about it. I couldn’t find anything…but of course, you did!! Kudos, my friend!!
    _______________________________
    Oh good I’m so glad. Wish I had more info.

  2. Harry Martin Says:

    Loved this post!

  3. patricia Says:

    Dear Allan,
    I hope you got my grateful reply by regular email, but i just wanted to thank you again for your amazing research! Seeing the photo after all these years brought back a lot of forgotten memories, and, to my surprise, i find i’m writing a short story about Life at Normandie Village! Other question may appear, but for now, many thanks! patricia.
    ____________________________
    Hi Patricia, you are welcome. I will reply to your email shortly. Thank you.

  4. John Gilmore Says:

    I lived at Normandie Village on two occasions: I had a room there in late ’52, then later a two story apartment in ’54-’55, while acting in movies and TV. This was the days of the slipping crown of the Hollywood Studio System. The Village had so many winding stone walkways, so many seemingly endless parties; actors, starlets, artistds, writers. The Village was almost directly across the street from Ciro’s. in ’59 I lived at the Park Sunset, directly next door (east) of Normanie Village. Tops Restaurant was in the Park Sunset where I met Mickey Cohen who’d grab a bite with his body guard. We had some interesting talks. I waqs seeing Jean Seberg at the time. Otto Preminger’s office was also in the Park Sunset. Glad to see the picture of Patricia–I remember the kids and I knew a girl who lived there and babysat them once in a while. Thanks.

  5. Charles Brown Says:

    I lived in Normandy Village as a child in the late 40s. It was a great place. I seem to remember Ciro’s night club being across the street or maybe it was the Macombo. At night it was fun to sneak up to Sunset and watch the stars arrive for a night of partying.

  6. Dorian Says:

    Wow, I’m so pleased to have come across this page as a result of one of my occasional Google searches over the years on Normandie Village that so far had never turned anything up! I too lived there as a small child, from about 1959-1961 and it’s a place that has figured largely in my memories ever since – I loved it there, have never forgotten it, and I felt gutted when I returned to Los Angeles in the early 70s and found it had been torn down. It was a great place for small-child adventures, with the fairytale buildings, bamboo ponds and the enormous unpaved parking lot at the back that I thought looked like the surface of the Moon (which, from the above article, sounds like it must have been what was left after the back part of the village burned down!). I don’t remember girls called Patricia or Heather, so maybe they’d moved away by the time I lived there, but the kids my age who became my friends when I lived there were Sarah, Timmy, and three siblings Roy, Susan and Pamela. (I was called Doreen at the time, but changed my name when I grew up.) I lived there with my mother, a struggling aspiring actress, and we too were broke, so it was fantastic that we were able to afford to live in such a wonderful place. The tenants were mostly aspiring show business people and artists, and it was a wonderful arty, Bohemian atmosphere. Wish I had a time machine and could go back! My Google search today finally turned up a photo of it, wish I could find more: http://www.latimes.com/classified/realestate/la-hm3_iy1hzvnc,0,956968.photo . Thank you for this great article and the trip down memory lane!

  7. Jeff Hanna Says:

    Allan:
    You are amazing. I too have long tried to find information about Normandie Village after a pal who lived in West Hollywood in the 50’s told me about it.
    At a website devoted to Los Angeles history and archtecture that I frequent, “Noirish Los Angeles” (skyscraper page forum), NOBODY had ever heard of Normandie Village or had any info. about it.
    The link to the L.A. Times photo so kindly supplied by “Dorian” shows just how picturesque and fascinating it was. The friend who told me about Normandie Village is an expert on celebrities of yesteryear and said that the actor Harald Ramond (odd spelling, I know), who impregnated Lupe Velez before she committed suicide in 1944, shared an apartment there with another man, presumably a lover.
    Thank you – and love your blog.
    ______________________________________
    THANKS JEFF!

  8. Michael Says:

    Is the abandoned apartment building next to the abandoned high rise Petersen Building part of the Normandie Village? Its location appears to be 8474 Sunset. The Grafton Hotel next door looks like a 1970s hotel and I’d presume it’s the Sunset Americana. Its address is 8462 Sunset, the old address of the Park Sunset.

    Just wondering.

  9. Leslie Salmon-Zhu Says:

    I learned that my biological father, Lee Hewitt, was the manager of Normandie Village and that’s how he and my mother met. This would hae been around 1953-54? The story from there gets pretty “Hollywood” so I’ll leave it at that! But my mother used to tell me that life in the VIllage was insanely exciting with all the movie stars and the “wanna be” stars constantly visiting. This past week, I went in search of the address, not knowing about the fire, the subsequent buiding plans and subsequent buildings torn down again and again… and lo and behold, all there is is….a very steep and barren hillside, protected with fencing and no address….again. So that’s the latest update on where Normandie Village used to be. No 8474 address that we could find, even through multiplle drive
    -bys. thank you SO much for this site and blog. I had no idea this existed until googling my father’s hotel/apartments~

  10. Mike Freddy Says:

    Actor Mark Goddard recently revealed that this was the first place he lived when he moved to Hollywood in 1959. You may remember Mark from his role as Don West in Lost in Space. If you’d like to learn more about him please join our Facebook group The Mark Goddard Appreciation Society.

  11. Heather stanton Says:

    Patricia, I am your pal in the picture!,,

  12. tovangar2 Says:

    There’s about 15 or 20 seconds of footage of Normandie Village in this 10 minute 1920s architecture tour of Hollywood video

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuCjQrGKPpU#t=16

    Normandie Villiage appears at about the 3:15 mark

  13. Walter Says:

    My grandfather designed the apartment village.

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