Monday, September 22, 2014

Hollywood House Hunting: Norma Desmond's Seaside Retreat

Between The OC, The Real Housewives of Orange County, and the countless references from Angelenos about the horrors found behind the "Orange Curtain," Orange County, CA gets a bad rap for being vain, insipid, prejudice, and altogether too tan (I'm making it my ghostly-white mission to defeat that particular stereotype).  Unsure if this does anything to disprove the prevailing notion of Orange County, it must be said that the OC's beach communities were weekend getaways for Hollywood's greatest stars.  Bette Davis occupied multiple homes in Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, while the "Duke," John Wayne, took up full-time residence in Newport Beach.  One day, as we motored around San Clemente, Orange County's southernmost beach town, we decided to pop in at the seaside retreat of one of Hollywood's earliest and most-enduring celebrities, Ms. Gloria Swanson.

The weekend home of Gloria Swanson (1926) - San Clemente, CA
I guess the stars really are "just like us;" there are few things
I love more than a 1920s, Spanish-style, California bungalow.

As charming as this bungalow may be, it hardly seemed a fitting home, even as a weekend hideaway, for a star the magnitude of Gloria Swanson.  I mean, here was Queen Kelly in a house that was well, apart from everything else, rather small. 

Perhaps Gloria didn't want a big house.
After all, the purpose of beach living is living on the beach.
A seaside retreat means suiting/booting up for hours of basking
in the glow of San Clemente's perpetually sunny shore.

Maybe, I thought, the house was built to scale; it is well known that the diminutive star measured barely five-feet-tall.  Still, this house wasn't speaking to me - hearing that, Norma Desmond would have probably slapped me silly before uttering something about not needing to speak.  "We had faces!"  As a matter of fact, I was actually forced to do an about-face when we rounded the corner and I caught my first glimpse of the rest of the house.

Still modest by movie-star standards, this beautiful beach house
was definitely ready for its close-up (after closing up the garage door)!

In more than eight decades, San Clemente has changed dramatically, going from a sleepy, out-of-the-way beach town to a much, much larger, sleepy, out-of-the-way beach town.  Fortunately, precious little has changed about the appearance of old Gloria's getaway.  Set into the hillside and just a stone's throw from the crashing waves, the house looks nearly identical to the day it was built.

A vintage view of Casa Swanson

The indoor/outdoor living, the smooth white stucco, the terra cotta roof, the steps lined in Spanish tile -  they're pure California, as indivisible from the coastal character of southern Orange County as Gloria Swanson from her character, Norma Desmond (at least in our minds).  Don't you love how access to the bedrooms is achieved via a covered walkway/gallery?  Don't you long for similar views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Catalina Island from practically every room in your house?  Don't you desperately wish you lived in Orange County?!?!!  Okay, maybe I went a bit too far with that last one... but for the ability to frolic in the foam of San Clemente's azure surf and return home to Casa Swanson in its heyday, I'd happily acquiesce to wearing shorty-shorts and obeying creepy commands like...

"Turn around, darling.  Let me dry you."
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard with William Holden

Gloria Swanson's Seaside Retreat
418 Cazador Ln
San Clemente, CA


Mr. Tiny


  1. I just adore it when Stars turn out to be "sitting on the floor" people like the rest of us! What a charming house, and how wonderful that it's exterior has remained mostly unchanged. It would be weird and thrilling all at the same time to walk where such a star once did, use the same bathroom, haha! What a fun little "place"!

    1. Hahaha!! I'm surprised I hadn't thought of that...sharing the "throne" with Queen Kelly!

  2. I agree its cute but not what I would have pictured

    retro rover

    1. Yes, not as majestic as one might expect...but I wouldn't turn it down if someone handed me the key!