From Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers, to noir classics and the 1980s soap opera Dynasty, the lavish Jewett estate located at 1145 Arden Road (originally 1201) in Pasadena has portrayed cinematic wealth and grandeur for nearly a century. Designed by architects Sylvanus Marston & Garrett Van Pelt, and completed in 1915, the Palladian-style villa was once set amidst vast gardens adorned with Italian sculptures and fountains, and remains accessed from a gated entry along a 100-foot-long driveway.
The estate’s imposing formal gate, appearing during the opening scenes of Buster Keaton’s most famous short film Cops (see above and below), was one of the first location discoveries I ever made. The thrill of visiting that spot in person, and appreciating, beyond the narrow view captured on film, the full 360 degree environment Keaton and his crew experienced when shooting the scene, inspired me to delve more deeply into Buster’s work, and ultimately lead to my first book.
I first read the Marx Brothers’ political satire Duck Soup (1933) was filmed at the estate in Leon Smith’s film location book Hollywood Goes On Location (1993). The estate lost many formal gardens north of the house when the property was subdivided (including its original 1201 address), but two popular filming spots appearing with Groucho, the long formal lily pond south of the home (see view, left, looking north towards the home), and the driveway turnaround beside the home entrance, anchored by a massive oak tree, shown above, remain prominent features of the estate.
During one running gag in Duck Soup Groucho is left behind each time Harpo picks him up with a motorcycle sidecar. For this version of the joke Groucho attempts to outsmart Harpo by sitting on the motorbike instead, but even then Harpo prevails, as this time the sidecar drives away, once again leaving Groucho stranded. We know from movies such as Born to Kill and Spring Fever (and confirmed by modern aerial views) that the massive oak tree standing in the driveway turnaround is situated off center, near the south end of the turnaround. Thus, this view of Harpo fleeing Groucho (left) was filmed at the turnaround looking north. This landmark tree still guards the home, and is visible from the front gate (see below).
According to the Los Angeles Times, the original owner William Kennon Jewett was heir to a railroad fortune in Ohio and struck it rich as head of a gold mine in Colorado. In 2005 the Times reported the 13,498-square-foot house, with nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, nine fireplaces, and an elevator, was listed for sale at $14.5 million. The estate appears in many early films, including Ann Harding’s Paris Bound (1929) and the sole Amos ‘n Andy feature film Check and Double Check (1930). As reported in the LA Times, the Mae West feature Goin’ To Town (1935), the long-running prime time soap opera Dynasty, and recent televisions shows such as CSI: Miami, and major films such as Gods and Monsters (1998) and Terms of Endearment (1983), were also filmed at the estate.
The Jewett estate was one of thousands of stately homes, churches, and country clubs, ranging from Burlingame to San Diego, listed in the 1920s-1950s with the Assistance League Film Location Bureau, a charitable organization founded by Mrs. Hancock Banning that rented lavish locations for use by movie studios. The participating owners allowed filming on their property in exchange for rental fees paid by the studios, that were in turn donated to the Assistance League’s charitable causes. The win-win arrangement allowed the wealthy to support charity without spending a dime, while saving the studios the tremendous cost of building sets in lieu of filming at true locations. Mrs. Lee Fay Turner ran the bureau from at least 1929 to 1951. While further details about this group’s history await discovery, apparently the bureau assisted, for example, with renting locations used for the 1937 production of A Star is Born.
Vintage photos Architectural Record Vol. 52, page 34, 1922, and Through the Ages Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 3 July 1926, pp. 22-29.