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Tragic Tale of Hollywood’s First Art Director

Hollywood’s first art director is the architect behind a local masterpiece: Las Orquideas villas on Orchid Avenue, just east of the Magic Castle.

Orchid Avenue villas
Las Orquideas nestled in the Hollywood Hills, 1929 (USC)

Wilfred Buckland—who worked extensively with Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Lasky—built the Spanish Colonial Revival complex, a recreation of his favorite hillside village in Andalusia, in 1928. The nine units feature double-volume living rooms, balcony dining rooms, arched entryways, stained glass, and rooftop terraces.

The previous year, Buckland concluded his prolific film career. Lauded as “the founder of Hollywood Cinema Art,” he’s credited with the introduction of artificial lighting (which allowed for interior shoots) and architectural sets.

His crowning achievement: the epic castle in 1922’s Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks.

In 1914, DeMille and Lasky brought Buckland to Hollywood from New York to work on The Squaw Man, based on his portfolio as an art director for Broadway producer David Belasco. He quickly became so in-demand, in a single year he supervised 56 motion pictures. “As a consequence, the art director becomes an architect, or perhaps merely a scenic artist, instead of the illustrator of the dramatic story,” he lamented in 1922.

Buckland, his actress-wife Veda, and their son Billy lived at 1905 Orchid for several years before moving around the corner to a rented home on Pinehurst Road, next door to songwriter Carrie-Jacobs Bond.

Veda’s 1941 death devastated Billy: He suffered a nervous breakdown and was in and out of institutions. As 80-year-old Buckland feared his own impending death, he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Billy behind, alone and helpless in the world.

So on July 18, 1946, he shot his 36-year-old son in the head as he slept, then turned the gun on himself. “I am taking Billy with me,” Buckland explained in his suicide note.

Despite success, his estate was worth $2,078 ($31,725 in 2023), most of which he left to Cecil’s brother William DeMille. The home’s furnishings went to his landlady and longtime friend Elizabeth Waggoner, a former art teacher at Hollywood High School.

Las Orquideas—a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural monument that was fully restored in 2019—is currently on the market … for $13 million.

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