John Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

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  • February 25, 2015

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Rendering of Marrakesh Country Club Condominium Type 'A', Collection of Marrakesh Country Club

Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1910, John Elgin Woolf moved to Holllywood in 1936 after studying architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology. He hoped his Southern accent would land him a role in Gone with the Wind, but when he met George Cukor, the film's director, it marked the beginning of a quite different career in the movies. Let into influential circles with Cukor's assistance, the young designer's drawings garnered attention, and soon, clients.

Heralded as "architect to the stars," Woolf gave film royalty a new luxury style. According to The New York Times, Woolf "established a new vocabulary for glamorous movie-star living ... synthesized 19th-century French, Greek Revival and Modernist touches into a heady mixture that has since been christened Hollywood Regency, which foreshadowed aspects of postmodernism." He designed houses for many luminaries, including Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, David O. Selznick, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

Ira Gershwin house, Collection of Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

John Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency, on view at Palos Verdes Art Center March 20 through May 29, presents over 50 selections from the Woolf archive housed at the Art, Architecture & Design Museum at University of California, Santa Barbara. Included are Woolf's drawings, photographs, and designs, along with business correspondence from the Los Angeles firm he shared with his partner, the interior designer Robert Woolf, which was active from 1940 until his death in 1980.

Known for a theatricality that echoed the flamboyance of movie sets, Hollywood Regency style eschewed the spare Bauhaus-derived designs built by many architects in Southern California during the postwar period. Though aligned with tradition in the contention with modernism, Hollywood Regency followed neither camp's insistence on purity. Not just a rehash of French and English Regency styles, it delights instead to innovate by combining elements from a plethora of sources to create voluptuous fantasies.

Woolf worked primarily in the Bel Air and Beverly Hills districts of Los Angeles, often renovating older buildings, but also did work as far away as Nassau, such as the residence for Lady Stanley of Adderlay, also known as Mrs. Clark Gable. One of his largest projects was the design of Marrakesh Country Club in Palm Desert, California. Brought in by golf developer Johnny Dawson, Woolf laid out a clubhouse, gates, and 364 homes in fourteen neighborhoods with golf courses on the 155-acre spread. Begun in 1968 and completed a decade later, the desert fantasy stands out as one of the most ambitious turns in the Palm Desert quest for luxury.

John Elgin Woolf: Master of Hollywood Regency

March 20 - May 29, 2015

Opening Reception: March 19, 6 - 9pm

John Elgin Woolf, Collection of Art, Architecture & Design Museum, UCSB

Palos Verdes Art Center
5504 West Crestridge Road
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275

Tags: architecture

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