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Hollywood Regency and the Woolf Pack

Hollywood Regency and the Woolf Pack

John Elgin Woolf

John Elgin Woolf is credited with creating the currently popular Hollywood Regency look. But his private life may have been his most daring design.

Architecture in Los Angeles and its region ranges from the divine to the degraded. The influence of the film industry is certainly to blame for the Snow White mansions, bastard Tudors, and ersatz mini-Palaces of Versailles crammed onto postage stamp-sized lots.

On the other hand, some of the most talented and successful designers and architects of the 20th century made Los Angeles their well-designed and decorated home: Elsie De Wolf, Tony Duquette, Billy Haines, Charles and Rae Eames, John Lautner, and Richard Neutra. There are even a fair share of Frank Lloyd Wright homes dotting the parched landscape, notably the recently reopened Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park.

But the current trend favored by those in the know in SoCal (Kelly Werstler among them) has been the native-born look of Hollywood Regency.


Young and good-looking, John Elgin Woolf came to Hollywood in 1936 with the hopes of landing a role in Gone with the Wind. But his meeting with gay director George Cukor shaped his path as an architect and designer to the stars.

The Palos Verdes Art Center is mounting the first ever exhibition of Woolf's collection of drawings, schematics, and renderings, housed at the University of California, Santa Barbara from March 20 - May 29, 2015. (See the end of this article for information on the Mid-Century Desert Dream House Raffle. You can win a beautifully decorated John Elgin Woolf home.)

Woolf gave film royalty a new luxury style. According to The New York Times, Woolf "established a new vocabulary for glamorous movie-star living ... synthesized 19th-century French, Greek Revival, and Modernist touches into a heady mixture that has since been christened Hollywood Regency, which foreshadowed aspects of postmodernism." He designed houses for many luminaries, including Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, David O. Selznick, Katherine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy.

Woolf worked primarily in the Bel Air and Beverly Hills districts of Los Angeles, often renovating older buildings, but also did work as far away as Nassau, such as the residence for Lady Stanley of Adderlay, also known as Mrs. Clark Gable. One of his largest projects was the design of Marrakesh Country Club in Palm Desert, California.Raffle

Woolf's other great creation was an imaginatively structured love and family life. In a detailed and delicious account of Woolf's career and life in a 2009 Vanity Fair article, special correspondent Matt Tyrnauer tells that Woolf met his partner, lover, and eventually adopted son, in a shop across from his on Melrose Place called appropriately enough, Design For Living.

Robert Koch eventually took on Woolf's name, but he was much more than a handsome younger lover, he helped shape the business side of John Elgin Woolf's life and turned him into the multimillionaire he eventually became. And as their partnership developed and new young men came onto the horizon they were enfolded into the menage, and eventually Woolf had three adopted sons who all took his name. They were known in thier intimate cirlce as the Woolf Pack. And as odd as that may sound to modern, post same-sex marriage ears, that was a way men and women tried to legally secure their relationships before there were laws to protect them.

The three sons, Robert Koch Woolf, Gene Oney Woolf, and William Capp Woolf all eventually ended up living together in their senior years after John Woolf -- whom they referred to as 'Papa' died.


BONUS: A most amazing raffle of a John Elgin Woolf residence:

An elegant mid-century vacation home by the master of Hollywood Regency style is just a $150 raffle ticket away for the lucky winner of Palos Verdes Art Center's 2015 Mid-Century Desert Dream House Raffle. The first and oldest house raffle in California, proceeds from the Raffle help fund the Center's exhibitions and educational programs.

Also included in the Grand Prize House Package are a 2015 Jaguar F-Type V8 S Convertible, a 2015 Jaguar XK Coupe, a Fantasy Trip for Two to Morocco, two Garia golf cars, two Louis Vuitton golf bags, a five-year golf membership in the Marrakesh Country Club-and $675,000 in cash.

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