The History of The Villa Sophia

 

 

ARCHITECT: Henry Harwood Hewitt  (August 2, 1884 - January 29, 1926)

 

Henry Harwood Hewitt was the architect for The Villa Sophia, a fine example of the Mediterranean Revival style that flourished during the years between the end of WWI and the 1930's.  Mr.  Hewitt was the architect of a number of important buildings and residences in Southern California.  He was also a founding member and secretary for the Allied Architects Association that designed many of the best known public buildings for the County of Los Angeles, such as Patriotic Hall, Los Angeles County USC Medical Center (General Hospital) and the Hall of Justice.* Hewitt was a graduate of the University of Chicago, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, in Paris, France. After a successful career in Denver, Colorado, Hewitt came to Los Angeles in July 1913 and went in partnership with Oliver P. Dennis, formerly of Dennis and Farwell. That partnership lasted about three years and produced a number of well designed Mediterranean Revival buildings in domestic, commercial and educational areas such as the 100 room Italian Renaissance Hotel on Hope Street near Bunker Hill (1913), The Westlake Masonic Temple (1914), the Colonial style L.D. Hines Building at Hollywwod Blvd. and St. Andrews (1915), the Mediterranean Revival George H. Huntsberger Residence in Windsor Square (1913), the Palms Grammer School (1914), the Owensmouth Union High School (1915) and an apartment building for Oliver P. Dennis at 1628 Hudson, in Hollywood (1914).  The Dennis partnership ended during WWI and Hewitt continued working solo with the exception of a short lived partnership with H. L. Barker in 1921 that brought about the Renasaissance Revival Immaculate Heart of Mary School.**

 

Other noted buildings that Hewitt designed during that period include the Elisha Ehrbar Residence at 1901 Hobart Blvd. in 1920, the Tudor Revival home of author - playwright Hector Turnbull in Hollywood's Brea Canyon, also in 1920, the award winning W. H. Glover Residence at 227 S. Normandie (1921), the award winning George Shultz Residence (1921), a Spanish Colonial Revival residence in adobe for Alice Lynch at 2414 S. 4th Ave. in 1922 and the Mediterranean Revival C. C. Waite Residence at 2431 Hill Drive in Eagle Rock in 1922.**

 

 

The Villa Sophia was designed in the last years of Hewitt's final period (1920 -1926), during which, except for a short period, when he was teamed up with H.  L.  Barker in 1921, he was without a business partner. Another example of his work during this period is the 14 room, 10,000 square foot, Spanish Colonial Revival style Toffel residence in the nearby Flintridge Hills built in 1922.  It was built to be a replica of a Spanish castle with a Moorish design and was the 1925 winner of the World Prize in Residential Architecture at the International Exposition of Architecture and Fine Arts in New York.  His work with Allied Architects Association is important because, as Secretary, as he was heavily involved in contract negotiations for the various public buildings that were designed by that consortium of the best and the brightest architects in Southern California.  He was a part of the committee that chose the design for the present Los Angeles City Hall and was the original architect for the Ebell Club on Wilshire Boulevard.  His sudden death in January 1926 occurred at the height of his career.  He was truly one of the influential architects in Los Angeles at the time he designed the Villa Sophia.  Henry Harwood Hewitt is buried in The Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

 

* from the Historical-Cultural Monument Application to the City of Los Angeles for the "Waite Residence" filed by historian Charles J.  Fisher on February 21, 2007

** from the Historical-Cultural Monument Application to the Citu of Los Angeles for the

"A. L. Ehrbar Residence" filed by Charles J. Fisher on January 16, 2014

Former Resident:  James Whale  (July 22, 1889 - May 29, 1957)

 

British film director James Whale, who learned to put on plays while held captive in a World War I German prison camp, resided at the Villa Sophia during the 1930's while making his most celebrated films; Frankenstein (1931)The Old Dark House (1932)The Invisible Man (1933) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).  Whale was the subject of the 1998 Oscar winning film 'Gods and Monsters' starring Sir Ian McKellan (left) as James Whale.  McKellen was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the hedonistic bon vivant, James Whale while Lynn Redgrave who played Whales' house maid was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  Other films directed by James Whale include Hell's Angels (1930), Show Boat (1936) and The Man in the Iron Mask (1939).  James Whale is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, 3.5 miles from the Villa Sophia.

Whale disliked being identified with horror films only.  His personal favorite film Remember Last Night (1935), "a tale of bright young things drinking and partying fast enough to keep despair at bay" is a reminder that Whale belonged to the same "Lost Generation" of artists formed by World War I who produced works of art like Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and F.  Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  James Whale retired from making films in 1941.

 

James Whale Memorial 

A memorial statue (left) was erected for Whale in 2002 on the grounds of a new multiplex cinema in his home town of Dudley, England.  The statue, by Charles Hadcock, depicts a roll of film with the face of Frankenstein's monster engraved into the frames and the names of his most famous films etched into a cast concrete base in the shape of film canisters.

Former Resident:  Artur Rodzinski  (January 1, 1892 – November 27, 1958) 

 

Polish conductor of opera and symphonic music Artur Rodzinski, his German concert pianist wife Mme. Ilse (Reimesch) and son Witold Rodzinski, future Polish Ambassador to Great Britain and China, lived at the Villa Sophia from 1929 - 1932.  At this time, Artur was serving as the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.  Rodzinski was succeeded by Otto Klemperer.  After Los Angeles, Rodzinski became conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra for the years 1933 -1943.  He was a frequent guest conductor at the New York Philharnonic between 1934 - 1937 and in 1942 became its conductor, staying until 1947 when he resigned to take the job as the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  His reputation as a conductor was so prominent at this time that his resignation was the subject of a cover story for Time magazine in February 1947.  A introduction to a 2008 radio documentary on Chicago's classsical station 98.7WFMT says: "the documentary commemorates the 50th anniversary of the passing of the great and influential conductor Artur Rodzinski.  He is best known today as the fiery Music Director of the Cleveland Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and also as the virtuoso who, at the personal insistence of the legendary Maestro Arturo Toscanini, was engaged by NBC to select players and build up the magnificent NBC Symphony Orchestra.  His colorful and outspoken personality, his fanatical perfectionism, and the brilliance, theatricality and high voltage discipline of his performances are recalled both by musicians who played with him and members of his family." The same article states that "Rodzinski is considered one of, if not the greatest conductor in contemporary history."

BUILDER:  Clement E.  Smoot (April 7, 1884 – January 19, 1963)

 

The builder and original owner of the Villa Sophia was Clement E.  Smoot (April 7, 1884 Highland Park, IL - January 19, 1963).  Mr.  Smoot was an American golfer who competed at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St.  Louis, Missouri.  He was part of the American team that won the gold medal.  The team members were: H.  Chandler Egan, Daniel Sawyer, Robert Hunter, Kenneth Edwards, Clement Smoot, Warren Wood, Mason Phelps, Walter Egan, Edward Cummins and Nathaniel Moore.

Mr.  Smoot was a 1906 graduate of the University of Michigan.  His wife Margaret (Madge) Miller Smoot graduated from the University of Michigan in 1908.  The Smoot's had three children, F.  Miller Smoot, Clement Smoot Jr.  and Peter Smoot.  Mr.  Smoot was the owner and founder in 1922 of the Smoot-Holman Company of Inglewood, California which specialized in the manufacture of industrial lighting.  His son Clement Jr.  a 1937 graduate of Stanford University, worked at the company for 30 years until the company was sold to the Sunbeam Company in 1972.  

The development and building of the retaining walls, pool house, pool, loggia, dining pavilion, outdoor fireplace, rear terraces (upper and lower) and the gardens was conceptualized and designed by myself with the help of many people.  Engineers, architects, designers, contractors and friends all contributed to the end result.  Since there was no possibility of bringing in heavy equipment due to the inaccessibility of the location the project took years.  For that, thanks needs to be extended to my understanding neighbors who patiently withstood a noisy, dirty project that sometimes shook the whole neighborhood with the sound and fury of sledgehammers, compactors, drilling equipment, endless trucks coming and going as well as years of garbage bins in the street and miscellaneous other inconveniences.  Special thanks need to be extended to the builder Hagop (Jack) Mouhibian and artist Carlo Cacciatori.  Also, I would like to thank engineer Ali Nagashi.

 

 

There were many design inspirations for my additions to the Villa Sophia many of which have filled my dreams and my imagination for years before I purchased the property in the year 2000.  Interestingly, one of my inspirations for the design project was the house itself which I could see, perched all alone on it's hilltop in front of the 4000 acre Griffith Park, from my previous house in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.  There were a couple of years where I fantasized about the house from afar before I ever saw it in person.  I had lot's of ideas for the property before I ever bought it. 

OWNER:  Constantine Timothy Vlahos 

 

Constantine “Tim” Vlahos

Below is a list of the some of the homes, gardens and artists who's creations have fired my imagination.  Most of them are Italian

 

The Villa Sophia

            

Los Feliz