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Rollin B. and Katherine Lane: Hollywood Pioneers

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

HOLLYWOOD PIONEERS

Rollin B. Lane, and a little Hollywood magic

 

Rollin B. Lane

Rollin B. Lane (Photo courtesy of Ripon College Archives)

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

While he is not well-known today, Rollin B. Lane was an early Hollywood resident; an admitted capitalist and philanthropist who donated large sums of money for parks, libraries and orphanages. However, if he is known at all it would be for a street named for his mother, and for the home he built a century ago, which is now one of the oldest still standing in Hollywood. One-hundred years ago Lane named his home the “Holly Chateau” but for the past forty-seven years the public has known it by its more celebrated name – the Magic Castle which celebrates it’s 47th year today!

 

 

 

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Rollin Benjamin Lane was born on May 28, 1854 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the son of Leonard Lane and Olive Pickett. The family home was located on Algoma Street, however his parents divorced (or his father deserted them) and Rollins and his mother moved to nearby Pickett when he was two years old. His maternal grandparents, Armine and Anna Pickett, were pioneer residents of Pickett and Winnebago county.

 

Lane attended school at the old district No. 6 building which was built on land donated by his grandfather. He attended Ripon College and graduated in 1872. Later, he was for five years an associate editor of the old Daily Evening Wisconsin in Milwaukee before settling in Redlands, California in the winter of 1886.

 

There he invested in real estate and owned a 17-acre orange grove. With other investors he established the Union Bank of Redlands, of which he was cashier for five years. In 1890 Lane moved to Portland, Oregon, where he took part in organizing the Multnomah County Bank, of which he was president for three years, selling his interest in 1895.

 

In October 1896, Lane married Katherine Azubah Glynn, a teacher and the author of the fictional, “The Girl from Oshkosh.” Kate was born in March 3, 1864 in Bucktooth, New York to La Fayette Glynn and Mary E. Perry. She was also the great-granddaughter of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the early American naval officer.

 

Lane, an ardent Republican, hastened his wedding to Katherine in order to return to California in time to vote in the presidential election for McKinley. Katherine evidently sympathized and consented to a hurried wedding and the couple left immediately for Redlands. There he purchased a house at the head of Center Street.

 

The Lane’s slowly made their presence known in Hollywood, reportedly moving there around 1902, making friends with influential people of the fairly new community. They attended the formal opening of the new addition to the Hollywood Hotel in 1905. It was during these times that he most likely became acquainted with local real estate icons such as the Whitley’s, Wilcox’s and other Hollywood pioneers.

 

Meanwhile, Lane continued with his California real estate investments including the San Fernando and San Joaquin Valley’s. In 1907, Lane became one of the backers of the new community of Corcoran in central California. Founded by H.J. Whitley, who also had a presence in Hollywood (Whitley Heights, Whitley Avenue), many of his associates in this endeavor were other Hollywood citizens including General H. G. Otis (Los Angeles Times), Arthur Letts (Broadway Department Store), and Dr. Alan Gardner (Gardner Avenue). Much later Corcoran became the location of the California State Prison, home to a number of notable inmates including Charles Manson, Juan Corona and Phil Spector.

 

Already transplanted to Hollywood, Lane began construction in early 1909 on his elegant Holly Chateau at the foot of the Hollywood Hills at 7001 Franklin Avenue. The original house was designed by the architectural firm of Dennis and Farwell in the French “Chateau” or Gothic Renaissance style and adapted from a residence in Redlands known as “Kimberly Crest” which has been preserved as a house museum.

 

Lane house drawing that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on January 23, 1910 

 

A two-story frame and cement plaster house, Holly Chateau has a large basement and a finished attic under a mansard roof. The home initially had seventeen rooms including a roof garden and sun parlor. The basement contained a laundry, fruit and storage rooms and two large gas furnaces which heated the house.

 

The halls, staircase and library were made of quarter-sawed white oak; the dining room was of mahogany and the den in natural redwood and of Turkish design. The parlor was decorated in white enamel with gold decorations in the Louis XV style, while the balance of the house, including the bedrooms and five bathrooms had white enamel finish. A large billiard room occupied the third floor. Other features included French windows, five or six fireplaces and carved mantels.

 

The Lanes shared their wealth with causes that were closest to their hearts. Because of her interest in community parks, Katherine was known as the “Tree Lady.” Lanewood Avenue (named after Lane’s twice-married mother, Olive Pickett Lane-Wood), in Hollywood, is still lined with large pine trees which Katherine most likely planted since the Lane’s once owned the land.

 

Lanewood Avenue, named after Olive Pickett Lane-Wood,  in Hollywood. The pine trees that line the street were most likely planted by Katherine Lane 

 

She was chairman of the tree-planting committee that procured 360 cherry trees from Japan for planting in and around Griffith Park. Working with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Katherine is responsible for the planting of the landmark palm trees that line Wilshire Boulevard.

 

Katherine was elected president of the Hollywood Women’s Club and was also the founder of the Round-the-World Club, Lane Tree Club, Perry Art Club and The Juniors, and a member of the Hollywood Club, Oshkosh Club, Ebell Club, Women’s Press Club, Daughters of the American Revolution and Casa Del Mar. She was also the official hostess to the Wisconsin delegates of the 1932 Olympics, which were held in Los Angeles.

 

The Lane’s adopted a son sometime after moving into the Chateau in 1909. The 1910 census does not mention a son, however in 1920, twelve year-old Rollin B. Lane Jr. appears. Some have assumed that explains a $25,000 donation for the construction of a building for the Los Angeles Children’s Home Society, but not much is known about the adoption.

 

Discord came to the Chateau in mid 1923, when Katherine filed for divorce against her 69 year-old husband. In her complaint she charged cruelty and named another woman, asking for $750 a month in alimony. A restraining order was issued to prevent Lane from removing anything from the house. However, after a meeting between the couple and their lawyers, a reconciliation was arranged and Lane returned to living at 7001 Franklin Avenue. However, it appears that Lane atoned for his sins the following January when he took Katherine and their son on a world cruise. This was followed by a tour of Alaska two years later and another world tour in 1927.

 

The passport photo for the Lane’s first world tour. Rollin, Rollin, Jr and Katherine Lane

 

As the movie industry invaded Hollywood, the Lane’s kept their distance and refused to hobnob with the communities new residents. There have been legends about cowboy star, Tom Mix riding his horse down the mansion’s staircase (this story seems to follow him at several Hollywood residences) but it never happened. Also, the story that actress Janet Gaynor once lived at the Chateau are also false.

 

The closest the Lanes came to acknowledging the entertainment industry was celebrating the birthday of composer, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, which was held at the Chateau for several years. Bond, who also lived in Hollywood, was a songwriter probably best known for composing the wedding standard, “I Love You Truly.”

 

It became Katherine’s custom to celebrate Bond’s birthday with a garden party. During their world cruise in 1924, Katherine was on the Indian Ocean and the ship’s orchestra played “A Perfect Day,” – a Bond composition – and being so far from home, it touched her heart and there she decided that if she reached home safely, she would give flowers to Bond, honoring her living presence instead of her memory.

 

One birthday celebration in particular, August 11, 1925, more than 300 people gathered on the Chateau grounds to observe Bond’s 64th birthday. Among those who attended were George H. Coffin, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce; real estate developer, C. E. Toberman; impresario, L. E. Beyhmer, and many others from Hollywood society. While no film people actually attended the festivities (or were invited), telegrams of felicitations were received from Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and “other celebrities.”

 

In May 1929, Rollin Lane presented his alma-mater, the Ripon College Board of Trustees with $100,000, to be used to build the Lane Library. Lane, his mother-in-law, Mary Glynn and Katherine attended the cornerstone laying ceremony in June 1930.

 

 Unidentified woman, Katherine Lane and Rollin B. Lane at cornestone laying ceremony for the Lane Library at Ripon College (Photo courtesy of Ripon College Archives)

 

 Rollin B. Lane laying the cornerstone of Lane Library at Ripon College (Photo courtesy of Ripon College Archives)

 

The year before Lane gave $20,000 for the construction of a new school building and auditorium in his hometown of Pickett, named the Armine and Anna Pickett Memorial School, after his maternal grandparents. Today it’s known as the Pickett Community Center. “It was quite the party when he came back to dedicate it,” said Mary Callies, researcher and treasurer of the Center. “There were endless parties; everyone wanted to be with someone who knew somebody in Hollywood.”

 

Day-to-day life, though slower, continued at Holly Chateau for the Lane’s. Around 1936, Lane became ill and rarely left the house. On August 23, 1940, Rollin B. Lane died of a stroke in a small corner bedroom of the Chateau. He was 86 years-old. Funeral services were held at the Hollywood Cemetery Chapel and burial was in the family plot next to his mother.

 

Katherine continued to live at 7001 Franklin Avenue until her death at the Glendale Sanitarium on December 9, 1945. She was buried at Hollywood Cemetery between her husband and her mother (who is unmarked).

 

 

Lane family marker

 The Lane family plot at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Below are individual markers for  Rollin B. Lane, Katherine Lane and Olive Pickett Lane-Wood (Photos: Allan R. Ellenberger)

 

Rollin B. Lane marker

 

 

Katherine Lane marker

 

 

Olive Lane-Wood marker

 

 

During the years after Katherine’s death, the Chateau was divided into a multi-family home, then it was a home for the elderly and lastly it was altered into a jumble of small apartments. In 1950, Harry Stafford, a stage and screen actor, died in one of the rooms. The Holly Chateau stayed in the Lane family until it was sold to Thomas Glover in 1955.

 

The fate of the house was in question until Milt Larsen, a writer on the NBC game show, Truth or Consequences and his brother William, obtained the house for use as a club for magicians – a long-time dream of their father. After months of restoration, the Lane mansion was transformed into what is known today as the Magic Castle.

 

Forty-seven years ago today (January 2, 1963) at 5 pm, the Magic Castle opened its doors to members. It became a mysterious mansion with secret panels, a piano played by a ghost and weird overtones of magic. The mystifying features of the place began with the entrance, a secret panel known but to members. The “Invisible Irma” room boasts a regular piano and plays tunes at a verbal command.

 

Original posters of Houdini, the Mysterious Dante, the Great Leon, Thurston’s “Wonder Show of the Earth” and Brush, “King of Wizards,” decorated the Blackstone Room, where card tables are provided for sleight-of-hand experts.

 

 

The mansion has been altered since the days that the Lane’s lived there – both inside and out. Street lamps that adorn the driveway once dotted the original Victoria Pier in Venice. Decorative cast iron frieze work on the canopy overhanging the door was part of the entrance to the Masonic temple at Wilshire and La Brea. Paneling in the main dining room was taken from the shutters of the Norma Talmadge Building that used to stand on Sunset. And the chandeliers in the Palace of Mystery once hung in the first Bullock’s in Southern California. 

 

What would Rollin and Katherine Lane think of the transformation of their mansion? The room where Rollin Lane died is now the Houdini Séance room – perhaps one day Rollin will attend (or already has) to whatever goes on there and make his thoughts known. In any event, the only way you can see this magical place is if you know a member. If you ever have the chance, take it. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Special thanks to George W. Siegel, the architectural historian for the Magic Castle and to Bill Goodwin, librarian and Lisa Cousins of the Magic Castle for their help with this article.

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