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Igor Stravinsky spent 28 years in Hollywood. I don’t know how that sounds to you, but it sounds like something out of science fiction to me. Especially when you consider that during his last years there, we almost, almost, almost shared the same sidewalk a time or two. I used to hang out on Sunset Boulevard a lot in the early 1970s. Stravinsky bailed out, moving to New York City, in 1969. Virtually the entire LA sojourn was spent on N. Wetherly Dr., just few hundred feet above Sunset. (N. Wetherly turns up off of Sunset just west of the Roxy Club.) Some time ago in this space I shared photos of Stravinsky’s first property at 1260 N. Wetherly. Today I share a few photos of his second address on this street at 1218 N. Wetherly. I think it’s interesting to note that Stravinsky lived in LA longer than in any other city.
Do you think of Stravinsky as an “LA composer”? I surely don’t. Just imagine it, Stravinsky’s driver Edwin Allen driving him home past the Whiskey A-Go-Go in the mid-1960s as Jim Morrison and the Doors are warming up. It doesn’t fit into my head.
It would appear that the great maestro moved into the house at 1218 N. Wetherly in 1963. In any case we know that he moved into his first house in LA in April 1940 and that he spent 23 years there. This would leave him six years at the home you see pictured in this space today.
He wrote several major works at 1218, including his four preludes to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, and his Requiem Canticles. It was at this home in 1965 that a film clip was made by CBS of Stravinsky playing part or parts of his The Rite of Spring.
It was here, also, that his health began to fail.
Stephen Walsh’s Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America, 1934-1971 contains a detailed chapter about the last days at this home. It pictures the composer as quite unwell, perhaps not even fully cognizant of what is going on around him. Meanwhile, his wife Vera apparently never took a particular liking to the new home, making her uncomfortable. “Now Vera was exhausted and depressed, hated Hollywood more than ever, and disliked the house as much as before,” Walsh writes.
Not sparing Angelenos’ ego, Walsh writes about the hurried departure from N. Wetherly Dr., “…a move to New York was being planned. Europe had not worked out; Los Angeles, quite apart from its social and cultural desolation, was impossibly remote from the first-rate doctoring the composer needed.”
Obviously, Walsh is no fan of the Doors or even Buffalo Springfield, but, still, his attitude to LA would make Woody Allen sound like a fan. “Impossibly remote from first-rate doctoring”?
Whatever the case, here is what one eye-witness said about Stravinsky at that time, as reported by Walsh:
“…We did not expect the sight which faced us when we were admitted to his bedroom. He had lost so much weight that he seemed transparent. […] He looked like a ghost, his eyes so deeply sunk in a face which was but skin stretched on bones. Still, he found the strength to bless me in Russian with a sign of the cross over my chest. We left in a state of utter desolation.”
We glean a little more information about this residence from Neil Wentborn’s Stravinsky: The Illustrated Lives of the Great Composers. “…The Stravinskys moved house after 23 years at 1260 North Wetherly Drive. Their new home was in the same street – No. 1218, the house, until her death in 1959, of their old friend the Baroness Caherine d’Erlanger, a one-time backer of Diaghilev – but it was much better adapted to Stravinsky’s decreasing mobility. It also had more space than the old one, and the couple set about expanding it still further, adding bathrooms, a guest room and a swimming pool, and converting existing rooms into a library and a studio. It is indicative of the changes age and sickness had wrought in Stravinsky, however, that he found the move disorientating and never really settled in the new house.”
I was fortunate to get two shots of the house itself (pretty much the same shot from different distances) because the current residents’ gardener just happened to be watering and mowing as I arrived. As a result, both gates to the otherwise hermetically closed property were flung wide open.
I am not a paparazzi in fact or in spirit, and I must admit, I was disconcerted to be shooting my subject furtively while the gardener did his work and wondered what the hell I was up to. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to actually step onto the inner driveway in order to get better shots – I didn’t feel it was proper.