Miniview: The Charlie, Los Angeles

    150 150 Daniel Fountain
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    Menachem Treivush was just strolling through the quiet back streets off Melrose Avenue with his son when he happened across an old decaying mansion that caught his eye. Amid the neighborhood of post modern split levels, dingbat apartment buildings, and beige tile-roofed Spanish revivals, 819 North Sweetzer stood out for its quaint Tudor style architecture.

    In Los Angeles, there is little necessity to recycle urban terrain in order to clear the way for progress because of the city’s simple ability to continually sprawl, allowing eras of architecture to coexist rather than supplant one another. English cottages became a relatively popular building style in the 1920s and remain not uncommon today.
    “It was a squirrel empire,” Treivush said of the mansion when he first viewed it, indicating that it had been essentially abandoned to the elements for years and had become inhabited by all manner of suburban critters. Yet Treivush said that amid its cracking walls and façade, its bowing floors and broken ceilings, he could sense a mesmerizing aura of history begging to be restored.

    “It just took me back, everything about the property brought me back to that era of old Hollywood,” Treivush said. “The property is alive not dead. Some places you feel nothing when you walk into a place. But this was a world where the walls talk to you, where you feel like you belong to the spirits.”

    Treivush’s initial impressions turned out to be prescient. The property, he soon discovered, had been built and occupied by the silent film star and Hollywood icon Charlie Chaplin. And behind its unassuming frontage along Sweetzer, it actually was deceivingly large, stretching nearly through the block with a carpool and garden attached. What looks at first glance like a large two story Tudor mansion is actually a series of contiguous duplex cottages that Chaplin used as a place to work and live and that Treivush said he would rent out or loan to a revolving cast of stars such as his friend Rudolf Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlene Dietrich, among others.

    The property’s heritage as a Hollywood celebrity hideaway lives on today. Having turned the mansion into a boutique hotel, that he appropriately named The Charlie, Treivush says the place’s charms, which captivated him at first glance in spite of its initial condition, have caught on with a new generation of stars now that he has finished its meticulous restoration. Robert Pattinson has been a guest and Liv Tyler stayed for months as a renter, gushing that the secluded spot was one of the few places she could parade around the grounds in pajamas without having to contend with the paparazzi.

    The property’s reinvention represents the fruit of five and half years of labor. Treivush, who became wealthy in the apparel business, had always had an appreciation for architecture he said, but decided to get into real estate only after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the early 2000s, a reminder of his mortality that prompted him to finally engage his lifelong interest. He bought residential and commercial properties in Los Angeles, including retail buildings along Melrose.

    Daniel Fountain / 13.04.2011

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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