Samuel-Novarro Residence | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Laura Dominguez/L.A. Conservancy

Samuel-Novarro Residence

Located in Los Feliz, the Samuel-Novarro Residence was designed by master architect Lloyd Wright for Hollywood manager Louis Samuel and his wife in 1928.

The four-level residence was integrated into the surrounding hillside and distinguished by its smooth concrete surfaces, oxidized copper accents, and horizontal bands of windows. 

Samuel, business manager and personal assistant to silent film star Ramon Novarro, first met Wright through the actor. In 1930, Novarro learned that Samuel had been embezzling money from him, much of which had been lost when the stock market crashed the previous year. Furthermore, Samuel had been using Novarro's earnings to pay the mortgage on his Wright-designed home.

Not wanting to draw attention to his personal life (he identified as non-heterosexual), Novarro assumed ownership of the property as a result of a discreet settlement in 1931. He then commissioned Wright to expand the garden and the interiors, including the addition of a music room, a bedroom suite, and outdoor pergola.

Novarro lived in the residence until the late 1930s. 

 

Jose Ramon Gil Samaniego was born on February 6, 1899 in Durango, Mexico. Under the stage name Ramon Novarro, he rose to fame as a silent film star at the beginning of the twentieth century, quickly becoming the most well-known leading man from Latin America.

Earning the status of popular sex symbol following the death of Rudolph Valentino, Novarro was often typecast in the role of the "Latin lover." He appeared in dozens of films, including Ben-Hurr: A Tale of the ChristScaramouche, and Mata Hari. From 1925 until 1938, Novarro was the highest-paid actor at MGM behind Joan Crawford.

Novarro continued to appear on screen with the advent of talkies, but his career waned over time. His life met a dramatic end on October 30, 1968, when he was murdered in his home by two male prostitutes.

Like many in the entertainment industry at the time, Novarro identified as a non-heterosexual man. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, however, Novarro refused to marry a woman to conceal his sexual identity. 

Unlike Hollywood's attitudes in later decades, the silent film industry was highly tolerant of non-heterosexual relations, as long as an actor's private life did not interfere with his or her ability to portray straight characters.

Within the industry itself, non-heterosexual relationships were also more widely accepted because a large portion of the talent came from Europe, where understandings of sexuality and sexual behavior were much fluid than in the United States.

The Samuel-Novarro Residence is also significant as an exceptional work of master architect Lloyd Wright, who was known for his high profile, avant-garde designs throughout Los Angeles. 

Photo by Flora Chou/L.A. Conservancy

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