Setting the Scene for Art and Architecture

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St. Clair Family

Norman St. Clair, Laguna’s First Artist

 Part 1

By Ann Christoph

Artist and architect Norman St. Clair and his descendents played a powerful role in influencing Laguna Beach’s reputation as an art colony and its renowned village character.

Norman Boden St. Clair (1865-1912), artist, architect and architectural illustrator, discovered Laguna around the turn of the century, thanks to a glowing account of the spot he heard from his wife. An exhibition of his Laguna Beach paintings in 1904 at the Annual Spring Exhibition at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art in 2_laguna home companion New_History_logoSan Francisco created a buzz, inspiring other artists to come to Laguna to paint its picturesque sea and canyon views. St. Clair was a well-known watercolorist and one of the early California impressionists, who painted in “plein air” (out of doors) in order to capture the light and movement of the scene. But he commuted to Laguna from Pasadena for another reason, too.

Norman was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire, England.   In 1887 he arrived in Boston by the ship ‘Bothnia.’ He married Ann Elizabeth Fleetwood (1865-1946) of Liverpool and the couple’s first son, Aubrey Fleetwood St. Clair, was born in Malden, Massachusetts in 1889. The birthplaces of their three younger sons indicate the family’s migration across the country. Second son, Bernard, was born in Utah in 1894, while Malcolm, 1897, and Eric, 1903, were both born in California.

Norman worked as an architect in Boston, Denver, Salt Lake City and San Francisco before moving to Pasadena in the mid-1890s. In Los Angeles, he worked for the John Parkinson architectural firm from approximately 1895 to 1902. He was an honorary life member of the American Institute of Architects.

As recounted in her obituary, Ann Elizabeth St. Clair was responsible for her husband’s discovery of Laguna Beach as a “natural art center. . .It was she who heard such a glowing account of the beauties of this spot while in a Los Angeles dentist’s office fifty (now 110) years ago and induced her husband to investigate.” (South Coast News July 9, 1946).

With knapsack and easel Norman took the train to El Toro, where he expected to be able to board the stage for Laguna. Since it was winter, the stage schedule had been reduced to two a week, and St. Clair had just missed one! A friendly postmaster, Nick Isch, offered to drive him to Laguna, which “consisted only of a handful of cottages, with a post office (which was also the general store.)” The “ramshackle wooden structure of a hotel” was closed for the winter but Isch offered board, and he invited St. Clair to sleep at the hotel if he would care for his own room. The next day “the artist marched out with a packet of sandwiches put up for him by his kind hostess, and was away all day, having the time of his life discovering the beauties of Laguna.” The harvest of paintings from this excursion was so excellent that when they were exhibited in San Francisco they were “singled out for praise and reproduction. Through this Laguna became known as a particularly sketchable spot… Very soon afterwards a whole troupe of artists was ensconced here.” (South Coast News, August 25, 1933)

The St. Clairs had a home in Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco and after 1906 commuted regularly to Laguna Beach. According to a family story, Norman had some adventures painting on the Laguna coast. On one occasion while he was standing on a reef, the tide came in and he was stranded. His wife Ann walked down to the location with his lunch. Since Norman was unable to walk to her, she put his lunch on a long pole and passed it to him. When the tide receded, he was able to walk off the reef and return home.

Exhibitions for Norman’s paintings were many, including shows at the San Francisco Art Association (1904-11), Laguna Hotel (1906), Del Monte Art Gallery (1908-09), Kanst Gallery, Los Angeles, (1909), Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (1910) and California Art Club (1912).

Not for art alone did St. Clair look forward to intervals in Laguna. He had contracted tuberculosis and sought in Laguna a hope of recovery, saying that the weather here was much more favorable. In a 1911 letter he wrote from Laguna to his sons Aubrey and Bernard, “Although not very free of physical movement, I have been able to soar mentally far over the hills and rock-bound coast, wheresoever indeed my fancy would lead me. My surroundings are inspiring, of course, and I can think of no other place where I would rather go, or which would be more likely to awaken in me an ambition to get well.”

Nevertheless, he died in his Pasadena home less than a year later on March 6, 1912, at age 47. At that time, the youngest, Eric, was only 9; Malcolm, 15; Bernard 18; and Aubrey 23. Ann ran an Art Gallery, selling some of Norman’s paintings in the Chamber of Commerce building in Pasadena following his death. At the time Bernard was employed, and Aubrey was developing his architectural profession so that he could contribute to the family. Later Malcolm, with his show business career, also was able to help.

In 1915 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art displayed a memorial exhibit of Norman St. Clair’s paintings. His earliest surviving painting is dated 1896. Three of his works are in the permanent collection of the Laguna Art Museum.

By 1930 Ann St. Clair had settled in Laguna Beach at 432 Myrtle Street. Between 1932 and 1935 she lived with son Eric and his wife, Florence, at 424 Jasmine, a property that is still in the family. She later moved next door to 432 Jasmine where she was living at the time of her death in 1946.

Aubrey St. Claire's wife Dolly (Eudora) working in her victory garden. Aubrey's studio is in the front of the house at 424 Jasmine St.  Photo courtesy of Ann Christoph
Aubrey St. Claire’s wife Dolly (Eudora) working in her victory garden. Aubrey’s studio is in the front of the house at 424 Jasmine St.
Photo courtesy of Ann Christoph

 

 

 

 

Part 2 next week will explore how Norman St. Clair’s artistic influence on his offspring affected the village character of Laguna Beach that is so appreciated today.

Acknowledgements to Gordon, Beverly and Brownie St. Clair and Kathryn Crawford for providing documents, photographs, and information for this article.

Part II

The Next Generation

Aubrey St. Clair 

Aubrey St. Clair (1889 -1968) was the oldest of four sons of Ann and Norman St. Clair, an early California impressionist painter whose 1904 watercolors of Laguna Beach scenes are credited with helping establish the town as an art colony.

Aubrey was the architect of some of the most distinctive buildings in Laguna Beach, including City Hall, the Laguna Beach Water District Building , and the Isch building, now occupied by Greeter’s Corner Restaurant. He also designed the Marney Building, now renamed the St. Clair Building, at 31713 Coast Highway, where I have my office. More of that in Part 3 next week.

He was associated with well-known Pasadena and Los Angeles architects such as Marston and Maybury, Garrett Van Pelt, Reginald Johnson and Wallace Neff, who were known for their high-quality designs based on traditional and revival themes. St. Clair’s designs, too, referred to Spanish/Mediterranean Revival, Monterey Colonial and English Tudor styles, applying them skillfully to new situations and building with attention to quality detail. With his English family background and architectural training, Aubrey had a great affinity for English culture. Tudor was his favorite style, according to his daughter in law, Beverly St. Clair, who still resides in Laguna.

Getting a Start

The St. Clair family, after migrating across the country, initially resided in Pasadena. Aubrey attended the Los Angeles Military Academy at age 14, being awarded a full scholarship for the 1903-4 school year. By 1911, he was working in the office of Green and Green, the well-known architects of the arts and crafts era. He left in 1912 just weeks after his father’s death to complete his architectural training in London and Paris. He returned on the Cunard Lines’ Ultonia on September 24, 1912, five months after the Titanic’s sinking.

Aubrey married Eudora “Dolly” Graham in 1913, and worked as a draftsman for the Pasadena Water Department. By 1924 he was working in the architectural department of contractors J. H. Woodworth and Son. In the late 1920s he worked for Marston and Maybury, and then started his own practice.

Becoming a Master Architect

Like his parents, he visited Laguna Beach often, developing a clientele and a reputation that gave him the opportunity to design public, institutional and residential projects. 1929 saw the completion of the Laguna Beach Water District Building, which may be his most impressive public accomplishment.

“The Laguna Beach Water District is a thing of beauty and should be a joy forever to Lagunans who believed that the city by the sea is entitled to the best there is in artistic quality and excellence of workmanship. . . When Aubrey St. Clair was chosen to work out a plan he brought to his job the memory of days, when as a boy, he used to walk two miles out the Laguna Canyon Road with a bucket in each hand and bring back enough water for himself and his brothers, the now famous Mal and the soon-to-be famous artist, Eric. So Aubrey St. Clair knew all the trials and tribulations of Lagunans over water. That is probably the reason for the exquisitely beautiful well fountain in the portico, where the water, the best in California, trickles each hour of the day, drop, drip, drip, symbolizing the undisturbed plenty of days to come,” recounts an undated clipping in the St. Clair family archives, celebrating the completion of this building.

The design and photographs of the water district building were accepted by jury to hang in an exhibit of fine architecture in the Architects’ Building on Fifth and Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles.

Despite this success, St. Clair’s architectural business struggled during the depression. Daughter in law Beverly St. Clair says he often worked as a house framer to make ends meet.

Aubrey St. Clair moved to Laguna Beach in 1935. He and his family lived at 424 Jasmine. By 1936, Aubrey had established his own firm, and was working on residences on Poplar, Diamond, and Cypress Streets, Park Avenue and in Three Arch Bay. He was also designing an office building for the Yoch Company, an early developer, according to a 1936 newspaper clipping.

He developed relationships with others in the building trades, such as Sam Smith of Smith Construction. Smith commissioned him to design the Builder’s Guild Building, on Coast Boulevard at Brooks Street, now partly occupied by the Sandpiper and English Garden. There the Smith Construction headquarters occupied the corner offices, St. Clair’s office the upper floor, and Stover Electric, Boulevard Sheet Metal Works, and Laguna Beach Iron Works the remaining spaces.

During the war, St. Clair was in charge of construction work for a lumber company in Eureka and served with the Bay Point Steel Ship Building Company.

In the 1950s, St. Clair collaborated with architect Wilfrid B. Verity for two of his largest projects, City Hall and the Laguna Federal Building, now Wells Fargo Bank. A description of the City Hall building, in the Sept. 25, 1951 edition of South Coast News, could apply to St. Clair’s work as a whole: “It epitomizes the spirit of Laguna in its California simplicity, its outward charm, and its combination of informality with efficiency.”

Aubrey's daughter Alice Ann and her son David on the porch of the Jasmine Street house.
Aubrey’s daughter Alice Ann and her son David on the porch of the Jasmine Street house.

The Family

Like his mother, Ann, Aubrey and Dolly followed the Christian Science religion. They had four children. The father’s namesake, Aubrey Graham, lived just three years, dying in a 1919 influenza epidemic. Alice Ann was born the same year. She went on to marry George Albert Lesikar, but was diagnosed with cancer in her early thirties. At the request of her parents, medical treatment was delayed to allow Christian Science methods to be employed. Tragically, Alice Ann died at 35, leaving her young children David Lesikar and Kathryn Lesikar (nee) Crawford. Kathryn has become the family historian, compiling much of the material presented in this account.

Son Norman Ross (1920-1997) married Kay “Brownie” Berry. They had three children, Norman Ross, Jr., Margaret Ann and Mary Kay “Kate.” Norman was a local electrician for many years. Brownie still lives in the family home in Laguna Beach.

The youngest son, Gordon Graham (1924-2001) married Beverly June Smith and they had two children, Gordon Scott and Craig Graham. The elder Gordon was an electronic engineer who designed aircraft antenna systems for Communications Components Company in Costa Mesa. Beverly St. Clair lives in a restored North Laguna cottage and has been working on preserving St. Clair history, with her son, Craig.

Aubrey St. Clair’s Laguna Beach Portfolio

 

St. Clair buildings have set the tone and style for much of what we consider to be the best qualities of Laguna Beach’s village character.

Café Las Ondas (1927) on the Boardwalk at Main Beach (no longer existing)

Laguna Beach Fire Hall (1929) and City Hall (1951), 505 Forest Avenue

Laguna Beach Water District building (1929), 306 Third Street

Isch Building, (pre-1934) 329 S. Coast Highway

Pump House on Temple Hills (pre-1934)

Tony’s Café/Benson Building, also previously located on Main Beach

Malcolm Cleaners Building

Builder’s Guild building (1936) at 1191 South Coast Highway at Brooks Street

Laguna Federal Building (1961), now Wells Fargo Bank at 260 Ocean Avenue

Laguna Federal Building (1935) recently occupied by Big Dog at 222 Ocean Avenue.

White House Restaurant, interior 340 S. Coast Highway

Bird’s Tavern

Victor Hugo Restaurant, now Las Brisas, 361 Cliff Drive

Mermaid building, 407 Mermaid Street

First Church of Christ Scientist, now the Laguna Beach Krishna Temple (1941)

Library building and Chamber of Commerce at 363 Glenneyre (no longer existing)

McKnight Apartments, Cliff Drive

Martha Woods Nursery School, 590 Park Avenue

El Morro School

 

Residences:

Dr. and Mrs. W. H. Wimp of Pasadena on Poplar

Mr. and Mrs. Frank Elder at corner of Diamond and Seawood

2015 Ocean Way, interior

Charles Prisk residence, later called the Bette Davis house

Sophia Berry of Los Angeles on Cypress

Linton Simmons, superintendent of schools

  1. R. Brent, Three Arch Bay

William Holt, Graceland Drive

Mrs. Mabel Thompson, Bent Street

Charlotte Whyte of Pomona, Emerald Bay

Residence at corner of Hilledge and Blumont

Harry Levinson, 2646 Victoria Drive

Richard Bird Residence, “Casamar,” 435 Hilledge Drive (1929)

Mrs. Theodosia Ingham, Diamond Street

Mrs. W. A. Orrell

  1. Cronmeyer

Mrs. Maze Gazda, Gertrude Young and Richard Marriner,

El Mirada Tract

  1. Sweitzer, Wood’s Point
  2. R. Wood at Park and Blumont (1936 or 37)

 

Acknowledgements to Gordon, Beverly and Brownie St. Clair and Kathryn Crawford for providing documents, photographs and information for this article.

Copyright Ann Christoph 2007

Restoration Reveals Who Defined Village Style

Part III

Architect Aubrey St. Clair designed some of the most important buildings in Laguna Beach, including the Water District building and City Hall.  He also designed what is still the most distinctive building in South Laguna’s little business district.

In 1939, South Laguna’s “downtown” included a post office, service station, the Village Market and Anderson’s restaurant, where 50 cents bought the best dinner on the menu. Original plans for the St. Clair building envisioned creating an upstairs office and street level spaces for a drugstore and barbershop.

St. Clair designed the building for Hazel and Arthur A. Marney, who lived in Buena Park. The Tudor-style building has similarities to the building now occupied by the English Garden and Sandpiper at Brooks Street and Coast Highway, also a St. Clair design. “I remember that the clients (Marneys) liked it so much they asked my father to use a similar design,” recalled St. Clair’s son, Gordon.

Marney Bldg.12.26.39 sm

In no dimension did St. Clair “push the envelope” in South Laguna. He staggered the front setback, leaving generous paved spaces on the Coast Highway side. The four parallel roofs step down from south to north on the Coast Highway façade, creating a gentle transition from the two-story portion to the single-story section on the north. The stone-paved staircase encourages access to the upper office in the center of the building with a gracious balustraded entrance and a lovely archway at the upper landing.

The most prominent feature of the building is its half-timbering, which was shaped by hand and treated with a preservative that has not required painting.  The lower storefronts are distinguished with different facings, one angled brick and the other stone. The high-quality materials are continued onto the sidewalk, where all of the paving is Arizona flagstone.  The interiors are graced with real plaster, trusswork, corbels, and tongue-and-groove ceilings.  Each door is different; one even features leaded glass.

This complex three-story building was constructed using only three sheets of drawings. St. Clair and South Laguna builder Arthur C. Wilson must have worked closely together during construction and Wilson was apparently very skilled constructing the detailing based on what today would be considered preliminary drawings.

As extraordinary as this building may seem today, its initial tenants provided fairly standard services to the local community.

One of the office tenants was dentist Floride Frost. In a 1987 letter sent to longtime South Laguna resident Harriet Wolf, Frost recalled having paid $40 a month rent. The other tenants were a beauty shop, a secondhand shop, and a barbershop, which occupied the southerly shop well into the 1960s.

“He and his friends bet on the races all the time,” said Frost, recalling one of the other tenants. “One time we went to Santa Anita with friends from Chicago, so I asked him for advice.  I wasted $2 a couple of times and won  $4 in (a) big deal.”

Dr. Frost had the opportunity to buy the building from the Marneys for $30,000 but declined.

In 1957 the property was sold to Ruth Reed Tinsman and Clifford S. Tinsman.  The building plaque was changed to the “Tinsman Building,” which housed Tinsman’s law practice until approximately 1982.

After the Tinsmans’ deaths, their sons sold the property in 1987 to the Christoph family, and in 1993 ownership was transferred to a partnership consisting of my mother, Marjorie Christoph-Allen, and myself. The upper office has served as headquarters for my landscape architectural practice, and the two lower offices have had several different tenants. At present Jackie Gallagher does art consulting from the northerly space, and Irma La Dulce offers clothing creations in the southerly space.

Since the Tinsman sons wanted to keep the building plaque with their family name on it, a replica was made and the building was renamed the St. Clair Building after its architect and his artist father, who is credited with instigating the founding of Laguna Beach as an art colony.

Refurbishment and Restoration

When we purchased it, the building had been neglected for several years.  Bus benches and newspaper racks cluttered the Coast Highway frontage. Overhead wires, utility poles and a refrigerator-like traffic signalcontrol box added to the visual cacophony. Over a few years, all of these elements were removed, restoring the front view of the building to St. Clair’s original vision.

The building was structurally sound, but woodwork and stucco needed repainting.  When we stripped away the yellow-gold paint from the banister we found paint layers of a grayed blue-green. We replicated the original trim color and chose grayish beige for the stucco with a darker shade for the concrete foundation.

The parking lot needed resurfacing, and there was no landscaping to provide the setting for the building depicted in St. Clair’s perspective rendering.  We restriped the parking lot to allow for planting an Angophora (gum myrtle tree) that now helps shade the upper office and provides a backdrop for the building. Red trumpet vines clamber over the front hip roof and around the chimney, and Boston ivy entirely leafs over the lower foundation.

Another plant eventually concealed an unsightly concrete block wall on the south, and we have the bonus of a continuous production of red flowers from the Malvaviscus arboreus (Turk’s cap).

After a 20-year effort by the South Laguna Civic Association, the asphalted medians on Coast highway near the St. Clair building were planted with colorful succulents, enhancing the setting for the building and the neighborhood. I was landscape architect for this project.

The interior of the upper office also needed refurbishment. Someone had cut one of the beams in the ceiling truss system and then patched the beam back together with another piece of wood.  The interior was painted a dark blue, and the window and door moldings had received a badly done faux wood-grain finish. The fireplace surround was mostly the faux wood-grain cabinetry with very little brick showing.  It definitely did not match St. Clair’s drawing showing a plastered chimney with sloping sides, with a beefy wood mantle supported by corbels that matched those on the rest of the building. A loft had been added but in a way that would not meet the scrutiny of the building department.

Referring to St. Clair’s drawing, carpenter David Hanson built a new wood mantel, and we replastered the chimney portion. We stripped the moldings and finished them to match the original honey-colored, tongue and groove ceiling.  Some of the windows were replaced; others were repaired.  A kitchenette and closet were added.  A shower was upgraded with plaster and tile, repeating in plaster the doorway shape on the office entrance. The loft was rebuilt with an alternate-tread fold-up stair that passed the city’s inspection.

The building continues to give back every day a feeling of appropriateness and quality resulting from the thoughtfulness of its original design. It is on the city’s historic registry, where it has received the highest rating.

Acknowledgements to Gordon and Beverly St. Clair and Jane Janz for providing documents and information for this article.

 

Postcard-Perfect Scenery, a Stage for Early Artists and Filmmakers

Part 4

Malcolm St. Clair, Hollywood director

English-born artist and architect Norman St. Clair and his offspring played a seminal role early in the 20th century establishing Laguna Beach’s reputation as an art colony and shaping its renowned village character. His watercolors of Laguna’s scenery bedazzled other artists at a 1904 exhibition, setting off an early tourist rush. His oldest son, Aubrey, also an architect, left his imprint, designing many of the town’s English-cottage and Spanish colonial revival style buildings, from 1927 through 1961.

Norman’s third son, Malcolm, who figured in the silent film era, made his mark on the town by putting it on celluloid. He was one of the first who cultivated the town’s ties to Hollywood as both a weekend haven for film celebrities and as a shooting location.

Even his older brother, Bernard, (1894 –1932-5) abetted the town’s reputation for welcoming Hollywood types. He worked as a chauffeur in Pasadena, where the St. Clair siblings grew up, and in Laguna Beach, the family weekend getaway.

Apparently some of Bernard’s chauffeur stints were on behalf of friends of his movie director brother Malcolm. Movie star Lew Cody, then working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was interviewed between scenes on location at Goff Island, where a French chateau had been erected, according to the South Coast News of April 2, 1926. Cody described being entertained by Bernard, “who drove him to all points of vantage in Laguna Beach.”

As a result of Bernard’s tour, Cody concluded, “I am positively sold on Laguna Beach. I know of no other place in America that has its wonderful combination of sea hills and beach. It is in a class by itself.”

The article adds, “Mr. Cody has been a friend of Mal and Bernard St. Clair. He was the first to predict that Mal would become a great director.” Lew Cody was the husband of actress Mabel Normand, called one of the greatest comedienne’s of the silent film era.

Bernard also served in the U. S. Army in 1918 during World War I. He married Marion I. Warner in 1929 and by 1932 he owned the service station at 1490 Coast Boulevard South, but died of skin cancer not long after. Marion lived in Laguna until her death in 1967. The couple was childless.

Before he began directing films in 1919 at age 22, Malcolm St. Clair (1897–1952) steered closer to his father’s career direction and was a cartoonist on a Los Angeles newspaper, according to an undated newspaper clipping in the family archives. He made sketches of slapstick comedy scenes and caricatures of the stars while in the studio. A movie critic apparently praised his artwork, describing it as modern technique. Mack Sennett, director of the slapstick Keystone Studios comedies, decided to hire St. Clair as a “Kop” in 1915, rescuing him from the grind of a newspaper art department.

St. Clair directed 91 films, including numerous Laurel and Hardy pictures, in a long career starting with the 1919 silent film “The Little Widow” continuing to 1948’s “Fighting Back.” He was also an actor, writer or producer in 20 others. His “great friend,” Mabel Normand, was the first to bring his “stringy build and quaint sense of humour to the attention of studio officials,” according to Ruth Anne Dwyer, author of “Malcolm St. Clair: His Films 1915-1948.”

Due to her comments, St. Clair was hired as a “comic” actor, a step up from being one of many Kops and then advanced on to a Keystone gag writer. Throughout his career, Malcolm drew on his early training as a comic actor and writer for Sennett and Buster Keaton. However, it is his directorial work from the 1920s that Dwyer states is “most remarkable. Silent, beautiful, these are the films which tell funny or sophisticated comic stories…and can be compared favorably with the best of Keaton and [Eric] Lubitsch.”

One of St. Clair’s films, “Lighthouse by the Sea” (1924) was shot in Laguna and was noteworthy for several reasons.

For the film, Warner Bros. erected a 50-foot concrete tower above a scalloped pillbox base on the southern point of Emerald Bay, the biggest and most substantial movie props ever erected in the county, according to historian James D. Sleeper’s “Great Movies Shot in Orange County,” published in 1980. The gangly six-foot-three director’s star was the four-footed, scene-stealing Rin-Tin-Tin. The plot involved government revenue agents and bootleggers who were operating along the coast. Illegal booze was the dope of its day and a popular film topic, the book says. “The lighthouse does its part,” Sleeper writes, “but the best cop on the block proved to be the dog.”

Perhaps plot twists borrowed from the director’s own experience. St. Clair and his friends were frequent patrons of speakeasies, according to the St. Clair family historian, Kathryn Crawford.

One of the stand-in roles on the film went to part-time Emerald Bay resident Florence Lowe Barnes, better known as the barnstormer and stunt pilot Poncho Barnes. She doubled in the film for actress Louise Fazenda, a popular comedienne and gifted character actress. St. Clair was a family friend of Barnes; they had both grown up in Pasadena. Barnes was also a friend of MGM silent film star Ramon Novarro, then struggling to make the transition to talkies.

The year after “The Lighthouse by the Sea” was made, a Paramount Pictures payroll record, also in the family archives, shows St. Clair was earning $500 a week, the equivalent of $5,814 in 2006 dollars. When his contract was terminated four years later in 1928, his paychecks had ballooned to $2,000 a week, equal in current buying power to $23,800, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

By 1929, RKO was issuing his paychecks. Mal and his wife, Cordelia “Dee” Gould Andrews, were active in Hollywood and New York show business life during this period. Dee’s diary mentions dining with Joan Crawford, and going to the 21 Restaurant in New York. Malcolm served as pallbearer at Rudolph Valentino’s funeral in 1926. But, the years immediately following the stock market crash would prove St. Clair’s least productive as a film director and a time when his 13-year marriage to would end.

The couple divorced in 1934 and St. Clair married Pasadena socialite, Margaret Murray Holt in 1937. There were no children in either marriage.

Although, St. Clair continued to live in his childhood hometown of Pasadena and for a while maintained a residence on Park Avenue in New York, in the early 1920s he built his own modest Laguna house at 489 Pearl Street. This house remains a landmark historical building, now owned and lovingly cared for by Herb and Mary Rabe.

Some of the mystery over St. Clair’s productivity unspools in correspondence to Sol Wurtzel, dated Oct. 10, 1947, on Twentieth Century-Fox letterhead and signed simply “Darryl.” The writer is likely movie producer Darryl Zanuck, who in 1933 founded Twentieth Century, which was merged with Depression-hobbled Fox Film by 1935.

Wurtzel, for started his career with Fox, survived the merger but was demoted from A-pictures to executive in charge of Fox’s B-unit until his retirement in 1949. The letter writer pleaded with Wurtzel to give an unemployed St. Clair work. “He is no longer drinking and I cannot possibly believe that he has lost the ability that made him one of the best directors in the business at one time.” Zanuck apparently was persuasive. St. Clair’s last two films before his retirement in 1948 were for Wurtzel.

St. Clair died in 1952 in Pasadena at the age of 54.

Nevertheless, his work lives on. Several of his movies are available on DVD and 1926’s “Show Off” may be viewed on the Internet via YouTube.

The youngest of Norman St. Clair’s progeny, Eric Ivor, (1903 –1968) also worked in the film industry as writer, actor, and artist for animated feature films. His projects included drawing for “Gulliver’s Travels” for Fleischer Studios, and writing scripts for Popeye cartoons. He had a studio in Pasadena in an arts and crafts style bungalow. He died in Capistrano Beach.

Eric, like his brother Malcolm, married a Pasadena heiress, Florence Virginia “Dinn” Haggerty. They had three children, Ronald, Daphne, and Eric.

Acknowledgements to Kathryn Crawford, Herb and Mary Rabe, and Beverly St. Clair for supplying photographs and information for this article.

 Copyright Ann Christoph 2007

 

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