Monday, June 17, 2013

Andalusia, Historic Courtyard Apartments

A view of the central courtyard at Andalusia,
the West Hollywood apartment building.
Photo by John Vaughan for Architectural Digest.
A number of Spanish Revival courtyard apartment buildings were built in Los Angeles in the early decades of the twentieth century, inspired by the Franciscan missions and the early tourist camps.  But one of the finest and most influential of these was Andalusia a 1926 complex of ten units designed by the husband & wife team of Arthur and Nina Zwebell.

A street view of Andalusia,
1471 1475 Havenhurst Drive, West Hollywood.
Photo via Wikipedia. 
After visiting Los Angeles in 1920, the Zwebells moved there in 1921 to make their fortune in the building boom.  Arthur Zwebell had made a nest egg with profits from a company he developed with his brothers that offered a roadster sports car body for a standard Ford chassis.

Arthur Zwebell was a self-taught architect and Nina provided the interior design services for the furnished apartments, even having furniture made to compliment the architecture.  They built eight of these buildings, living in Andalusia and working out of home offices there.

Vintage views of Andalusia,
showing the outer courtyard (upper)
and central courtyard (lower).
Photos from
Each apartment had a unique floor plan with the Zwebells' unit having a two story living room and three fireplaces.  Zina had an infamous built-in pipe organ;  the bellows were located in the basement with the pipes installed at opposite ends of the living room.  The Zwebells lived at Andalusia for only four years and then gave it to their neice, Marian Uhl.

Andalusia Ground Floor Plan, Roof Plan,
and Building Section.
Drawings from the book
Over the years, Mrs. Uhl rented apartments at Andalusia to a number of Hollywood actors and writers such as Clara Bow, Clair Bloom, Cesar Romero, Jean Hagen, John Payne, Louis L'Amour, and Anna Kashfi (later married to Marlon Brando and mother of Christian Brando).  Mrs. Uhl lived in the building until her death in 1990.  She had kept an archive of blueprints, photos, repair bills, and fabric samples that revealed that the building had been preserved and hardly altered.

A publicity photo of actress and singer
Bernice Claire at Nina Zwebell's organ.
Photo via Wikipedia.
In 1990, Los Angeles interior designer and antiques dealer Craig Wright bought the building with business partners Don and Alice Willfong.  They restored and subtly updated Andalusia while remaining conscious of its architectural integrity.  Plumbing and wiring was replaced, doors and windows were duplicated as necessary, and a laundry was installed in the basement along with air-conditioning throughout.  Some apartments were combined to reduce the total to eight units which were rented furnished.  The third courtyard had a raised swimming pool which was not original, it was removed and the area became an annex for displaying garden ornaments and stone furniture from Quatrain, an antique gallery and reproduction business owned by Wright, and a part of the extremely stylish San Francisco-based stores that are grouped under the name of Therien.

Another publicity photo of actress
and singer Bernice Claire
who appeared in 13 films
in the 1930s.
Craig Wright took the Zwebells' apartment as his own residence.  He turned the upstairs tower room that the Zwebells had used as their office into his Master Bedroom.  The former master bedroom downstairs is now a Guest Bedroom.  After ten years, Wright moved to a house he renovated in the hills above Sunset Boulevard that was featured in the February 2001 issue of Architectural Digest that can be seen here.  But the photos by John Vaughan of Craig Wright's Andalusia apartment from the December 1993 issue of Architectural Digest are presented as follows.
The floor plan of what was originally the owners' apartment
from a 2010 MLS ad via Curbed.
One end of the Living Room with the
stairs up to the Master Bedroom and Bath.
Photo from the December, 1993, issue of
Architectural Digest.
Wright used furnishings of several periods and styles from Quatrain in addition to shelves of books to give the Living Room a Continental feel.  
Another view of the Living Room
as it appeared in the December, 1993,
issue of Architectural Digest.
In the Dining Room, a mix of furnishings, again from Quatrain, provide a rich contrast to the double-thick brick walls, developed for earthquake-resistance.

The Dining Room as it appeared
in the December, 1993, issue of Architectural Digest.
The ground floor Sitting Room (labeled Sunroom on the 2010 MLS floor plan) is an intimate space that Wright used for reading.

The ground floor Sitting Room as it appeared
in the December, 1993, issue of Architectural Digest.
The Tudor-style bed had been used in films such as "Tom Jones" and "Mary Queen of Scots" commands the ground floor bedroom that Wright used as a Guest Bedroom.

The Guest Bedroom as it appeared
in the December, 1993, issue of Architectural Digest.
The walls of the Master Bathroom were painted in a manner to evoke the feeling of Pompeian frescoes.  The lavatory is set into a neoclassical console that Wright found in Rome.

The Master Bathroom, as it appeared
in the December, 1993, issue of Architectural Digest.
The central courtyard plantings were revitalized by landscape architect Robert Fletcher.  The pool and outdoor fireplace were original features that were restored.

The central courtyard pool and outdoor
fireplace as it appeared in the December, 1993,
issue of Architectural Digest.
After the collapse of the private housing market in 1929, the Zwebells went into work as set designers for the movie studios, furniture design and production, and later attempted a business to manufacture modular housing systems.  With the exception of three houses designed for his family, Arthur Zwebell did not practice architecture again.  He died in 1973 and his wife died the next year.  Their contributions to traditional urban housing form of an adapted California courtyard is still valued today, however.  Andalusia is now a condominium and the owner's unit of 1,589 square feet was listed and sold in 2010 for the asking price of $990,000 according to Redfin.  (It was a resale since Craig Wright's occupancy).

For more about the other apartment buildings designed by the Zwebells as well as other similar buildings see the valuable reference book COURTYARD HOUSING IN LOS ANGELES by Stefanos Polyzoides, Roger Sherwood, and James Tice, now in its fifth printing after being originally published in 1996.


  1. Love old apartments like this -what a great complex! Thanks for including the plans and sections too.

    1. A.D., they don't build them like this anymore -- but they should. Thanks for your comments.

  2. For years I have wanted a house with a courtyard but this beautiful old place would work just as well – all this beauty and neighbours to watch as well!

    1. B., it's a great concept for a commune-like compound for friends, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

  3. I live three blocks away from this building. There are many other wonderful buildings in the area that are French or Spanish in style, like El Mirador on Sweetzer, built in 1929.

    Coincidentally, I had Tice and Polyzoides as professors at USC architectural school in 1975.

    1. D., I applaud your former professors for recognizing the elements that make up an interesting residential neighborhood and recording them in this book for all to appreciate. Thank you for commenting.

  4. The Zwebells were TOP, their buildings enchanting...all clustered in the same vicinity save for a couple, one where the Ruby Slippers resided after being "RESCUED" from MGM. I longed for an apartment in The Andalusia...but at that time, no one really ever moved out unless they passed onto the next dimension.

    If one could call a Motorcourt a work of Art...this is IT! Wright and Wilfong brought a Grande Dame back to her Golden Age! Wonderful story and glad your familiar with the buildings.

    1. T.S., thank you for your comments. I am glad to see that there's still appreciation for scale and architectural interest in relatively modest multi-family residential architecture.

  5. This is the best of the best in Los Angeles (if you want to know how to sound like an "insider" pronounce it, "Los Ang-les.....(hard g (skip the middle....syllables)!

    Honestly.....I grew up there.....and the old guard ...this is how they pronounced it!


    1. Thanks, P.B. And we DO want to sound like an insider so we appreciate the tip.

  6. Devoted Readers, please be reminded that Anonymous comments cannot be published, despite that option being offered in the standard Blogger format that is used here for 'Comment as:'. If you do not wish to use your real name or Google Identity, an alias is permitted. Comments of a different viewpoint are not disqualified, but it is essential that the comment reflect the topic of the current post.

  7. I've always wondered if the Zwebells knew Arthur Byne and Mildred Stapley...such a similar vein in appreciation of Hispanic Architecture and Art instrumental in the Revival of Spanish Moorish architecture of the early 20thC Coast to Coast.

    1. T.S., Arthur and Mildred Stapley Byne lived in Madrid after 1916, but surely the Zwebells became familiar with their books at some point. For those Devoted Readers interested in Spanish architecture, patios & gardens, furniture, and hardware, these books have been republished and are still available. Thank you for bringing up that point, T.S.


Your interest in this blog is appreciated. Other commitments might prevent an immediate response to your comments or questions. That does not lessen the value of the blog reader's input, however. Only comments relating to the current post are eligible for publication; non-relevant comments and promotional references will be deleted. Contact me at regarding other questions. Anonymous comments cannot be accepted.