A Snapshot of Hollywood History at the Harold Lloyd Estate

A Snapshot of Hollywood History at the Harold Lloyd Estate

The history of Palm Springs as a haven for Hollywood’s rich and famous started right here

On North Avenida Palmas stands a white-walled Spanish style house. From the outside, it looks warm and welcoming—but you’d never guess that the history of Palm Springs as a haven for Hollywood’s rich and famous started right here.

The house was built in 1925 for silent film actor (and movie mogul) Harold Lloyd. Though younger generations may not be so familiar with his name, in the 1920s and 30s he was one of Hollywood’s top performers – and along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton was an absolute icon of the silent movie era. He made almost 200 movies in his lifetime, many of which contained stunts that were thrilling and advanced at the time – one of the most famous is Safety Last! which features the memorable scene of Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock above a busy street.

Lloyd was the first Hollywood star to build a home in the area now known as the Movie Colony. Others, including Rudolf Valentino and Al Jolson, were swift to follow, paving the way for the stars that put Palm Springs on the map in the 1940s – Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and more. Lloyd’s main home was a show-stopping 44-room mansion in Beverly Hills called Greenacres, which is now on the National Register. Yet when he wanted to escape from the pressures of Hollywood he would jump in the car with his family and drive to his relaxed outpost in the desert. As Suzanne Lloyd, Harold’s granddaughter told Palm Springs Life in a recent interview: “It wasn’t made to be fussy, it was cozy. It was a family house, a place to go and hide out and have fun.”

The current owners, an American couple who bought the home just last year, are enthralled with the idea of owning a piece of movie history. “We’re like kids in a candy shop,” they tell me, “This house is really where it all began. Lloyd was an extraordinarily wealthy man—he could have gone anywhere, yet he picked Palm Springs, and others followed.”

Only a 5 min walk from downtown Palm Springs and its chic restaurants and art galleries, the home has been extended and modified since the 1920s, but still maintains its original look—white walls, red tiled roofs—and layout—main house plus two casitas with additional bedrooms grouped around the pool and hot tub. And of course, the panoramic views over the mountains remain unchanged. “You could close your eyes and open them up and you could be in the 1920s, the 1930s or the 1940s,” says the owner. “It has a timelessness to it—particularly late in the evening. The vistas and the beauty are the same.”

Keen movie buffs who had already owned a home in the Movie Colony for a decade, the owners were out for a walk one evening when the noticed a For Sale sign on the house. Wasting no time they found the realtor’s details and organized a visit. They like the home immediately, but then as they started to research Lloyd’s history they came upon an artistic connection that just spoke to them.

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“We found out that Lloyd was interested in three-dimensional photography, and my wife is an artist, who started out working in 3D. Given that we are also photography collectors we thought ‘Oh my God!’ It was perfect”. The couple is now trying to track down some of Lloyd’s photography to hang in the home. Most of his works are held in London, and the owners have been in touch with galleries across the pond in their quest to hang an original Lloyd work.

In the meantime, they have decorated the home with iconic images from the era—Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J day, a portrait of Charlie Chaplin (hung playfully next to an image of Robert Downey Jr playing Chaplin in the movie of the same name), and an image of Marilyn Monroe, that might possibly have ties to Lloyd. The owner explains, “There’s a photo of Marilyn Monroe that we don’t know the authorship of, that might have been taken by Harold Lloyd.” Until they can track down a certified piece, the image is the closest connection to the actor as an artist.

The owners hope to add more iconic images to the walls of the house to create a mini-museum, a history of photography during the era when the Movie Colony was at its peak. Of the house and its decor, they say they have three goals, “A combination of the visual beauty of Palm Springs with the historic nature of the Movie Colony, furnished with art that reflects the people who lived there.”

The Spanish style of the exterior echoes throughout the house in the terracotta that spread through the kitchen and living areas, the painted wooden beams and the highly decorative paneled ceiling in one of the bedrooms. Elsewhere there are decorative wooden doors and painted wood cabinets with that add an Oriental touch.

Asked to share his favorite corner of the house, the owner’s response is immediate; “I love the entrance, it’s almost overwhelming, and the master bedroom opening to the vistas of the mountains is fantastic.” Looking out at the towering palms and mountains silhouetted against a desert sky, you can easily understand the appeal that this wide open place held for the stars of the silver screen in the 1920s and 30s. It’s the same desire for a few days of sunshine, space, and raw natural beauty that continues to draw visitors into the desert a century later.

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Jenny Cahill-Jones