Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Landmark Architecture

Landmark Architecture - The Long Beach Monster

The building that defines Long Beach, California, for better or worse, from just before the stock market crash and the Great Depression -

Villa Riviera - 800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California

    The Villa Riviera at 800 East Ocean Boulevard, was first called the Villa Riviera Hotel when it was constructed in 1929, second in height at that time only to the Los Angeles City Hall. 

    Architect Richard D. King won a grand prize at an international contest for the design of the sixteen-story building. Its costs of construction were over two million dollars, at that time a large sum in building expenditures. Its architecture savors of the majestic Tudor Gothic, with a marked resemblance to the Italian and French Renaissance, all blended into a composite grace of line that overshadows any single decorative detail.

    At one time, Joseph M. Schenck of Twentieth Century-Fox and Norma Talmadge, then his wife, owned the hotel. It survived the earthquake with only plaster cracks which were easily repaired.  With its height and its command of a view over the ocean to Catalina and over the city, the Villa Riviera is an eye-catching object for Long Beach.

History -

    Groundbreaking began in late 1927 with the opening planned for December 1928. Due to various delays, the official opening actually occurred April 1929. The building was not originally planned as a hotel; it was built as residential stock co-operative (or "own-your-own") apartments, and was known only as VILLA RIVIERA. It didn't become a residential hotel until after the depression when the finance company took it back and sold it to a hotel concern. It then became known as Villa Riviera Apartment Hotel.

    At one time, Joseph M. Schenck of Twentieth Century-Fox and Norma Talmadge, then his wife, owned the hotel. Talmadge was Schenck's ex-wife at the time he "purchased" the Villa for her to manage. Apparently they were still close, on good terms, and one might imagine that he took pity on her since her silent film career was over and she probably had little else to do. Various rumors (mostly from real estate agents) run rampant about the Villa being "built" or "owned" by Talmadge, however careful research shows that they had control of it for something less than a year and made few (if any) payments on the loan. Over the next 20 years it went through several different hotel owners until the mid-1950s when the units were again sold-off as stock co-op residential apartments. The association was converted to condominium titles in 1991.

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Villa Riviera - 800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California
Villa Riviera - 800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California
Villa Riviera - 800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California
Villa Riviera - 800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California
Villa Riviera - 800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California
Villa Riviera - 800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California
Villa Riviera - 800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California Villa Riviera - 800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California
Villa Riviera - 800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California

If you use any of these photos for commercial purposes I assume you'll discuss that with me.

These were shot with a Nikon D70 - using lens (1) AF-S Nikkor 18-70 mm 1:35-4.5G ED, or (2) AF Nikkor 70-300mm telephoto, or after 5 June 2006, (3) AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor, 55-200 mm f/4-5.6G ED. They were modified for web posting using Adobe Photoshop 7.0

The original large-format raw files are available upon request.

From an original Villa Riviera Brochure, dated 1928 -

SELDOM DO IDEAS SPRING full blown from the brain that first conceives them. Rather they are a product of development - a development which, oftentimes, expands far beyond the most extravagant hopes of the originator.

Fifty years ago, when a group of American artists devised a plan whereby each would share equally in the ownership of a combined studio and apartment building, it is improbable that any one of them dreamed that, a half century later, more than five hundred millions of dollars would be invested in co-operatively owned apartments in the city of New York alone. Nor is it at all likely that they realized that the development of the idea which they furnished would culminate in what is recognized as the ideal solution of the modem metropolitan home problem.

However, it is not only in New York that the co-operative apartment idea has become firmly established. In every principal city of the United States, many beautiful occupant-owned apartment buildings will be found. Although only a few years have passed since the first co-operative apartment in the West, the Artaban in Long Beach, was organized and built by Lionel V. Mayell, many others have been subsequently erected and this ideal manner of residence has become a permanent and popular California institution; for nowhere else does an apartment-home offer greater advantages than here.

World travelers, with the enchanting panoramas of the Mediterranean fresh in their memories, have said that nowhere is there a marine vista which surpasses the view of the Pacific from the Long Beach Palisades. At sunset, with the Catalinas a symphony of mauve and purple shadows blending rose-toned sky with sapphire sea, it has many times been compared with the famed vision of Mount Vesuvius from across the Bay of Naples.

It is here, at the foot of Alamitos Avenue, on the most favored site on all picturesque Ocean Boulevard, that VILLA RIVIERA; finest and most modem of all California's resident-owned apartment hotels, will soon add its towering campanile to the Long Beach skyline.

Like its palatial neighbor on the east, the Pacific Coast Club, VILLA RIVIERA will be one of the most magnificent architectural examples in Southern California if not in all America.

In its exterior design, VILLA RIVIERA will be distinctively individual. In general, it will savor of the majestic Tudor Gothic, but with a marked feeling of French and Italian Renaissance, all blended into a composite grace of line which will overshadow any single decorative detail. Throughout, the structure will be of Class A type and, as sketches in this brochure designate, it will rise to a height of fourteen floors above the Ocean Boulevard level with two additional sub-floors facing on the beach. Immediately in the rear will be a modern fireproof garage connected with the main building by an ornamental bridge.

Within VILLA RIVIERA will provide its one hundred and thirty owner-residents and their families with every comfort, luxury and modern convenience afforded by the finest hotel or the perfectly appointed individual home. Approaching the building, they will pass through a flower-strewn garden and enter a marquee-sheltered doorway of classic beauty set at the convergence of the two wings. Here they will find themselves in the unique, hexagonal-walled Foyer - a charming room in which the design and treatment of which the architect has been admirably successful in conveying the atmosphere of welcome and good cheer which keynotes the hospitable spirit of VILLA RIVIERA.

At the further side of the Foyer, a doorway opens upon a hallway which, in turn, gives access to the spacious Lounge - a great, circular room, its lofty ceiling massively beamed. Here, indeed, will be a room well worthy of its name, for with deep-cushioned chairs to loll in and with half its circumference windowed and overlooking the Pacific below, what more delightful place to spend leisure hours could one ask?

Down the hallway, through the right wing, one passes the business offices, traverses the great Ball Room and comes upon two cozy Palm Rooms, facing down the Boulevard, which provide additional opportunities for the enjoyment of idle moments.

The street level of the opposite wing will be given over to the Arcade of Shops, a series of exclusive establishments from whose rental the co-owners will derive material revenue. From this wing also a short a stairway will descend to the porte-cochere on the driveway to the garage. Beautiful as it will be, however, it is not the street floor but the floors above that will purvey the charm of VILLA RIVIERA for it is there that one will find the community of lovely homes, all beneath one roof, yet each affording the same intimate privacy that its occupants would enjoy in a detached dwelling. VILLA RIVIERA apartment-homes will be available in sizes to suit the different requirements of the various occupants. There be small suites suitable for the bachelor or the business couple, larger apartments of three, four and five rooms, as well as a number of still more spacious villa salons comparable in size and elegance to neighboring mansions along the Boulevard.

Furthermore, each apartment-home will be completely furnished with fittings of highest character. Beautiful rugs and carpets of rich quality will cover the floors. Furniture of beautiful design and the product of one of America's most famous craftsmen will be installed. In addition, there will be numerous built-in pieces harmonizing with the wood trim.

No detail of equipment has been overlooked. Dinnerware, glassware, silver table service, linens, blankets, kitchen ware-all will be included. Full length cheval mirrors in the bedrooms. Late type showers in the vari-colored tile-wainscoted bathrooms. Kitchens with generous cupboards, white enamel ranges and automatic refrigeration.

Additional general equipment will comprise a modem, two-way, vacuum-type steam-heating system; continuous circulating hot water; high-speed elevators and an automatic elevator. On the two sub-floors there will be maids' rooms and baths, storage compartments and shower and dressing rooms for bathers, besides the space given over to the housing of heating plant, supply rooms and janitors' quarters. The garage, which will be of hundred car capacity, will permit of convenient access either by driveway or elevator. On the roof of this building will be another delightful feature of VILLA RIVIERA - a picturesque Italian Roof Garden.

Here, indeed, will be a home ideal which those of greatest affluence might easily envy. But instead of being the exclusive possession of one, more than one hundred contented families will share in the pleasures and privileges which this beautiful building and its unrivalled beach location will enable its residents to enjoy. Here, in short, will be an ideal manner of living providing every in-dweller with all the advantages, the comforts and the intimate home life which the most fortunate householder has - yet with entire freedom from the many vexing annoyances that arise in the care and upkeep of a separate dwelling.

Here will be unparalleled facilities for social enjoyment dances in the great Ball Room, the pleasure of quiet conversation on the Roof Garden or in the Lounge, impromptu beach parties on privately owned beach, a friendly rubber of bridge with congenial neighbors in their salon just down the hall from yours. Here is a home which one may leave for an evening at the theatre, or for an absence of several months, with no worry of loss by fire or from the invasion of house-breakers.

VILLA RIVIERA will afford each of its residents all of these pleasures and all of these advantages-and all at a cost of purchase and of maintenance considerably lower than in a separate home of equal excellence.

The Plan of Home Ownership

The original cost of a superbly furnished apartment-home in VILLA RIVIERA is less than half the cost of a private residence, equally well located, while the maintenance charges will be approximately only one-third as much. A startling statement, perhaps, to many who have not considered the remarkable economies effected through co-operative buying, but these figures are based upon the actual history of large apartment properties in this and other cities.

It is also interesting to note that a VILLA RIVIERA apartment, thought palatial to the last degree, is priced far lower than equally pretentious apartment in eastern cities, with infinite advantages in the way of elegance of appointments, completeness of service, superb outlook and proximity to the business and the shopping centers.

It is evident, then, that here is Long Beach is this wonderful structure of apartment villas which will transcend anything of the kind on the Pacific Coast, home ownership is not only desirable from a residential viewpoint, but is a soundly economic proposition, as well.

It is of primary interest to those who are considering apartment ownership in VILLA RIVIERA to know that this project is 100% pre-financed, independent of a single apartment sale. Indemnity, Completion and Lien Bonds, aggregating more than 200% of the cost of buildings, have been executed, guaranteeing completion of the buildings in accordance with plans and specifications free from liens. These bonds are a super measure of security for all concerned and have been signed by the foremost surety companies in America.

[Landmark Architecture]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik