To the left of Valentino's tiles is the ground floor terrace that once formed the first of four tiers of lawns and gardens sloping down to the Keatons' Olympic-sized swimming pool. The ashes-of-roses tiled terrace runs across most of the back part of the house and is overlooked by wrought-iron balconies from all four bedrooms above. Originally this was paved with grass running in between, to match the patio surrounding the pool. Following this natural hillside slope is the first set of white limestone stairs, narrow and rather steep, with a large (and now broken) stone bowl in the center, all that remains of what appears to be, from old pictures, a small fountain or birdbath with a central statue. In Italian villa design, water is an important element, and here in Hollywood it was also a symbol of wealth. The statuary was generally a representation of various household gods, or in the garden, agrarian or seasonal ones.

 

  Today the property is cut off just here by a chain link fence, and it is here that the restorers face one of their greatest challenges. Beyond, though the stone work has been removed, the pool with its Venetian tiles, located perfectly away from trees to avoid leaves falling, yet close enough to shade provided by the cabanas and barbecue pit, remains. Obviously, this, and the unoccupied hills beyond, formed a central part of the design and vista in 1926. Buster undoubtedly swam every day, and the pool area also formed a large part of their great outdoors style entertainment on the weekends. There would be plenty of room to lay in a dance floor and bandstand. The orchestras would range from the enormously popular Paul Whiteman, who had introduced Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" to New York in 1924 at the Aeolian Hall, to Keaton-cousin-by-marriage Abe Lyman, whose "Californians" had ruled the Cocoanut Grove, the Ship Cafe and owned the Sunset Inn. (They even had co-written two songs with Charlie Chaplin, on one of which he plays a violin solo). The guests could swim, play croquet, and feast on Buster's world- famous English lamb chops and labelled liquor before trooping back up to the house to play cards or billiards and then watch a movie in the playroom. In the early days, movie people were considered to be unacceptable socially, so they tended to group together, at first forming artists' colonies; but as the movies brought in more and more income to Los Angeles (and 1926 was a bumper year, making the movies the second most lucrative industry, after oil), they became more socially involved with their various Chambers of Commerce and began to make friends among the older families, though no one in Los Angeles could pretend to be Mrs. Astor material.

Therefore, like Hollywood parties throughout time, their parties at home would consist of a fair number of important citizens, bank owners, judges, civic authorities, rather than a surplus of other performers, because the permissions from these people kept the industry running, Then as now, no party was for pure entertainment, and deals were struck and people introduced over the dinner and card and pool tables. In fact, when actors were finally admitted to the country clubs, it was reported that they were bored there, and had no idea what to do.

 

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TO BE CONTINUED...  
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Credits:
Picture and film research, architectural and house
research, graphics and article:
Victoria Sainte-Claire
Additional historical research:
The Damfinos
(The International Buster Keaton Society)
Restorations and renovations by John Bersci and Christopher Bedroosian
Italian Villa co-designed by Buster Keaton, architect Gene Verge and
special effects engineer Fred Gabourie