A few months ago, I was contacted by French journalist and author, Philippe Garnier, who asked if I might meet with him at the Sowden/Franklin house for an interview? Turns out he was doing an article for GQ France and had made an appointment with the owner to see and do a walk-through of the house and was I available to give him a “guided tour?”
I was, and we met out front and thanks to a friendly employee of the then owner, Xorin Balbes, we were given free rein to do a walkthrough. [Xorin Balbes has had the house on the market since renovating it in 2002, and it just closed escrow last week, after selling for 3.85 million.]
GQ France August 2011
We started in the main living-room which is the room seen in L.A. Confidential where Pierce Patchett’s [David Straithairn] girls are seen partying and dancing with L.A.’s “movers and shakers”
When we, as a family, lived in the Franklin House [1946-1950] this room, which dad referred to in his 1950 sales brochure as “the south studio,” was primarily furnished with just one item, a large polar bear skin rug, as seen below:
From here we moved west to the library/living room which is one of the rooms where the DA’s investigators in Feb. 1950, installed a microphone “inside the wall” for electronic monitoring of father’s live conversations. This is also the room that contains “the secret room” behind the sliding bookcases, which was originally built in 1926 to “hide the booze” during Prohibition.
George Hodel seated on desk in home-office-library Franklin House 1950
From there we walked north through the dining room, kitchen, maids quarters, all of which have been completely changed in the 2002 remodel. Then on to the north studio, which is now the Master bedroom, complete with its own koi-pond and walk-in closets.
On to the East wing where I showed Philippe my old bedroom [all the bedrooms are quite small] and told him the story that my mother frequently told us about how my parents decided to have a “Martini painting party” and invited a large number of guests to help out.
They decided on “fire engine red” for the kitchen and worked and drank their way around the house. By the time they got to my bedroom IN the northeast corner, they were all very drunk and decided that the perfect color would be- CHARTEUSE
To this day, my friends and younger brother Kelvin insist, “That explains a lot.”
This 2001 “tour” with Philippe was most revealing for me. While I had been back to the house on four or five prior occasions to do interviews and shoot documentaries since BDA was published in 2003, this time it was different.
This time back was the first time since my discovery of the Lloyd Wright papers.
This time, I KNEW that the house was the actual MURDER LOCATION.
Because of my 2008 linkage of the “cement sacks” connecting them to both the Franklin House and the vacant lot on South Norton Ave, I KNEW THE MURDER HAD BEEN COMMITTED HERE. Prior to my 2008 discovery of the physical evidence, I only suspected, and had allowed myself to consider other possible locations such as my dad’s downtown clinic
Contrary to what one would expect, even though I now knew this was so, at the same time on this return, I also felt and experienced much more detachment.
For some unexplainable reason not only was the MAGIC GONE, [as a child I loved living in this palace with my parents reigning as King and Queen] but so was the HORROR.
On my prior revisits to the house, while standing inside this Temple of Doom, I had always felt uneasy. But, no longer. Not this time. Why?
Perhaps, because for the first time I came to understand that the Sowden/Franklin House IS NO MORE.
One can no longer hear the glasses clinking, or the laughter. No more witty remarks from dapper-dressed men in stylish fedoras. No more mix of beautiful women, wannabe actresses, ingenues and femme fatales in low-cut evening gowns, standing in the courtyard sipping on gin sours.
I came to realize that the house has been GHOSTBUSTED.
The Xorin Balbes retrofit removed all the cobwebs and with them went the aura and the magic of a former era. The nostalgia is gone–shrink-wrapped and hauled off to the dump to make way for the 21st century.
The house is of this age now. High tech kitchen, Wi-Fi and Internet in every room.
This short visit with Philippe made me realize that, for me at least, the Franklin House is no longer a place of Happiness or Horror. I now find myself unchained from both the Good and the Bad of it.
Today, for me, it is simply a different home in a different time.
Steve giving author-journalist Philippe Garnier the Franklin House “guided tour”
Philippe Garnier is a Writer, journalist,translator and cinephile extraordinaire. He has lived in Los Angeles for the past thirty-years. His article, SOWDEN HOUSE:LA MAISON MAUDITE DE LOS ANGELES, as seen above in the August, 2011 edition of GQ France hits the streets, in France, today, July 20, 2011.
Note- For those unfamiliar with the new physical evidence linking the Sowden/ Franklin House to the Black Dahlia crime-scene see below two blogs: