Julian Eltinge Residence
Often regarded as America's first celebrated drag performer, Julian Eltinge commisioned this Spanish Colonial Revival hilltop residence while launching his career as a silent film actor. Though the house, known as Villa Capistrano, is not visible from the street, its elaborate design reflects Eltinge's aspirations as an artist and performer.
Eltinge was born on May 14, 1881 in Newtonville, Massachusetts. In the early 1900s, he became a fixture of New York's vaudeville circuit.
Following his return to New York after a European tour in 1906-1907, he made his debut solo performance in the vaudeville production of "Simpson Girl," which was a parody of the iconic Gibson Girl.
To both audiences and critics alike, Eltinge was renowned for his mastery of performing both male and female characters. He was so talented, in fact, that many viewers failed to recognize him as his female characters. As a result of his skills, he became one of the highest-paid stage actors of the twentieth century.
In 1914, Eltinge moved to Hollywood and starred in his first silent film, The Countess Charming. Following this success, he was offered roles in other films such as Isle of Love, Jules, The Voice of Hollywood, and If I had My Way.
His movies were diverse and ranged from slapstick comedies to dramas and musical comedies. Eltinge returned to New York from Hollywood in 1930.
Eltinge's star power diminished in the late 1930s when vaudeville and female impersonators began falling out of public favor, and he subsequently struggled to find work. He died in 1941 after completing a show in New York.
Eltinge lived in the Villa Capistrano with his mother at the height of his career. The decadent estate, including its elegantly designed grounds (no longer extant), served as the backdrop to his lavish parties for his Hollywood peers.
The residence is situated at the end of a long driveway atop a hill in Silver Lake. Architects Francis Pierpont Davis, Walter S. Davis, and Henry F. Withey designed the house in the Spanish Revival style, coupled with Moorish and Italian Revival elements. A monumental central tower hovers over the entrance, which is distinguished by a recessed balcony, arched windows, and wrought iron details.
When the Villa Capistrano was constructed, the surrounding hillside neighborhood was known as "Edendale" and was closely associated with the rise of the silent film industry.
For performers like Eltinge who did not identify as heterosexual, the theater and silent film industry provided a space for them to feel free to be themselves.
During the silent film era, many lead actors could openly identify as non-heterosexual as long as their personal lives did not affect the characters they portrayed.
The relaxed attitudes around non-heterosexuality at this time can also be attributed to the substantial number of European actors and performers working in Hollywood, where perceptions of sexuality were much more lenient.
For those who worked in the theater, this sense of freedom was further enhanced by the close knit communities that challenged traditional gender norms.
During Eltinge's career, it was common for female impersonators to give performances that were largely burlesque in nature. On both stage and film, Eltinge chose not to do this, but instead chose to do performances that were witty, satirical, and intellectual in nature.
In particular, he focused a large part of his performance content on exposing stereotypes about women from the perspective of the male gaze.