21 Chester Place
The mystery behind “The Real Addams Family House”
Construction began on this house in 1887 by (or for), Henry G. Newhall and was completed in 1888 off of “West Adams Street” in Los Angeles, CA., on 2.25 acres that was just east of “St. James Park.” Built in the West Adams District just southwest of downtown, it was located in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles with most buildings being erected between 1880-1925.
The area started with a Los Angeles land survey conducted in 1853, by a New Hampshire lawyer named Henry Hancock. In between the boulevards (which were just dirt roads then), were great 35-acre lands that became available for purchase after the survey. He then himself purchased one of the lots in 1855 (which would eventually become the gated community “Chester Place” 44 years later), and then sold the land to sea captain Nathan Vail in 1867, whom then sold the land to a retired Arizona Federal Judge named Charles Silent in 1885.
Years later after the initial land survey the area was eventually developed over time by railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington and wealthy industrialist Hulett C. Merritt. By November 1887 (with “St. James Park” coming to a completion), plans were already under way to build Henry G. Newhall’s house and construction began next to Charles Silent’s land in the West Adams District. Since the Newhall house was being built somewhat farther back on the land away from the nearest surrounding streets an early “Los Angeles Herald” ad dated November 3, 1887, originally announced that Mr. H. G. Newhall was building his residence out on “Figueroa Street”, but when the Newhall house was completed and listed in the “Los Angeles City Directory” though in 1888, it was officially designated as being on “West Adams Street.” The wealthy flocked to this area during the late-1880’s through early-1900’s, and many grand homes were erected during that time. The West Adams District ended up becoming one of the wealthiest districts in the city with massive Victorian mansions.
With the house being situated quite some distance off of “West Adams Street” (and new homes were being built in the immediate area), it caused the house to have multiple addresses throughout the years. In the very beginning between 1888-1890, the “Los Angeles City Directory” listed the house address as “N s West Adams bet S Figueroa and Scarff” (which is more like a location instead of an actual address). By 1894 though, the “Los Angeles City Directory” list the address for the Newhall house as “747 West Adams St.”
On September 22, 1896, Walter Scott Newhall (one of Henry G. Newhall’s brothers), married Nellie Hammill Trowbridge. I can only speculate since this is not a known fact, but speculation is that Henry probably gave the house to his brother Walter S. Newhall as a possible wedding gift for the bride and groom (truth is we will probably never know for certain). Nevertheless, from this point on Walter Scott Newhall is listed as the owner of the house at “747 West Adams St.”
In 1899, when the gated community “Chester Place” (that runs north to south between “West 23rd Street” and “West Adams Street” with gateways at both entrances), was created and subdivided on Charles Silent’s land, another street was made (running parallel), to connect “Chester Place” to “St. James Park.” The new partial street ran right in front of the Newhall home and so therefor giving the house (again), a new address of “735 West 25th St.” (although not for long).
In 1902, the Doheny’s (Oil tycoon Edward & Estelle Doheny, who had moved in to “8 Chester Place” the previous year), started buying up the remaining lots in “Chester Place” to control and ensure their privacy (eventually acquiring all of “Chester Place” from Charles Silent). Sometime that year in 1902, the partial “West 25th St.” got renamed “Chester Place.” Since the Newhall house and the land that it sat on didn’t belong to the Doheny’s, the house was not actually considered apart of “Chester Place.” However, the street had been renamed (due to the Doheny’s influence), and the house address did change to “21 Chester Place” during this time.
On Christmas Day in 1906, Walter Scott Newhall passed away and in 1915, the land that the Newhall house sat on was purchased by the Doheny’s as well as the house itself. Estelle then had a set of gates placed on the street to enclose the house (as well as two houses across the street from the Newhall home), with in “Chester Place.” The Newhall house was now officially included as part of the gated community at “21 Chester Place.” It then became a rent house as Estelle had done with the other houses that she had acquired in the immediate area.
This house was only used in “The Addams Family” 1964-66 TV show’s first episode (Season 1/Episode 1), for the exterior footage of the house in the opening scene. You can also see the porte-cochère in the background behind Gomez when he is filing the gates during the show intro (that is played before each episode). The house was also used in publicity photos for the show with John Astin (Gomez), standing in front of the house in different spots and poses. However, the 3rd floor and roof was not quite the look that they had imagined, so instead of trying to buy the house and fix to their liking or constructing an actual full-scale front or shell of a home on a studio lot, they opted to use a matte painting of this house which could be altered for different scenes. They hired an established optical effects studio called the Howard Anderson Company to do this.
Sometime in 1964, they took a picture of “21 Chester Place” (with the studio props added), and then blew up the picture to a 30×40 inch black and white portrait. An artist named Louis McMannus brushed color oil paint over the photograph to add details and style to the house to make it exactly what they wanted. Using the technique with the matte painting placed over In-Motion stock footage of the Newhall house also gave them the ability to create an illusion of activity in front of “The Addams Family” home. After using the house in the first episode (filming stock footage of the house), and taking the look of the house in general they used the matte painting of the house for the rest of the shows course. The house was also briefly used exterior wise in the 1964 Motion Picture “Seven Days In May” and in one episode of the 60’s TV sitcom “Hazel.”
But here it is, this is the real house that became “The Addams Family” home in the 60’s TV sitcom. Unfortunately, this house is no longer standing. The show didn’t need the house after they had taken all the footage they wanted from it, so it was not purchased and moved to a studio lot off of the land that was now owned by “Mount St. Mary’s College Doheny Campus” (who weren’t even using the house).
When the previous land owner of “Chester Place” Estelle Doheny died in 1958, she willed the land to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles; whom then gave the land to “Mount St. Mary’s College” and in 1962, they opened up their satellite campus there and incorporated most of the historic homes within student housing and teaching. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), the campus let the current renters stay that were living in the home and decided not to use the house for housing or teaching, so they continued to live there within the campus at “21 Chester Place” as they had since the 1930’s.
The Newhall house survived for some time even as the campus began to grow over the years. The house was still there in 1964 for “The Addams Family” Producers to discover and use the house, but as soon as it seemed the coast was clear the house that had once graced “W. Adams St.”,”West 25th St.” and then “21 Chester Place“, was put on the chopping block in 1968 (when “Mount St. Mary’s College Doheny Campus” that owned the land that the house sat on, was propositioned by the L.A.U.S.D. to let that side of the street go to make way for a High School).
It was the only house on that side of the street that is now called “St. James Park West” and the campus wasn’t using the house (although renters were still living in the home), so I guess they thought it was expendable. Obviously no one spoke up and tried to save this famous and historic house and so therefor it was demolished sometime between 1968-1972. According to “The Los Angeles City Directory” the house had been evacuated in 1968 and aerial photos do show that it was definitely gone by 1972 (I have yet to find factual proof of demolition date, but I speculate that it was demolished in 1968). Now where the house once stood is a Track and Field for a High School.
There is a “driveway approach” on that side of the street still, but it is not the original one for “21 Chester Place.” Unfortunately, the original “driveway approach” for the house was filled in and a new one (about 10-15 yards west from the original), was made for access to the Track and Field for the school. Sadly, the only thing left from the time the house stood there on that side of the street inside the gates is the street itself (which has been repaved), portions of the sidewalk and the six-globe street lamp (installed close to the original driveway in 1903), which can be seen in some of the photographs of the house.