Curiosity for Rent: Krotona apartments in the Hollywood Hills
“I’m probably the only guy with a motorcycle in his apartment,” Wilfred Biggs says. He opens the door to his studio at the Krotona apartments, originally built by the Theosophical Society in 1912. Although the sect, founded in 1875, delved into ancient Egyptian, Masonic and hermetic philosophies, tenants seem more keyed to Brad Pitt’s stoner scene from the 1993 movie "True Romance," shot in a second-floor apartment. But surface impressions, garnered at a property named for a mystical city, can be deceptive.
“Scott Spiegel has an apartment in back," Bigg says of the co-writer of "Evil Dead II" and writer, director, producer and actor for other horror films. "Quentin Tarantino lived on his couch for nine months when he was starting out."
Biggs, also a screenwriter and actor, is a 10-year resident of Krotona, his 1974 Honda ST90 parked next to his bed. Spiegel has lived here for 20 years. The Hollywood Hills site consists of a 17-unit building at 2130 Vista Del Mar Ave. and an adjoining domed building with a Moorish door: Krotona’s Esoteric Room once used for group meditation.
Past tenants told Spiegel of life at Krotona in the bohemian '60s and '70s, when Jimi Hendrix bassist Noel Redding rented: hallucinogenic parties, guitar and poetry sessions held around the courtyard’s lotus pond, a woman who sold tie-dye T-shirts out of her apartment.
Spiegel said he lived at various times and places with Sam Raimi, Joel and Ethan Coen, Frances McDormand, Holly Hunter and Kathy Bates “when we were all starting out in the mid-1980s,” he said. But Krotona is now his home. “They’ll never get me out of here,” said Spiegel, whose one-bedroom apartment is stocked with TV and movie memorabilia. “What a fun, crazy place -- what a super-cool place this has been.” (The part of the complex known as the Esoteric Room is pictured above.)
During the more sedately spiritual Krotona occupation, the front building housed a kitchen, dining room, vegetarian cafeteria and lecture rooms until Krotona relocated to Ojai in 1924. The building, then called the Krotona Court, was designed by San Diego-based architecture firm of Mead & Requa. Every era at Krotona seems to bring a fresh interpretation of the Theosophical Society’s mission: to explore the inexplicable.
“Krotona today is like a dysfunctional family that means well,” Biggs says of his neighbors, mostly artists, writers and musicians. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle here. People who end up staying fit well together.”
As he walks along a side pathway, Biggs points to the southeast, where a circular stained-glass window, right, emblazoned with a Rosicrucian seal appears: the entrance to the former Grand Temple of the Holy Cross at 2122 Vista Del Mar Ave.
The 1914 building, designed by Arthur and Alfred Heineman, housed a 350-seat auditorium for larger theosophical lectures and rituals. The interior has since been sliced into skinny hallways leading to 14
apartments, some with slender keyhole windows and others with grand Moorish portals that frame newer balconies.
An early photo of the Krotona complex shows the property’s 11-acre layout. Mayer Moizel has owned the buildings for more than 20 years. Sounding a bit like an Eastern mystic himself, Moizel says, “I don’t care to reveal,” when asked how he discovered the property. Spiegel says Moizel is a “really cool landlord with a great sense of humor.” When a tenant told Moizel he would clean his carpet for free, Moizel replied: “Can you do it any cheaper?’”
Biggs’ tour snakes around pathways that branch to small courtyards laid with crushed wicker furniture, spent candles and a broken weather vane -- all hemmed by tangled rubber trees. A black pirate flag, right, flaps near the entrance to the former temple, just above a swimming pool.
When asked about a tattoo on his ring finger, Biggs tells the story of his fiancé, Lindsay Noel, who died nine weeks earlier. Biggs reaches his studio and holds Twinkles, Noel’s scruffy white dog. “The night Lindsay died, Scotty was there for me and said some pretty comforting things,” Biggs says. “I got lots of support from people here at Krotona. They all said the right things.”
Biggs recently poured Noel’s ashes in the ocean. He also dropped their weddings rings into the depths. “I said wedding vows,” Biggs says. “I told her that I would always consider that day as our wedding day.” Later that night, Biggs got the tattoo -- script that spells out the name Lindsay. “If it wasn’t for Twinkles and this place,” Biggs says. “I don’t know what I would do.”
Next week: Krotona’s Ternary building on Temple Hill Drive
-- R. Daniel Foster
Curiosity for Rent, profiles of Southern California's novel apartment buildings, appears on Wednesdays.
Photo credit: R. Daniel Foster