Located at the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Cassil Place, 6633 Sunset was built in 1919 as a private residence and later became a photography studio.
This stretch of Sunset, west of South Cahuenga, before 1913, had been designated West Sunset Boulevard.
The parcel was originally 5 acres and contained a large colonial-style house, addressed as 333 West Sunset. Owner George L. Mertz put up for sale in March 1911.
In September 1911, Rodney P. Cassil bought it for a reported $25,000.
Cassil only lived in Hollywood part-time, however. He worked with the Rawlings-Lounsbery Company, incorporated in 1913, to create the subdivision Cassil Place on either side of Hudson Avenue (the street was renamed Cassil Place) between Sunset and Selma Avenue. The Cassil residence itself, sitting far back on the parcel nearer the Selma frontage than Sunset, was moved by the company in 1913, after the Sanborn map above was created. It was rebuilt elsewhere.
Cassil died in October 1916. In 1919, the still-large Cassil parcel was sold to John Francis “Jack” Donovan III, who built a house on it as a residence for himself and his widowed mother Jeanette. There is no permit on file for the construction but that could be because it had a different address at the time and was not assigned the number 6633 until after construction.
Jeannette Eliza (Glenn) Francis was sometimes misidentified by newspapers as Jack’s wife. She was Mrs. John F. Donovan, hence the confusion. She and John F. Donovan the elder were married in Boston in December 1890. The couple had a daughter in 1891. Jack the son was born in Chicago in 1894. In 1895 Jack senior became co-proprietor of the Lindell Hotel in Saint Louis. He had made his fortune as a bookmaker and operator of billiard halls in St. Louis and Boston and had also established a New York brokerage firm shortly before his marriage to Jeanette. He died in St. Louis in 1898 at age 51. His widow and her two then-teenaged children relocated to Los Angeles in 1910, settling first in Long Beach.
In January 1912, she had a colonial style house built at 419 Lorraine Boulevard in the newly-created enclave of Windsor Square, designed by architect Parker O. Wright.
Perhaps the experience of watching Wright in action led to young Donovan’s interest in architecture. In any case, in 1919, Jeanette sold the Lorraine Boulevard house and by August was entertaining at the new 6633 Sunset house that Jack built. (The “House that Jack Built” gag gets old pretty fast). This stretch of Sunset from Vine to Las Palmas was then still largely residential with a ruralish feel.
The 1-1/2-story house featured artistic shingled siding, stained dark (the white paint that gave it more of a Colonial look came later) and had a large studio-like living room with 16-foot ceilings and tall French windows. These, and tiny windows in the upper floor of the building’s east front facade, gave it a dollhouse appearance. The soaring ceilings were necessary, Donovan told reporters, because his mother had a lot of ginormous paintings and antiques from Europe. Or were they really fakes? A wide brick porch with a built-in fireplace spanned the back of the house, opening onto a large patio, a goldfish pond and a fountain. A large stand of Eucalyptus trees to the north offered shade and privacy.
Jack Donovan had added “actor” to his resume by early 1920. Gossip writers reported in February 1920 that he was to star in a film with Bessie Love; that production, The Midlanders, would be released in Los Angeles in March 1921. Meanwhile, Jack had announced that what he really wanted to do was direct (and produce). The picturesque Donovan abode at 6633 Sunset was to be used as a backdrop to his first film, he told the Times in July 1920.
The worlds of Film and Society normally did not mix much in Hollywood, but both sets reportedly gathered around the barbeque in the garden of the Donovans’ Sunset Boulevard home.
While still pursuing his acting/producing career, Donovan did not forget he was also an architect. In May 1921, he took out a permit to add an addition to the west side of the house. He also erected bungalows on the north half of the property adjacent to the house using materials purchased from dismantled film sets or in some cases moving the set in its entirety.
Just up the pepper tree-lined boulevard were movie studios and backlots galore, including Famous-Players/Lasky at Sunset at Sunset and Vine where Carpenter’s sandwich stand (and later NBC studios) and the Hollywood Palladium would be built; the old Nestor/Christie film studios between El Centro and Gower that became the West Coast home of CBS radio; the fomer Universal Pictures lot on the south side of Sunset at El Centro where Marty Fiedler later had his softball field; and further east, the Warner Brothers’ new studio between Bronson and Wilton Place- not to mention numerous other smaller film companies. While the larger studios tended to keep and reuse their sets, the smaller outfits did not have that kind of storage room and would gladly part with them.
Now described as an architect and landscape gardener, Jack told the Times in November 1921 that the colony was to be a sort of Greenwich Village, with different historical English and French architectural styles represented. The lush grounds were enclosed by high iron fences and gates. The bohemian enclave attracted film actors, writers and directors- not unlike what Alla Nazimova would create at her mansion further east at 8152 Sunset. Jack’s tenants at the time were actress Jacqueline Logan, scenario writer Lorna Moon, and directors Rex Ingram and Frank Griffin.
It was a romantic place.
Rex Ingram and his sweetheart, Alice Terry, were married on November 5, 1921 and honeymooned at the cottage while working on the production of Prisoner of Zenda.
Lorna Moon soon had to give up her cottage. She was from Scotland, but she was not going to Scotland for “several months” in November 1921. She was going to Monrovia, near Pasadena, to secretly have a baby, a boy named Richard, fathered by William de Mille, brother of Cecil B, the man Moon had been “rattling the typewriter” for. Moon had also been diagnosed with tuberculosis and needed to seek treatment at a sanitarium (hence Monrovia). Cecil B. DeMille adopted the little boy who didn’t learn of his true parentage until much later. Moon died from t.b. in May 1930.
By the summer of 1922, Mae Busch had taken up residence in a cottage furnished with items from Katherine MacDonald’s 1920 film Curtain and Jack was planning another enclave at his beach property in Santa Monica.
By 1923, this part of Sunset Boulevard was becoming more commercial. Mary Helen Kemp had her first tea room at 6460 in a former residential bungalow (Rex Ingram was a patron). The Hollywood Athletic Club took out permits for its new clubhouse a little to the west. The Church of the Blessed Sacrament was building its school, convent and auditorium immediately to the east, and the underworld boss of LA. Charles Crawford had purchased the residential property at 6665 Sunset and planned to develop it. Jack Donovan was building other residences elsewhere. In October 1923, it was announced that he’d negotiated a long-term lease for 6633 Sunset Boulevard, which was to be developed as a French Cafe. Charles Shane, a recent arrival from Cleveland Ohio, was investing in Hollywood properties.
The French cafe didn’t materialize but 6633 was turned into a commercial restaurant, the Canary Cottage tea room, which also had another location at 1908 West Seventh Street in downtown Los Angeles. The alterations needed amounted to painting (canary yellow and black) and redecorating; they were not substantial enough to require a permit. The Canary Cottage Tea Room opened for business the first week of March 1924.
Meanwhile, Jack Donovan, who continued to act occasionally, turned his attention to his Santa Monica property. In late March 1924 it was reported that he was building a real life sand castle. This dwelling, “Chateau de la Paix,” was put up for auction in September 1924.
Donovan went on to build another property in Santa Monica, a Spanish-Colonial style, that he sold to Mae Murray. He was involved in a protracted legal battle with Murray after she sued him in March 1927 claiming that the “genuine antiques” promoted by Donovan and his mother were really nothing but cheap fakes and the house was not worth nearly what she paid. Murray ultimately prevailed in court.
Donovan and his mother were then living at another property he built, 136 Georgina Street, Santa Monica. Though put up for auction in April 1928, he managed to keep this property and would later convert it into apartment, without permits and against City ordinance, resulting in another long legal battle.
Far from all this drama, back in Hollywood, 6633 Sunset carried on as Canary Cottage, now run by Ellen (Nellie) Olander and her mother. Newspapers described the building as “an interesting house once owned by a motion picture director.” During dinner service, soft piano music played, and candles were lit on the tables when the sun set, the exceptionally high ceiling creating “mysterious shadows.” In 1929, she introduced the added attraction of a crystal-gazer. In the summer of 1931, she closed for redecorating, perhaps to avoid all the rubber-necking going on after LA Charles Crawford and Herbert Spencer were murdered in his real estate office just a few doors down in May 1931.
In August 1932, Canary Cottage moved from 6633 Sunset to 1456 N. Vine Street. It retained the name Canary Cottage at the new location.
Enter once again Jack Donovan. Left without a tenant, Donovan announced that he was opening 6633 Sunset as “Cafe Du Barry.” It had its grand opening September 10, 1932.
The place was redocated in red and white with a French theme. White tables, red leather upholstered chairs, red velvet drapes, gilt mirrors and crystal chandeliers. Red and white striped awnings, Deauville umbrella tables in the garden. French antiques and objects d’art (or more likely objects d’junk, per Mae).
In October 1932, Times columnist Grace Kingsley noted that actor Jimmy Holmes had taken over the Cafe Du Barry from Jack Donovan. In November 1932, she mentioned Jimmy had changed the name to Jimmy’s Front Yard. Holmes operated another much-raided nightclub called Jimmy’s Back Yard at 1608 Cosmo Place in October 1932. In June 1933, Jimmy’s Back Yard, now at 6060 Hollywood Boulevard, was raided, and 76-year-old Jimmy arrested, by Charles Hoy of the Hollywood Vice Squad. Hoy was on the payroll of the LA underworld, now led by Guy McAfee since the murder of Charles Crawford. The Du Barry Cafe/Jimmy’s Front Yard venture did not last long.
By October 1935 photographer Irving Archer had taken over the building, now painted white, for his photography studio, adding a dark room space and changing rooms. John E. Reed, a photographer at Columbia Pictures, bought it from him in December 1939.
Reed made the building stand out, and it featured promminently in his advertizing, with giant-sized spotlit portraits in the front yard. He lived upstairs with his first wife and young daughter, Susan.
During World War II, Reed also had a 1-hour portrait studio for GIs, at 6424 Sunset on the southwest corner of Sunset and Cahuenga near the Hollywood Canteen. In 1944 he established the first Susan’s Baby Studio, specializing in child photos, at 8005 Sunset.
Reed remained at 6633 for 20 years- through November 1959. The building was demolished in January 1960. The land is now part of the playground for the adjacent Blessed Sacrament school at 6641 Sunset.
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