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Charlie Chaplin's Hideaway

In the heart of the Hollywood Hills, "Moorcrest" was once the home of actor Charlie Chaplin, the first international star of the modern era, probably best known for his "Little Tramp" character. Later, Mary Astor, the star of "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) among many other films, sometimes lived at Moorcrest. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Otto Langhanke, owned the home for a time.

Of special note is that the architect was a woman: Marie Russak Hotchener. In 1921, when Moorcrest is believed to have been completed, women architects were rare. And Hotchener not only designed this home but several others in the area, as well, which was known as the Krotona Colony.

The multi-talented Hotchener led a colorful life. After attending Mills College in Oakland in the class of 1884, she first taught music in San Francisco, then became a singer. While she sang with a couple of famous bands and symphonies and later joined an opera company, she never landed any starring roles.

Around 1898, she became interested in theosophy, a religion incorporating aspects of Buddhism and Hinduism, especially the belief in reincarnation and spiritual evolution. Hotchener believed that her greatest achievement was her involvement with the Theosophical Society, founded in New York City in 1875. She became an important member and eventually the religion's international spokesperson.

The intended buyers of homes in the Krotona Colony, of which Moorcrest was a part, were members of the Theosophical Society. The colony's homes were a blend of Moorish and Mission-Revival styles, with added features that would appeal to the members of the Society. The Hollywood connection occurred when Hotchener and her third husband, Harry Hotchener, who already was successful in the real estate business, met Mary Astor when she lived in the home. Through her, the Hotcheners got involved with Astor's fiancé, the legendary actor John Barrymore. Harry Hotchener later became Barrymore's business manager and Marie Hotchener became his astrologer.

"Nearly all of Krotona's major and many of its minor buildings still stand occupied, though all have been to some extent remodeled and most changed dramatically in function," according to architectural historian Alfred Willis. "Together they comprise what may well be the largest coherent group of architecturally significant, Theosophical structures in the western hemisphere."

When the current owners of Moorcrest bought the property five years ago, it was in derelict condition. The house had no roof and the wall that supported the street above had fallen into the pool. It took the owners, who are experienced designers, five years to reconstruct the property. It has been restored exquisitely and is a blend of Moorish, Art Nouveau, and Gothic architecture with state-of-the-art upgrades. Every feature was custom made, including leaded stained-glass windows, copper and marble baseboards, Art Nouveau cabinets and quarter-inch tiles in the kitchen, hand-painted ceilings, stunning ironwork, a hand-hammered copper fireplace in the master bedroom, and a steam shower and a marble and mosaic tile tub in the master bathroom.

Story by Jacqueline Shannon
Photography by Bob Thompson & Jasmine Campbell

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