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Baine Building: Hollywood’s First Penthouse

Harry Baine is best remembered for organizing the Santa Claus Lane tradition—but he was also known as “Hollywood’s Penthouse Hermit.”

Baine Studio Building 1927
Baine Studio Building in 1927 (California State Library)

In 1926, the widowed businessman hired architects Henry L. Gogerty and Carl Jules Weyl to build the three-story Baine Studio Building at Hollywood Boulevard and Whitley Avenue: a bank and shops on the first floor, offices on the second … and his own penthouse on the third.

When the Spanish Revival building opened its doors in March 1927, it was praised for raising the architectural standards of Hollywood Boulevard. The ornamental wrought-iron grills at the doorways and arched windows was done by J. C. Kubic, who previously worked on the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce at the exotic Garden of Allah. Inside, the hand-painted accents on the walls, ceilings, and hallways was carried out by Stefan Horbaczek, then known for decorating the Ambassador Hotel’s ballroom, lobby of the Country Club Manor apartments, and concert scenery for the Hollywood Bowl.

The early tenants of the Baine Building made it a point to complement the artistry in their respective suites. Merchants National Trust and Savings Bank, who occupied the main space at 6601 Hollywood Boulevard, installed brown walnut fixtures and private booths with superior lighting and ventilation. Hamilton Shoe Company (6607 Hollywood) and sportswear shop Friend Inc. (6609 Hollywood), both featured remarkable woodwork. The shop at 1711 Whitley Avenue offered the finest in women’s fashions courtesy of hat importer Madame du Barry and designer Anna Jane Miner.

On the second floor, Watson and Son tailors—a favorite of actor Basil Rathbone—turned their corner suite into an English clubhouse complete with a cozy fireplace, “affording customers a quiet place to rest and read while waiting for a fitting,” explained the Los Angeles Citizen News on March 4, 1927.

On the third floor, an “uninteresting door” in a “dark corner” shrouded Baine’s private penthouse, outfitted with a buzzer and intercom to confirm a guest’s identity. If admitted, a walk led to a roof garden with a well and an area he dubbed the “backyard.” When the Los Angeles Citizen News profiled Baine in 1932—the year he replaced the late J. Don Mahaffey as Los Angeles County Supervisor—the space also featured a life-size dummy of Douglas Fairbanks, dressed in a costume from his 1927 film The Gaucho. Baine hoped it would be the first in a collection honoring his favorite motion picture stars.

Harry Baine penthouse garden
Baine's roof garden with well (far right)

Through a second door with a custom-designed knocker, the 2-bathroom penthouse opened into a massive 17x-27 living room overlooking the street that Baine was so instrumental in developing as the longtime president of the Hollywood Boulevard Association.

Described as “an ancient castle furnished with modern taste,” it was as artistic as the building’s lower floors, with marble floors and porcelain birds affixed to walls hand-painted with images representing “the dreams of an ambitious man”: castles in the air, women, and “rewards of the hunt.”

Baine Building penthouse
The penthouse's living room measures 17x27 (CA State)

Life in seclusion high over one of the most famous streets in the world was in fact Baine’s dream, he told the Citizen News. “Hollywood Boulevard is my home and I expect it to be until I die, perhaps with my shoes on.”

However, within three years the penthouse was listed for rent—$125/month, all utilities included—when Baine did not win re-election as Supervisor in 1934 and returned to his previous residence at 529 S. Virgil Avenue and worked as a tax counselor. After years of health woes, Baine died from pneumonia at his home on Virgil Avenue in March 1945. Two years earlier, his son Harry Jr., known as Bud, had been captured by the Japanese while serving in the U.S. Army and perished in a prison camp. In 1951, his youngest daughter Ellen, 31, was found unconscious in her Hollywood Hills home by her boarder Arthur L. Hill. Coincidentally, when she died the next day, he inherited her entire $60,000 estate... right down to her dog. An autopsy ruled Ellen had succumbed to “barbituate poisoning” and her elder sister Alma dragged Hill to court to contest the will.

Harry Baine in 1932
Los Angeles County Supervisor Harry Baine in 1932 (UCLA)

Over the years, Baine’s penthouse in the Hollywood-Whitley Building, as it was renamed, was rented out to several occupants, with the longest lease belonging to vocal coach Ralph Thomas, self-proclaimed “maker of singers.”

By that time, in the 1950s, the bank at 6601 Hollywood had also changed to Bank of America—yet Hamilton Shoe Company remained popular more than two decades later. 

6601 Hollywood in 1952
6601 Hollywood in 1952 (Julius Shulman / J. Paul Getty)

Today, the Baine Building—a contributor to the Hollywood Boulevard Commercial and Entertainment District—is a far cry from its original grandeur. The ornamental wrought-iron is long gone. The windows are covered in spray paint. In place of the elegant bank adorned with marble and chandeliers, 6601 Hollywood is now Station Food Market, seller of junk food and lottery tickets.


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