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At Home With

Messrs John Goldwyn and Jeff Klein

A 1950s cottage with a fascinating Hollywood legacy has become this producer-and-hotelier power couple’s jewel of a sanctuary

  • Messrs John Goldwyn (left) and Jeff Klein in front of two lithographs by Mr Robert Longo

“Six million dollars and it’s yours!” says Mr Jeff Klein, the owner of the Sunset Tower Hotel, as he ushers me into his home and introduces me to his husband, Mr John Goldwyn, the grandson of Mr Samuel Goldwyn, a bona fide Hollywood royal. The place is immaculate, as spotless as a show home, which is what it is at this point.

“It’s on the market,” Mr Klein sighs, giving Mr Goldwyn a look. “It wasn’t my idea. As soon as I saw this place I fell in love with it.”

What’s not to love? You take Doheny Drive north of Sunset Boulevard, and just before the hills start to wind, there’s this quiet door on the corner of Cordell. Blink and you’d miss it. But what’s behind that door is, as Mr Goldwyn says, “a jewel”, which has already featured twice in Architectural Digest. In a city that routinely razes its history to the ground, here is a rare pocket of glamour from the golden era, a beautifully restored cottage, and a masterpiece of the Hollywood Regency style.

  • The photo of Versailles (right) taken by Mr Robert Polidori is Mr Goldwyn’s favourite piece

“I think it was a party,” says Mr Klein, casting back to his first visit. The previous owner, Mr Greg Jordan, was a friend – a renowned interior designer and, with Mr Klein, the owner of the fashionable City Club Hotel in New York. And Mr Klein was so enraptured by Mr Jordan’s home that he called Mr Goldwyn that night – “I’ve just seen the house that I’m going to buy in LA.”

It was 2004 and Mr Klein had just moved to LA. He and Mr Goldwyn were making a go of it, and Mr Goldwyn lived out west – he’d been a top Paramount executive for 14 years, and was breaking out as a producer, with his business partner Mr Lorne Michaels. Meanwhile, Mr Klein had just bought the Sunset Tower, a hotel he would revive to stunning effect over the next decade. The hotel renovations were well under way when the news came in – Mr Greg Jordan had died. He was only 48. “It was very sad,” says Mr Klein. “But it had nothing to do with me wanting the house!”

There’s a charming lineage to this home. It was one of three cottages that the producer Mr George Cukor built for his guests in 1951. The cottage to the east was once home to Ms Katharine Hepburn and Mr Spencer Tracy. And Mr Cukor, who was famously gay, engaged the brilliant architect Mr John Elgin Woolf for the job – Mr Woolf too was gay, which was a significant hurdle for an architect in those days. Today, of course, Mr Woolf’s buildings are treasures, especially those, like this, that are relatively untouched. There are only a handful left in LA. “He built mostly on the Westside,” says Mr Goldwyn, “and the property got so expensive, people just tore them down and rebuilt.”

There’s also an oblique family connection here. Mr Cukor had been close to Mr Goldwyn’s grandmother, Ms Frances Howard, whose photograph – shot by Mr Gjon Mili – hangs in the study. “The story goes that he introduced her to my grandfather Samuel,” says Mr Goldwyn. “He said, ‘Frances, you don’t have a very bright future as an actress, but you have a very bright future as Mrs Samuel Goldwyn – take the part!’” He laughs. “Probably apocryphal. But a happy coincidence.”

Mr Woolf’s genius lay in the way his homes reveal themselves like stories, perfect for Hollywood. Understated on the outside, full of mystery, but on the inside they unfold, room by room, each door opening with a sense of surprise and movement, an effect that begins on the street. “Today, houses announce themselves kerbside,” says Mr Goldwyn. “But you could drive by this house and never look twice. There’s a sense of discovery. Rooms lead to rooms and they all have a different experience, but still seem to connect and cohere around one idea.”

Mr Woolf’s most famous home is the “Pendleton” house, now home to Mr Robert Evans, the legendary producer, just down the road in Beverly Hills. That too has a cinematic sense of flow and surprise – doors, which open onto the lounge, which reveals a garden, which reveals a pool. And both the Pendleton home and the Cukor cottage (this one) are surprisingly small, at least by current McMansion standards. But they don’t feel it. Cosy but not cramped, a triumph of design.

“This is only 3,300sq ft,” says Mr Klein. “But you’ll notice no hallways – the rooms are all connected. And there’s all this light.” It pours in from this angle and that. Thanks to the house’s angular U-shape, almost every room relates to the garden with its bijou fountain and dipping pool. And the tall, slim Pullman doors, a recurring feature, add height throughout the house.

Mr Goldwyn hired the interior designer Ms Madeline Stuart because, well, she had designed three of his previous homes. But also because her office was in a Woolf building on Melrose Place; she understood his style, how to make a space unfold. “Some designers give every room a statement,” says Mr Goldwyn. “So you find yourself sharing the house with a lot of ideas. But she was good at calming things down. Making the rooms beckon.”

And there are personal touches everywhere. In the central living room, there’s Mr Goldwyn’s Warhol, a couple of lithographs by Mr Robert Longo and a Mr Karl Springer table that Mr Klein inherited from his grandmother. It’s made from various kinds of animal horn: “I don’t think it would be legal today.” Mr Goldwyn’s favourite piece is a photo of Versailles by Mr Robert Polidori, showing an open door revealing rooms beyond. “It’s a room within a room within a room, which is exactly what this house is.”

Mr Klein describes the home as a sanctuary. A place of quiet and unwinding. Script reading and television. For dinner parties, they have the Tower Bar just 10 minutes down the road – why entertain when you have your own hotel? And they were happy years, a period of growth. Mr Klein created the Sunset Tower phenomenon. Mr Goldwyn is now a major producer, with the forthcoming Masterminds, starring Ms Kristen Wiig and Mr Zach Galifianakis, out later this year. 

But that era is over now. They’re moving to Beverly Hills to an old hacienda home on a large chunk of land; Mr Boris Karloff’s old house, in fact. It’s hard to leave a place like this. Just as the rooms open up thrillingly on the way through, they close up behind you, a series of cocoons returning to their privacy.

Mr Klein looks at that mysterious front door from the street for a moment. “I’ll tell you why we haven’t accepted any offers yet,” he says. “It’s not about the money. It’s the memories. They’re hard to relinquish.”