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The Saga of Janes House

On Hollywood Boulevard, there is one last vestige of residential architecture: the home of pioneering sisters Mabel, Carrie, and Grace Janes. Now, No Vacancy cocktail bar.

In 1905, the trio moved with their parents Herman and Mary Janes from Illinois into this majestic Queen Anne on Prospect Avenue, as it was then known—built in 1903 by none other than H. J. Whitley, the Father of Hollywood. Its architects, Dennis & Farwell, also designed the Rollin B. Lane estate, now the famous Magic Castle.

Described as “one of the most artistic dwellings” by the Los Angeles Times, it has curved rooms on three sides, stone facade on the first floor, and a porch that’s both recessed and protruding.

The 10 interior rooms were finished in Tahoe pine, white cedar, slash-grained Oregon pine, and Flemish oak.

Under the shade of walnut trees, date palms, and remnants of an orange grove, the sisters operated the Misses Janes School, educating local children, including those of Cecil B. DeMille and Charlie Chaplin for a monthly tuition of $5. Opened in 1911 as a kindergarten, the school eventually expanded through 8th grade.

Miss Carrie, the principal, and teachers Miss Mabel and Miss Grace shared the duty of picking up students and returning them home—either via the Hollywood Boulevard streetcar (east), the family’s electric car (south), or a pony with wicker cart (west).

To the community, the three sisters were popular hostesses who delightfully decorated the mansion for tea parties, bridal showers, holiday gatherings, even a meeting to establish the Hollywood Bowl.

After their parents and eldest brother passed (the latter from “acute mania”), the sisters shuttered the school and in 1929 youngest sibling Donald turned the playground into Janes Auto Service, a filling station and parking lot.

The only sister to marry was Carrie, who at 43 wed Ernest Collier, preceded down the aisle by a bridal party of her pupils in 1931. Following the ceremony, 200 people returned to the Janes home on Hollywood Boulevard for a reception.

Every anniversary, the couple celebrated with a dinner party—Carrie decked out in her ivory satin wedding gown—until Ernest’s death in 1964.

By that time, the decaying mansion had fallen into such disrepair, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce pushed city officials to demolish the blight on the boulevard. For two years, whenever inspectors came by, the shut-in Janes refused to open the door. All they had was the family home—and they promised their father on his death bed that they would never sell it.

“People are always bothering us, trying to get us to sell,” a disheveled Grace, 76, told the Los Angeles Times in 1967. “It’s hard staying here with taxes the way they are. Sometimes we don’t have enough to eat…They put those stars in the sidewalk, and charged us for them—why in the old days, we had the real stars in here! My sisters and I did more for Hollywood that any of these people they’re always talking about, the Hollywood Bowl crowd.”

Looking at her home, now a mess of peeling paint and decaying wood, Grace recalled its glory days. “They called it the castle. It was the best house in Hollywood…We’ll leave, all right, when we’re ready.”

Janes House in 1974

After seven decades in the Victorian mansion on Hollywood Boulevard, one by one the elderly Janes siblings permanently vacated, beginning with the 1971 death of Grace, 80. Carrie, Mabel, and Donald weren’t alone though—handyman Guy Miller acted as their caretaker, although his capabilities were in question.

Carrie, dressed in tattered clothes, occasionally ventured out into the yard strewn with broken kindergarten chairs, only to draw gawkers. In 1975, she broke her hip while shooing away tourists.

When Carrie returned home, a case worker came by and their official report painted a grim picture: The handyman had taken over an upstairs bedroom, while Carrie slept in a window box in the kitchen, along with Mabel, 93, who during the visit took a paper plate from the oven that had dried-up pieces of potato on it, “and ate these in front of us.” Scattered throughout the musty house were old coloring books, magazines, even a model train set.

At this, a judge appointed the youngest of the bunch, Donald, 77, to be conservator of his two sisters. But he needed help, and relied heavily on friend Dorothea Elliott to run errands and do other chores around the house.

Eventually, Donald signed over his part of the estate, $128,000 (worth a half-million today) to Dorothea—and seven days later, he was dead.

Next, Mabel, 97, was moved into Dorothea’s house. Like Donald, she also signed over her portion of the estate, and soon after, in 1979 she too was dead.

Carrie was now the last surviving Janes … and Dorothea was named her conservator. Still, the elderly woman (and her cat, Baby) remained in the historic home, which she kept warm by leaving the stove on at all times.

Then one day in March 1982, she asked to see a doctor for a sore elbow. Dorothea picked her up for the appointment—and moved her right into a rest home in Studio City. With Carrie out of the Hollywood mansion, it could now be sold to the highest bidder. Almost immediately, Dorothea (and her lawyer Kenneth Petrello, later disbarred by the state of California) put Janes House on the market, with the understanding that it would likely be razed as the land it sat on was worth much more. At the time, it was estimated at $500,000 ... more than $1.5 million in 2022, with inflation.

As it awaited a buyer, Carrie begged to return home. A protest was even staged in support, but Dorothea and Petrello still refused. To pay the $55 daily fee at the rest home, Dorothea sold off much of Carrie’s furniture.

Sitting in her room with handyman-turned-friend Guy Miller, the frail 94-year-old woman was left with only a scrapbook from her wedding day 50 years earlier. “I wouldn’t think of staying here,” she told the Los Angeles Times in October 1982. “I want to stay at my own kind of place. I’m going to go home.” She didn’t. Three months later, Carrie Belle Janes Collier died at the rest home, just a few miles from the only place she had known for 80 years.

With the fate of Janes House in limbo, local preservationists fought to save it, led by Hollywood Heritage. Through state funds and private backers, the group secured $600,000 to purchase the historic residence (and turn it into a cultural center), but at the 11th hour in January 1984, Dorothea and Petrello, the executors of the estate, pulled the plug on the deal. Their reasoning? Concerns that Hollywood Heritage didn’t actually have the money. So they put the house back on the market .. for $695,000.

However, all the delays only backfired: It gave preservationists plenty of time to have Janes House designated a cultural landmark. Now, if the new owner wanted to tear it down, they must apply for a permit, and wait a full 365 days. And that was a major turnoff to prospective buyers.

In an effort to “get this to a head,” Dorothea took out a demolition permit that February, which was immediately appealed by Hollywood Heritage and the city put a 180-day hold on her request.

All the while, Miller continued to live in the dilapidated house, so overgrown with ivy it crept into the windows. He had promised Carrie he would fight to protect it, and he did, although it felt like a loosing battle.

“Janes House is to Hollywood what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.” — Guy Miller

After several failed deals, Dorothea and Petrello finally accepted an offer in August 1984 for $540,000 cash, much less than they had hoped. Fearing the potential new owner, Parviz Ebrahimian, would tear down the house or relocate it, thus severing its historic connection to Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood Heritage raised enough funds to outbid him. However, Ebrahimian raised the stakes to $600,000, which they could not match.

Fortunately, hope was not lost: Janes House remained intact, yet set back on the property and incorporated into development plans for Janes House Square, a 14,000-square-foot commercial complex of similar Victorian architecture.

In September 1985, the residence was carefully hoisted from 6541 Hollywood Boulevard and moved just slightly over to 1727 N. Hudson Avenue—but not before Miller climbed in at the last moment to retrieve Carrie’s wedding photo and a Misses Janes School ledger. Just as Grace had claimed back in 1967, the 80-year-old structure was “surprisingly sturdy,” reported the Times.

A year later in September 1986, Janes House Square opened, with the first floor of the historic residence serving as the Hollywood visitors bureau.

Janes House, moved back from Hollywood Boulevard, in 1987 (LAPL)

In 2004, Southern comfort came to Southern California with Memphis restaurant, until 2009 when the space turned over to MyHouse nightclub.

Since 2013, Janes House has been home to No Vacancy, a meticulously-restored speakeasy that truly feels like stepping back in time. On any given night, the entertainment can be anything from a music showcase to tight rope act or burlesque performance. Owners Jonnie and Mark Houston, whose Houston Hospitality also operate Black Rabbit Rose, Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, and Break Room 86, are typically inspired by their travels abroad, but didn’t have to go far for this concept.

“No Vacancy is closer to our hearts,” Mark told Time Out LA in 2014. “We’re paying homage to Old Hollywood and what the bar once was—a house built in the early 1900s. We restored the house as much as we could and brought it back to life with every little detail from the knobs to the antique wallpapers from the 1930s. The redesign and restoration was a history lesson of LA and its culture throughout the years. It feels like you walked into Old Hollywood with classic cocktails and old-school entertainment.”

1 Yorum

31 Ağu 2023

I lived in the house for awhile while Guy remained there,when Guy was finishing up all the paperwork. Can anyone get me in touch with him ? It would be great to see him again.

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