Hollywood Treasure Trove
In her Whitley Heights abode, gallery owner Laurie Frank displays a magical array of precious objets.
The Contents of Laurie Frank’s house in the Hollywood Hills’ Whitley Heights neighborhood cannot be absorbed in one visit. Paintings and photographs by the artists she represents at Frank Pictures Gallery in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station live harmoniously among her personal effects. They range from the avant-garde to the old guard, revealing their identities slowly, humbly and in good humor: An antique Thai birdcage sits on a corner table; an embroidery of a steak hangs on the wall across the room. Then Frank introduces the stuffed mountain sheep she picked up at a warehouse sale on Vine Street 20 years ago. “This is Mario,” she says. “He’s been with me forever.”
It’s incredible how many of her possessions have been with Frank “forever,” considering that in 2004, her 4,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home nearly burned to the ground when a clock-radio on the kitchen table caught fire. “I lost an enormous amount,” she says. “But I had so much.”
After a remodel from the studs-out that called to service several items previously buried in storage, the house has, she says, taken on all the attributes of a spouse—loyal, tenacious, comforting—and sometimes bread-winning, as it has been used as a backdrop in commercials and music videos. Frank, who has never been married and has no living relatives, officially refers to her house as her husband. “After the fire, we renewed our vows,” she says. “My commitment to the house, and the house’s commitment to me.”
Needing to replace every floor, ceiling, and wall, Frank holed up at the Chateau Marmont for more than a year and oversaw the reconstruction, which she believes is an improvement on the original. The floors throughout the house, made of grooved teak, “were like a dream come true,” she recounts of discovering them at a lumber liquidator after a lengthy search. Downstairs, the wall separating the kitchen from the dining room burned down to leave one big open area. “There’s more of a conversation between the rooms now,” she notes. The former dining room is now an extension of the living room, and she entertains around a long table in her sunroom, overlooking the canyon carved out by Highland Avenue, across from the seasonal soundtrack of the Hollywood Bowl.
Upstairs, she installed sliding pocket doors throughout, custom built to include a star pattern she designed, then filled with amber glass. The master bedroom and bath share the floor with her office. She converted the closet of the guest room into a bathroom and also rents out a two-bed-room guest quarters on the bottom level. The Mediterranean-style house, built in 1926 in “the Beverly Hills of its time,” was first owned by the actor Maurice Chevalier, whose neighbors were Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Jean Harlow.
As if its near-death experience weren’t dramatic enough, the house is imbued with Frank’s biography—almost Forrest Gumpian in the way it makes historical cameos. “My house is like the inside of my mind,” she says, and indeed, like gray matter, everything in her home is etched with memories: of her upbringing on Manhattan’s Upper West Side; her years spent at Yale as part of its first class of women; her work making documentaries for ABC News; her stint as a short films director for “Saturday Night Live.” An eight-foot-long antique Chinese passport? Won it in a poker match. Her patio table’s mosaic top? Made from her mother’s wedding china, which broke when her mother had it shipped to Frank from New York. The embroidered flower framed in her bedroom? Made by her grandmother, who once sewed for Bendel and Bergdorf. The glass cabinet doors in her kitchen? Former windows rescued from a villa in Morocco—and by the way, Frank is a national hero in Morocco for being one of three American volunteers to lead the country’s Green March of independence in 1975.
Since landing in Los Angeles almost 25 years ago, Frank has hardly moved. In a city often accused of being new and generic, Frank found, in 1990, what she calls her “‘heart home’—a place you totally recognize from the moment you set foot in it.” Selling a screenplay, she says, “right off the banana boat,” may have had something to do with her immediate affinity for the region, but in 1998, she abandoned writing to run a gallery full time. She collects globes in lieu of traveling and loves her house in its new incarnation so much, she says, “I have to tear myself away every day” to go to work.
Although the gallery—depending on traffic—can be over an hour away, there is little difference between Frank’s home and work. “Art is crucial to the way you experience the house,” she says, and now more than ever (most of the paintings and artwork she owned perished in the fire, so she’s made her home a satellite showroom). The works rotate in and out according to their exhibition schedules, and it’s a win-win arrangement for everyone: Artists get two venues for the price of one; clients have the opportunity to see a piece in a home environment; and Frank never bores of the scenery.
Her thematic placement of art throughout the house adds an element of whimsy to both the work and the home. Photographs by the late Horace Bristol, a LIFE magazine photographer credited with bringing John Steinbeck to the dustbowl, surround a flat screen television in her living room; “I like to put a black-and-white movie on and show off the Bristols,” she says. Counting her Dresses, Blue, a painted photograph of a child’s smock by Elizabeth Lennard, hangs in the laundry room. Over her desk, there is a picture of a copy of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five in flames, by Tom Benedek, an artist who photographs banned books on fire. And a dreamy nightscape taken by photographer Malone Mills hangs over a mirrored bureau in her bedroom.
“Most of my dinner parties end up in my bedroom,” says Frank, without a hint of innuendo. A dusty hue of purple coats the walls, and a terrace, with chaises and a low-slung canopy roof, make it the perfect venue for continuing conversation into the wee hours. There is an intimate and remote feel from her terrace tucked into the hillside. “L.A. is a series of secrets,” she says. “In New York, everything is laid out for you—here you have to work for it.” This house, in this storied canyon, in its second life, with its adoring wife, is one of those secrets.
By: Sally Schultheiss.
Photo: Lisa Romerein.
Produced: Kendall Conrad.