As a classic film lover I’m very lucky to live in Southern California where Hollywood history seemingly lurks on every corner. From movie palaces to filming locations to star hangouts to their former residences the area has it all. In fact, I love visiting the former homes of Golden Ages stars and luckily there are quite a few. Recently, I was lucky enough to tour the estate of my absolute favorite actress, Barbara Stanwyck. Located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley The Oakridge Estate is a significant piece of Hollywood history.
In 1937 Barbara Stanwyck was at the top of her game having starred in one of her most famed roles, the title character in Stella Dallas. That same year she moved to a newly built estate in Northridge. Collaborating with her agent Zeppo Marx, of the Marx brothers, they purchased adjoining 10 acre lots to build ranch homes adjacent to a planned Thoroughbred horse farm. Their estates and the adjoining facility were collectively known as Marwyck Ranch (a combination of their two names) and encompassed over 120 acres.
Marwyck Ranch proved to be a success but Stanwyck resided their only two years due to her 1939 marriage to Robert Taylor. She sold her 10 acre estate to Jack Oakie who resided there until his death in 1978. Now referred to as Oakridge his widow, Victoria Horne, continued to live there until it was donated to USC in 2000. After this it remained vacant for several years and fell into disrepair. It was sold to a real estate developer with the plan of subdividing it into residential lots (as what happened to the Thoroughbred Farm several years prior). Concerned that this historic property would be lost forever the city purchased the land in 2009 with the intention of turning the area into a public park.
Today the estate is cared for by The Friends of Oakridge who are working with the city to preserve and restore the home to its former glory. Designed by famed architect, Paul R. Williams, it’s as significant to architectural history as it is to Hollywood history. As a fundraising effort there are now occasional tours of the property available for a nominal fee and on a recent Saturday my family and I headed to Northridge to take advantage of the chance to view the site.
After years of neglect the home is no longer the impressive estate it once was but underneath the damage is a structure that has the potential to be glorious once again. As they say, it has good bones.
As you can see above, there were period photos in some rooms showing the house at the time of Stanwyck’s residents and it was easy to picture it new and fancifully decorated. It’s an enormous structure with several unique features including the breakfast nook, a dressing room bigger than my bedroom and a bar room complete with decorative murals.
It really is a special place that will hopefully be one day restored to its former glory. In fact, on our tour of about 20 people my family and I were the only ones from out of town. The remaining attendees were Northridge residents and if their enthusiasm for the property is any indication I know it has a bright future ahead. One day I’ll return when it’s completely restored and I’m sure it will be wonderful.