The Mar-Ken students who attended (and lived at) Mar-Ken School at 14050 Magnolia Boulevard, Sherman Oaks (on the southeast corner of Hazeltine Street) have a memory of a magnificent building.
The house was formerly the home of cowboy movie actor Buck Jones and his wife Odille (Dell) Jones.
The Joneses commissioned Architect Albert B. Gardner to design a western style home and on April 6, 1937 they obtained a building permit to erect their new home. Later that year, two-story stables were added in the eastern part of the lot, and the following year a storage building was erected. The house was two stories, with bedrooms upstairs. The story goes that Buck Jones was terrified of fires, so he built his home with reinforced brick and concrete. Although there were beautiful heavy gold-leaf highlighted timber beams supporting the open ceiling roof, the building was not one that would burn easily. In a small room that served as a bar behind the massive living room and across from the dinning room were frescos of Western scenes painted into the wall of either side of a massive stuffed buffalo head. The paintings, although rumored by students to be done by Frederick Remington or Charles M. Russell (not possible as they were no longer living) were actually commissioned by Jones from artist Joe D. Young.
Alumnus Frank Kesling writes:
Sounds like the Russell/Remington paintings might be a myth. I know they were definitely that style. I slept in that room for a few months. The rest of the time I was in the “servants quarters” which actually was a good deal for Larry and me because we had our own bathroom. At the time 3 or 4 other boys also lived there. They and Kent slept in the large downstairs bedroom which shared a bathroom with the den/bar. Several girls lived in the upstairs bedroom over the office and dining room. Mr. & Mrs. B were in the big upstairs room.
You may remember the staircase going upstairs. It was made of large solid oak treads with elaborate tile facings. Another possible myth is that on one of her birthdays, Buck Jones led a horse up those stairs and into Dell’s bedroom as a surprise gift. All support beams in the house were structural steel and as you may recall there was very little wood. This was supposedly because he feared he would die in a fire. I remember the steel floor joists because I crawled under them to help Mr. B run a pipe from the basement over to the kitchen for a gas refrigerator.
Buck Jones was born as Charles Frederick Gebhard. Starring in the silent films of the 1920s, Buck went on through the 1930s and early 40s to become one of Hollywood’s most popular western movie stars.
Jones feared fire and built his Sherman Oaks home to be fire resistant. Ironically, he died less than two weeks short of his 51st birthday, on November 30, 1942, from burns suffered two days earlier in the tragic Boston Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire that claimed 492 lives. For more on Buck Jones, see Chuck Anderson’s Old Corral website.
The house no longer exists. Its demise is described in an article in the Los Angeles Times, Valley News, Thursday, March 6, 1980:
Built to be the best by Buck Jones; Dream of a house coming to an end.
By Heron Marquez
What remains of a dream is located at Magnolia Boulevard and Hazeltine Avenue in Sherman Oaks.
A Spanish-style home once owned by movie actor Buck Jones occupies the site. Gutted, a ghost of its former self, the home is due to be demolished within the next two months.
“It was a heavenly place.” Odille Jones, the actor’s widow, recalled in a recent interview in her North Hollywood home. “There was not another house in Los Angeles like that one. They say every person has a dream house, and I guess that was ours.”
“I had to sell the house after Buck was killed (in 1942) because I could not keep that big of a place all by myself.” She said. “I was more than a little sad but there was not much I could do.
“But I have gotten over it now and progress has to go on, I guess.”
By late April the house, built in 1937, probably will be gone. Rose Hopgood, who bought the house in 1959, said she was unable to afford the upkeep and ownership and was forced to sell the property. Condominiums probably will be built there, she said.
Mrs. Hopgood operated a private school for 20 years at the Jones house. She sold the house April 26, 1979, she said, after she was unable to find funding to operate the house as a museum or historical site. Efforts to interest schools in buying the property also failed, she said.
But it is with the house’s past that the story lies. The house, as Mrs. Jones recalled, had the best of everything – from hand-painted Spanish ceramic tiles lining the stair case to a fully stocked horseshoe-shaped bar.
More than anything, the house probably reflected a way of life for Buck Jones, who appeared in more than 200 films from 1919 until his death. Jones is best remembered for his role as a cowboy.
“When we first decided to build the house Buck said, ‘I want the best that money can buy,'” Mrs. Jones recalled. “We built everything you could think of into that house.”
Judging from the way he lived – Jones had had a regulation-size boxing ring built at his Hollywood home – to the way he died – trying to rescue people from a nightclub fire in Boston in 1942 – Jones did not do anything halfway. The Sherman Oaks house he built was an example.
“It is quite a house.” C. John Thomas, a roofer, said recently as members of his crew were busy dismantling the red tile roof. Thomas had purchased the tiles to use on other homes. That same day, he was busy taking pictures of the remains of the house.
Thomas, who says he does roofing for many celebrity clients, said the tiles are of special value because they are a part of entertainment history.
“The fact that the tiles can be traced (to Jones) and verified make them valuable.” Thomas said.
Thomas was just one of a number of people who have slowly been tearing apart and gutting the house. Floors made of Japanese burl oak have been sold to an estate in Encino, along with the original wrought iron gates that bear the initials “B.J.,” Mrs. Hopgood said.
Various other pieces of the house have been sold or salvaged, she said. Among them are oak doors, the ceramic tile and a large buffalo head donated to a Pasadena museum.
Mrs. Jones said the house was built at a cost of $110,000 and was situated originally on five acres. She said her husband bought an additional five acres to accommodate a barn for their horses.
Mrs. Jones said she is anticipating the time when the new owner tries to tear down the house itself. The reason, she said, is that the house was built to be earthquake-resistant with steel beams were placed in the brick walls every two feet.
She said with a smile, “The day they start tearing the house down, I am going to park across the street and watch them try.”
Here are a few other facts that my research revealed for the Buck Jones fan. In April 1937, when Buck and Dell applied for a building permit for the Sherman Oaks property, Buck showed his residence at 11144 Agua Vista, North Hollywood. The estimated cost of constructing this two-story 40′ x 25′ house was put at $20,000. In August 1937 Jones took out another permit to build a stable on the property for his horses. At that time he listed his residence at 13165 Magnolia Blvd., just down the street from the house he was building. The stable was also two stories high and was 35 x 61, according to the Los Angeles City permit, with the projected cost at $4,000. In March 1938 Jones took out a City permit to build a 24 x 38 one-story storage building on the property at the projected cost of $500. At this time he listed his residence at the new house, 14050 Magnolia Boulevard.
After the Bessires purchased the Joneses’ home at 14050 Magnolia Blvd., they renovated the property to prepare it for Mar-Ken School with living quarters upstairs. A workman was doing some work in an upstairs bedroom walk-in closet when he inadvertently pushed on a wood panel that opened a secret door, revealing an enormous walk-in closet hidden under the large Spanish-tiled roof. Its size made it more like a room than a closet. It was loaded with fur coats and other expensive garments that somehow had been left behind when Dell moved out. Kent Bessire told me that the items were all turned over to the Buck Jones ‘estate.’ Mar-Ken School alumnus Frank Kesling, who lived with the Bessires, recalls the walk-in closet. “Anything in it was returned directly to Dell Jones. She lived next door in a beautiful house converted from the 2 1/2 story barn [mentioned above]. It was converted and she moved in just a week or so before we moved into the main house [approximately March, 1951]. I remember the ‘guided tour’ she gave us a week or so later. That building was still standing in the mid-1980s after the apartment house was built on the Joneses’ home site.”
Dell lived until April 16, 1996. Her house, converted from the original barn, is now a private residence on Costello Avenue, off Magnolia Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, California.